By Tammie Allegro
I was driving home from work recently and the radio station was inviting listeners to call in and leave a message for their younger self. They asked: “What would you tell the young you?” This started my gears turning. I could come up with hundreds of statements I would want to tell the young Tammie. Would I encourage her to enjoy life more and worry less about opinions? Would I tell her to take things more seriously and pursue her education? Or how about telling her to “wait for the important things in life, get married before having children, and then live as happily as she can”?
There are so many things I wish I knew then that I know now. And, I am sure many of you with chronic illness would say the same. Maybe you would have told yourself that your symptoms were not all in your head. Maybe you would have requested testing for diseases whose names you’d never heard of when you first got sick. Perhaps you would have asked for help sooner and listened less to bad advice.
At my age, I think I am halfway between being old enough to know better and still young enough to enjoy it. I have lived such an eclectic and dramatic life filled with so many lessons that have shaped me into the “grown up” I am. However, I feel like I still have a lot of growing up to do. What I know for sure is that young Tammie would think I am a dinosaur, way past my prime. Little did she know that life just starts getting good at this age. I love better, I live better. I appreciate things I never noticed before. I am far more patient than I was even 10 years ago. I am a better judge of character, too. My friendships are more genuine, and my gestures of kindness are more sincere.
As the mother of a teen daughter who just graduated high school (you know the age where they have officially figured out the universe), it isn’t always easy to impart wisdom that will be heeded. My daughter doesn’t “need” me or really care for my opinion because she has life in the palm of her hand. However, I use these moments in parenting to make up for the things I did and didn’t do as a teen. I share things with her to teach her not to follow my path, but to create a path of her own. And as she makes good decisions about boys and school, she is already profoundly ahead of my curve.
Whether you are a patient with a chronic illness or the parent of a sick child, you are now educated in a specialty you didn’t sign up for. You never intended to know the immune system inside and out or to know every brand of immune globulin. The challenge now is what you will do with the information you have been given through trial and error. Do you educate those around you? Have you taught your children to look for the signs of illness? Have you written down in a journal about your journey to ensure that no one else in your family will go years undiagnosed? I’ve found that however you go about it, sharing what you have learned is empowering. Maybe we can’t share life lessons with our younger selves, but we can mentor the younger people around us so that we create a wiser and more informed generation.
As I listened to people calling in to the radio program that day, I was struck by a common thread they all shared. Essentially they were all saying: “Slow down and enjoy the journey.” I think that’s the best advice of all.
What would your message be? What is your message now?