By Michael Strausbaugh
If I knew then what I know now, I would have lived "like I was living." What I mean is: People with chronic illness need to live inversely to the lifestyle espoused in the Tim McGraw song "Live Like You Were Dying." Don't get me wrong. I get the idea behind the song, and it's a nice romantic ideal. But people like us never got to live like we were living.
Instead of being afraid to check my mail during the winter because I just knew I would end up with another ear infection or bout with pneumonia, I would just check my mail. Instead of politely declining a friend's invitation to see a concert, I would have happily gone and crowd-surfed. So, maybe I wouldn't have jumped with a parachute from an airplane, but I wouldn't have been scared to share the same recycled cabin air with other passengers.
Someone very close to me has often rationalized things by saying, "Why shouldn't I (insert here)? I might die tomorrow!" In response, I always countered with, "Yes, you might, but I'd prefer to think I'm going to be around for another 40 or 50 years." Now, though, while I might not be the most daring guy, I would like to think I'm setting myself up for "living."
If I knew then what I know now, I would have been more confident, more sure - just in general. As a serious and dedicated musician, I have always believed that if you put the effort and hours in, good results will happen. It seems logical. Logic, however, was tossed out the window when I started getting sick for no apparent reason. No amount of vitamins or anti-bacterial soap was ever enough. Eventually, any sense of self-confidence had been drubbed out by a complete lack of confidence in anything. The fact that trained medical professionals were telling me I was "fine" didn't help, either. Now that I am as "normal" as I'll ever be, I face my little challenges knowing I've seen and gone through worse, and I think I can handle about anything.
If I knew then what I know now, I would have continued living instead of pressing "pause" for a decade. For me, that would have meant completing my higher education instead of having to jump back in 10-plus years later. I know many people choose to take a break, live a "normal" life for a while and then go back to school. But, it's a choice they make. The choice is not made for them. And while I occasionally beat myself up for having to play "catch up" with students 10 to 15 years younger than me, I think I have a certain set of life experiences and skills that they don't - a certain "something" that motivates me and keeps me going. That particular "something" is an appreciation of being able to go to a classroom on a campus, study, learn and plan for a future that, a few years ago, looked doubtful.
So, with all due respect to Mr. McGraw, I would first encourage people to appreciate the simple, the normal and the mundane. I still get excited when I go outside without a coat on!