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“I wasn't going to break or die or disappear. I was stronger than I knew.”

Longfellow said, “Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not.” Sometimes I find it astounding that I go about my day, go to work, and live a normal life with my family when the last year of my life was a living hell. Last year, my daughter was seriously ill, and after several weeks as an inpatient, we started the long journey of recovery. It took us through some dark places. Luckily, she was able to pull through. We’ve come out the other side and we’re better people for the challenges we’ve overcome. But through it all, I thought my heart would break and, worse, I thought my mind would break. I’ve buried and rubbed raw my emotions so many times, I’m surprised I have anything left. I discovered where the term "flood of tears" came from, because I couldn't turn off my despair. I could feel myself breaking apart. I could feel my identity disappearing, because I didn't want to be me anymore; I didn't want to exist anymore. I knew that people dealt with far worse problems and stayed strong and overcame them, but I didn’t think I was strong enough. It was the longest year of my life.

I’ve buried and rubbed raw my emotions so many times, I’m surprised I have anything left

I was astounded by the support I received from friends, colleagues, and family. Mostly from my brothers, who dropped everything more times than I can count to be at our side. It made me feel lucky at a time when I was also feeling very unlucky.

At one point I thought, “if I were reading a book of my life, would I be a likeable character?” Definitely not at that moment. But what ultimately helped me see the sunshine again was, in fact, opening a book. I have always been a voracious reader; I have loved escaping into books for as long as I can remember. I opened a book, and it was like being able to breathe again. Chink by chink, the pieces of myself rearranged themselves into stronger material and flew together again. Atticus Finch, Gatsby, Gandalf and Frodo, Catherine and Heathcliff, the Shannarah family, Rick Deckard, Harry Potter, and so many more—these were some of the warriors who stood at my side and gave me strength.

What ultimately helped me see the sunshine again was, in fact, opening a book.

And finally, I realized I was still there. I wasn't going to break or die or disappear. 

I was stronger than I knew.

My family and I are in a good place now, and I wondered if it was worth dredging up these feelings to write about. But I felt so lost going through the last year that I hoped my experience might help someone else going through something similar.

I’ve always been an optimistic person, but now I feel grateful in a different way. I have a newfound respect and appreciation for my family and our community. I admire how my kids have compartmentalized their experience of the last year and embraced the trajectory of maturing in their own beautiful ways. I value my husband and our marriage even more despite the bumps in the road, because they are bumps we’ve walked over together. I recognize the value of new projects at work and I am thankful. I listen more and think about what others must be going through. I know now the value of every day and I know that every person has it in them to be resilient and overcome.

By Rachel Spielman