Thoughts 6 Years In

I often feel that when I put myself out there and say, “Screw you, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), screw you gastroparesis, I WANT to do this, I’m going to do this,” and I actually DO,  my body comes back at me saying, “uh, hey now, who gave you permission to do that?”

When I do this, I try to compare pros and cons, are these things I want to do worth the payback that will come my way? There are so many things I want to do, and I’m an adult so I can do whatever I want, right? No grounding or taking my phone away, but if I misbehave, my body can punish me in a much harsher manner than my parents ever would.

Yes, chronic illnesses are brutal. Yes I am exhausted and utterly uncomfortable, but now, after years and years of searching for answers or simply searching for relief, I have to learn to care for body and mind, not pushing myself to a point of danger or past a “safe” space health wise, but I also have to embrace what I DO have and what I am capable of. I have to hold onto every bit of the true ME without forgetting where I am in my life right now.

I recently had a bit of medical excitement (a bit of a scare) when a new symptom popped up from out of the blue, but I woke up and honestly thought very little of it aside from knowing I need to be mindful today, just watch for symptoms I don’t usually experience or other warning signs!

So why am I becoming numb to symptoms or complications? Because I’ve seen it happen, because I have hope, but not expectations? I know that many don’t understand that, we all have different ways of coping or different perspectives on the meaning or the terminology — “hope” is relative, similar to grief, we all go through this process with different coping mechanisms. I know that EDS can lead to all sort of complications, it sometimes feels like there’s no end to the diagnoses, every year brings another symptom, another doctor, another diagnosis. I’ve watched it happen to girls just like me; heck, I’ve watched my own health continue to “D&D: DETERIORATE & DIVERSIFY,” so I guess you could say I’m not impacted or fearful in the same way that many healthy people would be when something like this occurs.

Does this lack of reaction represent a lack of hope? Have I built up an immunity to “human” emotions? Do I live life expecting the worst? Fearing or expecting to die? No, I don’t. Though I am forced to consider more seriously some of the not so fun parts of life more than most individuals my age, I don’t plan on leaving y’all anytime soon

So, then, is it a coping method? I suppose, probably, it is. While I prepare for all possibilities, there’s a wall there to protect myself and those around me. There’s no way for someone to focus on something of this magnitude 24/7 without going downhill quickly, so it’s important to me not to let that happen. I don’t want to torture myself mentally by focusing on my physical state all day, every day, but more so, I don’t want my family to have to go through that day after day. They have sacrificed and suffered enough throughout my journey- through thick or thin they are always by my side, but if I can spare them any grief or burden, I will do that. No one should suffer from chronic illnesses like these, but if I have to, I at least want to do what I can to protect others from extra suffering.

Chronic illnesses are nasty and powerful, but they don’t always win. I’m not out of power yet, I have a lot of hope left in me, and even more so than that, I have a will to live. I have a heart that craves more love, a soul searching for MORE adventure and experience, and eyes that WILL get to see the world.

My body may protest, but my will to live and my love for life, my love for simplest of things and the most wonderful people (& dogs) will power me through anything. I believe in the power of love, love is stronger than any fears I come across in my journey, and I am not lacking in love.

(I am single, though, just FYI 😉 )

I have a complex, difficult life, but it is filled with so much good that makes all of the challenges and trials, all of the terrible symptoms and times of questioning or doubt seem so small and unimportant. I am surrounded by love and unwavering support not just from my (biological) family, but also from the incredible community that has continuously come together and shown what true family is. My family expands all the time, it crosses oceans and countries, there are no limitations, just love, support, and acceptance. I’m continually amazed by the incredible, valiant efforts that I never could have asked for or dreamed of and I am reminded often of the true values of life, of friendship, of open mindedness and a judgment-free perspective, etc. I am blessed, I am thankful.

I am sick and I have hardships every day, but I have hope, and I have dreams, goals, and motivation – so watch out world, I’m on a mission and it’s not to the doctors office – and probably not to stand up comedy either.

xoxo

New Years Thinking

Every New Year I like to think, this is my year. I look back on the last year, or really just on my journey in general, and I think of course of my illnesses and my desire to find a cure or a treatment that would lead me to a more “normal” lifestyle, but year after year that doesn’t come. This year, I’m not relying on specialists with new perspectives or treatments that will be approved by insurance, I am instead looking at myself and my situation and thinking how can I work to maximize my experiences and the value of my time? I may never have my cure, and I may not get rid of my medical devices, but I can make the most of the life I have, and now that I’ve been through all the tests and all the procedures and I’ve seen the biggest and the best doctors out there, and here I am, how can I help myself?

I have just as many goals and dreams as I did when I was 16 and healthy, but now they mean even more to me. I want to get back to who I was, who I am, as much as I can. I don’t plan to achieve all of my goals this year, but I think setting myself up with healthy goals and positivity, a hope for a fulfilling life, could be the most effective “treatment” I can have.

I want to be more active, both in a sense of being able to spend more time outside of my home but also being stronger and feeling more fit and less frail. I want to make friends who are here for me regardless of my health and all that comes with that.

I want to fall in love, I want to feel like I am loved and adored no matter what my stomach looks like, no matter what I can or cannot do, no matter what date night looks like. I want to know there is a person out there who doesn’t need to see past all of my greatest insecurities, but is understanding of all I’m working through.

There are so many places I want to go and things I want to do, and I want to be able to do it without limitation, but if I have to work around things, I will. I can’t do a lot of the things on the top of my bucket list right now – swim with dolphins, scuba dive, snorkel in the tropics, etc. – but I can work up to it. If I’m facing a lifetime with health complications, I’ve got to start embracing that and working with it even more than I do now.

It’s not as if I can pick up and go today, I’ve got a few things to try to manage a bit better before I go too crazy, but it’s only January 7th so no one is too far into resolutions, right?

I have to learn to push myself in healthy ways but form a relationship with my body where I am able to feel more control while still continuing to listen to my body. I’m going to start with keeping up with the blog, revamping and working hard on Newbie Tubies, and trying to be more active.

 

Happy New Year 🙂

Delivery Day

Ice ice everywhere! Our first bout of winter weather came to town this week, and it was enough for two snow (ice) days for the kiddos, pretty much the most exciting thing back then. Sadly, I’m no longer an exited 6year old whose biggest worry is whether or not there will be school tomorrow, and though I still love waking up to a winter wonderland, snow days are a lot different for me now.

I live in the woods, and my driveway is a gravel mountain itself, so when the weather is bad, we are often stuck here for as long as the ice is. This ice storm came through on a Wednesday night/Thursday, which of course, with my luck, is the day my medical supplies are sent out (Wednesday) and delivered (Thursday). I rely on all of these supplies to stay alive and out of the hospital. My entire week’s worth of food (tube feeds), hydration (IV saline), and the medications and supplies that are vital for keeping me going are in one, very heavy, box.

My home health/ pharmacy does everything they can to make things run smoothly, but they can’t/won’t send packages early, so during a winter weather storm like this, things can easily get lost or delayed. I received an email from my pharmacy saying the supplies hadn’t gone out on time and weren’t able to be delivered on Thursday, so it became a question of how long would it be until our driveway would be passable, giving us the chance to go and others to come.

That said, it doesn’t necessarily all ride on them, my network goes much further that that, and in ways some may not have ever thought to take time for Before. I received an unknown call on Thursday, and I was surprised when it was my delivery driver from FedEx! He called me to let me know he wasn’t running his route today due to the weather and the road conditions, but he saw my box and knowing how important it is, he called me personally to see if there was any way for him to get it to me. So even though he wasn’t working his normal delivery route, he took time to call and was ready to put forth effort to get that box – filled with those important medications and fluids to me in any way we could. How incredible is that? Just the offer was so genuine and an incredible inspiration, a true member of my team.

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, because this isn’t the first time I’ve had interactions with him—always positive ones. This man has always been incredibly kind to me. I’m almost always home alone during the day, he sees me hooked up to my IV pole and a total mess lookin’ straight out of bed, always trying to control my crazy dogs, but no matter what the chaos is, he is always smiling and helpful. You don’t come along delivery drivers who are always ready to do more, to push the job requirements and just be compassionate and accommodating, but anytime he sees an opportunity to be helpful, he is there.

Putting for that effort without being asked to is such an incredible gesture, I know not everyone would do that. I feel incredibly grateful to have such caring and empathetic people in my life, even someone who just knows I’m young and sick and get weekly medical supplies. There’s no limit to who can share and spread love and support, and I couldn’t ask for a better reminder of that. There are so many members of my medical “team,” and you probably don’t automatically consider a delivery driver to be a key member, but in bad weather, lost boxes, damaged product, etc., you better believe that these individuals are key to your treatments, your well-being.

In a time during which I am feeling a bit lost when it comes to doctors and support (aside from my fabulous parents <3), having these individuals who really do care and put forth such effort is an incredible blessing. This week I was reminded of that, reminded to appreciate everyone who puts forth effort into my journey, some of whom don’t even know they are participating while others are doing work behind the scenes that I don’t know about.

I urge you all to think about each member of your team, including all of your (kind/helpful) nurses, the x-ray /IR techs, and your pharmacy or delivery service, home health, etc. Think it through, make a list if you are as forgetful as I am. And then let them know you’re feeling appreciative! Bake cookies or write a thank you card, you never know who might be in need of a little appreciation.

Spread the love, and never underestimate the impact someone can have or how much just one small act of kindness can change the course of someone’s day.

 

Embrace It

Illness is not easy in any way, or for anyone. When your life is suddenly pulled out from under with little to no warning, and by something that no one, yourself included, has ever heard of nor can anyone begin to understand, boy does life change.

I got sick in high school, and thanks to some ignorant doctors, my parents were pretty sure I was going to be better in no time. I was a young female so of course the daily, crippling headaches were hormones and all the pains in my joints, nerves and ribs were simply growing pains, because as my lovely doctor said, “it’s normal for young women to be in pain.” Right. Helpful

Well when I got to 2 months of being unable to keep down most foods and was on homebound because I could hardly stand up from bed or be on my feet too long without passing out, nor could I eat or stay awake during school… I finally got admitted and got my diagnosis. Gastroparesis. What the heck is that, right? I don’t even think my doctors knew, because no one told me that it would change my life , forever.

I’ve come across so many medical professionals who have no idea what I’m talking about when I tell them about my health conditions…. EDS, POTS/Dysautonomia, Dysmotility/ GP, SIBO, migraines…. Is it so hard? Well maybe, but it shouldn’t be for doctors.

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My family was and continues to be incredible and supportive in every way they can – even if I don’t always want comfort or support for myself. My mom grew up in a family where the flu wasn’t a real risk, a fever was just to keep you flushed and warm, and complaining wasn’t an option. What’s a doctor, right? As long as you could walk and your eyes looked strong, you were good to go – dress nice to feel nice.

To the point, my mom quickly adapted and came through for me and after some rough times in the earlier years, we grew closer than ever as she became my home nurse doing anything from making and hanging my feeds and fluids, sorting my weekly meds, helping me shower when I can’t do it on my own, brushing my hair even though I’m terrible about it because it hurts… I don’t know what I’d do without Nurse Bibi.

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My dad and I have a different relationship, but it is so important to me, even if I have trouble showing it sometimes. He’s here for me no matter what, any time, any day. We go to out of town appointments and listen to fun music, joke around, etc. He helps me relax before appointments when he knows I’m anxious. He also lets me sleep or supports me when I want to do something else.

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That reminds me so much of my year round, travel swimming days when Dad and I would drive to the meets just the two of us because I was so shy and didn’t have friends on the team, but I got dad to myself and we had so much fun. Dad also taught me how to drive 🙂

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My little sister, Laura, has been majorly affected by this situation. She was looking forward to be the only one left at home while I was at school, but here I am. She graduated high school and is now in college. Pretty soon she will be ahead of me. Shes beautiful and gets more attention from boys than I ever did, even before I became the lost girl in the woods! But Laura harbors a lot more feelings and trials than she lets out. I’d do anything to take that back, but I don’t have many options. I’m sorry to put you through that, Laura. I wouldn’t wish any of this on anyone.

Mom and Dad have different love languages, and so do I, but I have to remember how much my family does for me, and I have to put aside any pet peeves that I can in order to truly show my appreciation and love. I’m not great with words right now, I don’t love physical touch, but I do well with actions and giving gifts or sending/writing out my feelings. That, however, is the opposite from others in my family. Dad loves physical touch/hugging, mom loves actions, Laura… probably actions that follow words. Don’t lie. Don’t make anything up. Don’t take credit for something you didn’t do and don’t deny something you did do. Make sense?

Life is short, right? So  embrace every day, and then really embrace the people you love. Can you make a sacrifice or step out of you comfort zone for a 15 second hug? Or a dollar store gift? It’s the thought and the effort that count, most of the time 😉 Family, by blood or by love and loyalty, are the ones you end up needing. It’s never too late to start appreciating people more and treating them as such.

Chronic illness can affect more than just the patient, when you have caretakers and live at home with family members, parents, or your spouse, they all suffer and worry and work so hard throughout the journey. So when you think about the patient and regularly check in or want to be of help, I can tell you that the caretakers (For me, my parents and my little sister) need just as much TLC as I do. It’s also so important for me, the patient, to take time to appreciate each of those people in my life, make sacrifices for them as they do for me, and treat them in the best way I can, even when I’m feeling terrible. This isn’t a battle anyone should fight alone.

 

Love and be loved, go out of your way to support and care for those in need, it’s the best thing you can do for yourself as well as for others.

 

Willfully Determined

Yesterday I pushed myself to do more and to do different. I decided to be a 22 year old for a few hours, I just ignored the fatigue, took the pain meds, and went to back to back movies (7-11:30pm) with my sister, who didn’t think I could stay out late anymore. It was a gift to both of us to be able to spend that time together, just enjoying doing something that was so out of the norm.

Usually I sleep through 60-80% of movies anywhere we watch them, our basement, my room, the movie theater, other peoples houses… But last night I worked hard to stay awake, and I did a stellar job. My POTS/dysautonomia leaves my body unable to pump blood to my brain when I sit down for too long, so I fall asleep or pass out even if I’m loving a movie or having a great conversation with someone; but usually, if I move around or take a walk I start to feel much more human again and stay awake for at least 10-20 minutes 😉

My family asked me if I really had energy for this, and here is what I told them,

“No, I don’t have the energy, but this isn’t about energy.  This is about desire and determination.”

Sometimes I have to accept my symptoms, accept my situation, and make a choice to push past all of the exhaustion, pain, nausea, and sensitivities so that I can remind myself and those around me that I’m still me, and that there are still things out there, outside of my “safe zone” (aka my house and my room). Watching the world go on without you can be a very strange feeling, it’s like watching from an outside view, looking down on the life I thought would be mine and watching others continue on without me. The world doesn’t wait for anyone.

Recently I’ve been hearing a lot of “nothings” from doctors; some literally don’t have anything to say, don’t answer emails or calls or anything, others telling me they can’t take on my case or I’ve exhausted the options they can offer. It’s a lot of “keep you comfortable” and “manage symptoms.”

After so much of the same, I’m so tired of doctors and meds and tests or treatments that no one actually thinks will work. I want to live. I want to experience my youth, I want to really feel alive and I want to cross items off of my bucket list.

I want to travel and see incredible sites and take countless photos. I hope to visit all of the girls who I’ve met online, the ones who have helped me through these years of illness, and I want to meet new people, and fall in love. I want to get rid of these tubes so I can swim with dolphins and scuba dive, get as close to my mermaid dream as possible.

I have a lot of goals, and I may never accomplish all of them, but they make for some happy thinking & I never pass that up. 🙂

 

Welcoming in a New Day

Another year gone, already?! I’ve read and heard so many people saying that time is flying by or posting long facebook posts about all that was accomplished or what they learned in 2017 and what their goals are for the new year. And yes, sure, I could do the same, but in all honestly, my illnesses have changed my perspective on the passage of time and watching one year pass and another begin just isn’t as huge of a celebration anymore.

My life has changed drastically over the last 5-6 years and I’ve grown and learned so much, but I’ve also lost many parts of myself and so many aspects of my life that used to create that excitement and significance of a year passing.

I’ve been out of school full time for three years now, and by leaving school I also left my friends, my social life, and my education behind. At the time, I had no idea I was leaving for an indefinite amount of time, and now I’m watching my friends graduate, some of them have even gotten engaged (s/o to my first year hall-mates who just got engaged to their high school sweethearts <3), and many of my high school classmates have even settled down and started families.

Before leaving school and having my illness progress into an extremely severe case, I had so many goals and plans for my life, but being dependent on feeding tubes and a hickman line (a long term IV in my chest) for nutrition and hydration and being dependent on my parents for everything from setting up feeds and sorting my daily meds to driving me to appointments and staying endless nights in the hospital has really changed things for me.

I no longer look at the long term or “big picture,” but instead focus on getting through each day. Some days I just focus on getting through each hour, trying to survive the time between each dose of nausea or pain medication. My every day life can get monotonous at times when I am home bound or bed bound, sleeping more than I’m awake, awake only to take medications, go to the bathroom, start new feeds, etc. The days blur together when you do the same things every day and have little to look forward to. Although many of my days are full of pain and discomfort, its always possible to find something to laugh at, smile over, or appreciate.

Instead of looking back on what has gone on in the last year or thinking of what I can accomplish in a new year, I continue to focus on each day and every small beauty and accomplishment that occur in that day. Although I don’t have any huge plans for my future, I do have dreams and goals, and I’ve gotten really good at appreciating the small things in life, if you take time to look, there’s something positive in every day.

Passion Over Predictability

Its really easy for my mind to go towards thinking about how my illnesses have stolen any predictability about my future; how they took me out of school, have forced me to accept that I may never have my “dream” job or may not even be able to work a “real job” at all. For someone who loves to plan and always wanted to know what was next, living in such uncertainty can be daunting. I fear living a life lacking companionship and never getting to fall in love or find my true soul mate, but then I’m reminded that my illnesses have brought to light so much in myself  that I never would have discovered if I hadn’t gotten so sick in the first place.

Instead of focusing on the things I likely won’t be able to do, I’ve started to consider all that I CAN do. I’ve discovered so much about myself that I didn’t even know was there; I have new passions and I’ve discovered talents I had no idea were hidden within me until I got sick and I have a new understanding and a new level of empathy both for the people and the world around me.

Ive strengthened relationships with my loved ones and lost many people who weren’t able to stick by me through my trials, I’ve broadened my outlook and see things in such a new and brighter perspective, and I’ve found passions that give my life more meaning than just being the “sick girl,” no matter what my body has in store.

Although I can’t eat, I’ve developed a relationship with food through cooking meals for my family. I love creating new recipes and trying new techniques with home made goods. Some people are shocked by my love for cooking, but it’s something I’ve always loved and now it’s a way for me to “enjoy meals” with my family.

I’ve rekindled my passion for photography and developed a love for painting– this one I don’t think anyone would have expected. I’ve never been the artist of the family, and although I can’t draw anything, I do have an eye for color, and I’ve found some painting techniques that work for me. Because I’ve discovered these passions and because people (not just my parents 😉 ) started buying my paintings, it has given me hope that even if I can’t graduate from college or work as a full time behavioral therapist like I had hoped, maybe there’s something more out there for me.

I’m blessed to have a community here at home as well as through chronic illness support groups online that support me in every way they can. I’ve had so much support from my local community and I’m so so thankful for each and every one of you. I also have a truly amazing family that does everything from help me with medications/treatments, drive me places, and help with any other around the house/medical things I need and they also help me be able to follow my passions and set me up for success. Not everyone in my situation is so lucky.

Chronic illnesses are exhausting and isolating, they take away so many parts of our lives that we use to identify ourselves. If you’re going to survive it with some sanity, you have to make a choice to not let your illness be the only thing that defines your life– it is always part of what defines you, but if you don’t have other distractions and passions, you’ll just about lose your mind.

 

The Significance of the Holiday Spirit; Spreading Love and Generosity

The holidays are my favorite time of the year. Once we pass Halloween and get close to Thanksgiving I know it’s (basically) an acceptable time to bring out all of my Christmas leggings, shirts, tubie pads, and of course the hippo who sings Christmas carols.

It’s kind of funny that this is my favorite time of the year since health wise it’s often the most challenging. I was diagnosed with gastroparesis in December of 2013; this will be my 5th year not eating a Thanksgiving meal, my 5th year without any pie or turkey, my 5th year not having any snacks or candy in my stocking, my 5th year not eating our traditional Christmas brunch, and my 5th year seriously struggling with my health during the holidays.

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Our favorite gifts… donut pillows and blankies 🙂

But really, these holidays don’t have to revolve around food. I have much more to be thankful for even without eating. I have so much beauty and love in my life and I’ve found new passions and hobbies that not only bring me joy but help distract me from pain, hunger, and other symptoms as well as from the thoughts of all that my illnesses have taken or changed in my life; I prefer to focus on all that I’ve gained, all of the positive changes, and all of the things I’ve learned about myself and about life just from becoming so sick and being homebound.

The Christmas spirit is such a beautiful thing. I’m not even sure I loved it so much before being sick, but now I appreciate it endlessly. Even for people who don’t really like Christmas or don’t celebrate it, there’s just a contagious feeling of joy, love, generosity, and comradery that we lack during the rest of the year.

As I’ve gotten older it’s become less about gifts and food (obviously #tubiereality) and more about sharing that joy and love with others as well as finding joy in giving.

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Baxter stayed up for Santa 😉

I love finding special gifts for my loved ones but also finding ways to share with the less fortunate; sometimes this means giving money or gifts, sometimes meals or just festive cookies, or othertimes it is giving other gifts that I can make like simple cards with meaningful words, a painting, or a simple necklace or bracelet that I have made. In the past we have given gifts and food to local families or children who were in need, sent boxes of gifts to children in different areas or countries, and this year I’ve started a new nonprofit called “Newbie Tubies” for other individuals who are getting feeding tubes for the first time! I’m setting up both an online wish list and will eventually be asking for monetary donations for extra supplies and shipping, but I’m also selling my paintings in hopes to raise money to send out these packages to help ease the transition for new tubies.

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Breaking out the festive tubie pads 🙂

The holidays are a beautiful and special time. It’s filled with love and joy, gatherings with friends and family, and the gift of giving. If you’re able to give, I suggest finding a way to give to someone who is in need, whether that be an individual person or a family who could use some Christmas cheer, volunteering at the food bank or soup kitchen, or donating to an organization of your choice that is donating to those in need; ‘tis the season of giving and spreading the holiday spirit. <3

Lots of love and an early wish of happy holidays! 🙂

My Art: A New Coping Mechanism

For sale or will do commission work! Email for more info!

Learning to Live in Today

This week, while the class I began school with started their fourth year of college, I started my third year of medical leave.

People often ask me if it makes me sad to see posts about college or to drive through grounds when I’m headed to the hospital, but mostly what I feel is disbelief. How has it been so long? Does life really move on so easily without me? Will I ever get to be “normal” again? Do I even know what that means and could I return to it if I tried?

At a young age we start to understand that our lives follow a guided path; sure, everyone’s is different and we all stray from that path at times, but in general, it is set up for us. We grow up being loved and cared for, we learn right vs. wrong, we go to school and hopefully graduate. From there, you either get a job or “further your education,” aka more school. Some people get married, some have children, some do neither. The order isn’t the same for everyone, but we all make plans and in general, most people end up following some variance of “the path,” as I’m calling it.

Well, my path was altered in high school. I got (really) sick when I was about 16. It took me years to get real answers, in reality, I’m continuing to seek more answers to this day, but since getting sick, my life has been anything but “normal.” I spent time on homebound from high school, I did one year of college before withdrawing on medical leave, I’ve lost countless friends because of these illnesses, and I’ve lost any firm perspective on what my future may hold. However, I’ve also grown and become a stronger and wiser person.

Do I wish I were starting my fourth year with my friends right now? Of course. But I’ve learned that we can’t always predict where we will be in four years or four months or even four days…

You don’t have to fit anyone else’s mold. Yes, go to college; study whatever you want! Or, take a gap year. Travel. Volunteer. Be an actress, an athlete, an architect, a doctor, a musician. Be a stay at home mom, a stay at home dad. Be you.

Most importantly, don’t hold back. Splurge where ever you can, big or small. Do all you can to live in the moment and enjoy every possible second. Today, right now, is all you have. Now don’t go spending your family’s life savings on lottery tickets or a trip to vegas using the excuse “Rachel told you to,” but buy yourself something you’ve been wanting when you get your paycheck, just because you earned it. Take your parents or your family out to eat just because they deserve it. Do something just because it makes you or someone else smile, do it just to make memories.

Life is beautiful, but it is short and unpredictable. Throw caution to the wind and always follow your heart.