I got sick. Then everything fell apart.

I was rushed to the emergency room by ambulance. And I’ll never forget the look on the surgeon’s face.

“But I can’t have surgery. I just can’t,” I said, wailing hysterically.

He looked at me matter-of-factly and said words that still seem like they were uttered on a movie set. They still echo.

“This is a very serious situation,” he said. “We can do surgery right now, or we could not do the surgery.

“And then you will lay there and die.”

You will die. (Echo). Die. (Echo)

That was only the start. I even ended up in ICU and spent all of September in the hospital. Then my life started slowly falling apart. Piece by piece by piece.

Over the next three months, I lost my health, lost the job I worked tirelessly to attain, lost faith in the idea of medical insurance, lost my hair, lost most of the muscle in my body and lost countless nights of sleep.

And I almost lost myself.

I’m a pretty happy, loved person. But even the most easygoing, well-adjusted people have a limit. I have been carrying a hundred too many needles on my back lately.

It would be unfair to all of my blessings to simply focus on the unfortunate things. I can’t hate 2011, despite its hardships that seemed to reach the moon.

Because I got sick in August and could have died in the hospital. But I didn’t.

Because the nurses could have brushed me off when I told them countless times that I was scared. But they didn’t.

Because my entire family could have let me fend for myself during my three-month (and counting) recovery. But they didn’t. Not. For. A minute.

I was discharged after a month in the hospital – a grueling month of sleeping in an awful bed, getting sponge baths, eating only ice chips and smelling that awful “hospital smell.” A few days after returning home, I received a “get well” card from my aunt. It was thoughtful. It was sweet.

“I hope by the time you get this you will be out of the hospital and feeling better. I will keep saying prayers for you every day. I know you are getting tired of being sick and I know kinda what it’s like to be sick at your stomach – it’s terrible. Hang in there and I hope you get better soon.”

Wait. She *kinda* knows how it feels? When I read those words, I collapsed into tears. She *kinda* knows how it feels? My aunt has been a cancer patient for the better part of a decade. Cancer. She’s had chemotherapy over and over and over again. Now she’s awaiting radiation treatments as the tumor continues to grow inside her helpless body.

And there she was, trying to make ME feel better. There she was, trying to compare her exhausting fight with my setback. Something changed in me at that moment.

Because it could have been worse for me. But it wasn’t.

Because I could have cancer. But I don’t.

Through this whole ordeal, I’ve constantly worried. Worried that every time a nurse came into my hospital room, she’d be carrying a needle. Worried about countless CT results. Worried about watching my hair fall out. Worried because all of the worrying was making it fall out even faster.

I worried that I’d forget how to write.

It was the biggest fear I had: That the one thing I knew how to do in this world – to write, to be a journalist – would fade away because I had “hospital brain.” I had so many medicines in me that sometimes I would press the button to call a nurse and then promptly forget what I wanted. A doctor asked me once during his early-morning rounds, “What do you do for a living?”

I didn’t answer him because I couldn’t find the words. How, I thought later, am I supposed to find the words to put in a major metropolitan newspaper? What if “hospital brain” was my new brain? What then?

That was taken care of for me. Before I could return to work from my leave of absence, I was fired.

My dream job was snatched away from me during my darkest hours. Apparently employers are willing to fight for you when you’re a healthy, productive worker. But when you’ve got a debilitating illness, you’re on your own. No one fights for you then.

Like most people, I’ve had my fair share of heartbreaks. But none hurt as deeply as when I was told I was no longer a part of the professional family I loved. It was worse than the college crush who looked me in the eye and said, “You’re the perfect girl and you’d make a perfect wife… for someone else.” It was the worst heartbreak I’d ever experienced. My newspaper had become my soul mate.

I got mad at everyone and everything. My world – from health to finances to employment to sanity – was crumbling all around me. And why? Because my body had the *audacity* to get sick. It *dared* to be imperfect.

I didn’t invite the snowball from hell into my life. It came uninvited. It didn’t even knock.

I started thinking about all the people who seem to sail through life. I know a lot of them. I’m related to a lot of them. And I got mad at all of them.

Then came the most intense anger of all. Why, God, why? I used all my remaining strength to blame God. I would lie in bed and yell at him through tears. Every night. Over and over and over again: I’m a hard-working person. I’m a good person. I pray every day. I study my Bible. I give thanks. I help others. I’m honest. I’m caring. I’m loving. I give the world my best effort, every second my heart beats in my chest.

Why me?

I heard someone say once, that they believe God asks more of some than he does of others – that he even asks some to carry a piece of the sky. Well, for the past four months, I have felt like an entire galaxy has been strapped to my back. I received a note from an old friend who wrote, “knowing that God never gives us more than we can handle reassures me that God must think very highly of you.”

It made me tremble. Then I did what seems to come naturally nowadays – I cried. I cried one of those ugly cries. The kind where you sob so loudly, that if someone overheard, they’d think a heifer was giving birth right there in your bedroom. Since August, I’ve perfected the ugly cry.

But was it really fair to compare my life’s cutting-room footage with other people’s highlight shows? No matter how much I wanted to deny it, no one’s life is perfect. While their journey may seem seamlessly paved, it still has gravel underneath.

Because, like they say, sometimes God calms the storm. But sometimes, he lets the storm rage on and calms his child instead.

Because the world beat me to a pulp. But that knockout gave me a reason to put up my dukes for another round.

Because I had my heart broken and my beloved career kidnapped. But not even a thief in the night can steal my will, my talent or my ambition.

I will rise again, and then I will be thankful for those awful depths. The deep, dark hole I slipped into wasn’t something of which to be embarrassed. I’m (still) learning, day by day, that it was a blessing.

Because if you don’t ever have a setback where you question God’s love for you, you won’t ever experience the powerful moment when he proves you wrong. I don’t simply have “faith” of God’s love for me. I now have proof. Evidence.

Because all of those terrible circumstances, the lifetime of hurdles I had to clear in a few months, ultimately awakened me. When I look at all of the scars on my stomach, the huge bald spots on my head, the boxes of my belongings that used to adorn the newsroom – it gives me power to fight harder to regain “Brandi.” I want to go back to the happy, carefree person I was and not feel like I have to pretend that my life isn’t falling apart. I’m starting to hope again.

Because all of those experiences broke me and could have destroyed me. But they resuscitated me.

Because I’ve always been grateful for my blessings. But now I’m going to try to be grateful for my hardships.

Because hardships may crack my spirit and my soul. But those little crevices are lifelines for the future.

Because God didn’t promise that life would be wrapped up with shiny paper and a beautiful red bow.

But it is still a gift.

-Brandi Ball is (now) an unemployed, award-winning journalist who is living and blogging in Oklahoma.

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