On a sunny October morning in 2007, my whole world changed. I had completed a 5k charity run for breast cancer awareness the day before, and at 31 years old, I had never felt better, fitter, or more in control. I woke up, got out of bed, and was shocked when I almost fell to the ground because my legs were so weak. As the day progressed, I felt worse, and within a few more days, I was barely able to walk unaided.
CASCADE OF SYMPTOMS
A cascade of symptoms and physical breakdowns followed, peaking with the sudden onset of dozens of terrifying allergic reactions for which I had no explanation. After my third ambulance ride in a week and my first ICU admission, my family and I began to realize that whatever was wrong might take much more than my mobility.
The following year was the most difficult and painful of my life. The best we could determine was that an auto-immune disease process was wreaking havoc with everything from vitamin B12 levels to kidney function to allergic responses. I was almost completely home-bound except for emergency visits to the hospital, and for months I required around-the-clock care. Long-term steroids calmed some symptoms but brought on others, including diabetes, osteoporosis, infection, and the creation of 30-40 kidney stones a week for eight months.
BROKEN & HELPLESS
In time, I slowly learned to deal with a schedule and diet dictated by medical need, but by the winter of 2008, I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror. I had multiple, permanent spinal fractures, my muscles were atrophied and weak, and steroids had left me with what the medical profession charmingly calls “moon face.” (Picture a long-lost sibling of the Campbell’s Soup kids...) The toll one short year had taken on my health was devastating, but the toll it took on my husband and two children was even more heart-breaking. I was 32 years old and had never before felt so broken or helpless.
I am so thankful that my story does not end there. While that October 2007 morning brought the beginning of hardship I could never imagine, it also brought the start of hope I had never dreamed. One by one, the labels I used to define myself fell away: Active? It took all my strength to walk up and down the stairs. Independent? I couldn't even do my own grocery shopping. Giving? What could I possibly have to give? But the more of me that disappeared — the me that will ever run or jump again; the me that can eat at a restaurant; the me that can take a spontaneous road trip, or dress without wearing a medical ID— as those pieces were taken, I came to realize that what mattered was what remained: my faith in God, my amazing family and friends, my sense of humor, my desire to persevere, and my ability to create.
CREATED FOR JOY
There were times when my hands shook so that I could not hold a paintbrush, but I will always be an artist. I am so thankful that I am now able to enjoy long, fruitful hours in the studio, and that art means something different to me than it did a few years ago. Art means rejoicing in the moment, doing the most I can with today, and no longer holding myself to unachievable standards of perfection and planning. Art means laughter, determination, and fulfillment despite pain and setbacks. I have given myself permission to make mistakes and to make creating art a priority, and art has given me stress relief and freedom in return. When I call myself an artist, I am proclaiming to the world that I believe we are all created for joy.
To learn more about Spring's art and life, visit createdforjoy.com.