What happens when life hits us with yet another challenge? How do we respond? Whether it’s a physical challenge, a financial one, or an emotional one, they all have the potential to flatten us. It’s how we counter the situation that makes all the difference.
A new hero of mine is Jennifer Brea. She’s a powerhouse that just happens to struggle with a physically and sometimes mentally debilitating illness. She was a PhD student at Harvard in her late 20’s when it struck. After a fever of nearly 105 degrees for about 10 days, the dizziness hit and eventually a whole host of symptoms that changed the course of her life. Instead of letting this mysterious illness define her and shut her down, she shifted from student and freelance journalist to became a filmmaker and activist to find answers for herself and hosts of others.
Her most recent film “Unrest,” which premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, chronicles her journey and that of many others living in unreal circumstances. She is championing a cause that is blessing the lives of countless people around the world. In response to an interview regarding the inspiration of creating an earlier film, she said, ”I think I must have felt I had only two choices: I could curl up in a ball and die, or I could make something.” I remember this choice of my own oh so well. In another interview, she said of the project, “It has been a way to deal with the anger and confusion and fear.” She applied those powerful emotions to a productive and life-changing pursuit.
When I was sick, I too wondered how I would deal with the never-ending pain, the debilitating fatigue, and the disheartening “brain fog.” I remember wishing some nights that I would just not wake up the next morning. It was too hard. I couldn’t imagine living the rest of my life in this kind of overwhelming strain. What kind of future was even possible? I sunk into depression periodically, but, luckily, I didn’t stay there. There were times that I found a project to work on. I learned to sew, knit and crochet. I even made baby blankets for about 18 new babies in just a few weeks. These meaningful projects kept me going. They gave me something to get out of bed for. It gave me purpose when my life seemed pointless – a craving to be useful, even.
A young woman in one of Jennifer’s films, Jessica Taylor, said of her struggles, “When you are stuck not able to do a lot of things, you get a real desire to push on and really make something in the world.” As the years went on while I fought through my illnesses, this feeling grew stronger and stronger in me. I knew somewhere inside of me was something that could bless the world. I craved the chance to contribute to society, to be valuable, to help someone else that needed hope. It drove me.
I’m so grateful that those days are gone, and I enjoy a normal life with my sweet husband and children. I’m going after my dreams and even achieving some of them! I’m serving the world in a way I feel God has prepared me to do.
Watching people like Jennifer Brea is so inspiring and empowering. She is doing so much good in the world despite her significant limitations. She is a gift and a light to people who struggle with chronic illnesses and their families. She gives so much HOPE. I applaud her and look forward to contributing to her cause in the near future.
In the meantime, I invite you to watch one of her most recent appearances – a TED Talk entitled “What happens when you have a disease doctors can’t diagnose” (below). It made me cry in sadness as I remembered that pain, in gratitude that I don’t live that challenge anymore, in empathy for those still suffering, and in hope for all who I get to help regain their lives. I’m making something in the world. You can too.
Great articles about Jennifer Brea –
NJ Woman Felled by ‘Devastating Disease Doctors Have Never Heard of’ – http://abcnews.go.com/Health/nj-woman-bedridden-devastating-disease-doctors-heard/story?id=20734936
Interview: Jennifer Brea Talks About Obstacles, Adjustments, and Inspiration – http://www.prohealth.com/library/showarticle.cfm?LIBID=19165
Image above from the film “Unrest”