As I strolled through the campus of the college I once attended, the smells and sights prompted memories to come dancing back. Scattered memories flitted past from a time period clouded and hazy. Nights spent in a field with my best friend, now husband, sparring. Scampering through the underground tunnels and passageways that few knew of to avoid the crowds. Running across campus just for the fun of it.

With the memories came a strange feeling, one I couldn’t place at first. After a while, it came to me, the feeling that had taken over me was wistfulness and longing, something that struck me as odd. While good things occurred during my time at college, it was also a time of great mental turmoil and the time period during which I was in an abusive relationship. It was at this college that I was raped. Why was I feeling nostalgia for a time and place that held so much trauma and pain?

It wasn’t until the next day that I was finally able to understand my longing. College was a time when I was healthier. I was able to run around. I was able to constantly do things without extreme exhaustion. This was a time before spoons and careful planning. It was before constant pain and fatigue. The longing I felt was not for that place or that time necessarily but for the abilities I once had.

It wasn’t until I was back in that place, surrounded by familiar sights and smells that brought back buried memories, that I realized I’d forgotten what it was like to be healthy. I’ve been in pain long enough now that I often forget what my life was like before endometriosis took over. I forget that there was a time that I didn’t have to constantly plan my life to ensure I’ll have enough energy to make it through my day. I forget what it was like to live without chronic pain.

My life has changed drastically since the pain started. While I can see some of the good that has come out of it, like being more compassionate and understanding of others, I wonder what my life would have been like if I didn’t have pain. What would I have accomplished? What would I be doing now?

Therein lies one of the traps of chronic illness, the what ifs. We can wonder endlessly what life would be life if we hadn’t gotten sick. We can wonder what we might have done or been. But at the end of the day, I’m still in pain. At the end of the day, I still have a disease ravaging my body that I have little hope of treating at this time. Getting stuck in the what ifs only hurts me.

My life may not be what I would have ever dreamed it would be, but I still have many good things. I have a husband whom I love dearly. I have friends I care deeply about. I’ve become involved in online communities full of some truly incredible people that I never would have come to know of otherwise. My life may not be what I planned, but it is the only one I’m going to get so it’s up to me to make the most of it.