Pioneer Species. This is the name for hearty plants that are the first to colonize an ecosystem that has been totally damaged or disrupted by natural (or not) causes. They come to life as a result of massive destruction. I remember learning about this in one of my early biology classes towards the beginning of my college career, and it seems oddly fitting for the current state of my life.
A great deal of my life as I knew it before my accident has gone up in smoke. Friendships. Relationships. Future plans. I have spent a lot of time mourning these losses. Change can be painful, especially when there is so much at once. It’s so hard to square my life now with how I identified myself before this accident; student, athlete, friend, etc. I am still all of these things, but the makeup is different.
I am still a student and scholar, but there is a fire within me to succeed that was definitely not there before. That could be due to my newfound wisdom talking, or I could be this motivated out of the sheer terror I feel when I think about applying to medical school. Its hard to tell if what I have now is a result of the accident, and what is just who I would have evolved to be as a result of the natural maturing process.
I am still an athlete, but truthfully I’m still searching for how to reconcile this one with my current state of being. I only JUST started being able to go for a jog without a limp (one of the remnants of my stroke), and my jumping jacks probably look a little lopsided. I certainly don’t look very athletic. If I were to pursue the athlete I know I’m capable of being, the risk is too high. I face death every time I get on my horse. And I’ve fought too hard to KEEP my life to take that kind of risk every day. So, for now I am just like every other adult rider; I do it because I love horses and love to ride, I do not do it to compete. And that is going to have to be enough for me.
Like the change in my identity as an athlete, my identity as a friend has changed. I know I have touched on this before, but I guess I’m not done here. It’s been an extremely painful part of my recovery, maybe even the most painful. This is where the metaphor of the ‘pioneer species’ resonates the strongest. I survived a powerful destruction. For the past year, I have struggled to piece myself back together, to get back to the optimistic person I used to be. But, I am changed, and frankly, I like what I am learning about myself and my optimism now comes from this. Some friends did not make it through this with me, but some stuck and flourished and are now taking up my entire world. I will never be able to thank my friends that stood by me enough. To the friends that came and held my hand when I physically could not hold yours back, thank you. To the friends who ignore my self-deprecating remarks about my face, thank you. To the friends that smile and pretend not to notice when I struggle to sip my drink without a straw, thank you. To my friends who block careless drunk people from bowling me over in the bar, thank you. This is not even a drop in the ocean of things that I am thankful for, but they are some of the most meaningful to me.