Through the Fire

Every once in a while in life we endure a period of time that challenges our resolve. The turbulence may last a day, a week, or a month. During this time we might face one obstacle or a hundred.

February was that time for me.

Last month was a perfect storm (pun definitely intended) of stress, bad news and adversity that came to a head all at once. I knew far in advance that this stretch of time would be a challenge – the second semester of business school is no walk in the park, whether it’s looking for an internship, managing a full course load, or working on a semester-long consulting project with unfamiliar team members. On the surface, it would seem like there is no time for the unexpected with such a busy schedule. However, many unforeseen challenges cropped up, one after another, that led me to the brink of a meltdown.

Originally I had written this post in the form of a rant – laying out there all the things that stressed me out, got me down, and made me angry. Then I deleted it. All of it. All that was left was the first paragraph. I read what I wrote over and over again, dissatisfied. I kept asking myself, what’s the point? I’m not comfortable complaining, and to rant incessantly felt like complaining. So instead, I have decided to write about how the stress affected me, rather than what led to the stress itself.

To be honest, I’m not thrilled with how I dealt with the challenges I faced last month. I started out handling them well, even going so far as to laugh at my misfortune.

Oh, you have an interview in New York on Friday? Here’s a blizzard.

Weatherman predicts 10 inches of snow? Here’s 18 instead.

You have a test today? Why don’t you enter Fulton Hall through the trash room – after all the front is blocked off, and no, we didn’t send you an email beforehand.

Smiling and making a joke out of a difficult situation only got me so far. Soon, my exasperation and dark humor crossed over to anxiety and insomnia. I could feel myself physically deteriorating under the incessant stress. Heartburn became an unwelcome guest after each meal. My nerves were frayed. I was tired. I was weak. I was miserable.

There were times where I wondered how long this could keep going. I kept thinking to myself, this can’t be what life is about. Life can’t just be struggling each and every day against a tidal wave of adversity. I knew it could be worse. It can always be worse, which made me even more frustrated. Is life just something you are supposed to endure on a daily basis until you die?

I wondered if my string of bad luck and stress would ever turn around. I wondered if it would ever stop snowing. I knew spring break was coming, but it seemed so far away. There was so much that had to be done still – presentations, finals, accepting or rejecting my internship offer in New York – before I could relax, before I could take a deep breath, hold it in as long as possible, and exhale.

But it passed. Somehow, after much praying and pleading and complaining out loud to anyone within earshot, it passed.

As I write this from the comfort of spring break, I see this period of time in its proper context. Perspective has returned, although it took many emotional bumps and bruises to get there. Physically I feel almost back to normal, which is to say, as normal as I can be given that nothing about my muscles is “normal”. As for the sequence of events that led to a near mental breakdown – some events were predictable (finals, bad weather), and others were completely unexpected (a sudden death of a close family friend). There were warning signs that I ignored that could have led me to make more rational decisions. I could have relaxed more. I could have taken more time to put things into perspective, and to enjoy the positives while acknowledging the negatives.

There is no doubt the fourth quarter will pick up right where the third quarter left off. There will be pitfalls and unexpected roadblocks, but there will also be triumphs. There will be more snow, but there will also be warmer days. The only prediction I can make is that my future will be unpredictable. That’s life.

For the week off, some classmates went to tropical locations, or to California, or overseas to exotic destinations. As for myself, I decided to go back to Connecticut, where I was greeted by (what else?) four inches of snow. Sometimes, the best vacation is home.

Warm sandy beaches, palm trees and umbrella drinks were instead found in my mind. After a rough month of February, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What If?

Someone asked me the other day if I had studied abroad while at Northeastern. I told them I had the opportunity in my junior year but I turned it down. I had no desire to leave Boston or incur extra expenses for my parents, who were paying for my education at the time. I wasn’t much of a traveler; instead I enjoyed hanging out with friends and living in the city.

After that conversation, something began gnawing at me. What if I had known? What if I knew the challenges I would face after college?

I was diagnosed with my disease in high school, but I didn’t grasp its magnitude. I had no symptoms, so I didn’t find it necessary to do any research. I had no inclination that it would manifest so quickly. In retrospect, this casual attitude towards my condition was both a blessing and a curse.

If I knew the struggles I would experience after graduation, would I have traveled more? If that was the only decision I would be faced with, then absolutely. I would have taken the opportunity to travel somewhere – Europe, Australia, maybe even South America. I was fully-able in college, energetic and without limitations. Even though I didn’t have much money at the time, I would have found a way to explore the world while I still could. I would have appreciated that I had a narrow window of opportunity and I would have taken advantage of my mobility. Under these circumstances, I certainly wish I had traveled more.

But I don’t feel regret, mainly because I know that advanced knowledge of my disease would have had far-reaching ramifications. Had I known my condition, had I truly understood that seven years after graduation I would be falling regularly, and that I would have to purchase a scooter to travel long distances, I would have been crushed by the knowledge. It would have been too much for me to deal with while trying to remain a normal, fun-loving college student. College is the last period in your life before the real world takes away your remaining innocence. Life shouldn’t beat you down so soon.

Considering the emotional struggle I encountered when my symptoms manifested, I don’t think I would have handled this foresight very well while still in school. I would have felt like a ticking time bomb, always wondering if an ache or a pain or a feeling of weakness would be the start of my descent into disability. Perhaps I would have been so paranoid and depressed that I wouldn’t have found the enjoyment in traveling abroad.

On the other hand, maybe I would have enjoyed each day even more, and taken the opposite approach. I could have been galvanized by my impending limitations. The truth is I have no idea, and I never will have any idea. I shouldn’t go back and wonder what could have been, because the past is past. I lived the best I could with the information I had available at the time. Could I have done some more research on my disease? Of course, although it probably would have exposed me earlier to the dark reality I would soon face. Being naive isn’t always so bad.

At the end of the day, I take comfort in the knowledge that everything seems to have turned out the way it was supposed to. Had anything in my past occurred differently – earlier understanding of my condition, traveling abroad when I had the opportunity – I don’t think the sequence of events would have taken place that have put me in the situation I am in today. Any change in my mix of frustration, sadness, pain, and ultimately, determination, could have led me to a much different future. Maybe I wouldn’t have been as motivated as I am today, or I might have put myself in a situation where I fell and got hurt. Maybe I wouldn’t be walking right now. Looking in the past is counter-productive. It is trying to change something that cannot, under any circumstances, be changed. I have to be content with how things turned out, and I am.

Besides, the greatest travels are the ones still ahead of me, greater than any semester-long trip across the ocean. I do not know my ultimate destination, but I know that I am on the road less traveled.

New York City

I can’t say that I expected to write a blog post so soon about New York City, simply because I had no reason to go. However, things can change quickly. When you are a business school student and you don’t have an internship locked up by this time, and a company offers you an interview, you take it no matter where it may be located. For most people, a quick trip down to New York City would be a no-brainer.

For me? I had to use my brain on this one.

I love New York, and in a different life might already be living there. But I’ve chosen to stay in Boston, mainly because I am familiar with the city and am surrounded by a support system that enables me to maintain a high quality of life. That said, I always think about what it would be like to live in New York.

If things break my way, I may soon find out. Last week I was offered a chance to interview at a company down there that I’m interested in (a company that I’ll leave nameless for now since I am superstitious and haven’t gotten an offer yet). Surprisingly, it wasn’t an immediate yes for me to agree to the interview, as the thought of traveling to and from New York, given my lack of mobility, was a bit frightening on the surface.

In fact, part of me wanted to turn it down right off the bat, which in retrospect would have been a terrible idea. Had I done that, I knew deep down I would have regretted it. After careful thought and weighing the pros and cons, I decided to take the challenge head on. It was an opportunity too good to pass up.

I was in New York City for less than 24 hours, but it felt like a week. I took the trip down after a full day of class, right on the heels of an enormous winter storm (I refuse to call it Juno) that rocked New England. Fortunately, the streets were well-plowed, and I was being reimbursed for my Uber trip, so I didn’t have to dwell on the surge pricing. My trip was also made easier by the fact that I wasn’t going alone – two other classmates were interviewing as well. They helped me with my bags and my suit, so that I never had to carry anything the entire time. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to go!

We took a 5:20 train down to New York. I had never taken the Acela before, and let me say, it is SO much better than the Northeast Regional. It helps when someone else is paying for it, sure, but the convenience, the quiet and the lack of stops is worth the cost. Food? Adult beverages? Yes please.

Once we got to Penn Station, we took a cab to the hotel we were staying at, the UN Millennium located right next to the United Nations. The cabs in the city come fast and furious, and it was easier to hail one than to request an Uber (which is not the case in Boston).

The hotel itself was nice, and the employees were extremely helpful and courteous. I have to say though, from an accessibility standpoint, I was disappointed. There are two towers in the building, the East Tower and West Tower. My classmates were in the West Tower, and I was in the East Tower (or was it the other way around?). In order to get to the tower they were staying in, I had to go up three stairs. That may not seem like much, but when you are in my situation, that might as well be an entire flight of stairs. The other option was to go outside, walk to the other building, and enter there, but I thought that was ridiculous, so I didn’t go over. I didn’t think too much of it. After all, the view outside my room was breathtaking.

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My hotel room view.

The next morning I headed downstairs to meet my classmate for breakfast before our interview. I got to the lobby, walked over to the restaurant, only to see that it was down a staircase. I was astonished.

This building was built in the 1970s, which, although that predates the Americans with Disabilities Act, should mean that everyone can easily access the hotel restaurant. Instead, I had to flag down the concierge and have him lead me the way, which if I recall the steps correctly, was to go up to the 2nd floor, walk through the restaurant kitchen, go down two levels in the service elevator, and exit the kitchen. I felt like I was trespassing. For someone in a wheelchair, it would have been difficult, maybe impossible, to navigate the kitchen.

So yeah, that was a little frustrating. Fortunately, the day more than made up for it. I had a great interview, and a positive experience at the company’s headquarters. People were extremely friendly, and I was given all the assistance I needed to navigate the offices. Fingers crossed I’ll hear some good news this week!

After the interview, I went back to the hotel, changed in my friend’s hotel room (I had to bite the bullet and go up the stairs), then camped out and took a nap on one of the chairs in the hotel lobby. Meanwhile, my classmates decided to be Lewis & Clark and walk up and down the city. When they eventually made it back from their three-hour voyage, we took an Uber to Penn Station (shout out to Sherwyn our driver who was secretly a Pats fan!) and headed to the train. Well, first we had to fight off crowds of crazed travelers. New York walkers have three speeds: fast, faster, and I’m going to run you over. It was 5:15 on a Friday, so it wasn’t surprising that everyone was hustling and bustling. It was an obstacle course not to get trampled on or bumped into, as I would most definitely have gone down. I learned long ago to stay out of the way when in crowds. Somehow, I survived unscathed and on my feet.

We arrived back in Boston around 10:15, and I was home by 11. I was exhausted after a long day. I slept until noon on Saturday (and could have slept all day if I didn’t have midterms to study for next week).

All in all, the trip was worthwhile. I got to leave my Boston shell for a day, and build confidence for the future that I can go somewhere big and relatively unknown and stay standing. If all goes well, maybe I will be back here in the summer.

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The view from my classmate’s hotel room.

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