Hello. My name is Chelsey. And I am a Type A Personality.
I am not going to go into the "nature vs. nurture" debate here to discuss how I came to be the way I am…although I do believe the "nurture" part definitely played a large part in molding my approach to life.
Being the top student in my class was not really that important to me until junior high, when I realized that I kept receiving high grades without much effort. Soon, my competitive streak kicked in and I thought, "Hmmm…imagine my potential if I actually applied myself and put more effort." Efforts turned into goals, goals turned into ambition, and ambition turned into competition. If I wasn't competing against someone else, I was competing against myself. If you are a FRIENDS fan like me, that may remind you of Monica Gellar when she said, "I am in a competition with ME - the best kind of competition!"
My family raised me to always do my best. And after that, to be better than my best. "You're so smart. You have so much potential. You can do so many things."
And yes - with smarts, ambition, and the drive - I was ready to conquer the world. I had my whole life planned at the age of 17. I was going to graduate at the top of my class, receive a scholarship at a prestigious school where I would do a double major in modern languages and politics, and then move on to law school. My linear plan was set - bam, bam, bam - all I needed to do was to make the most of my time. There was no time to waste, only deadlines and overtime.
But then at the age of 17, life took a drastic turn that forever changed my perspective on time.
I became diagnosed with an incurable life-long illness called central nervous system vasculitis, a neurological illness where my immune system becomes overactive and attacks the blood cells in my brain. As a result, I could suffer from multiple neurological symptoms such as coma, seizures, and strokes. (For a full story on my illness, please click here). Without a cure, I know not when my illness may attack again. God has blessed me three times so far with full recovery after each flare-up. I do not live with the disabilities that many people who live with this diagnosis must endure.
During my first flare up in 2005, I was hospitalized for three months. I woke up from my coma near the end of August, and one of my first questions was, "Has school started?"
You would probably think that I would have milked this opportunity to lay around in bed, indulging in leisure, and using my illness to push off finishing my senior year. But not me…with a central line in my heart and an IV hooked to my arm, I was still writing letters to my teachers requesting for homework so that I can keep up with my class.
Determination isn't always such a detriment. It was determination that propelled me to defy doctors' prognoses and prove that I CAN still succeed, even with this disease in my brain. They were convinced that I would live with cognitive disabilities for the rest of my life, but with hard work, I recovered fully, graduating on time with my senior class with the top of my class.
But CNS vasculitis had interrupted my plans. Since I had a late start to my senior year, I was not able to meet the deadline for university applications. I took a six month hiatus and reevaluated. I decided to move to the west coast and start my university career in January. This move turned into one of my biggest blessings in life as I came to find my passion in social sciences, encountered wonderful friends, and eventually met and married my husband.
Five years had passed by without my diagnosis disabling me in any way. In 2011, I had applied to the social work graduate program in Toronto, and was eager to begin my graduate. I had my two year outlook: get married, move to Toronto, go to grad school, graduate with an MSW and start my planned career.
But even the best-laid plans can be interrupted unexpectedly, and once again my illness resurfaced and forced me to reevaluate my priorities. My husband and I decided not to move, and that I would postpone graduate school. Graduate school is - of course- very stressful, and stress would only exacerbate my illness and impede recovery.
My bachelor's degree is only in social sciences, with a certificate in human services, a concentration in sociology, and a minor in political studies and psychology. It may all sound great on my resume but it is still not enough to start a social worker's career without an MSW.
I did recover from my flare up in 2011, but once again, priorities shifted and my goals became muddled. What can I do with my life now? Although I still desired to get my masters degree, I was not sure if it was worth investing the hundred thousand dollars in tuition at an American university (as opposed to investing ten thousand dollars in a Canadian university as originally planned).
My husband started a new career path in IT that he enjoys. I started a new job as a behavior technician working with teenagers and children who have special needs, but even at that job, I hear the voices of my past whispering, "You're so smart. You can do so much more. You have so much potential. This is not enough. You are wasting your talent, wasting your time…you are wasting your life."
The dangers of having a driven personality is that sometimes you don't know exactly where you are driving, you just have this sense of urgency that there is always something better you can do, there is always that next goal to strive for, there is no peace in your current circumstance.
I think it takes great strength to be able to reevaluate priorities in life, and accept that there are some things we cannot change, but we can always change our perspective. Type A personalities are all about control and are often void of spontaneity. But as I have learned, a driven personality doesn't always drive you to where you need to be. Sometimes it takes greater strength to just pause in life, appreciate the present, and reflect on our current blessings rather than always focusing our mind on what is next on the list.
I went to church last weekend and the speaker (Adam Carpenter) said something that really resonated with me. He referred to the allegory often mentioned in the Bible of people as sheep and God as our Shepherd. He says that in Biblical times, the shepherds were the ones who guided their sheep through the pastures. They named them. They cared for them. Sometimes they were willing to risk their life to protect them from wolves and other predators. Nowadays, sheep no longer need much of a shepherd. There are shepherding dogs trained to drive them around in packs. Farmers can drive vehicles to urge the sheep in the direction that they want. But the speaker mentioned that we were not meant to be driven, we were meant to be led. I need to let God lead me rather than let this world drive me around crazy making me believe that I am never going to be good enough. I need to stop putting God in the backseat and let Him be the one who drives me to what I want to do with life, not personal ambition.
It's difficult living with a chronic illness and a Type A personality. Voices still pester me and say, "Why aren't you going to grad school? Didn't you plan a better career for yourself? Why are you resting? Don't you know there is so much to do?"
It's just a matter of perspective. I need to appreciate the present rather than processing it as how I think it should be. Retraining my mind has been a difficult process, but I am getting there. I still bake too much food when people ask me to bring dessert to a potluck. I still occasionally scan Craigslist to see if there any advertisements for jobs that can help advance my career. I still have that competitive streak when playing board games. Meanwhile, I remind myself:
But competition, determination and ambition don't drive my life anymore. I have learned to be a person who is led, rather than driven. I have learned to befriend time rather than make it my enemy. I have accepted that there are some days where I may be too tired to clean the house, and sometimes my brain just needs to shut down and watch a silly movie.
I need to remember that WHO I am is more important than what I DO.
My journey is the journey that God has given me and I shouldn't compare it with that of other people. Envy and regret only distort reality and keep me from accepting and appreciating the positive aspects of my own life.
I need to stop anticipating "tomorrow" and live in the "right now."
Sometimes I need to save my energy for a battle worth fighting. Fighting for my health is more important than fighting for my career.
1 Peter 4:11 says, "If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies." Therefore I am never too weak, too sick, too small, too poor, or too "anything" to serve God - I just need to have the heart so God can use me. And being God's instrument in this world is higher than any type of worldly success I could have envisioned for myself.
"When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, I used everything you gave me." Erma Bombeck
My name is Chelsey and I am a recovering Type A personality.