Silence wins over chaos during illness

It’s around 5 a.m. A tangerine-orange sun bleeds through the backdoor on the first floor of my house, creeping into my bedroom.

I type the last sentence of a story I’ve had in my head for months, as a draft from the garage door hits the back of my neck. A shadow of silhouettes bounces off my bedroom wall before I finish. Then I see my mom’s travel bag – the dark, embroidered one she always takes with her when she has to go to the hospital – packed and sitting on the chair by the door.

I watch her crawl down the steps. My dad waits for her at the bottom. Her Crohn’s disease has taken ahold of her again – a disease that I admittedly know very little about, except that it causes excruciating pain. When an attack hits, time is rarely on your side – at least in my mom’s case.

She faintly smiles and tells me to “keep order” until she gets back, as she always does.

This scene plays out the same way every time. I get to a point where I want to scream until my lungs give out, but I choose to sit in a pool of emotion until I get myself centered again.

At this point, there’s so much going on around me – so many footsteps, shadows and sounds passing by my door. It causes a kind of chaos that’s familiar. I try not to add to it. In that very moment I realize there’s strength in silence.

I’m a fairly quiet person, even when you strip away all the personal choices I’ve made and the circumstances I didn’t necessarily choose. I think, more than anything, those things have taught me that while there’s always a lesson to be learned through chaos, there’s an even bigger lesson to be learned in quietly fighting your way through it.

I think there’s also so much “noise” in chaotic times that you sometimes need to take yourself out of the equation, be it physically or mentally.

Even though I can’t remove myself physically, I can do so mentally – and use that “noise” to my advantage. However, it’s hard to gain any advantage when you can’t think or sort out your emotions enough to know what to do with them. That’s why the fighter in me comes out so many times – and it’s also the reason why it’s so hard to watch my mom walk out the door when her Crohn’s takes over.

Every time that garage door shuts behind her, there’s a silence that grows more and more familiar. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago when I heard it again – and it more than likely won’t be the last time. With it came yet another suit of armor that I’ve learned to wear.

I’d say silence has become my ally – not just because of my mom’s situation, but because of the public life I’ve chosen to live. Through it all, I’ve also learned when to break my silence and when to use it as a tool.

Silence is only a bad thing if you let it be a bad thing. It doesn’t always make you weak, nor does it mean you’re always alone. It can be your best teacher and turn you into the warrior you never thought you were.

Erin Kelly, 29, was born with cerebral palsy in Korea, and lives in Altoona. In addition to this column, she also writes for online publications The Huffington Post, The Good Men Project and The Mobility Resource. Email her at WriterWheels28