By: Danielle Press
Strangers, discomfort, surprise, uncertainty, beauty, magic, discovery. These have always been the details that make up my dreams. These are the dreams of a traveler and an adventurer. When I was younger I never believed in myself, but I believed in those dreams. So in 2010 I moved to South Korea. By chance I met an amazing man after crossing paths on a side street. I had the most remarkable experiences, and finally, after spending most of my life in a daze of depression, I started to feel alive. Surprise, fascination, and cultural misunderstandings became part of my every day life. I dreamed of becoming a woman far different from the girl I had left behind. And I did. After two years in the land of Kimchi and Soju, two years battling habit and nurturing growth, my boyfriend and I went backpacking for 4 1/2 months through seven countries in Southeast Asia. With the exception of the absence of family and friends, this was the happiest I had ever been. This was the realization of years of daydreaming and yearning. After what felt like a lifetime of darkness, I had finally created light.
Upon returning state side I spent some much needed quality time with those I loved. I knew it was to be short lived. I knew my happiness. I had found it. I wasn’t going to let go of it. It was time for Jeff and I to get on another plane and experience something new. This time our country of choice was Taiwan. A lush country with sea turtles the size of VW Bugs just off the shore line. Where the formidable scent of fermented Stinky Tofu could be smelt a mile away and where people zip around on scooters with one or more children, or dogs, between their legs.
All was going accordingly. We had a job. We had a flight. We had contacts and friends ready to welcome us with open arms and side street dumplings. We had plans. However, after years of traveling, and my ultimate decision to continue traveling, I found there were consequences. A biproduct of my lifestyle was, and still is, the worry my parents have to live with, being on the other side of the world. They regularly fear the unknown and the danger that could find me abroad. But nothing ever happened. It wasn't until I was in my own city, close to my family, that the uncertainty of life caught up to me. A boat propeller nearly took my life, and with it, my dreams; my dreams which had finally moved from whispers to screams.
Two days later I finally woke up in an ICU, intubated, terrified, and paralyzed from the knee down on my left leg. I had survived, but would my dreams? My dreams had always been to travel and live abroad. I had manifested and lived this dream. But now it had to evolve. It evolved in conjunction with my new reality. I needed to dream big in order to battle my way out of this nightmare. Cautious optimism. Careful, quiet dreams. Starting as a whisper within my private heart, afraid of realities response if I spoke it out loud. So I again started to dream of Taiwan. This time I wasn't alone, I had Jeff to dream with me. This blossomed into dreams of once again traveling. To define it as merely traveling does not yield justice to what I really craved. I wanted to live with purpose, love, awe, and gratitude everyday. To a certain extent the dreams sounded the same as the ones prior to the accident, but the person speaking them had changed. My world was different and so was I. Now my dreams had a companion, a compromise- paralysis. I wanted to live life the same as before, but now I had to work for independence and mobility, things often taken for granted. I wanted to experience everything, quiet literally, on my own two feet.
No one thought I would ever make it to Taiwan. At times I wasn't sure if I I would ever make it anywhere, let alone as far as the other side of the world. No more backpacking, no more dirty hostels, strangers who become family, a constantly shifting landscape, or locals whose kindness and smiles transcend the lingual gap. No more adventure.
26 years old. Was this going to be my story? “She survived the boat accident, but she stopped living.” Would I allow paralysis and fear to keep me stagnant and stationary? While I was fortunate to escape total paralysis, and while I will forever be grateful that the paralysis is confined to only my left leg, it did and still does posses many challenges.
Fast forward, rewind, pause, and play. Now I am 28 years old and I just completed one year living in Taiwan with my boyfriend. My life is a constant whirlwind of new places, new people, new challenges, and new wonder. I am continuously realizing my dream. Yet, nearly three years after the accident, my dreams have once again evolved. This time it has evolved in consort with my recovery rather than my prognosis. I want to run. I want to run more than a quick walk. I want to run without pain. I want to run for more than a couple hundred meters at a time. I have had many reoccurring dreams of a post accident life, where I am running. I mean full out, long strides, propelling my self forward. I am still injured and still paralyzed but I am a new version of myself. A version of myself whose body responds to the demands asked of it. The dreams that have played over and over in my mind during sleep have inspired me to dream awake. They weren’t sure if I would walk. Now I do. I am not sure if I can run. But I will try, I will dream.
As children we believed in life’s possibilities. We’d be told of our dreams improbabilities but always insisted on their certainties. As adults we only allow ourselves to dream big when our eyes are closed, our reason is turned off, and our hearts are free. We don't dream with intention anymore. We don't believe our dreams can fall in context with realities demands or life’s prognoses. So, we must fight. We must fight against a dreamless existence. We must fight for our ultimate happiness. We must let our dreams change, evolve, reshape, fall apart, and regroup.
One month after the accident I became the first person in the world to receive an experimental nerve surgery. Since that fateful day in September when the accident happened, that day in the hospital when I was first asked if I would consider this opportunity, that day in the ER when they weren’t sure if the Schwann cells had been contaminated with bacteria, my prognosis has changed. I can now achieve the motion of planter flexion. It is not with the same strength, and it is only slight, but it is a movement that can help me fulfill my dream to run. I am working tirelessly to see this through, so now I dare you to dream. I dare you to transform yourself into your own dreamcatcher, your own dream chaser. Realize your dreams and cultivate them. Dreams are not constructed to fit one size. They are not confined to one type or one style. Dreams are fluid, they are ever changing. They can start small and grow big. They can start tall and then consolidate through focus. They start as a bud, and only with the elements, the internal elements of love, strength, dedication, and patience, can they bloom. We must not write off dreams as unattainable moments which reside only in our quiet minds. We must dream awake. So again, I DARE you to dream. I dare you to say these dreams out loud, to tell people about them, to express them and nurture them. The second they leave your heart and come out your mouth they are possible. I dare you to turn your whispered dreams into demanding screams.