I worry that I might always be this way. I’m afraid that I’ve fundamentally hit a wall physically, emotionally and psychologically that has changed the core of who I am.

What if I can no longer tell people that I’m fine?

Co-workers, friends, and even strangers, now know that I’m not fine because of my embarrassing physical symptoms. Sometimes, I shake, I can’t remember words, I can’t breathe, I’m weak and I need to sit a lot. My eyes dart from here to there when someone speaks to me, and they know instantly that I’m not the Abby that I once was. The calm, collected, articulate woman is now unable to formulate a coherent thought. She’s not able to sit still. She can no longer fool everyone around her.

“Abby, how are you?” someone asks. And “I’m fine” can no longer be my response. It’s obvious that it isn’t true.

I’ve changed. I used to be able to sit for hours in uninterrupted concentration. I found comfort, productivity and value in all that could be accomplished in that time.

Now, my mind starts and stops. I dodge between tasks. I have to stand frequently. My restless mind and body require me to shift and change and refocus dozens of times each hour. I have to leave my desk and walk around in order to stop my heart from racing.

And in all of those breaks, things are lost. Tasks, messages, calls, and value slips through the cracks of time that I must now create in my day in order to survive.

How long will it be this way? At 30, have I lost the old Abby? Is she gone?

I liked her.

I knew how to use her.

Actually, it’s not true that I liked her. I didn’t. I used her though. She was a platform, a mechanism, a tool that worked well to care for others and things around me that I loved. She served people and purposes well. And now, she’s no longer cooperating. And for the first time, I have to figure out how to love her and care for her. How to reconcile that she’s more than just something to be used in the service of others, whether professionally or personally.

My value must now be derived not from sheer productivity or output, but from intangibles. Personally, these pieces look like friendship, kindness, and gratitude. Professionally, I now have to rely on my instincts, insights gleaned from years of experience, and knowledge acquired from research and study. How I value myself, what I bring to the world, and how I perceive the value that others expect from me has completely changed, and I’m relearning how to measure, weigh, and hold this new reality.

I also need others to be present with me. That sounds needy. And believe me, it’s the last thing that I want right now. However, the doctors require me to not be alone at the moment.

So I have to ask for presence and care from people. I have to reach out and ask friends to make good on their promises of love. And that kills me. It’s the hardest thing in the world to visit friends and ask for a love withdrawal from the bank that I’m been depositing into so faithfully for months or years.

It was never supposed to be this way. I had intended that our friendship would always be a one way transaction. But now, I’m severely limited. And no longer have the capacity to deposit into the lives of others like I used to, and I must ask for love to be returned.

And it’s shocking when it is. Every time it surprises me. Every time someone calls, texts, or sits with me, or travels with me so I’m not alone, or my roommate makes sure that I go to sleep safely and that I make it to the next morning, it reminds me that I’ve completely undervalued the most important force in life. Love, not productivity or outputs, is the most powerful thing in the universe, and yet, I’ve overlooked it. For years. For decades.

Instead, I’ve worked, achieved, and accomplished. I’ve stayed up later, studied harder, took on more work, labored in the office double the number of hours of my colleagues, worked weekends for months or without vacation time for years — anything in order to prove value and exceed expectations.

But these days, on the other side of my changed mind, body, and soul, I’m not achieving more. That no longer holds value. Instead, I have one goal — to grow in love.

I didn’t desire this. I wanted to be a better lover. But I never wanted to learn how to be loved. I’m not good at it. Every time I’ve been loved, it’s been painful, ended in brokenness, vulnerability, and open wounds that took way too long to heal.

But maybe not this time. Maybe being open to love is the answer, and it will be how everyone describes it. Maybe it will be restorative. Maybe that’s what love is when it’s received. Maybe it feels that way. And perhaps I could feel that; could really receive it for the first time.

I’m now convinced that our mind, body, and spirits only become more healed and whole through receiving love. Through opening up and letting love do its holy work of transformation. Productivity can’t do that. And the value that we’re all desperately striving to build and achieve in the eyes of others, and if we were honest, for ourselves? That value (whatever shape it takes in your professional or personal life), at its core, is only worthwhile whenever it’s built on the foundation of love for self.

So receive love, and be changed.

How have you dealt with loving and being love? What is ONE thing that will allow you to take care of you first?

Abby Skeans

Abby Skeans supports leaders, teams and organizations through change, transition and transformation.

Her professional life has been dedicated to advising and building alongside leaders in philanthropy, government, pop culture and the private sector on social impact strategies and partnerships. Prior to her domestic work, she focused on youth justice reform in Uganda, Malawi and South Sudan.

Abby's work has been featured in The Economist, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, and USA Today. She regularly writes on the soul’s journey toward self-development for Collective World.

And she feels most at home when she's experimenting with a new recipe, John Coltrane is playing on vinyl, and the glow of a Texas sunset hits her beloved magnolia tree, Maggie.

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