2016: The Best and Worst Year of my Life

“May the best of your past be the worst of your future”

It’s safe to say 2016 has been a rocky year for all. For me personally, 2016 has been a year of extremes. I’ve experienced some of the most glorious moments in all of my life- moments of intense happiness that I never dreamed I would experience, but unfortunately also some of the darkest. I’ll start from the beginning…

On January 5th, 2016, just shy of one year ago, I moved from my home in Baton Rouge, LA to Lyon, France, beginning a semester exchange program. I got to live in one of France’s most stunning cities for five months, tasting new foods in this culinary wonderland, traveling to other cities and even countries on my breaks, and soaking up the French lifestyle. Being my first semester of college without working while taking classes, it was an insanely carefree and liberating few months. After finishing school, I traveled solo for a month around Spain and Portugal, a truly phenomenal experience that helped me grow and gain so much confidence in myself. Some blissful moments from 2016 include:

Casual strolls through Lyon with THIS as the backdrop

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Seeing my first REAL snow 

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Becoming a regular at a Spanish Bar in Lyon.

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Experiencing Carnival in Nice

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Hearing an American friend who I met in a hostel several years ago sing jazz at a bar in Paris.

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Contemplating my life high above Budapest during winter break

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Hiking Cinque Terre in Italy

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Having a little too much fun with my new friends in Barcelona

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AND watching the sunrise over the port of Barcelona from the top of Montjuic mountain

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I came home on July 6th. This is where the dynamic of the year shifts.”Ahh reverse culture shock,” you’re thinking. Sure, I had plenty of classic reverse culture shock, but how does one remedy this after spending an extended period of time abroad? You get back into “reality,” you live your freaking life, and everything starts to fall back into place. What happens when you don’t or in my case, can’t?

While I was traveling alone towards the end of May, I began to experience weird headaches that would mostly hurt when I woke up in the morning or when I flipped my hair over to dry it after a shower. At first I thought it was maybe from a bad cold I was recovering from or even just my erratic schedule. It didn’t really interrupt my travels as long as I was careful about my movements, but it slowly got worse and worse. On my flight home I was so sad to be coming home, knowing that my era of bliss would be over (and looking back, WOW-little did I know). I was also exhausted, and my head was pounding as the plane touched down in New Orleans. Even at night, the humid and hot Louisiana air that I hadn’t missed for the past six months was like a punch in the face as I exited the airport.

At the same time, I was eager to see friends and family at home, and show off my new and improved, confident, french speaking self. I also needed to get back into an exercise routine and lose some extra weight I had gained while traveling. Unfortunately, I declined into a moping couch potato, not wanting to move much because my head was still bothering me. After a few days of being home, I decided my headaches, now nausea, and overall bad physical state could not be attributed to jet lag, so I visited a doctor…then a second doctor…and then a third doctor, who diagnosed me with migraines. She gave me medicine that would take up to a month to start working, but I was skeptical because the odd headache I was experiencing was nothing like what people with migraines had described to me. She also ordered an MRI for about a week later, just as a precaution. So there I sat, at my parents house, reading daily headlines about police brutality and the horrible racial divide going on in my city, waiting for the medicine to work, and slowly becoming depressed. Instead of hitting the ground running with my newfound confidence and worldview, my body was forcing me to stagnate, leaving me in an odd in between state, no longer living abroad, but not yet able to reintegrate into life back home. Maybe worst of all was feeling so alone. I tried to keep up with my friends from abroad, but all of them had moved on with their lives, and understandably, didn’t seem to have the time to entertain conversations with some depressed American girl. At the same time, I felt I hadn’t yet reconnected with my friends at home. My enthusiasm and passion for life seeped out of me.

The morning of my MRI I expected to be in and out of the doctor’s office. However, after my MRI I was sent up to see a neurologist. I had to wait for an agonizingly long time, which is when my mind starting making up all kinds of terrible fates for myself. Finally, I got the diagnosis. I had a golfball sized cyst on my cerebellum which was doing all kinds of crazy things to me like backing up spinal fluid, which was causing the headaches, and even shifting my brain stem. The next day I saw a neurosurgeon and I had a craniotomy scheduled for exactly a week later on August 11th. Of course I was terrified out of my mind for the surgery, but I was also incredibly relieved that it was an operable condition and that the surgery was, as far as brain surgeries go, “simple.” I would have gladly had the surgery then and there the day of the diagnosis if possible because I couldn’t wait to start living, and I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I’ll spare you the details, but the surgery went well. The night of the surgery, as I was drugged up on pain medication in the ICU, it stormed and stormed, the beginning of the “1,000 year” flood that devastated parts of Louisiana this year. Two days later, my brother and his wife lost their house due to the flooding. I felt so bad for them when they visited me in the hospital, trying to keep a positive attitude for me, after losing nearly everything they owned. As they say, when it rains, it pours.

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In terms of my recovery, besides a miserable five days or so, it was quick. I was even able to go to the start of my classes eleven days later, although I could barely move my neck and my attention span was suffering. I can’t say the same about the recovery of Baton Rouge, as most who lost their homes have barely begun the rebuilding process.

I remind myself often that I’m so lucky to be alive and well and with NO headaches anymore. My physical healing was relatively straightforward, but mentally it was tougher. I’m still struggling to gain back my confidence and personal growth I feel I’ve lost since the beginning part of the year.

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With its extreme highs and lows, from living in France and visiting six new countries, to brain surgery and a historic flood, to every other unreal event around the world this year, I must say I’m relieved 2016 is coming to a close. I gaze onward at 2017 with slight apprehension, and less hair on my head, but also with a heart full of hope.

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4 thoughts on “2016: The Best and Worst Year of my Life

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