18.

Flora is 18 today. It feels like victory – over fate, genetics, the universe, God, whatever you want to call it. She’s made it another year, we’ve made it another year – she made it to 18, dammit, and you can all 18 just a number but socially constructed milestones matter. She can vote, drink legally in most jurisdictions, be tried in adult court, and possibly own a gun.

My girl is 18. She made it.

My joy and relief are, and always will be now, fragile. The demons that started to ravage her life four, five years ago will never leave. They are part of her DNA and for the rest of her life she needs to work to keep them controlled, contained, and the people who love her need to stay aware, vigilant.

But when the meds and therapies are working, we can relax, at least a little, and rejoice.

Celebrate this 18th birthday for all that it’s worth.

If you see my beautiful, confident daughter today, you’ll be blown away by her poise, style – and, as soon as she opens her mouth, you’ll be blown away, and likely intimidated, by her intelligence. You never see what it costs her to get there. Not in some distant time in the past, not in the time she spend in hospitals, clinics, with armies of doctors and therapists, but that morning, every morning, an hour ago, every moment of every day.

Maintaining her health and well-being is, in effect, a full-time job that she fulfills while going to school and working to spend time with friends, have fun, live a life.

In her university applications, she’s had to reflect on her youthful milestones and accomplishments, to tell the gatekeepers who she is and why she’s worthy of admission. She’s told me and her dad that the questions are had to answer. Retraumatizing in some ways. At a time when most teenagers are supposed to do the teenage thing, find their first selves, and also party a little, have their first crushes and broken hearts, all of her energy was focused on battling her illness, staying alive.

“I don’t know who I am,” she says, writes. “I’m just starting to be able to ask that question.”

She’s 18. She’s alive. Beautiful, smart, tough. A little cruel and unforgiving, but I understand. Surviving her illness made me cruel and unforgiving too. Perspective is actually a terrifying thing.

She’s 18. Every functioning day a gift. Every hard day that she sees to the end and to a new beginning a victory.

Happy birthday, my most beloved. Keep on fighting.

xoxo

Mom

Why I document

Kick like a girl, April 28, 2019

Her story, my story, our story, June 22, 2019

“You are amazing” — you are partly right, June 25, 2019

Suffering, living, loving… home , January 5, 2022

Happy birthday (the war’s not over), January 9, 2022

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