84: Feel Better

84: Feel Better

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls

Feel Better

Happiness is an attitude. We either make ourselves miserable, or happy and strong. The amount of work is the same.

~Francesca Reigler

When I first met Beth, she was limping. I saw her for the first time at a Mother-Daughter night in third grade. She was dragging herself across the floor with a sprained ankle, pathetically trying to shoot a basketball into the hoop. She never was very athletic, but I can say that, because she’s my best friend now.

I didn’t like Beth much when I first saw her in that elementary school gym. As a hopelessly romantic drama queen, all I saw was a damsel in need of saving, and I was convinced all the boys I loved in secret adored her. I was a little stout and awkward, so boyfriends were few and far between. But when we found ourselves in the same class in fourth grade, it was clear that I was about as wrong as I would ever be. We clicked immediately. We wrote a stellar script for a class project about glass blowing in colonial America, and the rest was history. We were destined to make each other laugh until we cried for the rest of our lives.

We grew up together. Beth became a self-assured brunette stunner, and boys mercifully started developing crushes on both of us, but one thing about Beth never changed. She was always injured… and I mean always. One summer, I helped her limp through camp, holding races on her crutches (the perpetually healthy girl, of course, thinks crutches are awesome). I used the coveted middle school elevator key so that Beth and I could leave early from class and I could wheel her or carry her backpack to the next class. Freshman year of high school she convinced me to join cross-country with her, only to sprain her ankle the first week of practice. She became the student manager of the team, and I became a pretty poor excuse for a middle distance runner.

Even with an injury history that belongs on an NFL roster, Beth is one of the strongest people I know. I lost count of her ankle sprains long ago, but that didn’t stop Beth from moving to Michigan for college and heading to California as soon as she graduated. She has since become a successful communications and sales expert, traveled all over the world, and made new friends everywhere she goes. Sadly, since we left our hometown, we’ve never lived in the same place. We can’t do the stupid things we used to do, like call the oldies radio station requesting songs until they actually tell us to stop calling (true story). But our friendship has never been stronger.

When I graduated from college, I was determined to take New York City by storm and become an actor. I never thought it would be easy — I’m not an idiot. But I didn’t know it would be quite so hard. After long days auditioning, I felt every insecurity I had ever had resurface. “I’m not talented,” I would say to myself. “I’m fat… I’m not working hard enough… I’ll never make it.” On days like those, I knew exactly who to call.

“Mad,” Beth would say to me. “You are amazing. You’re attempting to do something you absolutely love. What’s better or braver than that?”

Last year, while Beth was living in Washington, D.C. and I was in New York City, I hopped on a bus and spent a girls’ weekend in her studio apartment. We hadn’t seen each other in almost a year, and the reunion was a nonstop giggle fest. I tried on all her clothes, we sang an embarrassing duet together while we got ready for a night on the town, and we even snuck a water bottle filled with wine to tour the monuments in the middle of the night. (Shh, please don’t tell the president!)

But there was a snag in our fun. Beth had been suffering from a mystery illness, one that was so severe she had been forced to take disability leave from her job at the age of twenty-four. She was in constant back pain and feared that maybe all of her bad luck throughout the years was actually adding up — to a chronic pain condition. Her doctors were testing her for fibromyalgia and she was in the torturous stage of waiting for results. On the one hand, she wanted to know, finally, why her body didn’t ever seem to work properly. On the other hand, the thought of being diagnosed with a pain condition that would never go away was terrifying.

The second night of our girls’ weekend, we stayed up late talking. Teary-eyed, she confessed her fear, and how she was really feeling. Beth, the perpetual optimist, was not feeling so optimistic. My friend who always told me not to worry, always convinced me that things would get better and fall into place, was unsure of her own future.

“I just feel like I’m not good enough. I’ll never be strong or healthy. I can’t do my job right now and I’m losing money. What am I going to do?” she asked me.

I looked at her, and I just knew she would land on her feet. “Beth,” I said, “you are the strongest, bravest person I know. And if you need someone to run races for fibromyalgia or carry your crutches… whatever it is, I’ll be there. You know I will.”

Crying and laughing at the same time, we snuggled in for a sleepover. Both of us knew, underneath it all, that everything would be okay. It was, of course. It turned out that Beth does have fibromyalgia, but with a change of job and scenery — an opportunity in San Francisco — her positive outlook has never been sunnier. Even though she’s physically farther away than she was before, I know she’s still close, just a phone call away when I need her most. And that’s the beauty of my friendship with Beth. Whether she’s limping or I’m down on my luck, the world is a better place when you have a friend who will always — always — make you feel better.

~Madeline Clapps

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