Sometimes, when chronic illness gets to be too much, it’s easy to forget why we keep fighting. Today, blogger Stephanie Torres shares how she reminds herself to keep fighting, and why.

If you have watched the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why or read the popular, yet controversial book by Jay Asher, you may quickly pick up on this reference. The protagonist, Hannah Baker, records 13 painful confessions about the people she encounters in her young teenage life and how they played a part in her reasons for ending it. It is heartbreaking on so many levels and can be quite triggering if you have ever experienced some of the trauma she went through, which unfortunately happen more often than many people want or know how to acknowledge.

A close friend’s daughter, just entering her teenage years, read the book as it has been circling around her friends, just as some of you may have done at some point in your life. Some of these parents are sharing that kids are actually replicating what Hannah did, including attempts at suicide, like it’s some kind of trend. That is not what we want kids to take away from this. It should be a story of how serious some of the topics are and why they need to be talked about more. But why do some feel they need to take this route? What makes us so vulnerable at that age to not see how much life lies ahead and how much is out there in this giant world of ours, beyond the overwhelming school halls and evil gossip, that feels like forever times infinity?

Around the age of 16, fully immersed in the world of “parents know nothing and friends are everything”, my best friend’s aunt came down with a mysterious illness, one that had her rushing to the emergency room because she couldn’t stop throwing up. This went on for some time, though what I recall most is my reaction to one specific detail – she could barely eat anything and got so hungry one night she indulged in some Cheez-Its, which in-turn made her violently sick. At the time, all my naive-self could respond with was, “Whoa, I would seriously die if I couldn’t eat Cheez-Its!” Little did I know what the future held, what I would eventually have to endure and give up. Later that year, back in 1996, this friend’s aunt was one of the first to get a gastric pacemaker placed for a rare disorder called gastroparesis. It helped to control the symptoms and give her a better quality of life. I just can’t even imagine if someone told my 16 year-old self I would be diagnosed with the same “rare” disease 12 years later, or that in just four short years that the eliminations would be begin with a food I lived on and basically worshipped – spaghetti and pizza! What would I have said as the food obsessed, invincible teenager I thought I was, that I would rather die than live this way?

Fast forward 20 years later, the latter half of those years living with gastroparesis and a slough of health challenges. What is it now that keeps me going and why doesn’t it doesn’t seem like the end of the world? GP is no joke. Though some may not visibly see it from the outside, it’s traumatizing, isolating, at times torturous, and confusing to say the least. Blaming ourselves is common because we don’t understand why one day things might be okay and the next day, or 50, it may feel impossible to function. “Is it the food I ate, am I just too sensitive, did I not sleep enough, work too much, blink my eyes the wrong way <Insert anything you did the moment or day before and question that…over and over>?!”  There are countless reasons to feel defeated.

Thus began my own version of 13 Reasons Why, not why I want to end my life, but why I want to live it. Why I want to keep fighting and not give up on this ailing body. So I started taking pictures of what I live for, be it as simple as a favorite book or pair of cozy pajamas, my fur-babies that bring a smile to my face in a matter of seconds, flowers that I want to see come to bloom, and dreams of places I hope to visit someday. The list is growing quickly and I don’t plan to end it with 13. Once you begin to open your eyes to the world “beyond the dark halls” you may just find light in more directions than you imagined existed.

Join me on Instagram with #13reasonswhyIcan or begin to share your own 13 reasons (and beyond) why you keep fighting.