Sometimes, the things that you miss most in your life aren’t the big, life-changing, extraordinary things that happen to you. They’re the small things, things you didn’t even pay much attention until they happened to be taken away from you. They’re being able to look great in a dress you love, to walk three miles like it’s no big deal, to have a martini at 5 PM on a rooftop just because, to meet someone new who makes you feel excited about life all over again.

The other day, I happened to get a notice that all my photos from the old Kodak Gallery site were being transferred to Shutterfly. Since I stopped using Kodak in 2006 when they deleted 7 years of memories because I didn’t click on a link in an e-mail I’d never even seen, I was surprised. I was also curious to look back at the old photos that somehow made it back to me.

Some of them were taken just two or three years ago, reminding me how much life can change, so very quickly. Others were taken when I was 24 or 25, reminding me of a person I used to be, a person I’m not even sure I recognise.

I’ve always been so hard on myself. I remember looking at those exact same photos when I was 7 years younger, 30 pounds lighter, and thinking I was the most unattractive person on Earth. I was convinced I was fat, ugly, and nobody would ever love me, or even like me, because of it. Now, I see a young, vibrant, thin, attractive girl in those photos, and I can’t remember why I felt so insecure in my own body, why I felt so constantly judged—and I was, but not for the reasons I imagined—, and why I let those insecurities hold me back from seizing opportunities.

Why didn’t I ever feel good enough? Why did I not take chances because in my heart of hearts, I knew I wasn’t special enough?

I would kill to have that 25 year-old body back now. When I look in the mirror, I’m filled with the same sense of self-loathing, the hatred of the toll that illness has taken on my body, my self-esteem, my sense of possibility. Only now, the reasons for what I feel are real. I’m not the person I used to be, the person I could and should be, and I don’t know how to get to the point where I’m a person who is happy being exactly who she is, where she is, doing what she loves in life.

I used to wake up in the morning, even in my darkest of days, believing anything was possible. “Today is the day I’m going to have an adventure”, “Today’s the day I’m going to travel”, “Today’s the day I’m going to take a chance”, “Today’s the day I’m going to fall in love.” I didn’t have a lot of the practical skills one needs to succeed in life, I didn’t have focus or ambition, I didn’t have much faith in myself or sense of self-worth, but I did somehow believe that my life was destined to be a great adventure. More importantly, I had the energy and the no-obligations, devil-may-care mindset to take the chances that would make my life a great adventure.

I was always hard on myself, because I wasn’t born looking like a supermodel, I didn’t have clear career goals and plans and aspirations, I was the kind of person that people talked about behind my back just for being myself, and it hurt. It amazes me, because I see a very young, very attractive person who had a lot of opportunities and didn’t take advantage of them.

I think the thing that hurts the most is seeing someone who was healthy, energetic, attractive, personable, and intelligent avoid following dreams and taking a conventional path because she was afraid of failure and rejection.

I would give absolutely anything to feel that free and vibrant again. Some days, I can’t leave the house without feeling inexplicably dizzy and wondering if I’m going to die. The person who used to fly around the world on a whim with nothing but a backpack is a mystery to me. I miss her, terribly.

I’m no longer young, or attractive, or thin, or healthy. I no longer wake up in the morning believing in possibilities, or that today is the day something awesome is going to happen to me. It’s sad in a way, because I’m far too young to have lost so much in the way of hope and enthusiasm and energy and self-love. The thing is, my life has been an adventure, but it’s been a hard road. Maybe some people are candles that burn brightly for a little while, and then simply hang on, unnoticed, hoping for the best.

Life can change in an instant. A year ago, I was wearing a bikini on the beach, walking 5 miles a day, appreciating the strangers that honked their horns at me when I walked by. A week later, I was having convulsions, feeling my heart stop in my chest, and starting a 6 month journey of seeing specialist after specialist, only to get no clear answers. “It’s all anxiety”, or “You have an inner ear disorder”, or “You have high blood pressure” were all common diagnoses, and I’ve been able to function on a handful of pills each day. Yet, all of the sudden, my body can’t control its temperature, I feel like I can’t breathe when too many people are around, and every time I have a dizzy spell, I can’t help but be reminded that my intuition knows there is something in my body that is ruining my life, and one day, it’s going to kill me.

I’m still vain enough that the extra 30 pounds I put on due to heart medication makes me cry when I see myself, and that my body is a literal road map of scars is enough to convince me to check myself into a nunnery. I’m still vibrant enough on the inside to want adventures my body can’t handle. Mostly, I’m not strong enough that I don’t feel sorry for myself from time to time, wondering what happened to me, and screaming inside that it isn’t fair. I was supposed to have a lot more time left to be the person I wanted to be.

Life isn’t fair. And one day, maybe soon, it will come to an end. I imagine that death, too, is this single moment that changes everything, that you didn’t see coming.

Pictures make me sad, because I remember being 25, and living independently and how awesome that felt. I remember being 21 and moving to a place I’d never even seen because I believed in the possibility that my soulmate was this person I barely knew. I remember being 17 and graduating from high school, and not feeling the slightest bit of sadness or regret at moving on, just being excited about the future. I remember being 13, and the biggest concern in life was what to wear to the Friday night dance or whether a cute boy who said he’d call me actually would. I remember being 8, and decorating the Christmas tree and baking cookies. I remember being 4, and sitting next to a quirky, introverted boy in pre-kindergarten, one with a far brighter future than mine, who passed away nearly a decade ago.

I sometimes feel like life is over, because it’s this adventure in which I’m no longer strong enough to participate. I’m just another struggling, middle-aged, anonymous person without any special talents or any remarkable qualities, and I would give anything to go back to a time where that wasn’t the case. I can’t imagine anyone seeing anything special or attractive or of value in me anymore; I’m more like the tattered Velveteen Rabbit waiting to become real.

People say they never say this when they get older, because they know better, but I’d give anything to do it all over again. Even if it were exactly the same, even if it were just as hard, just as painful. It would be better than the concept of living in a world where anything and everything isn’t possible, because your own body says so.

Sometimes, I spend time hoping I make it to 35, 40, 50. Other times, I wonder why, because I don’t know if I’ll ever have the quality of life that makes life the adventure I need it to be in order to feel fulfilled. I wonder if the best days of my life are behind me, and I wasn’t even aware they happened.

I don’t do well with change. But what terrifies me is how easily change is forced upon you, how it can all be taken from you in a second. And, in comparison to the lives many lead, I’m one of the lucky ones.

I would do it all over again, just to remember what it feels like to wake up with this restless energy in my heart, and think “Today’s the kind of day I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.” For the past year or so, I wake up thinking today is going to be like every other day, or simply utterly shocked that I woke up at all.

Whenever I see really young people, I want to remind them to take every opportunity that ever comes knocking at the door. It doesn’t always come back, and after awhile, you realise that you only have a short window of opportunity where you’re young, healthy, vibrant, attractive, energetic enough to make “anything is possible” a reality. One day, someone will press the pause button on your adventure, and nothing will ever be the same.

I spent so much time in my life being restless, I never knew how much I’d look back on and miss. I thought being bored was the worst thing in the world. It wasn’t. I thought being alone meant I was the only one in the world who was, at the core, totally unloveable, and independence was just a sad way of hiding the fact that you were alone in the world. It didn’t.

There’s a song I used to sing at auditions; for a year or so, my standard 16 or 32 bars came from a piece from the musical “Ragtime”. The final line of the song is “We can never go back to before”.

It turns out, the most painful lesson life has ever taught me is that the line is absolutely true. There are no do-overs.