It’s been almost a year since Katie Swanberg faced off with death. In February 2010, she laid in a coma fighting off a severe case of bacterial meningitis. In a matter of days, the disease ravaged her body and her life as she knew it.
Over the course of 2010 she would have to relearn to walk, eat and live in every sense of the word. Through it all, Swanberg shared her recovery publicly on her blogs, one of which was previously devoted to gardening. Now, as the one-year anniversary of her almost-death draws near, Swanberg calls meningitis the best gift she ever received.
The first thing you notice about Swanberg is her intensity. Her bright blue eyes are vivid with determination. She’s a study in contrasts: small yet steely, vibrant yet reserved.
None of this would come as a surprise to the readers of her raw and impassioned blog. A superhero in a small package, she dispenses hard-won advice while eschewing vanity in favor of honesty. Few would dare to speak aloud many of the thoughts that Swanberg publishes for the public at large. She freely blogs about her battles with depression, self-image, physical recovery and creating a life outside the status quo.
The topics are heavy, but Swanberg isn’t your average emo-blogger looking to air grievances. While many use the Internet as a platform for complaints, Swanberg does the opposite. She refrains from naming names or playing the blame game, instead choosing to celebrate the chance to live a second life on her own terms.
Meningitis didn’t kill her physical body, but it did kill her previous outlook on life.
“My divorce and meningitis were the best gifts I ever received. I used to go along with the status quo. Now I’m not afraid of anything.” She sums up her new philosophy neatly on her blog: “Have the courage to live out loud.”
If her blog is public group therapy, then Swanberg plays the roles of chief patient, group leader and therapist. There is a fine line between introspection and narcissism, and Swanberg herself often jokes, “I’m my own favorite topic.”
She manages the balance by seeing the bigger picture. “I put it all out there for everyone to read: good, bad, ugly and everything in between. It makes some people wonder, but I’m also learning it makes some people feel less alone. If my writing and life stories help someone in some small way, it’s all been worth it.”
When asked if people are taken aback by her openness, Swanberg said, “I feel that a lot of what people present as their life is just a front – you don’t know what they’re dealing with behind closed doors … It’s why people are shocked when marriages end, people break down and scary things happen. I open my doors and invite people to witness my gruesome failures and to share in my triumphs, because we’re all human.”
If her life has taken some complicated turns, her writing philosophy is simple: “I joke that everybody loves a train wreck, but the reality is if you aren’t failing, you’re not taking risks. Most of all, I just want people to know that they aren’t alone in their journey.”
Based on feedback from her readers, it seems like Swanberg is more than hitting the mark. Reader Monica from Garden Faerie said, “People think you're vulnerable if you let down your guard and get real, but I know you have to be strong to be vulnerable … Often when I leave comments, I rethink and edit; with Katie, I just write what's in my heart at that very second. Because she is comfortable being herself, it helps others be comfortable in their own shoes, too. Her strength reignites mine”
Cruelty and bullying on the Internet have received a lot of media coverage, but just as often the opposite is true: Swanberg’s blog is a place of support, challenge and encouragement.
If her dramatic past shapes Swanberg’s zeal for the present, her honesty is the force inspiring people across the country. She’s received many messages from others thanking her for her public bravery.
“It amazes me that people take time out of their day to leave a comment … I hear from people in different ways that my writing and honesty helps them in their own life. Those are the best. It’s always amazing to think that what is a self-help/therapy for me can benefit someone else; it’s why I share what I think/write.”
When asked what the best comment she ever received was, she replied, “Someone said, ‘I came for gardening, I stayed for Katie.’ To date, that is the comment that struck a nerve with me, and one of countless comments that have left a mark on my heart.”