2012 has been a year of awesomeness but a huge steep learning curve for me. Things started off amazing. I got the SITE Gallery Residency, met some awesome people, and I quit Coca-Cola, I still had my bookstore job and things felt good.
But I started to feel really unusually tired, and worn down. I brushed my shoulders off & blamed the no drinking coke thing, started to drink it again to reverse the supposedly effects, and ignored what my body was trying to tell me: that something wasn’t right. I started getting incredible bone ache around my left side of my body-specifically my shoulder, and drenching night-sweats. I lost over 1.5 stones in weight (that I had somehow put on a few months previously) without even trying! I got nosebleeds regularly for no reason, had an enlarged spleen for a while, lost my appetite, lost my get-up-and-go. I kept up with work, and took any opportunity open to me, but I slowly lost my connection with a whole community of people because I couldn’t make it to their exhibition openings and such – as I felt so poorly/tired. Which sucked more than anything.
But I carried on working, regardless. Thanks to the amazing Doc/Fest crew, I got another chance at being their resident artist – and they recommended me to draw a TEDx talk in Sheffield, which got me my new part-part time job in London that I started in November! Drawing a TEDx talk was a dream come true, and continuing to work with Sheffield Doc/Fest is one of the best-things ever. My role on the Gravity Lecture series at Sheffield Hallam University has grown substantially. And I feel equal to my colleagues, where my ideas are often pushed forward. Which is insanely awesome. Even gaining some teaching opportunities – which I never thought would happen unless I did a PhD.
The “Unifying diagnose”:
I went back to America to work for the YMCA for my 3rd year in a row. That place is now like family. It was here where people were pretty concerned about my mystery illness that my UK doctor had said was just “probably a mono-style-virus”. They made me see a specialist in haematology & oncology (despite me not wanting to) who told me that “a unifying diagnosis is a lymphoid malignancy”. Yeah, pretty hardcore stuff.
In denial I carried on ignoring all these signs. Against doctors orders, I continued to work & do our legendary roadtrip from coast to coast in a month. But things became apparent on my roadtrip, that this was probably no virus. I left it until October to go back to my GP with a cough I still have, Taychicardia, & some lumps and all the above symptoms, and 2 months later I started fainting, and getting blinding white spots in the bottom half of my vision, i flunked my field of vision test at the Opticians when my actual vision is fine, and now my immune system is completely compromised. I’ve picked up pretty much everything that’s going around. The naro-virus, I just have to look at someone with a cold and I find myself full of snot. My tongue also looks like i’m diseased and i’ve had a numb big toe for about 6 weeks now – which i think is in part due to what i’ve been taking medication wise. It still hasn’t been disproven that I don’t have cancer. But, at least I’m sort of being treated with something at the moment. I have Christmas off and go back in January for more tests, treatments & hopefully a clearer view.
What it revealed & what I’m learning from it:
This illness, whether as serious as predicted or not so serious, is humbling and extremely revealing – it has forced me to survey my life- perhaps super early than i would have- with an unforgiving eye. There are some shameful, lazy, hurtful, and weak acts in there. Everything I thought was important, suddenly seemed kind of unimportant. Everything I thought was unimportant, became important. I read a book about a guy diagnosed with cancer who said “If I live, who is it that I intend to be?” I read this and found that I too had a lot of growing up to do.
Even now, I was pissed off and taken aback when I went to see my hot GP about 3 weeks ago, about the blinding spots in my vision, who then freaked out with me for changing my appointment with a specialist because it clashed with a work commission (ironically for the NHS). I said, “But you don’t understand, this is important” (This being Money firstly, and reputation secondly, getting more work thirdly) he said and quite aggressively for a GP, “No, Sarah, I don’t think YOU understand…. You need to put yourself first sometimes.” He was right. I don’t understand. I don’t understand why I’m still not back to normal health, and I still haven’t learnt my lesson that there ARE more IMPORTANT things in life than money, or fitting into what is socially acceptable. Dare I say it, that, you know, MY life/health is important. Reader, YOUR life is especially important.
I didn’t think people even cared about me. Until this year. I’ve witness kindness and amazing generous acts. Even from strangers. A woman who I met in the airport line, scrambled against the line at the end a plane journey to give me her card, told me to keep in touch and offered to do a bone marrow drive in NYC if it turned out I needed one.
But the one thing I am exceptionally grateful and humbled by is my friends. I keep saying it, but this is because i feel like I might have taken them for granted, or not shown them my appreciation until now. Friends are supposed to be there for you in tough times. But these guys are everything and more! They are my mirror back board. I wouldn’t have done ANY health thing if it wasn’t for them telling me to get myself checked out, or the doctor needs to know about this, ect. Even when there are moments of doubt and somewhat fear, they are there.
It made me realize that I need to make more of an effort with keeping in touch or caring about the needs of others. My art or resume won’t keep me warm at night. And if all of that ended, what would I have to show for it?
So here I am, I am trying to make every obstacle an opportunity. Doing something amazing takes so much effort and risk. Trying to fight against the inertia is wicked hard and tiring but it is ultimately the fight that counts. I’m asking myself what is meat and bones important?
I’m still figuring out stuff, but i know i see more beauty now than I ever did, I take care of my body way more now even with limited energy reserves. I try and keep and document my life just incase. It helps me see if this is what I want my life to look like. I know in 2013, I’m going to give back, help others in need. I’m going to work so much harder, I’m going to get up earlier, go to bed earlier, waste less time (harder than it looks!), i’m going to be kinder, I’m going to learn new things, I’m going to try and not let anyone down. i am going to be a better person, a better friend, a better friend to world whilst remembering it is the FIGHT that COUNTS.