It’s my birthday in about 48 hours. I used to hate getting older because, well, I always thought i’d have my life way more ‘together’ by now. Like, I thought that maybe I would have met someone special. Maybe I’d have what my mom calls a “proper job” (by that, she means oppressed, clock your card-in, have to leave the house to do it, ect – the working class way). Maybe i’d have a proper house, I don’t think i’d ever buy (still don’t) but renting – like realll nice. But life interrupts, and actually those thoughts were never my real desires anyway. They were implanted into my head by what is deemed as acceptable by a capitalist society.
But now I just feel constantly lucky. Lucky that I’m making it to 27 & my multiple of jobs means that I’m always working and meeting with inspirational people. I kind of hate the wrinkles near my eyes (crows feet?) but now I sort of love them. They’re a welcomed reminder than i’m alive, I am living, and living with fun – with a smile & laughter.
I know that age is arbitrary. I’ve read that your 30s are when things start to work. Your 20s are supposed to be outgrowing our 21st century prolonged puberty. But it’s all relative, really. Hitting those ‘milestones’ are all just part something. Part luck, part shit bad-luck, part working hard, part partying hard, part kindness, part optimism, part time.
When I fell sick, I quickly realized that I had quite a lot of my priorities mixed up. My artist-ego was getting inflated, and you know, i was starting to get recognised across continents, getting a few good-profile residencies, getting paid to do what I do. I spent months and months away from home, never calling, never seeing my home-friends or family. I wasn’t mean, or nasty, or unkind – but I wasn’t very thoughtful of others. I distinctively remember my 20 year old self not understanding why a depressed friend couldn’t join us because she felt tired. Now I understand why others can not understand fatigue in me. If you’ve never experienced chronic fatigue & pain, you won’t really “get-it”, unless you’re truly empathetic/compassionate. Which I certainly wasn’t 5 years ago. That’s not really how I wanted to live my life, being self-obsessed, that wasn’t the person I wanted to be.
Then when I fell sick, in the beginning it was nothing. Then time went on & it got worse. And worse. Until it made me feel helpless. I cried. I felt sorry for myself. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t believe it.
Life’s big decisions which were mine to make felt no more. My whole-life was tipped upside down. I was no-longer the worker-beaver I was- the persona I had so publicly built for myself crumbled – also publicly. Still The Smizz of All Trades, just slow, really slow. No reply from emails for days… weeks. I just wanted to sleep. I had pain so deep. Nightsweats that made me feel like I had wet the bed, blood from anywhere. Everything we take for granted everyday, like holding a conversation, running up the stairs, having a shower took insane effort. I’ve lost days, weeks, even months of my life.
Despite my neglect of my friends & family whilst I pursued my need for art-fame, when I fell ill – they caught me mid-fall & are still here, holding me up. Roadtrips where I was throwing up, or too weak to do anything – they stayed with me. Money I needed to cover my USA medical bills – they banded together and paid it for me. Christmas dinners, Thanksgivings – they do it because they know it makes me really happy. Great drawing opportunities. Friends across the world donated time, money, connections, rides. Strangers sent mail. On the days I feel insanely shit, they mail and post super nice things on Facebook and Twitter. They keep me going. We always make a laugh about it. I owe them so much.
One thing I think about and often talk about when with friends is life and death. When I first got told that it looked like I had a lymphoid malignancy – all I did on my indenial roadtrip across the USA was research the odds, every McDonalds, Motel, Starbucks free-wifi connection – I’d update my status about some amazing thing we were doing & bookmark a page of research on lymphomas. That research and statistics still sits with me. I think about it with my patients. I feel a heavy weight that’s unexplainable in my chest when someone is dealt a devastating hand of event(s), when I’m writing my assignments, when I read peoples blogs. I don’t think about them every day anymore, which makes me feel like maybe time is a healer after-all.
Whilst feeling not the best, this year- my 26th year – I got to spend the year learning new things, all about the human-body, I see life on the edges every day. I got to meet many inspirational people, I got to do a few weeks in NYC, reconnecting with old friends, and returning to work at Doc/Fest. I saw my mom get married, saw the sun set above the clouds and the clearest night sky in the world. I visited Denmark for the first time, and spent time working on some really cool projects with really cool people. Now I’m planning a trip to Thailand, Japan and Bali (Not all together).
Through these experiences, I realized how debilitating it all can be, and how rarely we take the time to understand pain in others. That was my main motivation to going to study Radiotherapy & Oncology. But this lesson is still being learnt. The experience is humbling and, more than anything, made me much more aware of – and empathetic to – the hurt that we ignore.
This, in particular, is my motivation going into my 27th year. My resolution is to take more time recognizing the pain in others and offering solace whenever possible. I aim to keep the dialogue open with all of you, whether online or in-person.
I am not sure about all that will come next. I’m hoping my 27th year will be one of closure from this illness. But what I do know is that I’ve stopped wasting time (most of the time). I can’t help but feel the weight of its value each day. That awareness itself feels like a gift. I vowed that if I ever got through this that I would eat better, play harder, work smarter and love more. Never again would the significance of a moment pass me by.
It’s all just bumps along the road. Make sure you’re living life the way that is important to you. Don’t wait to be asked for help; you’re already being beckoned.
On the 9th, my actual birthday, I will be taking a flight to Lisbon, Portugal. I’ll watch the sunset, and toast to time & feeling really alive. Constantly lucky, y’all.