Hoping for 2015 to be a year where we open the doors wider & take care of one another

Whoa, 2014. You were such a supremely bittersweet year. Full of opportunities that I am endlessly thankful for and hardships that are unspeakable. You’ve made me even more grateful for every moment of grace and love that we get.

I saw my mom get married, my bro move out for the first time & find love. I lost 2 amazing friends to disease & suicide. I’m part-time raising two young cute dogs.

I’ve had Shingles like 2/3 times, 1 constant long 9 month headache & half a numb face, got run over on my bike & damaged my ribs, broke a bone in my hand skateboarding & was in my first ever massive house fire – where my friends and I helped to save a woman (who was a doctor) trapped in the kitchen (she started the fire, whoopz). I got so many emails from strangers around the world offering support and advise and tips on health-stuff.

I raised about £700 in total this year for various charities & donated over £200 to support others. I worked out earlier this week that I’ve written way over 80,000 words on cancer stuff this year including my ePortfolio. Which is kind of a lot. Endless assessments and 20 weeks of clinical placement (feels like so much more though) & maintained my freelance work of live drawing countless of amazing  & awesome talks & events, website design and teaching.

I moved house twice. Slept literally for some weeks, and weekends at a time. I tried rowing, running more, hiking and learning italian this year. All of which failed miserably. Or, every time i got somewhere, an injury or illness would happen. I’ve had 5 christmas parties, 2 Thanksgivings, 4 massive house-parties, 2 international flights, and visited 1 new country this year. I helped to organize the first student led- conference on Radiotherapy & Oncology in the UK & I got to do my own  Pecha Kutcha Talk instead of just drawing someone elses talk, Yay!

I did all of this (and some more) all whilst feeling really, really run-down, extremely fatigued & in pain.  I often find it hard to keep up with myself.  I look at the above sentences and just sit back and say “Wooooweeeeee!”

After all that, I’m going to share with you what I’ve learnt from this year:

I learned that a good way to force yourself to make more personal work is to travel. So I did.

I road tripped around Nevada with friends in a convertible like we were start-up founders. I explored the peaks of the peak district. I rode bikes through Brooklyn streets, and cruised the lakes of New Hampshire. I’ve taken countless bus trips across asphalted highways in many countries. I lived for half the year in a new city Leeds, traveled miles of sidewalks through Paris, Copenhagen and London, and danced in NY ’til sunrise.

I learned that focusing on things other than work, such as health and relationships, actually makes your work and life 500 times better. I learned to appreciate my good friends, and have learned to cherish good friend time over acquaintance time.

We talk a lot about what it means to be busy — both with work and life. But how much do we know about what it means to just be? To what end must we drudge on about our lives in hopes of becoming happy and healthy if only we just work hard enough to earn it? And not just in monetary currency do I mean that we work hard, but in social currency as well.  I’m slowly learning that a relationship is the most valuable gift we can ever expect to have in this life, and all kinds of relationships. From friendship, to relative, to love to relationships with strangers. How we can help one another?

Being sick has taught me that great relationships are about what you give to it that matters more than what you take. Because my friends and family have given more support to me in ways they probably don’t know how much it means to me.

We can overwork ourselves to the point of being absent from relationships – of all kinds, love, friendship – work. Thereby weakening it, or we can become lazy and miss the blessing that comes from tending to its daily needs. There is a great balance that hangs in the air between one person and another and it’s often a fight to find time just to just to stand still. The challenge here-to lies in making time for quality time. In true form – money is circulated – time is spent. You can never get your time back.  2014 reminds me that I need this to be a constant lesson to be learnt – in 2015 I hope to be able to manage my time better so that it’s spent and invested in wisely.

Additionally I’ve also learnt that time is already a tough customer, but it becomes torturous when you start measuring how much of it maybe left;  and  when you start measuring yourself to others by it. DON’T – DO – THIS.

I’ve learnt that words are often the most explicit example of clear thinking. (Alongside some drawings 😉 )

As someone who is obsessed with type – it’s hard to get away from being beaten over the head with typefaces, grids, and rules in the beginning – trying to learn it all —and rightfully so—but typography can act as a smoke screen. There is so much to learn about the letters that it’s easy to forget about the words.  Ugly words in beautiful typefaces are still pretty dumb.  I then fell into something I’m still attempting to understand: words are the most explicit example of clear thinking. We should tell people how thankful we are for them and the things they do, not only through gestures, but also words.

Life is a set of nested envelopes—the seed of you is held in the mind, which is in your body, which is encased in your family, your relations, workplace, society, ect.

But ultimately, if there’s anything I’ve learnt – is that 1. I love a cliche and 2) it’s this cliche lesson; The greatest part of life is found along the journey. The sweat, the blood and the tears are where we find our truest strength, our truest friends, our unknowing trust for kind strangers. The mountain top experiences are short lived. Yes, reaching the top of the summit is truly rewarding (as it should be) but you can’t expect to stay there for long. There’s new things to see, and do. But you do need to pack up your experiences, successes and failures, and head out on the next adventure. You grow. You get stronger. You learn to pace yourself.

But becareful to think you must journey alone. I’ve learnt that nothing great is ever achieved alone.

Thank you x 10000000 to all of my clients, collaborators and wonderful friends. You’ve been there for me in ways I can never repay. I’ve been shown kindness by strangers and love by friends and family that fills my heart. I now hope to take everything I’ve learnt from 2014 and the people in it – to open doors wider and hope we can continue to take care of one another.  I hope I can continue to have amazing opportunities to draw awesome events and stories, and design really cool things whilst being a really empathetic, compassionate and caring healthcare professional.  I want to be a better friend, a better student, a better time-user. I want 2015 to be amazing for you all.

As the proverb says, if you want to get there fast – go alone, if you want to go far – go together.

HAPPY 2015 Y’ALL!

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This much I do know: (reflection on 2012 & life in general)

Intro:

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.

Great work:

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.