Happy Birthday. I should feel happy right? I’m approaching my birthday. But I’m met with a familiar feeling, one of loss, of missed opportunity, a lack of living – it doesn’t feel as though I’ve much to celebrate. Life should be about living surely? Not just about survival, right?
I grow tired of never living up to that which is the achievements of my peers, the societal norm, the stereotypes inflicted upon us. Never achieving. Being stuck in the limbo that my chronic illness forces upon me. I wonder is it just me constantly comparing myself and my life to others? But then I’m reminded in many conversations. ‘So what do you do?’, ’When will you be back to work?’, ’Do you have kids?’, ’Wait, you live with your parents?’, ’You just need to be more positive’.
I realise another year has passed where I haven’t attained any of the societal norms. I don’t gain the respect that goes with it, both from others and within myself. And I feel increasingly isolated. I just don’t fit in. I can’t attend catchups, I’m seemingly fading away.
This past year has been one of the most difficult years of my life. It has also been one of my loneliest. I felt my body giving up on me many times.
Somehow, I survived.
My Mum and I have spoken about how and why we think my body hasn’t completely given up on me yet. Not in a depressing way, I must add, but in a realistic one (I think this is something that comes with living with a severe chronic illness, conversations of a dark nature are entered into both honestly and also often with a sense of humour; we are, after all, living at a level of sickness unknown to many on a continuous, inescapable basis). To be so sick for so many years, with so much wrong, you have to wonder.
But somehow I’m still going.
So I’m calling this my survival year. And that’s more important than any ring on my finger, a home, or any of the amazing ’normal’ things I yearn for so much.
I don’t have my independence, I’m not ‘living’ my life but somehow I’m alive. I have an amazing family around me who quite literally facilitate that.
We laugh daily. Occasionally we cry. We deal with the overwhelming nature of my poor health in the most positively realistic nature it often surprises me.
We survive. Because it affects us all.
So I’m saying farewell to my 36th year, I certainly won’t forget you. I’m trying to not think of it as a wasted year. Which is difficult if I allow myself the freedom to think about the literal time wasted bound to my bed. I was fighting to survive. So in that sense, it wasn’t wasted. And I had those who cared around me. I can only hope that one day I will get to live my life, not just survive. This keeps me going.
A friend who I have come to adore asked me ‘why didn’t you tell me it was your birthday?’ To which I replied, without a second thought ‘because I’m old without any prospects’ both truthfully and in sarcastic self-deprecating humour.
I’m not wrong but I’m not right either. A large part of me does believe that because I don’t have the things I long for, however I know I have worth and it’s time I celebrate that.
Our society forces us to focus on age, constantly perpetuating the narrative that younger is better, healthy is better and that’s dangerous when you are chronically ill. A position in which you are continually ill and getting older; without setting a foot on the ground we have to fight the stigma attached to what is deemed ‘attractive’, that which is ‘successful’. Already, I am made to feel I have failed. Add that to my lack of growth within my social structure, my career, my life in general and well, goodbye self-esteem.
So how do I look at my age and be ok with it? That’s the new thing right? Being happy with where we are, feeling fulfilled and embracing my age as a woman, embracing the skin I’m in. The thing is I don’t, not fully anyway. I don’t quite feel present. I feel like an imposter trapped in a body that just won’t work. An impossible situation that I cannot change.
So I’m taking it in baby steps, ironic really, as I enter the latter end of the ’30s. I can’t change my health. Noted. Nor can I magically invent a career or feel on par with my peers.
I am unable to rewind time and actually live the years I have missed. What I can do is be proud of me. And that’s not an easy thing to say let me tell you!
I’m proud of this body for surviving despite the odds.
And for my strength of character for enduring in the worse of times.
For the online community I have grown, I’m proud.
That I’m still fighting. Proud.
My Year Of Survival
So my 36th year was one in which I (yet again) learnt my true strength and saw the same in others. It hasn’t been the year I might have hoped for (again) but if I can laugh, smile and find humour during all these 12 months have bought, then I can fight anything.
(That’s not an invite btw universe, I think we can agree that I’ve had my fair share 😉 )
I survived and for that, I can say I’m proud.
I recently discovered this Latin proverb and found meaning in it:
per Aspera ad Astra
Through difficulty, we reach the stars
Forever the optimist.