When I was 17/18, I remember being sat in an assembly at school that genuinely made pretty much everyone in the room feel so inadequate we wondered why we bothered with anything. A teacher stood for half an hour and her general message went like this:
I once had a student from an awful background and he overcame amazing things just to fight to be allowed to have an education…. (changes slide of presentation) The person on this screen is 16. They’ve revolutionised their country and changed the world. They have an incredible story and are inspirational… Now look at you lot. You’re 1-2 years older and you’ve achieved nothing. What have you actually done? What have you been given the power to do? Why have you all done nothing?
I think somewhere in all of that there was meant to be a motivational message. But suddenly we all felt guilty for not changing the world, for sitting back and thinking our A levels and typical teenager issues were difficult to deal with. People got a little angry, in a you have no idea what we’re dealing with kind of way. She then went on to say that soldiers and emergency service workers and doctors and nurses weren’t heroes (because , and I quote “they would be nothing without teachers”) and that teachers were actually the true heroes of the world (at which point in my mind I may or may not have shouted a few obscenities and publicly given her a bit of a slap) so admittedly I think the whole thing was a bit ridiculous; but even now, two years later, it has stuck with me, that feeling of not being good enough, the message she tried to imprint on our brains.
Why do the marks we leave always have to be impact craters? People throw themselves into the unrelenting stone wall of their ambition to ‘be something’ or make a difference, over and over again; yet more often than not instead of leaving an impact crater all they do is ricochet or shatter against the cold defeat of their perceived failure. Why can’t we be content with smiles? As somebody who seems to leave a trail of pain and frustration in the minds of the amazing people I call my friends and family, I’d do anything to leave a smile instead of an emotional scar or a furrowed brow, and on the occasions that I have done so (which are very few and far between) it makes my day. Why does it feel so wrong to be happy for yourself occasionally? There is a difference between freshly discovered self worth or the relief of finally succeeding, and pride. Even if there is no success to provide an opportunity for such emotions, good intentions, if present and focussed upon, should cushion the impact of hitting a failure.
I’ve decided to attempt to take a month off of studying, seeing as the university year is over and my final two exams now don’t take place until August. In that month, I have a lot planned. I want to set up the t-shirt business (for want of a better word) that I’ve intended to start for months now (in an added bonus I now have plenty of designs). I want to focus on the writing projects that provided me with an outlet when there was (I felt) no other place to turn, and potentially email the individual who became very frustrated when I turned down so many offers to publish a novel I wrote about a teenager diagnosed with heart failure (I got sick of the way most literature romanticises illness and skips over the real emotional issues it throws up) and go back on my decision. Whenever life gets difficult, I seem to end up with an 80,000 word novel about someone my age going through the same thing – my way of dealing. Unfortunately, recently I haven’t been well enough to write, but I did also compile a series of paragraphs, poems, mini-essays and extended metaphors about the way I felt and the thought processes I was lost in, which may also (once completed) venture into the real world where people can read it. I started another novel, and I have no idea where this one is going, but I’m just going to run with it and see.
Oh, and I need to get rid of the fluid on my lungs and the ascites (fluid in my abdomen) that has returned and refuses to leave. (On the plus side, I have finally rediscovered my tibias – I thought my legs had returned to their usual size, but it was only when the swelling went down and they returned to normal that I realised how unhealthily thin I am.
But anyway, I want to stop running my body into the ground (metaphorically, of course, because I can just about stand let alone run!) and for the first time… Ever? Take some time to try and fix the thing as best I can (not that it’s in my control, but I gave up on the doctors that gave up on me and stopped going to their appointments… Stupid, but I was scared to depend on people who had let me down.)
I might even get a chocolate labrador puppy (I can’t take my dog away from my family, even though he literally is my dog… my little brother needs him) and eventually get it trained as an assistance dog (my grandparents are willing to try and help fund this). I’ve been wanting to do this for a while (actually dreaming about doing so for months), but my parents have forbidden me from getting my own dog even though I don’t live with them any more. It was suggested that this would completely change my life for the better by yet another staff member on my recent admission, and after a lot of thought I decided that as well as the emotional support it would also provide, it might validate my existence in the same way my current dog does (and I need that for when uni staff make me give up on the world a bit).
And the thing is (you’re probably going to think I’m a complete poop in 3…2…1…) I’m doing these things for myself. And it feels weird, to think of myself as something worthy of my own attention, as something and someone worth giving a chance and a little bit of time. But I have been given this time, and I intend, finally, to use a little of it on myself, instead of trying to hold everyone else together (who am I kidding I’m going to do both, don’t worry everyone, I am still willing to tear myself into pieces to keep you all whole without a second’s thought).
I hate everything I write (including this blog post and the 103 that came before it), and rarely read back over my writing after the initial couple of hours of it entering into existence, but writing helps me a lot. There was a time where everything I did was for everybody else. In a weird way, when people asked me to publish my work, I was suddenly writing for somebody other than myself. So a few months ago I sat in front of my emails and turned every offer away, in a stream of responses that went a little something like this – no I won’t write for your magazine at this time, no I don’t want to go to your conference and address people about the impact of physical illness on mental health this time round, no I don’t want to give a talk to young people at the minute and if I said yes you certainly don’t have to pay me to do so, I’d love to be involved in your charity but not right now sorry, no you can’t publish that yet because… I’m kind of scared to let it go. Sorry guys, I’m going through some stuff.
Even as I sent all of these responses I thought, wow you’re a selfish idiot. This is what you wanted – you can set the record straight, you can open people’s eyes, you can make them understand, you can give people what you wish you’d had… And you’re saying no. Because you don’t know how to cope with the pressure. (On top of university and the things I was going through and being told about my health around this time, there was no way I was ready to have other organisations outside of my university getting concerned about the lack of work I was producing because I kept almost dying) And so then I stopped writing, because I didn’t feel that I deserved to be able to do it any more. Out of writing, drawing, and sport – writing was the only thing my body still gave me the ability to do. And I never lost the ability, I just sort of felt I had abused it and got lost in a weird cycle of punishing myself.
I gave money to charity the other day because it was something I really wanted to do, not because I felt morally obligated. I want to continue to do so, and intend to anonymously donate to JustGiving or GoFundMe pages – again, because that’s something I want to do, not because I want any gratitude or whatever.
Doing things for yourself doesn’t just involve doing things that benefit your own life – it involves doing things for other people, but voluntarily, and for your own reasons, not everyone else’s… It’s just incredibly difficult to think about yourself before everyone else, I have discovered. It’s going to be difficult for me to do this, but I like a challenge, and I need a reason to wake up for the next month until studying becomes a thing again.