“Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about un-becoming everything that isn’t really you so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.” – Unknown
The health hiccup that was yesterday made me think a lot today. I woke up this morning, and I’m not sure at the age of 20 that’s meant to be such a surprise. There was still a needle stuck in a teeny tiny vein between my fingers, and I seemed to have painted most of my hand and face (and most of my medication) red as a result. But hitting a vein was good, because it meant I’d been able to administer IVs without having to ask anyone else for any help. Cheating death was good. Avoiding hospital was excellent. What I saw in the mirror was not. What I saw in the mirror made me stop and think a lot. This isn’t who we were supposed to be. My reflection and I stood, palm to palm – both pale and grey, our eyes sunk in their sockets, ribs visible all the way down the centre of what was exposed of our chests. Both lucky to be alive. Both stupid. Both looking about as unwell as I had felt the night before. And we both wanted to go for a run.
One day I will stop pining for the things I have lost, will stop naively hoping that they will once become a part of me again. Until then, I’m going to write about who I was. Sort of. I sincerely apologise in advance if you
couldn’t care less find it boring.
It has been at least four years since I went for a run between hospital admissions (other than the time I tried to run and ended up in an unconscious heap on the floor but let’s not go there), and yet I still call myself a runner, still hang on to running shoes and clothing, still even buy more of it, in the deluded hope that “this year” is going to be the year when I can slip back into the guise of who I was. It has been four years, and yet I still remember exactly how it feels to run; effortless, freeing, cathartic… It has been so long that most of the cells that currently make up the pair of legs I have right now, have never moved at anywhere near running pace. And yet, I still think of these as runner’s legs. They still get twitchy and and fidgety and yearn for a long run. They don’t seem to be made to sit still, and often the fact that I can’t run makes me incredibly frustrated at the reasons why I am unable to.
Running, like a lot of things, saved me. People could always bully me, hit me, belittle me and put me down, but they could never silence my feet. I remember PE lessons at school in my early teens. This one time I’d had a pretty rubbish day, and they just stuck us on the 400m track and told us to run as far as we could in 12 minutes. I outran all of the girls, and all but one of the boys, including the football team (but not my marathon running PE teacher, who managed 1 1/2 laps more), and it shut everybody up for a bit. There was even a little bit of admiration, for the first time. I’d literally managed to outrun my problems (or at least, the people causing them). If I’d had a bad day… I went for a run. If I had a fresh bruise… I went for a run. If I was bored or lonely or angry or scared or starting to hate myself a little more… I went for a run. At least 3km. Every day from the age of 12. Even in the pouring rain. Mostly with my dog, sometimes without him. It made everything ok. When I ran through bluebells in the woods or muddy fields or even hard pavements… Nothing mattered. Every part of me felt like it was smiling. And I couldn’t screw up at running. It was my crutch. It was the highlight of my day, every day. I’d sit in classrooms staring out at the running track painted onto the grass of our school field, and just want to go.
And don’t even get me started on the boat. Put me in a laser (small racing dinghy) and you’ve essentially placed me in heaven. In my early teens people noticed that I had a weird luck (they say talent, I maintain wholeheartedly that it was luck) in a boat, of managing to win most races I started, even against older boys (seriously, I have no idea how, there was very little thought involved on my part, it was just fun, the adrenaline of it all, which seemed to annoy everyone else even more). I have my own laser. I haven’t sailed it for… Two years(?) Now. It’s in a barn somewhere because I can’t sail it any more without ending up unconscious in the water beside it (thanks heart). I swam with a team. I played football (but gave it up after I messed up my leg)…
The point is, these were the things I thought I was going to be. I thought that these things were going to be consistent in my life until old age. I didn’t know what to do with myself without them. They were what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be. I didn’t care what else happened in my life, as long as sport was there to get me through. Other than my art (of which I am still highly self critical) it was the only thing that sometimes made me feel like I was good at something. I couldn’t wait to go to university and join a bunch of sports teams, to be given the opportunity to compete more regularly and meet the kind of friends that you only seem to find through sport (in my experience).
These things were wiped out of my future years ago, and I still don’t know who I am without them. I still crave them. I still feel lost. And I still refuse to admit that I’m not the person who would jump out of a boat and swim over to un-capsize one of the younger kids’ boats, or wade through thigh-high mud to free boats that’d got stuck, or teach the little kids to sail while racing at the same time. I can’t sprint when I’m angry and I’m pretty sure I’d lose every single arm wrestle now. I am not that person and yet… I can’t let go of her. She was strong, and she had health problems that complicated life and meant fairly frequent hospital appointments, but they hadn’t brought her to her knees. She was at home in herself when she was participating in sport… But she’s dead. And I still don’t know who I am without her.
The thing is, without her, other parts of me have been given room to grow (admittedly some awful thoughts and stuff, but there’s been a lot of positives, on which it is important to focus after days like yesterday). I’ve written a couple of novels (which mean too much to me to ever publish. I think). I’ve made some incredible friends through hospital admissions and at university. I started blogging and discovered the awesomeness of the blogging community. I learned the value of the simple things (of EVERYTHING actually), and stopped stressing about things others aren’t so fortunate as to have been able to put into perspective. I broke many times, but always tried to pick up an extra piece from the gutter as I gathered the fragments of myself to re-assemble them. I learned a lot about people, about life, about what matters… About myself.
Although I still claw desperately at who I once was, and have almost no self confidence, I am slowly allowing myself to become whoever it is I now am. The bracelet I wear on my arm is right – I need to let go or be dragged. But letting go is hard. Letting go of everything you ever knew is so, so hard. Letting go of shame and guilt… Is almost impossible (they seem to have a vice-like grip, at least on me). My grandparents went out to enjoy the final day of the french weekend in Sandwich this morning, and I let them go without me. I couldn’t stand to see them struggle with my wheelchair, and I couldn’t bear to sit in it. These legs were made for running. I am meant to be pushing you. I thought at them as they tried to persuade me to go. I don’t want sympathy or pity or stares, I want to hide, to blend in… To WALK.
They bought back a crêpe to the version of me stuck somewhere between letting go and accepting change… And I still haven’t told them that the reason I’m spending the day in bed is because my body can’t deal with anything but that after it’s brief conversation with the grim reaper yesterday (he didn’t get to shake our hand this time, let alone let us into his home). I can do nothing but sleep (and watch snippets of Breaking Bad), and if the pillows were not holding me up then I would not have the energy to hold myself. I am so far from the strong, sporty person I once was, and more than ever I long to be her.
So today I keep telling myself that this is it. This is who you are meant to be. You’re lucky. You’re alive (still genuinely no idea how). And this is all going to be ok because hey, it already is. You will figure out who you are, because everybody deep down inside of themselves, is somebody.
“Fear, uncertainty & discomfort are your compasses toward growth. We must let go of the life we had planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us” – Joseph Campbell
Sometimes I wonder, is there anything waiting?
Sometimes it feels like I am falling into a void.
And sometimes, I feel an overwhelming urge to kick those feelings from my mind. Because I am not what I am. This “ill” person cannot possibly be me. (See, not so great at the letting go thing).
There is a void inside of me that I don’t know how to fill. But this time, I feel too appreciative and lucky and grateful for the fact that I’m still alive, to fall apart. I’m not scared by yesterday – a little shaken inevitably, but not worried any more. There is no room for that. It seems to have been lost in the void of wherever the rest of me has gone. I am focussing on the positives, and I feel truly grateful (and a little bit invincible, as always occurs after a major health hiccup and unexpected survival). I’m smiling on the inside, I’m appreciative, and I haven’t fallen apart yet (somehow).