Ten Things That Have Shaped Me Over Ten Years
I’m not a subscriber to the saying 'everything happens for a reason'. In fact, it can enrage me if you catch me in the right mood. But I do like to think that everything had to happen exactly as it did, to get you to where you're going next.
It has been ten years since I graduated from university, and without really planning it I started to think about the events of the last decade that have shaped me. Some of the events have been amazing, some horrible. But all have taught me about myself and others, and given me the perspective on life that I have today.
I wanted to share these things in brief, because we live in a social-media led world where everything can seem so rosy. Sometimes it helps to be reminded that there's always more going on under the surface. I myself am naturally very smiley and positive, but in reality I have moments filled with sadness and anger, every single day in fact.
So here are the ten key events that have shaped me, and made me into the person I am today.
Becoming a carer at the age of 23 for my partner was indescribable and despite everyones incredible love and support (and seriously, I couldn't have asked for more, people are amazing), it was really lonely.
One day we were a young couple building a life for ourselves in London, when suddenly he was whisked into hospital following a routine blood test, diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia, and everything changed in the space of one hot and sunny Friday.
He spent the majority of the next six months in hospital, and I spent every moment I wasn't at work by his side, keeping him company, advocating for him to the doctors and nurses, and keeping his family and friends in the loop. We got through those six months but the impact of such experiences are long-lasting, more than you realise at the time.
Even the smell of hospital bedsheets lingers in my memory, as I realised years later when it brought me to tears while in an MRI scanner. And the carer mentality can be really difficult to shift, it's even transferable, and in my case I think that it has been detrimental, especially combined with my natural ‘people-pleasing’ tendencies.
1a. Recovery can actually feel harder than the acute horror of illness. The six months following my partner's bone marrow transplant was way harder than expected; recovery is long, and filled with ups and downs.
At first he was really weak, and I was exhausted by having to do everything while holding down a full time job to support us. And then when you think you're about to get your lives back, you realise it doesn't quite work like that. You try to do nice things, but it doesn't always work like that either.
Side effects, compromised immune system, and eventually a relapse and a repeat of treatment... It can feel like one step forward, twelve steps back. But progress was slowly being made, and he entered remission for a second time.
Betrayal and breakup is not something I want to go into too deeply, some things are too personal. But in between entering remission and relapsing for a third time, life moved on for my boyfriend, after seven years, two battles with cancer and one joint mortgage.
I spent a year feeling like I was crazy, feeling worried about one of his friendships despite his reassurances that nothing was wrong. In the end, I learned that if you suspect something and feel unsure, it’s probably for a reason. So trust your gut, and look after yourself.
And remember, you can and will be ok again, even if you feel like your whole world has fallen apart. When you think you know what your future will look like, having the rug pulled from under you can be terrifying. But you're strong enough to rebuild, and create a new future for yourself.
Death. Not long after our break-up, my ex relapsed for a third time. I stayed close to him and his family throughout his final fight, and helped to plan the funeral.
I don’t really have the words to describe this further, except to say that the loss of my boyfriend through a break-up, before the loss of his life, were losses so painful that I think I’ll be dealing with them for the rest of my life.
Solo travel, or just doing solo 'something', is really empowering. Whether it's just going for dinner alone, living alone, or being financially self-sufficient. The sense of independence and the knowledge that you can do it yourself is awesome.
I love knowing that there's nothing I won't do just because I'm single. Yes I do feel lonely from time to time, and sometimes the weight of doing things alone can be hard to bear. But it's really cool to take a step back and think 'yep, I've got this'.
Love, marriage, kids... it all might happen. I might come to depend on others, or have others depend on me. Which is why I love to make the most of the evenings where I can eat muesli for dinner, in my pjs, watching a crappy film, simply because I want to!
Making new friends and WhatsApp changing the game with old friends has made me so happy.
I have a theory that old friends are the best because they hold your past, and now my girls are even easier to keep in touch with thanks to our ridiculous WhatsApp group, which allows us to easily share minutia of daily life from all over the world. We watch the same things on TV while chatting to each other, and I've lost count of the time that we've all gotten so giddy over text that I’ve laughed out loud in public while alone.
That theory extends to new friends, friends made because you're in the same phase of life or have things in common as grown ups; new friends are also the best because they hold your present. They know exactly where you are at, right now.
I have learned that I am so lucky to have the family and friends that I do, and I don’t take that for granted.
Discovering work I loved after 18 months of uncertainty on a graduate scheme was a huge moment of relief and joy for me. Finding my way into a behaviour change marketing team was my first taste of working in communications, of trying to help people improve their daily lives in small ways, and I loved (and still love!) it.
And that's something I've realised is important to me, and my overall happiness: I love to love my work. It has (wrongly or rightly) been my salvation, more than once. And when I’ve not enjoyed my work, sometimes due to external factors, it's made me really unhappy and driven me to make some changes.
At the end of the day, work does affect our lives. It's actually a huge part of our lives! Which is why I’ve been determined to carve out a career that makes me sustainably happy.
Running my own business was unexpected and wonderful. I was never one of those people who dreamed of owning their own business. I fell into it when a friend suggested a fun side-project. But it took off and became my full-time career; the business grew, we hired staff, and I learned so much.
It showed me that there was a different way, that I didn't need to work in an office, and that I could take control of and responsibility for work all by myself. And I learned that I loved being a business owner; growing a business, figuring things out and simply making it happen.
Getting to the bottom of health issues and being diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy involved attending 53 medical appointments in one calendar year. Yep, more than one a week.
I felt like I'd just gotten my life back together the break-up and death of my ex-boyfriend, so it really knocked me emotionally. Knowing that I will lose the ability to walk has changed how I hoped my future would look, and how many opportunities I felt would be open to me. It is another loss.
I'm working on this mindset, and try to keep an open mind about what I will and won't be able to do as the muscles in my legs weaken. And I try to be grateful for the fact that my heart, my lungs, my brain are unaffected.
I do and will have to do things differently, but if I stay stubbornly determined to at least try to do those things, I’ll be satisfied. I have learned not to take my current health and future potentialities for granted.
Leaving my own business was one of the hardest decisions I've had to make. But I fundamentally believe that if you cannot bear something any longer and you don't think that it can be fixed, you have to make a change, hard as that might be.
It broke my heart, but I have learned that I am the only one who is responsible for my own life, my happiness, my story. I control it all, from mindset to actually doing the things and living.
Breaking up with a best friend can feel harder that a relationship ending. You don't expect close friendships to end, you feel like that they're something that can be relied upon.
I'm not naive, sometimes friendships do fizzle out as you see each other less and less. But a sudden and inexplicable ending to a friendship, especially coming at a time when I felt really vulnerable, felt shocking and frankly heartbreaking.
I tore myself apart trying to understand it but eventually realised, as with all negative experiences in my life, that it doesn't matter. It has happened, so thinking about how and why is kind of pointless; it is what it is and ruminating will not change things.
So where have these events left me? Well, I am still trying.
But at 31 my appreciation for everything is greater than ever. I might not have romantic love right now, but I still love and I am loved. I may be hitting fewer dance floors, but right now I have more solo dance parties in my own home than ever before. I may be losing the ability to walk, but I keep trying, andI’m learning to love myself anyway. I might have lost big relationships, but I will not let that stop me from trusting others and opening myself up, as I am today. I’m battered and bruised by life, but I’m dealing with it all.
My biggest learning has been that if something can help, can make me happier, I have to pursue it. I have to be a bit stubborn and try to do the things I want to do, regardless of the obstacles. That’s how I found myself stumbling around India with a walking stick. Totally worth it.
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