Well it’s that time of year again, isn’t it. Is it? Really? Like really?! Every year actually is shorter than the last, right? It’s not just me who looks back and wonders where the year has gone…? Though to be fair I suppose a lot has happened to me in the past year. On New Years Eve last year I had a bath, drank one Guinness (the only alcohol my chemo affected body could handle) and went to bed well before 12… This year I went to a 1920s style prohibition party (I’ve certainly got the haircut for it at the moment!) and stayed out all night dancing. How times change.
I’m stuck between this ‘new year new me’ thing and ‘new year same me’. I like and dislike them both. I really like spending this time looking back on the year that has been and looking forward to what is to come. Something about that makes me feel in control. And I’m always a fan of a nice clean canvas just waiting for me to splash (or spill) paint all over it, while the previous year’s canvas can sit packed up in the cupboard. At least that’s what I used to think I could do.
I thought when I got cancer that I could get it treated, cut out, then I would just slot back into life like nothing had happened, leave it a thing of the past that I only occasionally refer to. Do the same thing I had done to every other year. But as past years seem to keep cropping up in each new artwork, so do the memories of cancer. And I mostly mean this in a good way. I’ve learnt a lot from it and I’ve gained a lot – so many amazing friends, so many examples of courage from people, so many shows of how wonderful humans are.
But I am also a huge advocate of change. Personal change. I am allergic to monotony. I love to try new things, have new experiences, meet new people. I don’t like life to be boring, and in that sense I try to see each day, week, month, year as a potential new me, a whole new set of opportunities. Constantly adapting, growing, looking for the next challenge or adventure.
But there is also a lot of pressure these days on always trying to be the ‘best you that you can be’ and ‘living your best life’. I’m learning to not give myself such a hard time if not ‘every day I’m hustling’. Wait Jen, do you mean actually just have a balance?! Revolutionary!
I do still feel like I’m in limbo at the moment though… not quite functioning at my full capacity, still recovering from chemo and surgery, and waiting for the next surgery date when they will try to give me some new teeth. I guess of late I’ve been a little bit preoccupied with how I look, waiting for the day when I look a bit more normal. And indeed I’m starting to get back to ‘normal’ but I still have this big reminder of cancer on my face when I look in the mirror, and I have to explain to new people I meet why I look a bit odd. I’ve been around other cancer friends when they’ve been discussing when the time is right to tell new people what they’ve been through. For me it has to be straight away. At the moment I can’t really hide it all away – I hope when I get my shiny new teeth, that will be a lot easier to do should I wish to, at least at times. I see all these amazing beautiful girls who’s coping strategy through cancer is to put on bright lipstick and make themselves look glamorous (I swear everyone looks great bald btw). I haven’t felt like I’ve been able to do that, I’ve more wanted to hide my face away than show it. Sometimes I’ve felt sad I couldn’t be the glamorous bald girl. But I’ve never been one to conform to the norm anyway, so why start now.
It’s funny how we see ourselves in a certain way and inadvertently use confirmation bias to tell ourselves it’s the case. Like… If we’re self conscious about our weight and someone says something about your clothes you’ll immediately think they’re saying your clothes are too big or small. If you think you have a big nose and someone mentions your nose you’ll assume they’re saying it’s big. If you have a prosthetic leg and someone talks about legs you’ll think that’s what they’re referring to. Even if they’re meaning the opposite one.
Shall I give you an example? I met a lovely girl a few weeks ago at a party and she came up to me and said I was really beautiful and asked me if I had done any modelling because I have the face for it. Ha! I thought our mutual friend must have told her about me and she was just being nice. The good old ‘you look good, considering…’. I told her that was very sweet of her to say, considering how odd my face looks etc. She looked at me confused. She had no idea. She wouldn’t have even noticed had I not met her compliment by saying I look strange. She was being genuine (obviously we’re now friends, I love her). That was a bit of a wake up moment for me. Get over it, Jen.
I know I sound a bit vain talking about how I look, when I am very well aware that I honestly don’t look too bad. I know how far I have come and I know a lot of people have it much worse. If I weren’t committed to true transparency through all of this, I probably wouldn’t talk about it so much. But I want to talk about how hard it is to come to terms with your face suddenly looking so different through no choice of your own. How people do tend to ask what happened to your face, how every time you look in the mirror, there is a reminder of cancer. I want other people who have to go through similar things to know they’re not alone. Anyway, I’ve talked about it enough, I don’t need to talk about it again but my point is that I’m going to try and give it all up. And hopefully soon I’ll have new teeth and with it, I will be able to let go of my final reason to need to tell people why I don’t have any. I hope with my new teeth I will also find my freedom.
Gee, then I’ll need to find something else to worry about! Maybe I’ll start talking again about how I can’t breathe through my nose… Did ya know? 😛
Ok so it’s a new year. To be honest, it doesn’t feel much different from the last. I follow a girl on Instagram who is disabled and she talks about struggling with the ‘new year, new me’ thing because it’s a constant reminder that able-bodied people can just change themselves and what they’re doing at whim every year, when it is a lot harder for disabled people to do so. They can’t just decide to stop living their current life and pick a new one, they have to live with their reality. I had never thought of that, had you? I suppose ‘new year, new me’ comes from a place of privilege.
This new year I’m going to keep thinking about what I want to do, who I want to be and how I want to live, and I’m going to hope that 2019 is better than the last 2 years have been. But I’m not going to put pressure on myself to do certain things just because it’s a new year. I am going to keep trying to be my best but also allow myself days to just chill out and not achieve anything. We’re very much an all-or-nothing culture these days, but let’s all just try and do whatever we can yeah? And don’t give ourselves too much of a hard time if we don’t go to the gym every day or if we drink alcohol or eat red meat. Resolutions are just an excuse to let yourself down when you try to take on more than is sustainable.
This year (and every year, for that matter), let’s just aim to find moments of joy wherever we can, hug our loved ones, extend an arm and a smile to a stranger, and be kind to ourselves. This is our year, in whatever capacity we are capable of it. If you’ve been waiting for a reason or a time to do something you’ve wanted to do, just do it! Leaving things until the new year is just an excuse to put them off, so just take the first step right now, whenever you are reading this – stop expecting too much and stop making excuses.
Happy New Year everyone, just keep being wonderful you.
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Love this post Jen, I couldnt agree more 🙂
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Hi Jen! So glad I’ve discovered your blog. Although we’ve had pretty different cancers (I had APL), I also feel like I’m in limbo in terms of cancer recovery and tying up loose ends after treatment and unable to kind of kick off the new year with a blank slate. I also love your point about ‘new year new me’ coming from a place of privilege – definitely puts it into perspective 🙂