The other people in my bay are not really in a good way. Some are better than others, but it’s hard to feel sorry for myself about the hole below my non eye, or whatever else for long when the people around me can’t really even get out of bed. I, of course, spend my days standing at the window writing, staring lovingly at London, or… well… dancing. I think they’ve all got quite advanced cancers (I don’t know what types) and while I push to the back of my mind the thought that it might be a glimpse into my future, I bring to the front of it that my goodness I am still very much alive. I may get infections every few weeks that land me in hospital, I may get a swollen face, I may be having cytotoxic drugs pumped into me, I may have problems with a hole in my face, sure eating and drinking isn’t the easiest thing in the world but I can definitely do it, but really… I don’t have drains or catheters, I’m not bed ridden, I’m not in pain, I don’t need enemas, I don’t have a language barrier that means I can’t understand my doctors, and I’m certainly not in any sort of final stages. Not that I’m assuming my bay mates are, but they are definitely worse off that I am right now. I know I’ll be home in a few days, a home that is really nearby. And I have loads of ways to entertain myself in the meantime.
But you know, some days I do truly feel like I’m suffering. Some nights, I feel it most. When the night is dark and cold. Times when I want to blow my nose (well the one nostril that works a bit) in order to maybe get the chance to breathe and thus sleep better, but then I remember I can’t really do it because of the hole in my face. So I lie there in the dark, maybe lucky enough to breathe in and out through my tiny nostril passage/hole in face, and wonder whether aggravating the wound or waking up choking is preferable. The choice is taken away from me fairly often anyway, thanks to my tiny nostril passage being blocked. It’s hard not to sometimes think that most people don’t worry about that. Or about how on earth they are going dress a huge hole in their face when their skin is already blistering.
We all have things we suffer through`.
But I think I drew a short straw.
And at night I feel that.
And some days.
Some days when I remember they don’t think they can cut this cancer out and that this crazy regime is palliative.
But what life would I have left if I spent all my time sitting in those thoughts.
Life is lived between these thoughts.
In the simple joys of sun and rain, rainbows, birthdays, friends and champagne. In a morning routine with a good cup of coffee or a long bath with candles in the evening. Or patting a cat. Or getting out for a walk and touching a tree. Or friends that drop all their plans to stay with you on treatment weeks.
I couldn’t imagine anything worse than dying and looking back and thinking I wasted too much time dwelling on how much I’m suffering and how bad things were. Feeling them is important. And I do look at the people suffering around me and think I don’t have it so bad. But also, we need to allow ourselves to feel how hard things are in the moments they’re overwhelming. There’s no competition, it would be ridiculous to say ‘that person might be suffering worse right now, so I must ignore how I feel’. This would fall into toxic positivity, and we don’t like that. But dwelling… A life spent dwelling in just how hard things are feels like a life wasted to me, anyway. That’s not what i’d like to look back on when I get my famed pre-death highlights reel.
I’m really counting on it happening, the highlights reel. I want to see the beautiful moments I’ve had amongst it all paraded back for me. Always looking for magic, always finding it, because we know it’s out there in so many wonderful moments if we just look.
Whenever my time does come, my highlight reel is going to keep going for bloody hours. Days. Weeks. Months. Probably years.
It’s a neat little trick to keep death waiting, maybe ask him to pull up a seat and grab some popcorn because it’s going to be a long one, it’s 34 years of mostly highlights.
Many of my decisions these days are backed by a simple question – when I look back on my life, will I be happy I did (or didn’t) do this?
And honestly, I’d recommend it. Why not live like you might die in a week – a month – 6 months. We’ve created a society around long-term goals; 5, 10, 20 year plans. But how do we know we’ll have that long? I’m not saying let’s blow all our savings, they’re a good idea and practical. But how many things do we put off until this whimsical idea of ‘later’. Putting our hearts aside until we retire and get more time, or earn more money, or something else we’ve made up to hold ourselves back.
It was John Lennon who said ‘life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.’
None of us are ever either good enough or ready. Those states don’t exist. Entrepreneurs would say launch early – with a minimum viable product – and evolve as you learn and gain information. Perfectionism is not a help, it’s a procrastination tool. It stops us ever putting ourselves out there, keeps us from being our most fabulous selves. Again, those entrepreneurs would say things should be ‘done, rather than perfect’.
Because nothing is ever ‘perfect’.
And this is something I think we would look back on and not be proud of. The things we denied ourselves for ridiculous reasons we made up. Denying those little people still trapped inside us all from having a dream and actually making it a reality. Because we’re scared that if we try, we’ll be laughed at. And everyone will finally know we’re as bad as we think we are. But you’d be surprised. And everything takes practice. It’s ok not to be good at things at first. No one is.
In her wonderful article, Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware tells us that the number one regret of those close to death is: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
I want to live longer to see my novel published, to see an album released. To have more perfect days like I had in the week before I came into hospital, where I sit in my beautiful flat and write ridiculous amounts of songs and play keyboard and Voicenote with friends and Facetime my parents. To walk down the back streets of London kicking autumn leaves and listening to Greek Tragedy by The Wombats. To hug my parents again. And again. And see my friends in Australia. To watch India fly again. To see the movies Rosa writes. To swim in my Lido and the Hampstead Heath Ponds. To write some more perfect sentences. To drink coffee and listen to my favourite albums. To finally see Crowded House live. These moments are the essence of life. These are the things I want to live longer for. I don’t want to climb Everest. I don’t want to try and fulfil some crazy bucket list. Sure, I would like to be well enough to travel more, go on holiday, but I have already done 27 countries and that’s pretty great. And I’m already living in the city of my dreams. I almost cry (sometimes do) with absolute happy joyful tears that when I open the curtains each morning (another night I’ve survived, another glorious day to come) I am looking out onto the streets of London. The same streets my hero’s walked, the streets I spent 27 years dreaming of.
These are the moments I live for. The every day beautiful things. Not 10 year plans, but this very day that is upon us.
The price to live a bit longer does feel a bit steep sometimes, but I am living. And as my friend India says, we accept the treatment for the chance to dream again. And she is forever proving to me that you can be in moments where it is all looking pretty grim, and somehow come out of it and get more time to chase those dreams. And I want that too. They might not be big, earth shattering dreams, but I think they are the dreams that count in the end.