This is going to be one of those really personal posts where I pour a heap of shit out of my head onto a screen and hit publish before I freak out and delete everything. There’s going to be minimal editing, so while I’ll do my best to check for typos, I don’t want to polish this so much that it stops being what it’s supposed to be – processing and sharing some things that I need to process and say out loud so I can kick the residual sense of shame out of my brain and my life. OK, here goes.
I was looking back over old blog posts today – I don’t even know why, it’s just a thing I do sometimes – and I noticed something. I tend to go through these cycles of realising that I lean heavily towards workaholism and constant thing-doing and stuff-proving, then realising that that isn’t doing me any good and I need to deal with those tendencies. So part of that cycle has to do with my health, which I actually don’t want to talk about in detail anymore to the point where I took down any blog posts where I talk about it in detail. I don’t owe anyone a medical history or The Grand Story of Illness, I don’t need anyone’s (almost always misinformed, insulting and condescending) opinions on that stuff and I made a conscious choice recently not to define myself, or be defined, by things that happen to me rather than by things I choose.
But. My health over the last decade and a half has most definitely amplified my pre-existing do-all-the-things mindset. Because I was frustrated with other people’s (wildly inaccurate) assumption that if I simply tried hard enough, I could magically jump on board the convenient recovery narrative train. Because I was living in a constant state of financial instability that tore my life apart (yes, even in a country with universal healthcare, some people still end up bankrupt because of illness and disability). Because I didn’t have the option to stop or slow down, because bills needed paid, because life was how it was and I was surviving. And now life isn’t like that and I get to do more than survive. And it’s good. But it’s confusing.
When I stopped skimming along rock bottom in a perpetual state of desperation (which sounds totally miserable but there was also a lot of genuine happiness and gratitude during that time because when life says “Fuck you” I shout back “Well, fuck you harder”) my sense of self-worth took a big hit. Surviving-in-spite-of had become a huge part of my identity, not in the way that I talked about it a lot with other people or filled my online bios with hashtag spoonie or whatever, but in terms of how I felt about myself. I’ve already rambled a LOT in other posts about the strangeness of realising I didn’t really know who I was anymore and trying to rediscover what I actually liked and wanted, so I’m not going to get into all that yet again, but yeah, it’s still kind of a thing.
OK, so. This feels a bit like coming out. No. That’s a lie. I’ve never given that much of a shit about coming out because my sexual orientation has never caused me any internal strife (hello, I am attracted to humans regardless of gender and you are welcome to pin whatever label you wish on that). This, my life situation, has caused me heaps of internal strife. I actually feel kind of sick even thinking about writing about it, which means I should definitely write about it. Right? Ugh. Just do it. Stop talking to yourself on a screen and write.
Currently, my husband has a going-to-a-place-and-doing-a-thing-for-money kind of job and I do not. We are basically a one income household. Financially, this works fine for us because we’re both pretty cheap to run and after years of never being sure if we could pay the rent or not, being able to exist comfortably feels like a lottery win. I consciously chose to shift my perception of my own existence from “I’m a worthless piece of shit who can’t have a job like a real person or even physically manage to do a work-from-home kind of job with the requisite consistency so I have to constantly try to find ways to turn anything I can just about manage to do into something that makes money no matter how much it fucks me up” to “I am so incredibly grateful every day that I can finally care for my health and well-being while enjoying my life and sharing responsibilities with my husband in a way that works best for both of us.”
Fuuuuuck. There. I said it. If you’re thinking “It’s alright for you” please kindly do not spew that bile anywhere near my blog. Or anyone else’s, to be honest. Because really, “It’s alright for you” means nothing more than “I have never lived your life but I’m going to be a dick because I perceive that your existence is, or has been, easier than mine so I’m bitter and want to hurt you.” That’s not a good look on anyone. The funny thing is, even if my current situation had literally nothing whatsoever to do with my health, even if body-stuff had not affected my situation, even if my husband and I simply sat down one day and decided that it made most sense for one of us to go out to work (because it made that person happy) and the other to look after things at home (because it made that person happy), it still wouldn’t be OK for anyone to be unkind or hurtful. Because it isn’t OK to be unkind and hurtful. Please try not to do that to anyone.
Gods, I cannot stop exhaling. I didn’t realise how hard it was going to be to say all that. But I did it, so I’m going to keep going. Here’s a fun thing I discovered about myself after a lifetime of having “you can do anything, so you must do everything, and by everything we mean these specific things, but not these other things that society now perceives as having no value” crammed into my head. I fucking LOVE creating and maintaining a beautiful, comfortable home. I ADORE cooking delicious, nutritious food from scratch when I’m able to. I am SO GRATEFUL that I get to explore and embrace my creativity without constantly obsessing over how I can make money out of it. I am SO THANKFUL that when my husband isn’t at work, we get to spend actual quality time together because everything that needs doing is done and we can chill and enjoy each other’s company. We live more slowly, more intentionally and so much more happily.
And guess what? I don’t feel inadequate anymore because I’m no longer judging myself by anyone else’s standards. I’m not A Sick Person or A Disabled Person as the majority of my identity. My life is not one of lack. I don’t have to make excuses or justify anything to anyone. I’ve done hardcore work stuff and big job stuff and running businesses stuff and oh shit maybe I should go back to university and get a degree to prove to myself that I’m not stupid and worthless stuff, and it’s all been an adventure, but it’s not where I’m at right now. My current existence is valid. And here’s a crazy thing that I’m still coming to terms with. If I woke up tomorrow totally able-bodied forever and my husband and I still chose to coordinate our existence the way we currently are, that would still be valid. Realistically, if I woke up tomorrow totally able-bodied forever I would definitely go get a part-time job where I could be around people (without having to be responsible for them) and still have time for creative things, but if I didn’t, that would actually also be fine. And I wouldn’t, and don’t, need to apologise to anyone for any of that. HOLY FUCK.
So I’m still writing stories because I still want to and I’m still not interested in selling what I write, although sharing it in other ways still brings me endless joy. I’m still taking photos because I still want to and I’m still not interested in making money from that either (don’t get me wrong, I loved running my photography business and studio, but I also love art for art’s sake). I’m still doing my online volunteering because I’m still passionate about supporting and encouraging people to engage with creativity every day. I’m making jewellery, and thinking about other things I’d like to make, with a view to opening a little Etsy shop, but it’s totally a passion project and a fun hobby rather than a business plan. I’m having fun with my witchy- and pagan-themed Tumblr, but that’s also a fun hobby and a way to connect with people with whom I share an interest, not a strategy to Grow My Audience or whatever.
And you know what else I’m doing? I’m sleeping at night for more than four hours at a time. I’m doing more yoga. I’m eating more healthily. I’m spending less time in front of the computer. I’m sitting in my garden, wrapped in a blanket, drinking tea. I’m journaling more regularly. I’m smiling when I look in the mirror. I’m reading more, from novels to psychology journals. I’m working on improving my high school level French. I’m not in a perpetual state of fight or flight. I’m not angry all the time, or even that much of the time. I’m not having allergic reactions to everything I touch. And on the nights when I wake up in the small hours and can’t get back to sleep because it feels like my bones are trying to climb out of my skin, I’m grateful that while it’s an experience I could do without having, it also isn’t the top of a steep and slippery slope to days, weeks or months of complete physical collapse because I can prioritise resting when I need to the next day or for as many days as necessary.
I don’t know how to pull all this into a neat and tidy conclusion or a convenient life lesson because it’s real and reality doesn’t always work that way. I know all this is a process and I still catch myself over-scheduling things that do not need to be scheduled at all, or feeling a nudge of anxiety that I haven’t done enough today, or trying to figure out how to explain my life or any part of it in a way that will justify the comparative comfort of my current situation. But I’m getting there. I’m allowed to be content and intentional and loved and accepting of myself. I don’t owe anyone a measure of guilt or shame for the good things in my life and I don’t have to earn virtue through suffering or prove that I’ve been miserable enough for long enough to now be allowed to experience joy. I don’t believe in that kind of structure.
I think maybe what it comes down to is that we all need to live in whatever way works for us for whatever reasons. There are tough times and tougher times, but also there are alright times and wonderful times. And sometimes it is what it is, but sometimes it is what you make it. And sometimes a shift in perspective is everything.