Emotions · Health

You Only Get One Life

And it might be shit

Recently, one of my favourite internet people, Carrie Hope Fletcher, published a blog post in which she urged us all to hold on to our dreams, to never say ‘it’ll never be me’, because we simply don’t know what the future has in store. It’s a laudable sentiment. In recent years, not knowing what might happen next has been one of very few things restraining me from deciding not be alive any more. The trouble is, there’s a decent chance that what happens next might be even more shit than what’s happening now, and things may well continue to get worse for the rest of my life.

I should also add, at this stage, that I’m aware I speak from a place of immense youth and naivety. I have no other place to speak from.

I used to have a Psychology teacher who was not very good at making sure we knew everything we needed to get high marks in our exams, but was an excellent teacher nevertheless. The discussions we had in his classes were insightful and memorable, although occasionally his tales were rather tall. One thing he said that has always stuck with me is that people with depression can sometimes be far more realistic than those who are doing well mentally. This, of course, is a huge generalisation, must be taken with an enormous pinch of salt, and could even be quite dangerous if misinterpreted, but there’s still something in it. Depression can be an utter quagmire, and I’d far rather I didn’t have it, but it does give me a certain clarity, a certain ruthlessness, an ability not to kid myself and a removal of my head from the clouds (quite separate from the entirely irrational self-criticism which I also experience) which results in insight I highly doubt I’d otherwise have had.

This is the place that I speak from now. A place of depression and disheartenment and cold hard realism.

Carrie is right in that if you give up on your dreams, you won’t get them. But nevertheless, some dreams are too big, are a dangerous game, and the odds are often not in our favour. A good example of this is my one biggest dream in life: to have a career writing novels. The number of young women I meet who also want this is terrifying. There must be millions of us, and there simply can’t be room for us all in the publishing industry. The harsh reality is that it will never be most of us. And I wonder, how are we all going to cope with that disappointment? I hope that we will continue to write for our own enjoyment. But there will be holes in our hearts, nevertheless.

I think often of this column in the Guardian from last year, about a failed novelist. My heart goes out to the author. I wonder if they will continue to be disappointed throughout their life, or if they will make peace with what happened. I wonder if I will continue to be disappointed, when this most likely happens to me. I think about when I do die (hopefully not soon but perhaps earlier than some, given the toll ME must be taking on my body), and how much wiser I will presumably be, and how I might feel about all the things that I have and haven’t achieved in my life. I think about phrases like ‘you only live once’, and ‘live each day like it’s your last’, and I loathe the implication that you cannot be satisfied with your life unless every ‘precious’ day has been filled with outgoing and adventure and fulfilment. Because my days are filled with resting and TV and taking double the time a healthy person would to get dressed. My achievements are a short walk, an occasional blog post, a handful of chores.

So becoming a published author feels rather a long way off.

I’m in a funny place at the moment with my illness, where I might be getting worse or I might not, and I don’t really know what to expect in the coming months. I was forced to give up my dream of moving out of my parents house, and then give up my dream of starting an MA this year, and now probably give up my dream of being able to work again this summer. It makes me think about my bigger dreams: to travel the world, to own a house, to have a family, to be wealthy enough to be able to do all of these things (because it’s important to remember that money is a huge factor in most people’s lives, and many people’s dreams). Will I one day have no choice but to give these up too? How will I feel when I die, if none of these things happen?

Despite my illness, despite all the other shitty things that have happened to me in recent years, I speak from a place of enormous privilege: I have wonderful, kind, understanding helpful parents, who (whilst not being fabulously wealthy) can afford to put me up in this comfortable house and buy my food and sometimes drive me to places. I have brilliant friends who cheer me up when I’m feeling yucky, and sometimes I’m able to travel upcountry and see them in person. I live in a beautiful part of the world. I had a wonderful life, before I got ill, and I still stand a reasonable chance of recovering and getting it back.

Meanwhile, there are people even here in the UK who live in such unimaginable poverty that they barely have enough to eat, let alone any hope of one day being able to afford to travel. There are people in the world with no access to education, who will never be able to write down any words, let alone an entire novel of publishable quality. There are people who are fleeing for their lives from wars that have destroyed their houses and slaughtered their families. I’m not usually one to look at these people and tell myself that my problems are nothing in comparison – I don’t think that’s a constructive approach and I don’t think it’s helpful for me or for them. But in this context, it is something I consider. I don’t know whether or not these people have dreams like mine – perhaps they do not, perhaps the ghastly things they are experiencing eclipse everything else. But let’s assume, for a moment, that they do. And of course there will be some who succeed despite everything they’ve experienced. But for those who do not: is it agony? How do they feel, when they get to the end of their lives, and it has simply been impossible to do all the things they once wanted to do, for reasons that are completely outside of their control?

I cannot answer that question for anyone else, though I’d be fascinated to hear other people’s answers. I cannot answer for myself, either, because I am still so very much in a place where I don’t know what happens next, and where everything I want is still entirely possible, even if some of it is rather unlikely. I hope that whatever happens in my life, I can reach a place where I am content. In the meantime and as always, I live each day to the best of my ability, and if I am simply not able to do very much, I try to forgive myself.

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