It’s been a common theme throughout this week.
From conversations commenting on ‘the old me,’ to thoughts on how my life might have gone, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how chronic illness has affected me.
I think a big part of it is that I am about to embark on a journey to London. When I was very young I lived there with my family, but I haven’t been back to visit since we moved away approximately 15 years ago.
I have been waiting for this trip, planning and orchestrating it for years, and it’s finally here. We leave tomorrow.
But the thing is, there’s so much that I want to do and see there. So many plans and lists and dreams that have accumulated over the years. And now I’m going in a wheelchair, with a neck brace, unsure of how the flight will affect me, and only anticipating being able to leave the apartment that we’re renting once a day if I’m lucky.
I won’t be able to explore the city myself, as an adult. Everywhere I go I will need a companion, I will need accommodation. And even that might not be enough.
But what should that matter, when I’m going to London? I’ll still be there. I’ll still see a couple of things. I’ll still be having an adventure with my family.
It’s just not the way I thought it would happen. It’s not the trip I’ve been dreaming about. It’s not how it might have been, how it should have been.
The trip isn’t the only thing making me yearn for my past self.
This weekend, my old classmates and friends from the UBC Opera Ensemble put on a fabulous show. I watched in on the live stream and was completely blown away by how much they have grown, how talented and professional they have become.
In the week leading up to the opera, however, I couldn’t help but feel a bit miserable when I thought of the upcoming show. It wasn’t exactly that I was jealous of my classmates opportunity. It was that I felt I would have been on that stage too. That I should be backstage, taking pictures in costume with them all.
These events combined with a couple of mentions of ‘the old me’ in conversation, or ‘back to normal,’ have had me thinking about myself in some very strange ways.
I have felt separate from a ‘previous’ life. I have seen two paths distinctly, the one that my life would, or even should have gone, and the path that has resulted from chronic illness.
And, while I have come to terms with my current life, while there are plenty of things that I enjoy and that make me happy, I have felt a bit mournful over the life that I feel was lost. That was taken from me.
But that whole idea is a bit strange, the idea that a life can be lost, or taken. Because if chronic illness has destroyed a previous path, then so have many other things. When my parents decided to move our family to London, my childhood was altered dramatically from what it might have been. When I began voice lessons at the age of 10, my whole future was shifted as I traded a social life for rehearsal, practice, and rest.
There have been so many pivotal moments in my life, some only visible in retrospect, but I have never thought of them as eliminating the life I was living and forcing me to live a new one.
They have simply been the twists and turns of my path, shaping my experience and contributing to who I am today.
So why can’t my experience with chronic illness be the same?
Just because my illness is physically destructive doesn’t mean that it is destructive to my life.
I have not been destroyed. I don’t want to go back. I like who I am right now.
If I yearn for the ‘old me,’ it is with an occasional nostalgia, wishing for the body I once had while knowing, deep within my heart, that I would not go back even if I could.
I mean, really, who wants to be 17 again?
And so I am excited for my trip to London. It may not be what I dreamt about, but it’s real, and that’s so much better.
Watching my friends perform brought tears of happiness to my eyes. I still can’t stop talking about how wonderful they all were. I never thought I’d be watching their final year in the program on a screen, but it’s what happened, and it was beautiful.
I can spend my time thinking of what my life might have been, or even what I imagine it ‘should’ have been, but when it comes down to it those thoughts are mere fantasy. Because life is never predictable. There are always twists and turns.
And as Dumbledore says, “it does not do to dwell on dreams, and forget to live”.