Note: attempted to post this yesterday as promised, but technical difficulties with wordpress. I want points for that:-)
A few months ago I found part of a diary I had kept in primary school. In it, I had outlined some of the things I wanted to do in life. Aside from the predictable traces of the schoolgirl stereotype, like “I want to marry so&so and have lots of babies” (a truly frightening thought today), I also listed moving out into my dream house and travel all over the world as particular ambitions I wanted to materialise. Finding this little slice of personal history jogged my memory: of pictures of beaches, mountains, people and cities cut out of magazines and stuck on my bedroom walls, hours spent plotting my future travels with the computer program Encarta World Atlas (I was keen on Réunion island, for some reason), and designing my glorious beachside dream house with some architecture/design software I believe we “shared” from some one else’s computer.
It was the 90s. And all I wanted was my freedom and independence.
I always assumed I would have both. But of course, illness (and subsequent disability) threw a rather large spanner in the works of that pre-pubescent pipedream. As a result of being shackled to that unruly, repulsive intruder (previously dubbed MURDOCH), my focus inevitably shifted from dreaming big to basic survival. Relief from the stress of that reality through periodically escaping into my over-active imagination was always comforting, at first. But the comfort would eventually wear off, replaced by a lingering sadness, as I realised that my thirst for the world outside hospital rooms might go unsated. Moreover, the youthful delusion of physical infallibility was swiftly and efficiently terminated. For a period of time I stopped watching media that reminded me of everything that I was missing out on, for my own mental wellbeing. Apart from comedy, my faithful friend, reading history books about the Cold War actually became comforting (come to think of it, my enduring preference for realist drama over escapist glamour probably stems from this period). Life had become very… real.
It was my initiation into adulthood, and into the reality of my life… a reality that persists today. This reality will continue until I accumulate the resources and establish the career pathway necessary to liberate me from it. The reality of a life spent trying to reconcile a strong rebellious thirst for freedom and independence, with financial restrictions and physical restrictions that are beyond my control.
How I handle this ongoing tension today varies. Most of the time, I’m up-beat and outward looking. I count my blessings, laugh LOADS and appreciate the little things. I don’t get bored easily, know how to have fun and adore the company of others. I exercise patience in order to make things easier on myself and everyone else. Whenever I go through a bout of ill health or suffer a big set back, though, things can easily descend. Not surprising, considering my past battles with the black dog. I am still learning how to work through occasional and intense feelings of powerlessness, and aloneness.
And the angst sporadically hits me at other times, too. About 2 weeks ago, whilst typing up a job application and succumbing to financial fret in a moment of weakness, I was overcome by aforementioned feelings of powerlessness, coupled with the overwhelming sensation of being trapped. Cue intense panic and tears. I have not had a recurrence of this episode since, I notice with thankfulness – as it did render me severely fucked off for the rest of that particular day. Which was, to put it mildly, inconvenient. I hope I don’t have more of this kind of episode after semester starts. I’ve already made contingency plans just in case.
There is a “light”, though (there always is). Shortly after that alarming incident, I made a conscious effort to start practicing again something I first learned years ago. It has been proving beneficial as I try and work myself out of this situation: Mindfulness. We all have millions of thoughts everyday. The kinds of thoughts that dominate our thought processes will influence our moods, outlook, and our behaviour. Mindfulness to me involves trying to stay present in the midst of “a mood”, through turning simple, everyday tasks into a ritual, a meditation. One of the remarkable things that often happens is that when I do it, I am able to detach and think “these bad thoughts are just that: thoughts. I am okay.” Odd? Perhaps. But this is far healthier than some other methods I have previously employed to get out of my head, so to speak. And as someone who tends to be consumed with the future, goals, and thoughts, it does actually help me centre myself back in the present.
I regain a sense of power by focusing on what I can do today, to help me edge closer to my material goals – not the goals themselves. So obvious, but it is something that I have struggled with in the past. My goals are always so audacious in comparison to my starting point that the enormity of them often intimidates me. I lose momentum and get frustrated, disillusioned. So now, I am learning to reprogram myself with this mindfulness technique. So far, so good. It appears to be helping me with my eating and weight gain goal as well – when I eat mindfully, the digestive kick backs actually seem less severe.
Another “light” in my life: my circumstances have gradually led me to form and refine what freedom and independence actually mean to me. In my estimation, over 75% of the planet that is accessible to able-bodied people is not accessible to me (including, probably, Réunion island). Airlines are not truly accessible (I can get on them. But I am completely dependent on others and wheelchair-less when I do). Most of Melbourne is not accessible to me. I don’t have the option of wandering into any shop or building or alleyway I want to – certainly not on a whim. And I neglect to check where the accessible toilets are around an intended destination in advance at my own peril (I still take this chance frequently. One day, I’m going to pay). And so, today, more than anything else, freedom means the freedom to be myself, think for myself, and express myself. It means the freedom to explore and roam intellectually: to explore different media and ideas, and to not have external or social expectations of who I should be forced upon me. Freedom of thought.
This is the freedom that is available to me. I exercise it everyday. And whenever I post on this blog.
Independence, however, is a little more complicated. On a personal level, independence means career, emotional and financial independence. I cannot say truthfully that I have any of those things… yet. But I have the beginnings of those things, and I have the blueprints. I have the benefit of vision, clear independent career goals I am building towards, inspired by values and interests I am passionate about, in a versatile area that all reputable trend analysts agree will continue to expand and grow in years to come. I can see with clarity and detachment some of the mistakes I have made in respect to past relationships, and know how to avoid those patterns in future. I feel my strength growing (slowly), now feel comfortable standing up for my own needs and interests, and feel healthier and whole on my own. I have a natural aversion to being a spendthrift, despise overpriced fashion and goods, and get off on saving money. When I do find a stable source of income, I am determined to handle and grow my resources conservatively. It’s all good.
Then there’s the type of independence that as a disabled person is problematic: physical independence. Apart from the reduced ability to roam I discussed above, physical independence is also tied to financial independence. There is nothing I can do about that right now – I just don’t have the resources to increase my physical independence at my disposal. But my disability could easily have been much worse – considering the nature of the illness I had and the invasive treatments I underwent, I am freaking lucky. I take comfort in knowing that as I pursue my work goals, I am edging closer to my freedom and independence, in every sense of those words. I am pursuing a career that allows me intellectual freedom, along a pathway I have chosen myself.
For the right reasons.
And that, I reckon, is pretty bloody independent.