Laura Chamberlain explains why her 30th birthday will be tainted with grief and how she’s trying to change her mindset around…
This is not going to be one of those “I’m so wonderful, I’m positive all the time” posts. I’m neither wonderful or always positive. But this blog is about how I’m attempting to change my mindset to make my 30th birthday a thing of celebration rather than loss.
I think it’s fair to say that a lot of healthy, able-bodied people experience a certain mournfulness of the time that has passed, the youth lost and the things not done when they turn 30.
It is a birthday which your 20-year-old self thought you’d have everything figured out by. But, it turns out, getting older doesn’t make you feel any more like an adult.
And I’ve watched my friends make and tick off bucket lists (or in the case of my partner, panic that he hasn’t ticked off his bucket list despite not actually making one), and I’ve watched others use their 30th birthday as a trigger to remember what is they had wanted to do, and reanalyse what’s actually important.
People have changed jobs, moved cities, taken up extreme sports, gone travelling. They have spun their sense of lost time into an urge to make sure no more is wasted.
When you are chronically ill though, there’s an extra layer of grief. Turning 30 has reminded me not of the things I forgot to do, but of the things I physically haven’t been able to do.
I unfortunately became ill not long after my birthday. So I know that this year marks five years since I’ve been truly disabled by my various conditions (not including the time I spent ill as a teenager).
That’s five years of lost adventures. Five years of lost nights out with friends. Five years unable to work.
I’m lucky that I found a loving, beautiful-souled (and handsome) partner before I got ill. But that’s not to say it’s not stolen from us too. Our experiences as a couple have been hugely limited by my chronic illness.
And the next revelation: while your friends make up for the things not done, you sit with the knowledge that you can’t make up for it. Or, to do so, you have to make huge compromises over your dreams.
I heard a Muhammad Ali quote on a TV programme recently: “Don’t count the days, make the days count,” and this really hit me in the stomach, because I felt my ability to do this had been taken from me.
I’m in an odd position personally. My two new diagnosises in the last year: Endometriosis and Lyme disease, opened up treatment options for me. There is a huge question mark over what the future holds for me. I may be able to make up for lost time. I may have to manage illness but at a much higher functioning.
I’m scared of hoping for too much, because of the devastation I will feel if it doesn’t happen. I don’t want to be destroyed by an improvement because it isn’t as much as I’d hoped, when it would actually make a huge difference to my life.
So I’m trying very hard to not look too far forward, which means to turn this grief on its head like my able-bodied friends have done, I have to instead look back.
And here’s what I’m doing. Instead of focusing on what I’ve lost, I want to focus on the victories I’ve won.
- Kept fighting through some very dark times
- Pulled myself out of depression (with a bit of help)
- Researched and found better ways to manage my conditions
- Never stopped looking for answers
- Never stopped trying new things which I deem to be scientifically plausible
- Found communities of people who know what I’m going through
- Fought for awareness and funding of my conditions
- Lost myself in grief, and found a way out of that
And actually, here’s the number one thing, that both myself and others (not just the chronically ill) have done every day. Survived.
Life doesn’t go to plan. It throws a lot of big bloody rocks at you and you can’t always dodge out of the way. But you’re here, you survived this day and every one leading up to it, and you can survive the next.
And for the future? Maybe that Muhammad Ali quote wasn’t so bad after all, it just needs an adjustment of expectations. Counting the days lost will only cause you sorrow, but finding things within your energy or ability envelope that make you happy, make you feel proud, they are worth doing.
I hope everyone is well and not dwelling as much as me on their ageing bodies!
Lots of love,
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