I’m not normally one for the New Year. The thing is, that it’s usually a time for goal-setting and reflection on the year’s achievements, which I absolutely loathe. Nothing like being too ill to do everything you wanted in an ENTIRE 365 DAYS and then looking back on it with complete regret! So I usually try not to think about it. The end of the year is, at most, a time for me to heave a sigh of relief and hope that things will be better next time. The end of the decade… well. It’s like that, but ten times over, I suppose.
I don’t know what I spent the last 10 years doing. Most of it was spent wishing that I wasn’t really here, even though I faced constant distress at the thought that I was so mediocre that nobody even knew I existed. In an odd paradox, I hated my invisibility, even as I craved it: I wanted to be more. I wanted to be the most at something, to be noticed, to not just be that girl in the background even as I slid further and further into it. The only thing I was halfway good at (school, unsurprisingly) I wasn’t even good enough at. There was always someone better, more disciplined, right there in front of me. And I started to unravel. What was I doing? What was the point? I was too much of a burden for anyone to want to saddle themselves with, and I couldn’t even reward them in any way for their efforts. I retreated further and further into myself and wished I never existed.
What I thought would be the final straw – A-level results day, when I didn’t achieve good enough results for either of my two top choice universities – wasn’t, surprisingly. I think my mum cried more than I did, that day. I walked away from my classmates, most of them ecstatic about setting out on the futures they’d planned, and I went home and found another path. “If they don’t want me, somebody else will,” I remember saying that day. And I was right. A month later I left home for university and realised that I didn’t have to be the person I’d spent the last eight years being. I was happy. I was someone totally new. “There’s something different about you,” my parents told me when I came home for the first time. “You even walk differently.”
Things had changed, but in a way, they were still the same. After that first year, I realised that I felt half-finished, nowhere near as confident and self-assured as my friends, who were all stylish and poised. I felt like I had no interests, no clothes I felt confident in, I was too ill to feel comfortable leaving my flat to socialise. I did nothing except hole up in my room and study, tethered there by my own failing guts. And I started to sink again.
But this summer I had finally had enough. I was sick of being the girl I always was, too afraid, too ill and too frail to do anything. I cut my hair. I went on a shopping spree (a couple, in fact!). I got an internship and I was good at it. I finally felt like I was valuable and contributing to the world instead of being a drain on it. I turned my sadness at my sickness into fury that I wasn’t being treated. I started TPN and learned what it felt like to be well-nourished again. I pulled on a pair of jeans, found they were too tight for me, and cried with relief. I had my surgery months earlier than planned, and with only 12 hours of preparation, but I gritted my teeth and got out of bed anyway. I refused to let a little thing like having only 50cm of working intestine stop me from living. I didn’t do much this year, but I survived, and that was good enough.
So the 2010s have been a lot, to say the least. But I think I’m in a better position to begin the ‘20s. I’m looking forward to the smallest things: going back to university. Joining the gym, just because I can, and I won’t be afraid of being too weak. Being able to accept invitations to go out instead of constantly turning them down. Not constantly being able to choose: between health and success, between health and fun, between health and happiness. In 2020 I want it all. I’m going to have it all. And I hope you will too.
Photo by J A N U P R A S A D on Unsplash