Dear Former Self,
Looking through old photos of you has been insightful, painful, entertaining and bittersweet.
I think I’d forgotten how much fun I had making things fun. And that I didn’t always used to feel scared all the time.
I miss that strength, that optimism, that belief that it’s all going to work out somehow someday.
It’s hard to remember it. It feels like a teeny tiny string in the palm of my hand that’s attached to my former self, my former life.
All this time, I’ve held onto it for dear life. Feeling like if I let go, I’ll never get back to that old self. To that physically strong, healthy woman who would hop on a plane without a backward glance.
But I see now that it’s time to let it go. Time to let YOU go. That I don’t get to go back to you.
You’re lost to me forever.
This makes me incredibly sad. That I must move forward knowing I will never be able to make plans outside the house without lots of coordinating. That I’ll never casually order off a menu. That I’ll never be able to play outside in the sunshine without worrying I’m hurting myself.
I had to think about what to write for that paragraph. Because I don’t remember those things as well as I used to. I’ve adjusted. Adapted. The new self slowly emerging whether I want it to or not.
This is a relief to discover. To learn that I’m not so quick to remember how I used to exist in the world.
I suppose it might be like going blind later in life.
Eventually, you forget what purple looks like. You think you remember.
But you don’t. It’s just a fuzzy, old memory that slips further and further away in your mind.
The biggest thing I’ve learned from the writing project from the last thirty months is that I have to forgive myself.
And be kinder to myself. I’m so hard on myself! Too hard!
I have to forgive that version of me that felt such a compulsion to work.
I have to forgive myself for the life choices I made, good, bad or unknown at this time.
I have to forgive myself for listening to my mind, instead of my heart.
I have to forgive myself.
I have to forgive myself.
I have to forgive myself.
Everything I’ve been through so far has taught me that we’re all just doing the best we can on any given day.
That we can’t know that the daily decisions we’re making are leading us down a road that may or may not work out, according to whatever life plans we think we’ve made.
Some days, lately, I wonder if maybe the decisions I made were better ones than I thought they were. That I seemed to understand what I *truly* needed without realizing it.
That I knew I needed to pursue my art, my writing, my own path, even if it felt uncomfortable and “wrong” in some way.
I look at the photos and read my posts, I see now that I was always honoring my dream, my soul, and my true self all along.
What felt like non-decisions or inaction were me protecting the artist that wanted so desperately to emerge.
What felt like avoidance was giving me space to grow into exactly who I was, instead of who I thought I should be.
What felt like rebellion was actually me clearing a path for this courageous, brilliant, tough woman to find her stride. Her style.
These photos remind me of so many painful moments during this journey. They also remind me of how zany, and wild, and sweet, and stubborn, and funny I still am.
Those traits can never, ever be taken from me.
The core self, the one I’ve been looking for all these years, is still inside me. And will always be there.
I heard this often soon after the surgery. That for many people, the cancer strips away all the bullshit, the “should do” and “should be” feelings.
And it has. When you’re not sure how long you have left, it feels pretty silly to hold back. To be afraid to speak out, to fight injustices, or expose our hearts and mind or love with abandon.
I don’t know what this next chapter will bring me. Which is terrifying.
It’s just me, my writing, and my community.
Finally. For the first time in my life, I don’t feel pressure to DO, to BE, to LIVE a certain way.
And it’s the most liberating feeling in the world.
I can BE anything. I can DO anything. I can SAY anything.
I’ve been doing it for months now and it’s getting easier and easier.
To not just discover my true self. But to expose it to the world.
I recognize that this is a huge privilege.
I've been working since I was ten years old. I know that this time I have right now is truly a gift.
I'm determined not to waste it.
Would I trade my four organs back if it meant giving up this writing voice? The opportunity to save lives? To live out my existence like a regular person? Go shopping at Costco on the weekend and complain about how the house needs work and my job is overwhelming?
But of course, we always want what we don’t have, don’t we?
I don’t want to live that way anymore. I don’t want to wish for organs I can’t have back. Or, a life that I never really wanted. Or, a path that isn’t meant for me.
I want to live HERE. Where I AM. Whether it comes with pain. Or, struggle. Or, effort to merely get through one day, I want to be ok with it.
I want to be more than ok with it. I want to accept it, in it’s entirety.
I want to film my crazy doctor appointments. Write about my emotional pain. I want to take these moments and convert them into art, and stories, and drawings, and poems, and metaphors for LIFE.
I want to take the pile of garbage in my backyard and turn it into a beautiful sculpture.
Use the old food scraps to grow a beautiful garden.
Transform the gross pieces of trash into a gorgeous chain of charms, origami, and eclectic designs that I hang up in whatever room I’m sleeping in.
To remind me of who I once was. And how far I’ve come.
Into the depths of my soul. As I planned so many years ago.
During that deep dive inward, I’ve found so much to cry about.
But I’ve also found so much to celebrate too.
And that’s where I am now. This project has helped me see that if I spend all my time grieving, that I’ll miss out on the beautiful moments that are happening, every day, all the time, around me, and in me.
I don’t want to keep wishing for other things like I did before. Always chasing after what I think I need.
I’m alive. I can walk. I can breathe. I can hug. I can laugh. I can sing. I can dance. I can fuck. I can write. I can draw. I can swim. I can even run, skip, hop and jump for joy. I can still fly.
There are so many people that can’t do so many of those things.
If I keep looking backwards at what I’ve lost, I won’t notice all that I still have. I don’t want to live that way.
The past belongs in the past.
The future is mine to create. Like an art project. One piece at a time. One word at a time. One post at a time.
My future is mine to create. Without anything stopping me but me.
And that is the best birthday gift of all.
I have a future. For now, at least.
I don’t plan to waste it. Not for one second, on what I did or didn’t do.
I plan on living it as fully, and openly, and honestly as possible.
Happy Birthday, Old Self. We’re still alive. And that is a gift I will happily celebrate.
IF YOU WANT TO READ MY NEXT SET OF STORIES, FOLLOW ME ONLINE AND LEAVE ME YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS. YOU CAN FRIEND ME ON FB SINCE THAT'S THE BEST WAY TO STAY UP TO DATE. I'M SLOW TO POST ON OTHER PLATFORMS!
PHOTO #30. This last and final post of a series celebrating my life before I lost four organs to three cancers in 2014. It is an “online memorial” honoring the person I was, in the hopes that I can make peace with the disabled person I’ve become. Every day for 30 days until my birthday, I will challenge myself to write a post inspired by the photo I’m sharing. I will not plan the topic or write ahead of time. I will merely look at the photo and write whatever it inspires. Thanks for reading! #julesfor30 #happyrebirth - I'll be sharing more stories soon.