Sunday, 19 February 2012

Assuming I'd have time, assuming I'd grow old

Recently, a combination of hearing about an article reporting on a nurse who recorded the most common regrets of the dying, and - yes, they are connected, I promise - watching (actually re-watching, for about the tenth time) an episode from season 6 of Scrubs called 'My Musical' resulted in me wanting to write a no doubt sickening but nevertheless true post about chasing what you truly want in life.


Watch it.
There's dancing and everything!












According to the article, the top five "I wish I could..." regrets of the dying as recorded by Bronnie Ware, a palliative care nurse in Australia, are as follows:

  1. Have had the courage to live a life true to myself;
  2. Not have worked so hard;
  3. Have had the courage to express my feelings;
  4. Have kept in touch with friends;
  5. Have let myself be happier. 

All of these probably strike a chord somewhere in you on reading just the list, because of the potential for regret that any human being fears. It is an even stronger sensation if reading the full article, or even Ware's book. For me, though, it is the last item on the above list (and possibly the first, too, as it is inherently linked, in my opinion) that really knocks the wind out of me.





"I wish that I had let myself be happier." Let myself. Imagine that: you could have been happier but you stood in your own way; you had too much fear to make changes that, although possibly risky, could have resulted in greater joy during what is a limited time of being alive.

Now, I am not about to start preaching to you. There is no way on earth that I would a) want to do that or b) allow myself to be so presumptuous as to think random internet people - or any people - need my advice on how to be happy. However, I am going to share my experience of letting myself be happy, albeit the abridged version (which is best for everyone concerned, I think!).

For some reason, I spent a good portion of my twenties not being happy. Lots of good things happened, and there was much to be grateful for during that time. Obviously bad things happened too, but they certainly didn't outweigh the good, and they didn't merit how not happy I was being. It was like I was in some kind of trance.

About 18 months ago, and I still don't really know why, I woke up. I wasn't letting myself be happy. I was so concerned with what I thought was "me", so worried that I might offend, upset, or even lose people by changing paths, and so fearful of my own weak self-concept, that I had trapped myself into a mindset of trying to just maintain a semblance of contentedness, which in turn resulted in less and less pushing myself to chase even the smallest of dreams.

There is a Spanish saying that I learned a long time ago when watching Baz Luhrmann's film 'Strictly Ballroom': "Vivir con miedo es como vivir a medias." This translates as, "a life lived in fear is a life half lived". I've always loved the phrase but I've never really, until that epiphany a year and a half ago, lived up to it. I was spending all my time being afraid and had lost the girl that, once upon a time, believed that all you had to do to go for something, anything, you aspired to was try your damn hardest and hope for a bit of good luck along the way.

So, I told Ben that I was in love with him. *checks number 3 off the list*

Then we met up, a few months later. We got engaged. I quit my job. *checks number 2 off the list* I spent the summer travelling around England and Italy with him, enjoying time together and with my family and beloved friends. No one disowned me. Not one person showed anything more than loving concern by way of any negative observations about my sudden life upheaval. People celebrated us. We had the joy of sharing our joy with so many special people, who we are infinitely lucky to know.

By the end of 2011, I had moved to North Carolina, and Ben and I were spending our first Christmas together as a married couple. On top of that, due to a combination of contacting several photographers in Charlotte earlier in the year (trying my damn hardest), I had started an internship with a brilliant and generous photographer only 15 minutes down the road from our apartment (a bit of good luck). Thanks to the magic of the internet and my enjoyment of "real" post, I was and continue to be successful in maintaining regular contact with the people I love both back home and around the world. *checks number 4 off the list*

I know that I am writing from a point of privilege, and from the perspective of my risks paying off. I don't want to come across as though everyone's life can be changed with a snap of the fingers or wave of a proverbial wand. I'm also nowhere near to checking numbers 1 and 5 off that list. There are days when I am anxious, and days when I don't push myself, and days when the nasty little voices are a bit louder than they should be.

But the funny thing is, that doesn't actually make me worry. Because once you've taken one risk, big or small, the positive loop you start just by trying to change things is a reward in itself. You don't want to just sit back any more, and allowing yourself to stay sad or stagnant is no longer an option. So you push yourself again. And again. And again.

There's not a whole lot of time allotted to an individual person on this planet, so having the courage - giving yourself the courage - to let yourself be happy, to choose happiness and your own personal path, is all you really can do. That and be nice to other people as you go. The musical episode of Scrubs really focuses more on this aspect of choices, rather than the more definite (or perhaps abstract!) idea of making yourself happy. Through the story of a patient taken suddenly ill with a cerebral aneurysm that manifests itself by making her hear everyone who talks to her as though they are singing, the episode illustrates the importance of taking the time to enjoy life, and doing the things that you really want while you can. But I thought that actually that concept ties in just fine with letting yourself be happy, and one of the last lines in the final song really brought together both ideas - allowing yourself to be happy and making sure you do the things that will make you so while you have time - rather perfectly:


From where I stand now, it's not really a risk to try to be happy. One way or the other, you will be fine. You might try and things don't work out, but you know then that you have the strength to try, the ability to choose to and let yourself be happy. On the other hand, you might try, succeed, and get everything you ever dreamed of.

You're going to be okay.

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