She sighed as she tried to focus on a plan to feel better over the next few weeks. The year had started so WELL, and she had started to count down to getting her driver’s license back……She shook her head trying to get rid of the disappointment in herself. Her focus shouldn’t be on her driver’s license – that was just a material thing, and irrelevant compared to the rest of the things she needed in order to get her life back, like work. Yes, she felt it represented her freedom, but she was still able to get around. She thought back to the fit she had had on the train – smiling ironically – there was nothing like terrifying train personnel on a Saturday night. At least she had livened up their shift. Luckily her husband had also been there to assure them that it was ok. The worst part was not that she was back to zero – but that it would set her back for the rest of the week. Tears welled as she thought of all the things she had planned for the week that would have to be cancelled. She would let everyone down again…Then a thought hit her, as she squared her shoulders in preparation for making the first phone call – life could throw what it wanted at her. That was beyond her control. However, what she was in control of was how she handled it. In all the drama and chaos, that was something that she alone was incharge of. She decided then and there that that was what she was going to do – take responsibility. Two steps forward, one step back, was still one step forward. Bring it on!
She sat waiting for her flight, sad to be leaving her second home, the place with special friends and all those memories from the past. As she sat there in the noisy crowd of strangers also waiting for their flights, she wistfully remembered the countless times she had been waiting for this flight to go home for christmas, and the excitement she had felt all those years ago about going home to her family. Suddenly, to her surprise, she felt that old excitement well up again for the first time in years. It hit her so hard that her eyes welled up. At first she didn’t understand it. after all, she was so happy to have spent a week with special friends who never let her down, and she was sad to be leaving them behind. She felt just as at home here as anywhere else, especially when she had the chance to visit old familiar places filled with memories, as she had done all week. Also, the people and the home she had been going to then didn’t exist anymore – so what was the excitement for? In a cloud of confusion she boarded the plane, blindly found her seat and sat down by the window, eager to see the lights of the city she loved below her as the plane took off. As she sat waiting impatiently for the view, she suddenly realised what she was excited about. She was going home. It may not be to the people she had called home before, but she was going to a place with other people who loved her, and who had become her new world. Yes the past was precious, and she was extremely grateful to her friends for keeping that door open for her so that she could go back whenever she needed to, but now she knew she was definitely going home. Despite everything that had happened, she had without a doubt found the place where she was supposed to be. She had known before, but it had never been so crystal clear as now. As she watched the London lights disappear below her she smiled through the quiet tears running down her cheeks – afraid to draw the attention of the other passengers or the cabin crew. She settled back in her seat, feeling a complete sense of assurance that everything was alright, for the first time in a long time. Her world would be waiting for her when she landed.
Happiness is something everyone strives for – the recipe is often said to be «Just do what makes you happy». What do you do if you don’t know what that is? I believe that thinking that happiness is tangible – that it is something you can do, is wrong. It is not what’s happening around you, it’s what’s happening inside you. It has taken me a long time to figure that out. A year ago, everything was black – I was struggling with medical symptoms, and no doctor was taking me seriously – I was just told to «live with it» despite me arguing that it was impossible. Double vision and exhaustion do not coincide with the life of a 27 year old. In order to try to «live with it» I was looking for the «thing» that would make me happy. I thought that if I could find that something, it would give me the energy to keep going. All I had to do was be happy. Of course there were several things in my life I was happy about: my husband, friends, family and my home. But none of these things could pull me out of the darkness of frustration on the lack of support I had in putting an end to my physical difficulties. I had always been good at everything I did. Now I couldn’t do anything. My batteries were completely drained, so I put all my remaining energy into trying to figure out what it was I needed to do to make me happy.
Almost a year passed waiting on specialists to make a decision, until I finally met with a surgeon I had known a few years ago. He understood me based on his knowledge of the girl he had met then. He was able to stand up to his colleagues and say that this girl was not exaggerating her symptoms; that she is not the type to just lie down and give up because it is easier. If I said that something was wrong, it was, and it was their responsibility to do something to help.
With his support I was able to get the help I needed, and I was reassured that I wasn’t alone – someone had understood me and believed me, even though he only had known me briefly through our encounter a few years earlier. I am eternally grateful to him. When I finally got the surgery I needed, I was relieved. Although it could be said that it went horribly wrong – with a brain haemorrhage, and meningitis – it taught me a valuable lesson. Happiness is not something that you have to look for outside yourself, it is something that you need to find within yourself. During the months of recovery I have learned to appreciate the small things – every small step forward is valuable. Patience really is a virtue, particularly since it is the most difficult thing to have, if not impossible. It is not something that comes naturally to me anyway. I am not saying that once you find happiness inside yourself you are constantly happy. Frustrations and set backs still exist, but you learn to savour and appreciate the days when you do wake up with a smile on your face. You recognise and embrace that warm feeling in your stomach. You also recognise that no one can take it away from you. No one is in charge of your happiness but you, no matter what life throws at you.
What do you do when life turns your world upside down? I mean, who has a brain haemorrhage at 28? You’re 28 not 82… You learn to hold on to the things that matter. After all – life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain. People say that they can’t believe how strong I have been and that they could not have handled the situation the way I have – but I disagree. It’s not like you have a choice, and you don’t know how strong you are until you are in that situation. When your life is turned upside down, there is only one thing to do: work to get back on your feet and turn life the right way up again. In that process you learn to appreciate the people around you, who lend you their strength and support. You also appreciate how lucky you’ve been, even if you’ve been unlucky. Things could always be a lot worse. You have your life which you can keep on living. You have people who love you. If you give up, you are not only giving up on yourself, but also on the people you love around you, which they don’t deserve. By loving them, you have accepted a responsibility. The only way is forward, and to not waste the chance you have been given. People say I must have spent my dose of bad luck now. I don’t expect there to be a limit on that dosage. All I know is that I always make it through. Somehow. Life isn’t perfect, but it’s still worth living – no matter what. If you’re ever in doubt, just go outside. Feel the sunshine on your face and the wind in your hair. Remember what makes you happy – perhaps snapshots from your childhood when things were easy – another time when you felt the sun on your face and the wind in your hair. Just keep dancing in the rain.
Sunlight was streaming in through the windows. The familiar scent of coffee wafted through the air. Tine felt bemused and slightly surprised as she looked at the familiar surroundings of the hallway. She didn’t really understand why she was surprised. After all, she lived here.
There was the muffled sound of a radio coming from the kitchen, and the sound of carefree, joyful laughter. She drifted closer, drawn by the warm voices. As she looked into the kitchen she found her sister and her mother seated at the kitchen table. Mum was smiling, while Monica was laughing at something mum had just said. No one laughed like her. It was contagious. When she laughed, it was as if she laughed with her whole body. It was a bright, joyful sound. Her face was infused with happiness, her eyes wide and eager. Every fiber of her being was focused on absorbing every detail of what was being said.
As Tine entered the kitchen the laughter was interrupted by a loud and joyful welcome from Monica. “Tine, Tine, Tine…” It was like being welcomed by her very own fan club. Mum laughed and offered her a hug and a coffee. As she sat down, the joking and laughing continued, mum trying to coax Monica to eat a few bites of her breakfast in between the fits of laughter. As Tine sat and watched them, cradling the coffee cup in her hands, time stopped. She felt as if her heart had taken a snapshot of the sensation of being truly happy, locking it away for safe keeping. She felt her eyes sting. She lifted her hand to her face to dry the tears that spilled down her cheeks. She was in a hurry, eager not to disturb the happy scene in the kitchen, eager not to ruin their mood by showing her tears. But as she drew her hands across her face, she opened her eyes to a dark room. Her heart dropped and her stomach turned to lead as cold realization swept over her. She was lying in bed. In a completely different house. In a completely different time. The soft, calm sound of her boyfriend snoring beside her.
She squeezed her eyes shut. No no no – come back! come back! She desperately tried to clutch at the fading fragments of the dream, but it was like trying to catch wafts of smoke. She was left in the cold darkness. She sighed, frustrated, and let the tears roll quietly down her cheeks. Why was this still happening? They had been gone for years now. She felt the familiar anger swell in her chest, the bitterness twist in her stomach, replacing the initial pain of reality. She thought for the hundredth time, that if they had to go and leave her here alone, why couldn’t they just go, instead of coming back to haunt her dreams and remind her of what she had lost? Why couldn’t they let her forget and move on? As she formed the thought, she instantly regretted it. She would rather have them in her dreams – would rather remember their laughter and smiles, than not have them at all. No matter how painful reality might be afterwards.
She lay quietly, unable to sleep. She had often wondered why she could never let herself disappear into a black pit of despair. It had been tempting, and you would think it would be easy. To just sink into a black hole. Relinquish all responsibilities. Lay back and let the warm blanket of sadness and self pity shut out the rest of the world. But she had never been able to do that. Why? What was it that kept her from doing that? She thought back to that moment, that snapshot of complete happiness in the kitchen. Of course. That was it. Despair leaves no room for memories of happiness, or for hope. If she let herself sink into the black pit of despair – that meant giving up on all memories of happiness – replacing them with bitterness and pain. That was the one thing that she valued most. The one thing she could never lose, no matter what happened. That feeling, those smiles, would always be with her. Her heart would not let her forget, no matter how much time passed. Her dreams would always come back to remind her. Yes, it was painful – but it was a bittersweet pain that was worth holding on to.