We were out for dinner with our friends last night, when we started talking about our birthdays and how we prefer to celebrate them. My husband then asked the trio of us to think about our next significant birthday, and what our ideal way would be to spend the day. My mind started to explore the fun question, and then, it stopped. I became cold and just sat, falling into serious introspection.
5 years ago, on New Year’s Eve, I was sitting with my mom and my sister talking about the year that was. I had been discharged from hospital 2 days before Christmas, enduring a week of medical tests, however relieved that I wouldn’t be spending Christmas in a hospital bed.
Battered and bruised from all the needles and procedures, I was sipping on a glass of champagne and told my mom and sister that I had been thinking that I would want to have an input into my funeral. I had wanted to write a poem and choose a specific song to celebrate my 24 years on earth. My mom and sister started crying. I spoke frankly, with no emotion in my voice, convinced that my time was up. I told them that there was no way I was going to see 30 if my health remained the same. I wanted to prepare them by telling them that I was fine with dying, that I’d already lived about 20 lifetimes’ worth of memories through my journalism.
I was waking up about 3 to 4 times a night in excruciating pain in my chest. Each one felt like a heart attack, stretching for minutes, draining the colour from my face and leaving a numbness in my gutt. That was only at night. The same would happen about 10 times during the day, sometimes as much as several times an hour. I was in pain 24/7. I was done.
A year before, I’d been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. A diagnosis which initially didn’t bother me at all, then as I started to understand the cruel disease, it tore my world apart. Nothing was easy anymore. I couldn’t be a normal person ever again. Years on, I’ve finally made my peace with my dysfunctional pancreas and accept it as a daily challenge for the rest of my life, and I accept it fully.
I’ve since quit my demanding journalism job, which burdened me with more stress than I’d ever admit, as it was my true passion. I breathed and lived for the job. It was my identity, my purpose, my reason for living. But, it would have killed me.
My husband saved me, by convincing me that we move to a small conservation town, close to the Kruger National Park. Here, the most stress one has to deal with is passing through one of the few four-way intersections in town and getting upset with people when they drive out of turn. I’ve been given an opportunity to reinvent myself, not without struggling to adjust, but now embracing it with all my heart.
I am now a writer. I write people’s stories and still keep my journalism skills close to my heart with whatever I do. And through all these changes, my health has improved significantly without all the daily stress I experienced in the big city. Life is possible again, life is something I’ve been handed again.
My next significant birthday is in 3 months, when I turn 30. And I don’t know what to think. It’s the birthday I never thought I’d live to see. Should I have a massive party, travel somewhere incredible, or spend the day with those I love? I actually don’t want to celebrate it at all, normally not very keen on drawing any attention to myself, and being the first to admit that I hate my birthday. But, it’s the birthday I never thought I’d be worthy of. For me, it would be enough to simply just breathe. To be anywhere, and appreciate the gift of life.