Around March 2015, I figured out who I wanted to be and, most importantly, who I didn’t. In September that very same year, sickness struck me like a giant, unexpected smack in the teeth. From 2005, life had been unpredictable, stressful and quite honestly…tremendously difficult. My years spent working in retail and hospitality earning shitty money for ridiculous hours had well and truly worn me down and I was in that vicious cycle of living with so many challenges that I couldn’t escape them, no matter how hard I worked and tried, no matter my talent. It’s all good and well being offered interviews here there and everywhere for fantastically exciting jobs but when you don’t have the money to get there or the savings to move if you’re offered the position, you’re well and truly stumped.
Now, while I hate to be the woman who’s all, “A man saved me,” sometimes that’s just the way life works out. Anthony came along like a big blonde-haired knight in shining armour (well, construction gear) and within the blink of an eye, I was living with him in London after his dad drove the two of us and my heavily sedated dog here from southern Ireland. I moved in April 2014 and started my law degree in the September and in the meantime, continued to work in Costa Coffee having arranged my own transfer because the franchise owners I was previously working for paid more attention to managerial bitching sessions than getting any work done. When we realised that I’d be earning exactly the same amount of money from student grants and loans as I would be from tearing my hair out in Costa, we agreed that it would be more sensible to walk away from casa de coffee hell hole, allowing me to focus full-time on such a demanding degree. The long and short of my law school experience (I’d attended as a mature student) is that I was very good at it…and I came to loathe it. In early 2015 I realised that the law was sod all to do with what was morally right and far more to do with who could form a better argument, regardless of whether the outcome was morally corrupt or not. Chuck in the cocaine, sexual harassment and sexism running rampant through the profession (certainly in London) and the whole thing just didn’t sit right with me at all but I felt compelled to continue in case I looked like a failure. Well, in August/September 2015, chronic migraines hit and made sure I had no choice but to leave.
There’s that transition period of learning how to “live” with endless pain and the barrage of other symptoms. For me, it took about six months. Six months to stop waking up in the morning saying, “It’s still there”. Six months to stop agreeing to outings and meet ups only to have to cancel 100% of them. Six months to realise and accept that this was going to be with me for a very long time. But then…..what is your life? While it took me around six months to have all these realisations, the ambition bone in my body just would not let up and was on a 24/7 mission of, “What can you still do anyway?” I came up with many a fantastic business idea that would allow me to work from home and set my own hours. Excellent Emma, except they were all high pressure roles that likely would have seen me keel over and die within 30 days. Christ on a bike, I was determined to open up a recruitment agency for construction workers. Did I have a million ideas that would have made me an unmitigated success in the industry? Yep. Would I have died? Also yep and I refuse for my last words to be, “We will ensure that all passports are verified”.
I was in such a world of pain and yet my personality, ambition and drive were (and still are) coarsing through my veins making it impossible for me to rest peacefully. Hell, I even tried going back to work twice: once as a service coordinator for the biggest plumbing and maintenance company in all of London and then as a night auditor/manager for a four star hotel. Cos, you know, nothing says “healthy body” like a night shift. When I walked away from that second position, I completely broke down to Anthony because I knew I couldn’t work anymore and for someone who had always worked 50+ hour weeks and often had two or three jobs at the same time, this was very hard to admit but continuing on the same, effectively destructive, path was just fruitless and downright stupid.
There’s plenty I have wanted to do or still have a bee in my bonnet about. I always saw myself being a hugely successful business owner doing something that would really make a difference to individuals or to an entire industry. I’m a socially aware, tenacious dog with a bone that can handle anything chucked at her (I’m also incredibly modest) and when I do something, I work the bajesus out of it until it’s perfect and then I make it more perfect. When someone tells me no, I figure out how to turn that into a yes. The only person who has ever intimidated me was Oliver Blunt QC. We didn’t even speak, I was merely observing a court case he was working on and the only reason I was intimidated was because I have an severe girl crush on his daughter, Emily Blunt.
I often see spoonies saying they shouldn’t have to give up their dreams and it isn’t fair the way their life has ended up because they should be able to live just like anyone else. Well, I agree. It isn’t fair. In fact, it sucks donkey balls. Big ones. But, is it productive to spend your life focusing on what you can’t do and what you’ve lost? It’s very difficult sometimes, don’t get me wrong, but that mindset will lead you down such a miserable path for the rest of your days. I’m not saying that it’s easy to get out of that mindset either but counselling or therapy can help considerably. Most importantly though, you have to take a step back and recognise this trait in yourself before anyone else can help you. You shouldn’t have to spend your days feeling forlorn, like a failure or be a misery guts to those living with you because you begrudge what they have or what they can do. Allowing all of those negative thoughts and feelings to eat you up will quite literally make you even sicker.
So, what are my dreams now? Well, we’ll likely be living in London for the rest of our lives as this will be where Anthony’s work keeps us and that’s perhaps going to mean living in a two bedroom flat instead of a three-bed house. Can I still turn that flat into a happy home filled with laughter and trinkets that drive Anthony up the damn wall? Of course. And you know…..that’s about it for now. It might sound simplistic and naive but a happy home can be the basis for so much more and with chronic illnesses being as unpredictable as they are, I’ve learned to stop planning quite so much. However, having let go of the dreams I had previously, I’ve made a whole tonne of space for new ones and they’ll happen when they happen. I might indeed end up making a full recovery and finally become Melanie Griffiths in Working Girl or things might stay exactly as they are and my achievement will be running a home to allow Anthony to do his thing uninterrupted. Who knows. Just don’t let the anger of what could have been eat you up and if it is, speak to someone.