We are a product of our choices. Our lives guided by the choices we make along the way.. The things we choose become part of who we are and how we live. I believe that there is power in our choices, and that this power can bring us hope in even the darkest situations. That it is how we choose to respond to those situations, when we are frightened, or angry, or sad, that makes us who we are. That we are a melting pot of all the choices we make when all we want to do is hide from the world. That all of these choices, and many more besides, fit together to create the person we are today.
My belief that I always have a choice has been a solace through the hardest points of my life, but that isn’t to say that my choices have always been the right ones, or that I have always chosen to respond with kindness, grace, and compassion. No matter what the situation, no matter what how crappy my choices were, they were exactly that: my choices. If I was behaving like a bitch then that was the choice I had made in that moment in time. Even if I acted in complete contrast to the person I saw myself to be, I had still – for whatever reason – chosen to behave in that way. I am always careful to take ownership of my choices and responsibility for my actions: even if I am ashamed of them.
Sometimes we aren’t conscious of the choices we make, and this was certainly the case when I first fell ill. When I felt so horrendous, trapped and alone, I was angry, bitter and jealous of those around me; until one day I realised that those emotions were directed, unfairly, at my friends, for no other reason than the fact they were living the life that I so desperately wanted. Even though I loved them and wanted nothing more than for them to be happy, I was still choosing to allow my feelings to be coated in negativity. It was so easy to be angry when I felt that my world had been turned upside down. But, just because it was easy, it doesn’t mean that was right. By choosing to be lost under a cloud of negativity and bitterness, I was choosing to live in its shadow, in a world I didn’t recognise that was filled with darkness in which nothing could grow, and where no-one could reach me. I was choosing to give up on happiness, as if it was something that happened to other people, something that wasn’t made for people like me. I stopped seeking joy for myself, and stopped trying to bring it to the life of others. I was choosing to reject love: self-love, the love of others, and the love I had for others. I knew that this was not the life that I wanted to live. And I knew that the only person responsible for these thoughts was me, and that I was the only person who could change my outlook. No-one was coming to save me, there was no Prince Charming coming to rescue me: a truth I found as frightening as it was empowering.
Changing the way I felt seemed like an insurmountable endeavour, the feeling that my illness had taken every single one of my choices away was ever-present. My symptoms often seemed like a prison, from which there was no escape. That the disease plaguing my body stood in the place of every choice I had ever made, blocking the path I had forged for myself. I felt like I was trapped inside a body that didn’t work the way it used to. I had lost my mobility. Fatigue cloaked my spark. Pain stole my patience. These things had been taken without my permission. I had not made a choice for this to happen to my life.
I can’t say exactly when it dawned on me that I did, in fact, have a say in the life I was living. There was no lightbulb moment, no bolt of lightning. It was a slow and steady epiphany. It was true that I had no choice in my illness, but it simply wasn’t true that I had no choice over how I responded to it. I could choose to be snappy and angry, filled with jealousy and bitterness, or I could choose to be patient and tolerate, to start to love again. I was no longer a passive observer of my life; I was the writer, director and actor in the story of my life. I was strong. I was powerful. I had a choice.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, it is. Kind of. I had to learn, hard lesson after hard lesson, how to choose to respond the way that I wanted to. Some lessons didn’t come easy. I messed up. I frequently reverted back to my old choices. By now we all no the ferocity of my Guilt Monster, and in these situations it was bigger and badder than ever. Snapped at my children? I felt guilty for my lack of patience. Hurried along the high street, tutting at the people slowly meandering along? I felt guilty for my lack of tolerance. And so I learned that guilt is the enemy of choice; an enemy that has to be overcome.
I took tiny baby steps towards the life I wanted. Sometimes the steps were so small that they were all but invisible to anyone but me. It was all of these tiny steps put together, that led my journey back to the life I longed to be a part of again. Sometimes I messed up, I reverted back to helplessness, I made bad choices. But every single day I started again, made my choices afresh. Then, suddenly, I began to see myself differently: I was no longer a victim. I was an empowered woman. And, sure, I still make mistakes, but I keep trying the best I can, in the knowledge that the only one writing the story of my life, is me.