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Pretending My Life is a Novel

By 13th September 2022Life, Think About This

Writing and artwork by Katie Brebner Griffin

“Thanks for waiting,”

 “Sorry about the wait,” 

“Wait time’s not too bad today!”

Waiting for crucial events to happen doesn’t traditionally make for thrilling scenes in films or riveting book chapters. But often, I’m not the master of my own fate. Can I learn to love the wait?

I’m living as though my current circumstances are a whimsical part of a charming novel to see whether that improves the rough patches. I’m awaiting my fourth laparoscopy & endometriosis excision. I used to have these approximately every two years, before the pandemic, but thanks to once-unprecedented-now-just-regular-precedent strain on the healthcare system, paired with what felt like never ending lockdowns, I’m now two years late on my informal disease management schedule. I have multiple forms of chronic pain from the disease itself, and from it ravaging my body. Lately, more often than not, I can barely get out of bed. To improve my quality of life through this, I’m actively romanticising these periods of time because I have so little control over them.

Seeing as so much of the past decade has been spent waiting for an answer, a treatment to work, a surgery, what the hell, I may as well take the proverbial reins of how I experience that waiting.

I’m treating myself as a book character, thinking about what she would do, what she would listen to and what she would wear. These are things I have some say over, so that is where my focus is going.

So far, it involves writing with less inhibition, a strong emotional attachment to a ‘60s cat eye, sampling Dolly Alderton’s Spotify mixtapes and wearing the Harry Styles cardigan. I’m taking pieces of popular culture that I fancy the look of and seeing if they stick. Maybe I am trying to fall in love with myself, or just love myself at all.

When external factors to your free will and personal agency dictate much of the overarching themes of your day-to-day, it makes sense that you spend most of your life living in your head, as this is where most of the living occurs.

I envision myself as the cat eye wearing, cardigan clad creative when, in actuality, I am often lying in bed wearing nothing but a unicorn print oodie. These two people aren’t in competition with each other, they both exist within me. I’d just like to spend some more time with the first girl, mainly to remember she has the capability to exist.

I want to be able to articulate the numerous, invisible difficulties of being in this body while also celebrating the life I’m living within that. It isn’t always a struggle, but it mostly is. Particularly the slow grind of angst against systemic inequalities that mean the grunt work to break even is significant. Add in the emotional hurt of collective suffering, the strain most of my peers and I experience fighting to survive. That strain does not leave. The emotional hurt sometimes does.

I’m having that particular ache ease slightly today, which is such a welcome and sweet relief. I remembered that there are people around me that understand and love me. I hold myself so tightly without realising it, I forget that I have redeeming qualities.

When things are more difficult than usual, words tumble out of my mouth before I can stop them. Pain has a cruel way of absorbing my cognitive filter, so interactions can take on a high-risk, high-reward element. I can be cruel, unsympathetic, and harsh. These are qualities I detest, yet I can embody them. I spend a lot of my effort trying to be as kind as possible, I want to be someone synonymous with embracing people. Yet, when my assorted pains rear their heads and overwhelm my various body systems, I feel the virtues I want to embody most, dissolving in front of me. I haven’t found a way to forgive myself for that yet.

When things are more difficult than usual, I regret every time I open my mouth. Why did I say that, will sometimes pass through my head, but more often it’s an abstract, non-verbal scolding about how everything I’ve said in the company of whoever was rude, obnoxious or an embarrassing over-share. I don’t know if I like myself.

I try to think about myself how I would think about someone else in an effort to show more self-compassion. I end up thinking about myself more like a fictional book character, which I’m not sure is very effective as far as the self-compassion goes and more like a dissociation exercise.

If I think about myself as a book character, I want to meet the versions of myself somewhere. We will all look very different; we all feel completely different about ourselves too. Hair of various lengths and colours, wearing our limbs with rounder curves or sharper edges, at least one wearing a sleeveless top and miniskirt in winter. Vastly different understandings of our bodies. Vastly similar self-hatred of our bodies.

Some of them will think they’re interesting because they get drunk and run to a guy across town who appeals to every self-destructive streak we’ve ever had. One of them will be in a relationship they know isn’t right and only happened because of persistence. Most of us will think that hurting ourselves via selfish, disrespectful men is the meaning of empowerment. They don’t yet understand that they deserve to be treated with as much respect as the next person.

I won’t ask them what music they’re listening to, because I know the answers already. I conditioned myself to associate memories of key life stages with those songs, manipulating myself through neuroscience knowledge so that I could outwit my atrocious working memory.

It was too effective; I hear Bon Iver’s songs, my stomach involuntarily drops and I’m having sex for the first time all over again. Alt-J and I’m realising that I have to break up with my first proper boyfriend. Some of The Kooks and I’m crying in the children’s hospital car park on my way home from nursing in the cancer centre. When we get to London Grammar, I’m starting to get clinically depressed for the first time. To Lana Del Rey, I’m kissing a guy who’s a friend’s best friend, she will end our friendship over this. Also add a healthy dose of Kanye West and Jay Z because this is my early twenties and I spend way too many giddy nights in city club dancefloors.

I hope that I will find these book character versions of myself more redeemable when I can look them in the eyes – when I can see them as people outside of me. I would like to meet them in a big, iconic park that feels poetic, like Hyde or Central, neither of which I’ve been to but sound poetic. I’d offer them all tea (we still don’t drink coffee, I don’t think we’ll ever have the constitution for that much caffeine), and I can tell them we still don’t know a lot, but I might know more than they do. Hopefully that means something to them.

Perhaps we could do it again every decade or so. I’d have loved the reassurance that some of the problems that seemed all-consuming don’t all last forever. Once we’re all well practiced at the meeting ourselves and I’m an older, wiser version I hope when I see the version of who I am now, this moment will feel different. I hope I’ll see all I’m trying to do, not just what I’m lacking.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue to treat myself as another one of my fictional characters. I’m writing some essays, doing the eye shadow, wearing the cardigan while I listen to the mixtapes. I’m trying to be graceful about the fact that when you’re waiting for surgery that makes life much more bearable, some days I’ll be who I want to be, others not so much – and that’s okay.

Katie Brebner Griffin

Katie Brebner Griffin is a multidisciplinary artist, activist and RN who explores dynamic disability, trauma and survival in her creative work under the moniker @ohkdarling

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