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7 Dec

The Good Life: Learning To Live Again

It was three years ago. I was completely fucked.

In and out of hospital, barely able to haul my petrified body out of bed. Diagnoses of leptospirosis, post viral syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, postural hypotension, sensory intolerance, multiple food intolerances, oesophagitis, gastritis, peripheral neuropathy, neurological damage, histamine intolerance, anxiety, and ‘tropical disease unspecified’ attached themselves to my identity with more velocity than getting five different colours permanently streaked through my hair and buying baggy ripped jeans did when I was seventeen—who was I now? A medical anomaly. A sick person. Fucked.

I was sat on my sofa, a rare day out of bed. It was silent in the slim yet pretty, little two bed house on the edge of a quaint English town, that my husband and I had moved into the month before to escape the city noise. We had hoped the move would help towards restoring my health, our life. The leather of the couch held me stoically as I stared at the cracking peach paint on the wall opposite, only vaguely aware of the blank TV mounted just outside of my line of sight. Ever since I’d woken up a sick person eighteen months before, watching TV had inexplicably induced a panic attack like state in my body within five minutes of being on; I left it off.

Outside the window to my left there was nothing but January drizzle and emptiness. ‘Pathetic fallacy’ I might have thought in another life, but in this one it took so much concentration to keep breathing that there was nothing of me left to conjure such inessential thoughts. My husband was tapping on his laptop softly in the next room, programmed by now to cause as little noise as possible, knowing the hell any sound or stimulus unleashed on his wife’s condition, on his wife’s ability to talk and eat and live; knowing exactly how little was required to tip the balance devastatingly away from our chances of ever again getting out of this alien world we had been forced to inhabit.

I heaved my body ever so slightly forward with the few drips of energy I had built-up through sitting vacantly. On a coaster atop a small log table in front of me stood a mug of steamy, warm water that was to be the ‘something new’ I trialled my body with that week, seeing if it could yet tolerate some sort of hot drink. I wrapped my aching fingers around the porcelain handle, forced my bone-snapping wrist to stay strong as it moved the mug back towards my mouth, and touched the edge of the cup’s rim to my tracing-paper lips. Sipped, swallowed. Bliss.

The water warmed my mouth, slipped like hot velvet down my inflamed throat and brought my pathetic, weeping belly back to life for one glorious, single moment. The heat from the mug, now snug between my shaking hands, seemed to flow through my entire body. I took a deep breath. Quietly accepted the state of pure happiness that swept me up and held me softly. Then I started to laugh—a near visceral truth taking residence in my body: I was not fucked. I was not fucked.

Not at the chewed-up end of something, not a hurried, scribbled mess of issues and mystery medical entanglements—no, not that after all—but rather I was a person who had slowly yet equally all at once been entirely erased. I was a tiny, blank Post-it Note, waiting patiently for the first word to be neatly written on. Crucially, I was also the one holding the pen.

In the three years since then I have written myself into existence once more with precision and intent. The thing about having every part of the world you exist in fall away through something like chronic health issues or a life altering event, is that you are entirely released from the life you once lived. It just doesn’t exist anymore. The person you were doesn’t exist anymore either. That day, as I swigged down the warmth of the water, I learnt that becoming unrecognisable to yourself might well be something to grieve for, but it is also a gift.

I purposely move slower now. I stop to look up at the trees and take time out when things start to feel too much. I seek out life’s little pleasures rather than always chasing the big milestone moments. I have recovered much of my health and found a pure type of happiness I hadn’t felt in my adult life before the illness hit. All the while I have tried to never lose sight of the teachings that delightful mug had for me: even in our darkest realities, real happiness—life-affirming, mouth-aching-with-smiles happiness—can still exist. You just have to know not where, but how to look for it.

I’m continuing to get curious as my story unfolds and like to think of myself as being on somewhat of a personal crusade to discover what it means to live ‘a good life’. Exploring those facets that come together to create a life that is fully enjoyed, with good health, an abundance of laughter, and heart-happying awe gathered from not just the big, but also the ever so tiny, ever so still, ever so simple moments.


Join me, won’t you?


Portia Holdsworth

Portia Holdsworth is a life-writer, journalist, book editor and photographer. Having previously held the position of deputy editor of performing arts at Artinfo magazine, she now enjoys working freelance. Her life-writing works, photography and articles have been published worldwide. Portia is a strong advocate of slow living, cups of tea, and daily laughter, as well as of equality.

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