Category Archives: Identity

My Brain and Me

If I was not in my wheelchair when I was a very young child, I would sometimes launch myself off whatever I was sitting on and end up in a heap on the ground. I used to think if I concentrated hard enough I might be able to stand up. I guess I didn’t really understand why I couldn’t walk and I did think that I might just be slower than the other kids to pick it up. That was well before I went to primary school. I did understand quite well though what spina bifida meant. I would even explain to anyone who would ask, “What’s wrong with you?” that spina bifida meant I had a break in my spine because it didn’t develop properly before I was born and that my spinal cord was ‘broken’ at the same place and that’s why I couldn’t walk.

Any understanding of hydrocephalus came much later. My best guess is that the brain and its functionality is a much more complex thing to explain to a child, so it was deemed too difficult for me to understand. I also think my parents were learning in real time how hydrocephalus would shape my day to day life. I learned from very young to cover and compensate for the effects of hydrocephalus in ways that probably weren’t very evident or obvious to others at the time.

I don’t think I really understood what it meant to have hydrocephalus until I was in my mid-teens and had access to the internet. That’s when I began to do my own research. Hydrocephalus occurs in the majority of people who have myelomenigocele, which is the most severe form of spina bifida, and is what I was born with. Basically, hydrocephalus is excess cerebrospinal fluid that will not drain from around the brain unless it gets help from a valve attached to a long tube that drains fluid, often into the stomach. This is called a shunt. I had one placed when I was a baby and not only did it save from further damage to cognitive function (I was extremely lucky to have a shunt placed very early) but it also saved my life. Untreated, hydrocephalus can be fatal and, in my case, certainly would have been.

When I was around age 11, a teacher aide started joining my classes at school. I had no idea who this woman was. I knew what a teacher aide was. I’d had them before, but never in class. She was introduced to me but her role did not become clear until later, and then I had to figure it out for myself. She was there to help with anything I might need assistance with. I think it must have been established that I was doing fine in class by myself, so later I started having regular sessions on my own with my teacher aide, which mainly focused on getting me ahead in my core lessons in case I had to spend a lot of time away from school through surgery or other medical interruptions. People with spina bifida and hydrocephalus are often not very good at maths, so that is a subject we concentrated on. We tend to be a lot better at things like reading, creative writing and spelling, so I never had any help with those classes. I do remember I had to do odd things like, when the class was outside for sport or P.E., I stayed inside where my teacher aide taught me how to knit. Not only did I not understand why I was being taught something I really hated and saw no point in, I didn’t even understand that there was something different about my brain that such an activity might benefit.

Hydrocephalus can affect cognitive function in all sorts of fascinating ways. I’ve learnt to view my brain not as deformed or dysfunctional but as different and interesting. That said, there are certain things that are frustrating. It turns out the reason I was being taught, spectacularly unsuccessfully, to knit is because people with hydrocephalus often have trouble with coordination, particularly fine motor skills. This means we can find it difficult to perform more intricate tasks with our hands. My writing is not great because I don’t have the ability to control finer movements in my hands very well. It’s not as bad as it might be, perhaps because so much time was spent trying to improve dexterity and coordination when I was younger. It can be frustrating still when I’m handwriting a letter, which I tend not to do now, and I would have dearly loved to be able to draw a lot better than I can. Still, I think most people have something they would like to be good at but just aren’t and never will be.

Memory and concentration, in particular short term and visual memory, can be affected by hydrocephalus. Organisational skills can also be a challenge to acquire. I can sometimes find it difficult to follow a train of thought in a conversation because I lose track of what has been said. If I concentrate and don’t have any distractions, I don’t think it’s very noticeable. More annoying is the inability to do things like cross busy roads that don’t have a pedestrian crossing without help. I find it difficult to judge how far away cars are and how fast they are travelling, so I often try to wait until the road is clear, which just isn’t going to happen on a busy road.

I have to be taught a few times when I go to someone’s house where the bathroom is because I’m not able to keep a ‘visual map’ of my environment in my head. That was probably one of the most frustrating and embarrassing things about going to university. Not only could I not get around Wellington on my own for a long time without getting lost, I couldn’t even find my lecture and tutorial classes again, having already been to those rooms before.

Disability Support Services had small foldable maps of the university, which were not only helpful in marking access points like lifts and ramps, etc. but they also served as a discreet reminder of how to get to my classes. I was lucky a good friend was enrolled in most of my classes in my first semester, so that cut back on any embarrassment I might’ve felt at getting lost all the time. I do eventually remember how to get around my physical environment. It just takes my brain longer to store that information than it does for most others.

Something I only learned when I went to university is that I have a very good audial memory so lectures were a brilliant way for me to learn and retain information. I never really had to take notes for lectures or tutorials and I didn’t really have to study very much for tests or exams. My organisational memory is terrible, so I would have to be meticulous about writing down when an exam was and where it was and sometimes even make sure I had directions to the exam room. Then I would have to make certain I’d know where to access this information at a later date. It helps if I keep everything like that in one place – thank goodness now for cellphones! If I did forget I had a test or exam, as long as it was at the regular lecture time and place, I could be quite confident I’d still get a good mark even if I hadn’t studied. It never ceases to amaze me how weird my brain is.

I think it can help if people know some of the ways that hydrocephalus affects me so that they might modify their behaviour or at least have some understanding as to what my specific needs might be. It’s difficult to know sometimes, even for me, what is caused by hydrocephalus and what is just a facet of my personality, and I’m reluctant to overstate the impact hydrocephalus has on my life because I don’t want people to treat me differently than they might if they didn’t know I had it. Over many years of learning to adapt, I’ve been able to minimise the impact of hydrocephalus on my day to day life. On the other hand, people don’t know I have hydrocephalus unless I tell them and they won’t understand how certain things are a challenge or that I process information differently. Most often what is needed more than anything else is patience, both from myself and others.


January 1, 2016

I liked 2015. It was a nice, balanced number. I feel indifferent about 2016. It doesn’t look like a particularly auspicious number. Happily, I gave up on any kind of superstitious or magical thinking a long time ago. Looking at it though, I don’t like the number 6. I’ll just have to deal with that as best I can.

2015 was not a good year for me. To be frank, it was really rubbish. I’m struggling to come to grips with the idea that nothing I wanted to achieve at the beginning of last year came to fruition. Failure is tough. It hasn’t been good for my self esteem or sense of self.  2015 was a year of trying new things and those new things just not working out for me at all.

 

Stuff I Tried That I Was Terrible At:

  • Formal social groups
  • Project Management
  • Co-hosting a radio show
  • Volunteering
  • Compassion toward idiots
  • Putting up with idiocy
  • Not judging people as idiots
  • Leaving the house
  • Being more assertive

 

However, there are a couple of things that saved 2015 from being utterly bereft of hope.

 

Stuff I Tried That Worked Out:

  • Making new friends
  • Listening more
  • Moments of spontaneity
  • Being more assertive

 

That ‘being more assertive’ appears on both lists is no mistake. It’s a work in progress. I’m getting used to speaking up, speaking my mind and making sure I get what I need. I’m also reacting a lot more, especially when people say or do inappropriate or offensive things that relate to me having disabilities. It’s trickier than it might seem and I’m trying to figure out how to be assertive without feeling like an arsehole.

‘Stuff I Tried That I Was Terrible At’ taught me a great deal about myself. Mainly that I am very good at sabotaging my own success and I have a weird perversion that makes me gravitate towards things that do not play to my strengths. Also, I need to be pickier about what I involve myself in long term because even the smallest of projects can derail other more worthwhile, satisfying and meaningful plans.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I can take away from last year, if I must, is that when people begin to pull back on what they require from me, or I feel like nobody needs me anymore, and people’s expectations of what I am capable of diminish, I can’t just roll with it.

It can be soul destroying knowing that people don’t expect as much from you as they once did, for whatever reason. I have decided to expect more from myself to combat the feeling. I have to really think about what it is I am capable of and go for it. I have to believe in myself and my own capabilities and decide to do better, not because it might make others think better of me but because it will absolutely make me feel better about myself.

‘Stuff I Tried That Worked Out’ might be a shorter list but I’m pleased with it. In a year that was, on the whole, one of my worst, there have been little rays of light that make me hopeful for 2016. They are all things I can work on and that make me look back and realise 2015 was not a total disaster.

It wasn’t a good year but it is entirely possible I’m a better person for it. That will have to do.


Changing Shape

From the moment my leg left my body, it became medical waste. It’s not even that anymore, I’m sure. It’s… What is it? My leg existed in space and time as part of me and what I understood myself to be and it is no longer there. Amputation has made me think about who I really am. It has been at once a challenging and life affirming experience. The amputation of my leg continues to affect my identity and how I think about myself.

I am an amputee now. There’s a word for it and everything. I have resisted joining any kind of support group, organisation, or society whose members are amputees and define themselves as such. I’ve never been much of a joiner and I’ve never been one for consolation. I’m sure these aspects of my personality make my life harder than it needs to be. I believe life should be hard. That is both a blessing and a curse. I never say, or even dare think, that life isn’t fair. Nobody ever promised it would be.

After my surgery, I felt something I wasn’t prepared for; I was immediately self-conscious. In the beginning, this was debilitating. I didn’t want to see many people post-op when I was in hospital. There were only a select few who I allowed into my room to begin with. I had a room to myself. When I got out of hospital, I found it hard to muster up the courage to go out anywhere. I stayed at my dad’s place for a few weeks and the idea of going home was entirely daunting because I knew I would have to go out and be seen by people and they would see that I only have one leg. I was perplexed as to why I should care. After all, how people see me had never bothered me before.

That I would feel weird and self-conscious about my stump is, even to me, absurd. People have always stared at me. They have always noticed my wheelchair. They have always said really stupid stuff, both well-meaning and out of cruelty. I was so used to that kind of attention, I had unconsciously trained myself to block out the vast majority of it. When I joined the world again after my surgery, for a long while I could not get past the idea that everyone was staring at me. So many people stare at me when I’m out and about and I notice them now because I’m looking for it. I realised after a while though, that I probably wasn’t getting much more attention than I’ve always had, it was just that I felt uncomfortable with my new identity as an amputee and I was projecting that onto the people around me who had always looked.

Before my amputation, I was scared all the time. I couldn’t do anything much because I didn’t have the energy for it or I was too sick or I was waiting to get sick and I was scared. I’m still trying to get used to the idea I might not have to be hooked up to life saving drugs in the near future, that I might not be a patient again for a while. The thing that I thought was going to kill me is gone. I am no longer chronically ill. That sentence, that thought, has just this second dawned on me. It’s all taking a lot to process. There’s so much involved. The good and the bad consequences of my amputation do not occur to me all at once and I still can’t answer simply when people ask me if I’m glad I did it.

I’m struggling to know what to do with my time now. I got used to being a patient quickly; mind you, I’d had a lot of experience in that area already. I’m still an occasional patient but it’s really not impacting on my life in a significant way. I’ve realised only recently how small my life is. Actually, I think I’ve been aware of the walls closing in for a long while but it matters more now because I have time on my hands that used to be taken up with being a patient and with being scared.

I think I can probably be more than a patient who has disabilities and chronic illness now. I’m tentatively testing the boundaries of what I’m capable of again. I used to do that a lot. It was how I lived my life. I achieved things I didn’t imagine I’d be capable of because I was happy to accept that life is hard and that if there’s a wall I had to find a way over or around it. The thought that I might be able to get back up over that wall again after so long is at once terrifying and exhilarating.


Standing Out

Following a transfer from Wellington to Hawkes Bay Hospital, I moved back from city to town nearly six years ago now. Though I grew up here, it was a real culture shock. I still don’t feel I fit this place at all. I never knew what it felt like to fit in until I left home, so I guess it’s no big surprise to me I feel the same now I’m back.

I spent my weekend in Wellington. Despite feeling I was home from the moment my parents dropped me off at my hostel for my first year of university, I have a complicated relationship with the place now. Visiting Wellington in the years since I’ve been away, I always felt like I was coming home. My heart broke when I left. I was completely head over heels for all of it and I didn’t know how I was going to carry on outside of the capital’s boundaries. I felt my identity was tied inextricably with the place and I fitted in. Now though, I’ve got kind of used to standing out in a smaller town and I’ve begun to value myself as a person outside of the norm. I’m very comfortable with who I am this time around. I think Wellington helped me a great deal in that regard.  I finally felt I was going home when I got on the plane bound for Napier at the end of my short holiday.

I stand out not only because of my wheelchair but also because I tend to style myself in an androgynous way. I say style, I mean jeans and t-shirt with the addition, on a cold day, of a sweatshirt or jersey. There are plenty of women who dress similarly but I also wear my hair very short and don’t wear jewellery or makeup. I look like a certain kind of lesbian, which is fine and good because I am a certain kind of lesbian. I’m a lesbian who likes to be comfortable. I tell you, guy’s clothes are a revelation. They are so much more comfortable and, regardless of what the label says, you can wash them however you damn well please and everything will be fine.*

In all seriousness, I don’t feel I have much of a choice in standing out. I’ve tried wearing more feminine clothing, I’ve tried wearing make-up, I’ve tried wearing jewellery. I don’t feel like me when I’m wearing all of that stuff. I feel like I’m playing dress up. I’m pretty sure if I tried wearing a dress or skirt now, I would feel as if I were wearing drag. I like being a woman but I also like expressing my masculine side. Actually, it’s not about ‘like’. It’s a choice between being comfortable in my own skin or not.

It goes without saying, I can do precisely nothing about standing out because of my disability. Most of the time that doesn’t bother me, though I would say I have an easier time accepting my sexuality than my disability and a lot of that is down to how I choose to present myself and how much choice I have in the matter.

My disability and my sexuality and my gender are all amplified to the extreme now I’m no longer living in Wellington. I could be a bit anonymous in the city, though if I wanted to stand out, I could. I spent a while in my 20s wearing sort of post-punk garb; leather jacket, facial piercings and spiky hair that was alternately, purple and black, blue, green, and bright copper. I loved how I looked. I’ve always been a bit vain, despite my obvious physical disabilities.  Conversely, if I felt like it, I could blend into the crowd. ‘The crowd’ in cities tends to be so diverse now, it doesn’t matter if you look different because there are a whole lot of other people who look different as well and when all these different people are thrown together, nobody stands out too much.  Unless you are really trying to and there’s plenty of scope for that.

Growing up outside of a city, it’s very easy to feel your differences are exclusive to you, that you are the only one. It can be a very lonely feeling. I feel it still, now I’m back to where I started.  That feeling of isolation is tempered though with the knowledge there are others out there like me and no matter how different I am to those around me, if I speak long enough and listen intently enough to anyone, we might just find common ground.  The discovery that we’re not as different as we might have imagined is a powerful inroad to understanding and acceptance of oneself and others.

The biggest surprise for me following my weekend away is that while I enjoyed the trip, I really looked forward to coming home. One of the best things about moving back to my home town has been, though I feel and look different to most of the people around me, I’ve learnt to enjoy that difference. Standing out is a valuable gift that I might not have recognised if I’d stayed where I was.

*I take no responsibility for the outcome if you follow this advice. You should never blindly follow the advice of a blogger.


Confronting an Absence

I visited another orthopaedic surgeon a couple of days ago to discuss the possibility of a double leg amputation. I know now that this is a confronting sentence with which to begin a blogpost. This is not an instinctual assumption for me, I’m going by the reactions I’ve had so far to the idea. I look at that sentence quite differently to a lot of people. To me it equates to a discussion with a professional about a potential solution to an ongoing problem. To some it is a frightening, unthinkable concept and for others it is an idea that begs to be challenged.

Of the limited number of people I have spoken to, txt or tweeted with about leg amputation thus far, only a couple of people have been able to discuss the issue with me rationally without shock, judgement or pity. I want to state very firmly and emphatically that I am not in turn judging these people. I just didn’t expect the reactions I have been receiving. I don’t know what I was expecting. Perhaps that was naive of me.

It was especially unfair to expose people who I have not had the pleasure of meeting to such a confronting notion without any real context or explanation. I don’t usually do regret but I certainly wish that I hadn’t used Twitter as my first real disclosure on the subject.

As I was writing that last sentence I realised in real time that I hadn’t even told my parents or any other family let alone friends that I had the appointment booked until after I’d seen the surgeon. Strange then that I should turn to Twitter. Writing a tweet is often like writing a succinct diary entry for me. I sometimes forget that there are real people who read the random thoughts that pop into my head. That’s the best explanation I can come up with for tweeting something so personal and so confronting. I was nervous too and I was looking for comfort.

Twitter is a wonderful tool for many reasons and I have ‘met’ some truly awesome people through the social network. I realise now though, having tweeted so bluntly: ‘I have an appointment with an orthopaedic surgeon to discuss amputation of my legs. Just another normal Wednesday morning’, that this was not the way to go about sharing this information with anybody or to seek support. I don’t know what I was expecting or even what I wanted in response. I hadn’t really thought it through.

Don’t get me wrong, people have been lovely. I can’t really talk to anyone properly about this though without a lengthy explanation of my situation, so I shouldn’t have tweeted about something so complex in such a cavalier way with the expectation that people would understand.

I’m already getting a bit sick of having to justify to people that I am even considering amputation as an option. That’s my fault. I shouldn’t have brought it up with people who don’t really know me or my situation. Therein lies the problem.

As a trade off for unburdening myself and sharing what I’m going through, I feel like I have to justify my own medical decisions to people who don’t know my history to help them understand. I must also bear the burden of their reaction on top of trying to make a pragmatic decision with the best professional advice I can access.

The principle issue with sharing so much of myself with people who don’t properly know me and certainly don’t know me ‘in real life’, is that complex, three dimensional issues, when reduced to a single tweet, will almost always attract simple, two dimensional responses. The medium is the message, as McLuhan so astutely stated. The inability to really process the idea of amputation as a real option has not been exclusive to Twitter though, so this analysis is only part of the explanation of why people have reacted in such a way.

The gulf between my lived experience and the every day lives of able bodied people is immense. The gulf becomes even wider when an issue such as amputation is raised. There are so many reasons as to why amputation is a completely different consideration for me than for an able bodied person. It is a hard thing for me to consider but almost certainly not in the same way as it might be for somebody else.

My legs are attached to me and so are a part of me; that much is obvious. They have absolutely no function beyond aesthetics though. I cannot move them and I have no sensation below the knee. After years of infections, wounds, ulcers and burns, that aesthetic function is limited to how I look in jeans. I haven’t been able to wear shoes for years, so even a sartorial consideration has limited value.

The mere fact that my legs are a part of the whole of my body is, if I go ahead with the amputations, going to be difficult to get my head around. Like it or not, our bodies do feature large in our sense of self. Our identity is not exclusively defined by our physical embodiment – if it were, social networking wouldn’t really be a thing – but our bodies are extremely important in the formation of our own personal identity. That goes for people with disabilities, too. It will take a shift in my thinking to accept my body the way it is after amputation if that’s what I decide to do. I will adjust though, just as most people do when changes to their bodies occur.

The surgeon I visited saw no reason why I shouldn’t have a double leg amputation if that’s what I want. He certainly believed the advantages would far outweigh any negative considerations. I am waiting on a second opinion after which I will go back to the surgeon I saw a couple of days ago. Knowing our health system I’m going to have plenty of time to think on it.


The Body Beautiful

Over the past few nights I’ve been indulging in a bit of televisual entertainment. I don’t watch a lot of television anymore. I have, like many others in the age of broadband, replaced one screen for another. If I’m not staring at my microwave waiting for last night’s dinner (version 2.0), I’m watching something, probably comedy or a documentary, on my computer screen.

Strangely the last couple of animated comedies I’ve seen, episodes of Futurama and American Dad, have had a big impact on me. They have got me thinking. I’ve also been left feeling very disturbed.

Futurama is a programme I have liked a lot over the years. I think the writing is really smart and often takes you to places you wouldn’t expect from the genre. The story lines aren’t afraid to really examine the human condition and while it is a comedy, it has left me in tears on more than one occasion. It can be oddly moving.

I used to like American Dad a lot when it came out. The characters are all very funny and some of the jokes were well executed. I don’t know if it’s me or the show but I’m just not interested in it anymore. Like a lot of Seth Macfarlane’s comedy vehicles, I find I don’t see the point in a lot of it as comedy. It no longer makes me laugh. It tends to see a line and cross it for the sake of it and to me that’s often at the expense of the comedy. Obviously, this is just an opinion. Tastes change and mine are clearly going through an evolution.

This week both Futurama and American Dad aired episodes here in New Zealand. Let’s start with Futurama. The plot line I’m interested in exploring went something like this: Hermes, a Jamaican man and one of a handful of human characters on the show, is feeling wholly inadequate. He feels that he’s not being a good enough husband and father. He sees himself as weak and insignificant. Poor old Hermes can’t even get the respect he so clearly deserves at work. Fed up, an inability to complete a task that Bender is able to do all too easily is the final straw. He seeks the services of a back ally surgeon who installs an upgrade that amounts to a retractable harpoon that springs forth from his abdomen. He becomes obsessed with becoming a better Hermes through robotic upgrades until the only thing that is left of the original Hermes is his brain, which he decides also must go. His friend Dr. Zoidberg has, unbeknownst to Hermes, been constructing a meat puppet from his discarded body parts, which he uses in a macabre ventriloquist show and so, when his brain is discarded in a final act of self hate and self destruction, Zoidberg is able to bring his old friend back in his original human form.

In the episode of American Dad, Stan’s wife, Francine, buys a dog for his son, Steve. Stan had put his foot down. He did not want another dog in the house ever again. We find out the reason is he was made to kill his own dog as a boy because he was told his dog was dying. In reality, his parents needed the dog gone because they were moving the family into an apartment that didn’t take dogs. When an adorable puppy shows up, Stan resists for about two seconds and then instantly bonds with the puppy. When he inadvertently is responsible for the near death of this second dog, called Kisses, he can’t handle the trauma of having to have him put down and so ends up keeping Kisses on life support until he finds a healer who, in the style of Dr. Frankenstein, brings the puppy back to life. I won’t go into the image that I was faced with having to process but it was too much for me. I’m sure you can find it for yourself if you really can’t live without seeing it. Eventually, Stan finds closure and puts the puppy out of its misery, by blowing it up. Animal cruelty isn’t funny and I didn’t crack a smile once during this episode. That said, along with the episode of Futurama that I described, it did make me think, which nearly justifies it.

Two days ago I saw a wound specialist for advice. The woman I saw is not a doctor. She is a nurse who is such a specialist in her field that she knows more about the treatment of wounds than most of the doctors I’ve seen.

The wounds are on my feet. Both of them. These wounds are relatively new but might as well be the same as ones I had a year ago or two years ago. I’m getting a real sense of Groundhog Day.

The nurse, who I’ve seen before, brought up again the possibility of amputation; the removal and discarding of my legs and feet. A grizzly business. If everything goes to plan though, I could get a big chunk of my life back that I thought I’d lost forever to swelling, bad circulation, doctors, hospitals, infections and wounds and infected wounds. It would by no means sort out all of my health problems but it would likely help enough to increase my quality of life, so I am considering it.

Over the last few years, I have seen a few different orthopaedic surgeons about my back as well. I have either broken my spine or a spinal fusion that I had, aged 13, might not have properly taken, probably due to a life threatening post-op infection that I suffered at the time. My spine has collapsed further with scoliosis becoming so advanced that specialist surgeons can’t really tell what they are looking at, whether the image be X-ray, CT scan, or MRI. I am waiting now for yet another referral to yet another surgeon.

The reason I found the episodes of Futurama and American Dad so disturbing is that we have got to a point in medical science where ethics are struggling to keep up with advances in medicine. This has clear implications for both humans and animals. A side effect of this is that patients or next-of-kin if the patient is too incapacitated to make decisions themselves, are being asked to make decisions that they would never have had to consider before these advances.

That I am alive at all is down to relatively recent advances in neurosurgery and the discovery of penicillin. That I have any quality of life at all is thanks to orthopaedic surgeries. I have lost count of the number I’ve had. Parts of me, particularly my back, look like a very badly constructed patchwork quilt.

All of these specialist appointments, the indecision, the increased anxiety, past trauma relived through jogged memories; it’s all doing my head in. When do I say enough is enough?

Specialists can’t tell me with anything approaching certainty that further surgery will definitely improve my quality of life. From a purely physical perspective my health is declining and so is my quality of life. There are aspects of being here, in this body, on this blue planet, that right now make up for having an increasingly malfunctioning body. I worry that this may not always be the case. I fret that decisions I make now might not be the right ones. For better or worse, they are my decisions to make.


Success Is…

I have spent a big chunk of my life thinking about what it means to be successful and striving to become so. Until relatively recently, I was confident that I knew what success was.

Success for me was tangible and visible. Success meant a healthy and growing bank balance funded through hard work and dedication to a job with prospects for growth and upward mobility. It meant owning my own home – at least one – that would be filled with modern furniture and beautiful things. It meant being able to afford lovely holidays wherever I wanted to go in the world and spending what I liked without having to worry about running out of funds. Most of us have a working definition of success and for many, that working definition is working them into the ground.

At the ripe old age of 33, I am broke most of the time. I don’t own anything of any value. I am unemployed, single, and my health is failing to the extent that I struggle to keep out of the doctor’s office from week to week. I am also prone to mental illness: depression and anxiety being the evil twins that can put me on the fast track to suicidal ideation. With that terrible list as ample evidence, one might describe me as a miserable failure.

I am not a failure, though. Not by my standards. Not anymore. I wouldn’t say everything I’ve ever done and everything about me has been a great success but neither would anyone who isn’t a complete jerk.

I am a good and kind person. I love my family and I love my friends. I try to be loving and kind to both. I love to learn. I love my wee dog, Troy. I have rediscovered a love for reading and writing. I love my life. Goodness, kindness, love. I don’t always get it right but these are my markers of success now.

That is not to say that I look down on those with ambition. I still have hopes and dreams. I still have goals and a plan in place, which I hope will make my future a brighter one. It’s just that I no longer define myself by what I have or haven’t achieved. If what I have planned doesn’t work out, it will not make me a failure. All it will make me is someone who needs to give it another go or try something else.

Do you know what really clinched it for me that I needed to change my thinking around success? My idea of success didn’t include anyone else. I had made no provision for others. I still find that quite a chilling revelation. I know I’m not the only one who has defined success in this way. Many continue to do so and to convince themselves they have all they need. We cannot be successful in life without others. If we could there really wouldn’t be any point.