Many people, myself included, love to read but don’t read as much as we would like to. Life can get in the way and, before we know it, we’ve stopped making time for reading. This could be for a week, a month or even a year.
“Have a productive weekend” I called to my friends, age fifteen, as I turned the corner to my house on the way home from school. Now, nine years later, the word “productive” sends a shiver of panic through my body. Those “inspiring” productivity quotes are not for me.
Instead of making new year resolutions, I decided to put my list making urges to a different (less pressure inducing) purpose. Here are 18 things I’ve learnt in 2018.
Many of these are writing, reading and poetry related but there’s also a fair few cancer related ones. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.
Audiobooks are amazing. I’ve become such an audiobook enthusiast this year. Audiobooks mean you can read on public transport even if passengers are noisy, you can read while walking (which I find so relaxing) and you can also fall asleep to stories.
Slow fashion is a journey. To be honest, this year I’ve not been amazing at avoiding fast fashion. Months spent feeling ill and unhappy made me turn to online shopping. But instead of beating myself up about this, I’m moving on and have Depop ready for my next purchases.
Sometimes you have to tell people what you need from them. When things are going wrong in my life, I sometimes forget to reach out to my support network. Having cancer is lonely but not telling people what you need from them makes it even lonelier.
I should wear sun cream in April. I think this is the month when the sun usually catches me out because it’s still a bit cold. Not anymore! I see you, sun.
What it means to be in pain. This sounds super dark/dramatic but I’m currently writing a novel and being able to articulate pain more vividly, more complexly is useful. Research would do the same job to be fair so it’s a very slim silver lining.
Poetry is amazing. Like many people, I was put off poetry by school. Studying a poetry module for my MA and discovering all of the amazing modern poetry out there has been one of the most exciting parts of 2018 for me. If you want to get into poetry, I’d recommend reading a *modern poetry anthology.
I can write poetry. For ages, I just assumed I’d be no good at poetry. Once I actually gave it a good shot earlier this year I realised I’m actually alright. I’ve got a long way to go but just being able to enjoy writing poetry is a brilliant outlet.
Modern society’s messing with our mental health. I feel like I’m always going on about *Notes On A Nervous Planet by Matt Haig but it’s been so helpful to me this year. I think I’m already due a re-read.
Cancer isn’t a death sentence. Of course, I already knew logically that cancer wasn’t a death sentence. But now I actually have facts, figures and personal experience to back it up. Read more about this here.
We need to cut down on single-use plastic. This year more than ever I’ve heard horrifying examples of how plastic is damaging our planet. We all need to take action.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger more anxious. Look, it would be great if the badass “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” motto was true. But it’s not. If something crappy happens to you, you will probably feel anxious, scared, sad and vulnerable for a while. This is totally normal.
Losing your hair is complicated. For me, it was simultaneously not a big deal and a big deal. It definitely affected my confidence, particularly out in public.
Ed Sheeran is so good live. I was lucky enough to see Ed Sheeran live in Cardiff back in May. Of course, I knew it would be good but my expectations were exceeded.
It’s okay to take time out for yourself. The realisation that I needed to take a big break from my Masters this year was hard to swallow and at first, I didn’t let myself relax and recover. Thankfully, with the help of a psychologist, I’ve started letting myself slow down.
Jellyfish evaporate in the sun. They’re 98% water!
Mindfulness requires patience. One of the best things that I’ve started doing this year is practising mindfulness. Practice is the key word here.
Brighton is brilliant. The Lanes, the pebbly beach and the charmingly tacky pier made Brighton an ideal weekend getaway in November. I will definitely be going back.
Life is so precious. When your future is uncertain, it’s so difficult to live in the moment and not get consumed by anxiety. But, with a lot of practice and patience, it is possible to appreciate every day. I had grand plans for 2018, which didn’t work out. But I’m finishing 2018 feeling grateful to still be here, recovering and on a journey towards mindfulness and putting less pressure on myself.
I hope you enjoyed this slightly eclectic blog post. Before I go, I’d just like to say a big thank you to everyone who has read my blog, left thoughtful comments and shared my blog posts this year. I really appreciate it.
Happy New Year!
*affiliate links. If you chose to use one of my affiliate links to buy a book from Book Depository, I’ll get a small cut of the profit.
When I was first diagnosed with blood cancer earlier this year, I struggled to make sense of what was happening. My mind jumped to the few stories I’d read about cancer. The problem is I hadn’t been exposed to a wide narrative.
The narratives of The Fault In Our Stars by John Green and Before I Die by Jenny Downham kept playing over and over in my head. And to top it all off I couldn’t get the lyrics to ‘Cancer’ by My Chemical Romance out of my head*. These stories all end the same tragic way and it terrified me.
I was relieved to find, after speaking to fellow patients going through treatment (as well as their family members), that I was not alone in this initial reaction to my diagnosis. Her Sister’s Keeper (the film) came up in conversation a couple of times, as well as documentaries and TV programs. Everyone’s go-to example of cancer was a story of terminal illness. Stories shape us. Even if we know logically that cancer isn’t a death sentence, it is difficult to break that association.
A Guardian article describes cancer books thus: ‘A sense of hopelessness tends to emanate from books on illness, with a grim finish line that the reader knows is coming.’ Now, I don’t necessarily agree that all these books are ‘hopeless’ but I do worry that they function primarily to give those untouched by cancer a cathartic cry, before they go away feeling ‘inspired’ and happy they don’t have cancer.
This is perhaps a cynical view and maybe some cancer books that portray death are helpful for those with incurable cancer. To be clear, the books and films mentioned are not necessarily bad representations of cancer. For example, The Fault In Our Stars* explores the loneliness of cancer and Before I Die* refuses to romanticise death. These books aren’t bad. It would just be nice if there was more choice on offer.
Because, whilst it’s important that YA and adult fiction alike explore death, there are a disproportionate amount of high profile stories about young people dying of (usually) blood cancer (e.g. The Fault In Our Stars, Before I Die/Now Is Good, Never Eighteen, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, Ways To Live Forever, My Sister’s Keeper film adaptation).
This could skew our perception of actual survival rates. The truth is a majority of children, teenagers and young adults survive their cancer and we need some stories about them.
More than 8 in 10 (82-85%) young people diagnosed with cancer in the UK survive their disease for five years or more (2001-05). Cancer Research UK
Thankfully, social media is changing the narrative around cancer. The podcast You, Me And The Big C which talks candidly about cancer is a brilliant example of this, as well as the hundreds of people sharing their realities of cancer on Instagram and Twitter. Deborah James’ book F*** You Canceralso looks promising.
Hopefully, literature, film and TV will follow in the footsteps of these examples. Seeing people living with and beyond cancer is so helpful, not only because it provides hope for those going through treatment, but also because it shows you what life after cancer can look like. It would be amazing to see more diverse cancer stories and more cancer survivors in literature, TV and film, because we exist. There’s loads of us.
Let me know what you think of cancer books. Do you have any recommendations? Or, if you’d rather focus on something more lighthearted and less cancer-y this festive season, check out my previous blog post on Books To Soothe Your Soul.
*as well as ‘September’ by Earth, Wind & Fire, weirdly.
I’ve taken a long blogging hiatus because of illness, which I will go into in another blog post. For now, I’ll take you through some books that have really soothed me this past year and have made the perfect books to read before bed.Continue reading “Four Books To Soothe Your Soul”→
I know I’m not alone in finding it difficult to let go. Whether it’s letting go of the past, a person or a place a lot of these feelings can manifest in our possessions, making it hard to let go of physical items.