I often like to play this game called, “If I Ever Get Better”, because one of the best reasons I have to not totally give up on everything and refuse to get out of bed in the morning is this persistent idea that one day, magically, things will get better. Maybe they won’t stay better, and it turns out I’ll have limited amount of “healthy and free” time in my life, but there are always things that make me think “I miss this. I want to do this. I can’t die without doing this thing again. It should not be allowed.”
Of course, the reality is, many of them cost money and being sick is an added financial burden on top of already not having much in the way of financial resources of stability. In all honesty, even if there’s a magic recovery pill for me somewhere, I’ll probably never end up doing many of the things on my list, for practical and financial reasons. But, it’s fun to dream that there’s a world in which I can do whatever I want, and celebrate being alive and healthy…because everything else, including money, seems so small and irrelevant compared to what’s been holding me back. It seems that if you are allowed to live and are allowed to be healthy enough to experience life, all those other little things should work themselves out.
1) Visit new, somewhat-local places I haven’t seen yet. One of the things that’s interesting about the Southeast is that there is a ton of quaint little towns and small cities worth spending time visiting. I find them, in general, far more charming and have far more fun than in cities like Atlanta, Dallas, and Jacksonville, which epitomise the annoying hell that is urban sprawl in the Southeast. Many years ago, I had a few boyfriends who were travel buffs, and liked to take weekend trips or short adventures exploring new places that didn’t require boarding an airplane. I enjoyed that very much, and The Guy I Am Currently Dating really shows no interest in getting in the car and traveling anywhere outside of Metro Atlanta unless he has a very specific reason. I feel like this part of myself has been kind of stifled; I don’t have anyone to travel with, my budget is too tight to allow travel, who will watch my dog, will The Guy I Am Currently Dating understand that sometimes I just want to get the hell out of Atlanta and do something NEW? There are so many excuses. But I’d like to visit Savannah again, and Athens (less than an hour from Atlanta), and Charleston. The best times in my life have been when I’ve been off having adventures, and it breaks my heart to think I might never be able to have that again. Nothing makes me happier than experience, and participating in the world, and I’ve been holding back because people in my life don’t share that same spirit and because I’m now grown-up and have these practical concerns. I wish I had chosen differently.
2)Wander around the city and take pictures. I like walking, and I like taking photos, and I don’t do enough of either anymore. Even before I became too unhealthy to leave the apartment, there were always excuses not to go do things. When I was first single in Atlanta, and didn’t have too much money or too much free time, I also didn’t really know anyone to spend time with on the weekends and hated being so cooped up. So, I became a wanderer, and I took myself on “artist’s dates” (a la Julia Cameron). One of my favourite things to do was to have lunch and a cocktail at Apres Diem, and then see a matinee of an artsy/indy/foreign movie that only I would like. I’d take my journal to Piedmont Park, my camera to Georgia Tech’s campus, and I’d find that everywhere I looked, there was a memory. It made me happy to be a part of the world. I stopped doing that long before I got sick, but because I moved to the suburbs and even getting to the city became a hassle. When I first moved to Atlanta, the very first thing I did was to ride the subway and get off at every stop, because I was curious. When I told my then-boyfriend and his roommates this, they looked at me like I was crazy. Apparently, that was dangerous and people didn’t do that. But, I once found an e-mail that same then-boyfriend wrote, where he said he admired me and my spirit of adventure. All the things he thought about doing, and over-thought, and then didn’t do, I just went and did because I wanted to. That ex and I haven’t been in touch for so many years, but I never forgot that although things didn’t go so well between us and he was very critical of me, that was a quality he admired. I imagine it would make him sad to know life has taught me not to be that way anymore. It makes *me* sad to know.
3)Sing, dance, and wear tutus I like doing those things. Another thing about being young is that you do all those things without thinking about how others are judging you or wondering if they are. Of course they are, and the truth is, people had as many mean and critical things to say about me and my personality and my differences back then. Half of the time, I didn’t know how mean the things were, or I might have let it destroy my confidence at a much earlier age. But, for whatever reason, I cared enough to be hurt but not enough to tone down who I was to please others. I LIKE singing at karaoke with my friends, even if you don’t like hearing me. I LIKE showing up at clubs and parties in tutus and bizarre costumes, even though I’m not one of those surgically-enhanced Barbie-doll types that wants to add photos to a modeling portfolio, and I’m too old to live in a world of make-believe. I WANT to grab my friends and go to a salsa dancing class/evening, even though I would find a way to injure myself and others in the process. I LIKE being larger than life, because it’s who I am and it makes me happy. Why should I stop because it doesn’t make someone else happy, and so that someone else has to make rude comments designed to remind me how imperfect I am? Are only perfect, beautiful, society-image-approved individuals allowed to put themselves out there?
4)Take an Alayna’s East Coast Tour. It’s long and it’s tedious and it involves a lot of travel, but I really enjoy the fact that every year, I can take two or three weeks out of my life and see all the people and places that are important to me. When I am unable to travel, I miss those people a great deal, and I find myself thinking of the crazy adventures I’ve had in Philly, NYC, and DC. I think of how I generally confound the people of Raleigh, Durham, and Charlotte, and how I learned to never spend time in Savannah without a valid ID. I think of how much I actually *like* going to the Jersey Shore in the summer, although everything about it is totally cheesy and way too family-friendly, because it reminds me of my childhood…or, some of the good parts. Every time I travel from Atlanta to NYC and back again, there is just adventure and experience, and some of my favourite people in the world. I can’t imagine not being able to do that again, because even when I think back on some of the crazy, hard, and negative experiences that I freaked out about at the time, most of them are kind of heartwarming and I’m glad they happened. Most. Not all.
5)Poker and trivia. Yes, I’m a geek, but I really like those things. They’re not terribly enjoyable when you don’t feel well, and I hate that since 2011, my illness has kept me from enjoying them and the people who share them with me the way that I should. I remember the days in 2005 and 2006 when I’d play trivia every Monday, and poker on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then socialise all weekend. For some reason, I lived on bar food, drank every day, but never got fat or sick. I didn’t watch TV very much during those years, and none of my dating/romantic relationships were very serious; I worked and hung out at the pool during the day, and went out at night. Eventually, I caused too much trouble for myself, but at the beginning, my life was largely filled with perfectly innocent fun. And, after I became largely a hermit for a few months in 2006 and wisely replaced people with TV, I looked forward to trivia day greatly. I haven’t been able to go in quite some time, because I can’t ride in a car; a friend is even having a poker night, which I’d be the first to attend, but I can’t travel. I do miss those things.
6)Keep life in perspective I like feeling safe and secure and at home sometimes, but there’s so much life out there waiting to be lived. There are so many times when I’ve let practical matters, other people, and insecurities keep me from living. There are so many times I let fear, self-doubt, and the knowledge of my own inadequacy taint my life experience. If being sick teaches you anything, it’s that most of the reason that you have not to do things don’t matter, and you need far less than you think you do to look and feel the way you’d like. In fact, sometimes, you actually feel better and freer when you have less things, less encumbrances, less choices. You are able, somehow, to feel more like yourself and more loved, because you’re less worried about all the baggage you’re carrying with you.
There are, of course, so many other things. I’d like to have a picnic in the park with a good friend, attend a crazy summertime party where I feel impossibly old, go to the theatre, the opera, the symphony. I’d like to drink overpriced cocktails at a speakeasy in a funny hat, see a movie in a movie theatre, go to a street fair, see a band play, do artistic and unusual things, eat dinner at food trucks, end up back in New Orleans, watch Shakespeare in the park, move back into a city, and just generally never say no to adventure. It seems fair that if the Universe gives me back my health, that it will change me a little bit, and remind me of the person I once used to be and the person I’d like to be…and find some way to blend them, and move past the person I am now, a person who is so often defined and limited by illness and fear and depression.
If I get better, I will appreciate life is finite and health is temporary, and I will remember there’s plenty of time to sleep and watch TV when I’m 80. I will remember that as much as I love the internet, and my phone, and my camera, there’s more to life than being uber-connected. There’s real experience, and being free and open to that makes you feel like the best version of yourself possible, in a way no electronic device can substitute.