Remembering Claire Wineland

I couldn’t not acknowledge that Claire Wineland died on Sunday. I still don’t really know what to say; my emotions are all over the place. But I did want to say this: I might not have known her in the traditional sense – we never met and our relationship consisted of a few interactions on Twitter – but she deeply inspired me and therefore meant a lot to me. I will miss her tremendously and my thoughts are with her friends and family. She was so, so special and her impact is on-going, like the ripples you see when you throw a pebble into a pond.

So, with all of that said, I wanted to share one of her TED talks. She talks about living with Cystic Fibrosis, how hard it is, and how living with an illness can affect your perspective, as well as how people treat you. She’s an amazing speaker.

“You can have a painful life, you can suffer, you can experience what it feels like to be a human being – all those messy and gross emotions – and yet you can make a life for yourself that you are very, very proud of.”

“I wanted to share the fact that you can suffer and be okay. You can suffer and still make something. That the quality of your life isn’t determined by whether you’re healthy or sick or rich or poor. Not at all. It’s determined by what you make out of your experience as a human being, out of the embarrassing moments and the painful moments. It’s what you make and what you give from that place.”

She talks about reading a book by Stephen Hawking as a young teenager and learning about space and suns and black holes. Her enthusiasm makes me laugh out loud (and then cry). And that led her to learning about Stephen Hawking himself and the disease he lived with and all that he contributed to society anyway. He was her first role model.

She talks about how she questioned why she had to work so hard just to stay alive and how she was desperately looking for something to contribute, something to give her life meaning. She wanted more than just surviving. And then, at thirteen, she almost died and went into a coma that no one thought she’d come out of. But she did and she was just blown away by all the support she received. That made her realise that that is not the case in many families living with Cystic Fibrosis and so she created her foundation, The Claire’s Place Foundation, to assist those families.

Six years on, she was struck with the realisation that she’d become the person that she had been looking for, someone to look up to who was sick and still contributing to the world. She was using her experience to give something and she was living a life she was proud of, that thirteen year old her would be proud of.

“And that’s all that we can have in life. Because the truth is, it’s not about being happy, right? Life isn’t about just trying to be happy. Honestly, happiness is a Dopamine in the brain. If I was to sit here and tell you all to just be happy, I’d just tell you all to go smoke a joint and listen to Bob Marley and just call it a day. We don’t need any of this TEDx stuff, you know? Life isn’t about being happy. Life is a rollercoaster of crazy emotions: one second you’re fine and the next second you feel lonely and despair and like nothing’s ever gonna be okay again. It’s not about emotions; it’s not about how you feel second to second. It’s about what you’re making of your life and whether you can find a deep pride in who you are and what you’ve given because that’s so much more impactful, so much deeper than whether you’re happy, or content, or joyful. It’s okay to feel pain. In fact, if you can actually experience it without judgement, without, you know, trying to fix anything. Nothing’s wrong with any of you. Nothing’s wrong with me. I don’t care that I’m sick. At all. Genuinely. If a cure came tomorrow, I wouldn’t care. Because that has not determined the quality of my life. I’m not trying to fix myself. My suffering has given me so much, and I’ve been able to make something and give something to people from it.”

In some ways, it’s hard to watch because it’s devastating to see her so engaged and dynamic and thoughtful and funny and know she’s not here anymore. It’s hard to watch her talk about surviving the odds, surviving the coma she was in at thirteen, knowing that she didn’t survive the odds this time. But at the same time, this video is a tiny piece of proof amongst all the noise that she WAS here, that she WAS so engaged and dynamic and thoughtful and funny.

As I said, I will miss Claire immensely but I’m incredibly grateful to have videos like these to watch on the hardest days.

Life Goes On (Even When You Don’t Want It To)

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how things change with time, how emotions change with time.

When I was nineteen, someone really important to me abandoned me without a word. I was already really struggling and it was completely devastating. For days afterwards, I just sat numbly in front of the TV with the volume up so loud that I couldn’t think. I couldn’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t feel so heartbroken. I couldn’t imagine how I would ever recover.

That was four years ago.

For a long time, that experience defined me. I wrote songs about it. I talked about it in therapy. It was part of every decision I made. It was the lens through which I saw the world. But slowly, it had less and less of a hold on me and then, about two years after everything fell apart, I realised that I’d completely let it go. That was amazing and so freeing.

And so I went on with my life, feeling lighter than I had in years. I felt like it had been taking up space in my body and with that gone, I had so much more space to engage and create and just live. I even got a little bit of closure (something I’d never really believed in as a concept): we met and talked and it was oddly satisfying to find that there wasn’t a good reason behind it – I’d never been able to think of one. So it was messy and intense but worth it. I didn’t need that experience to let it go but it was very satisfying to finally have all the pieces.

A couple of days ago, I realised that I hadn’t thought about it in months. I’d almost forgotten it had happened. That was a shock. And an epiphany.

It’s an oft-repeated saying that time heals everything and it always irritated the hell out of me, especially when I was a teenager. Everything felt (and still feels) so intense – every experience, every emotion – and I couldn’t imagine a time when it wouldn’t. But over time, I’ve watched the cycle of emotions play out and that’s been a revelation.

It seems that there are some things that you just have to learn for yourself and no amount of being told by someone else is the same as experiencing it first hand. And you have to live long enough for that cycle of emotion to actually take place. It’s only now that I can look back and truly know that time is the only thing that can lessen the intensity of those feelings (although it’s not unlikely that I’ll deny this the next time I’m overwhelmed with similar emotions). Every stage – from holding on to it, to letting it go, to really moving on – was a new experience and it was all ridiculously intense. But now I’m free of it, which is such an achievement. I had a lot of help but that’s something that I did and I’m really proud of that. For a long time, I needed to feel it and needed to hold onto it to make sense of it. But now I’m done. There are bigger, more important things in my life, good and bad.