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Back to Dreaded Normalcy

A Chapter from an Unfinished Autobiography

By Reija SillanpaaPublished 9 months ago 4 min read

And just like that everything returned to normal. Or at least that’s how it looked to the outsider. My treatments had finished, my scans were clear, my hair was growing back, and I was back at work.

But nothing could have been further from the truth. The last seven months had kicked the stuffing out of me and permanently changed and scarred my body and mind. I might have functioned the same, sounded the same, even looked the same, at least sort of, but I was not the same. I had seen the light.

No, really, I had.

There is nothing like a potential death sentence to help you realise truths about your life. And having realised those truths, I didn’t want to go back to normal. I didn’t want my old life back because I had come to realise I had been on a road to nowhere. I had been on a path to a life unfulfilled.

That makes me sound so ungrateful. After all, I had a great partner, we had a nice flat, and I had a good job. Which I hated. But other than hating my job, and how many people can say they love their jobs, I had little to complain about. But not having much to complain about is not the same as living a fulfilled life.

When I got ill, I had to stay at home. Correction, I could stay at home. Not for a second did I miss the classroom during my sick leave. Not working meant that I finally had time to just write. Despite the threat of death hanging over me and the treatments making me afraid to fart in case I would shit my pants, I was happy.

Being able to write all day every day was the dream. Yes, it definitely would have been better without cancer. But neither would it have existed without cancer. Getting sick kicked my procrastinating, excuse-making backside. It motivated me to write again and writing took my mind off being sick.

So, having seen the light and having had a taste of living the life of a writer, going back to the life before was not an option.

And yet, there I was. Seemingly inevitably drifting back to the life I led before my diagnosis. I was back at a job I had not cared for in years. Back to working long hours and sacrificing my dreams for the need to pay the bills.

I was slipping back into a life I no longer wanted.

Yet, I was expected to be grateful.

And I was. Of course, I was. How could I not be when one of my doctors had said I had a one in ten chance of making it? So yes, I was grateful. I was so grateful to be alive. But I was also desperate. I was desperate not to slip back to a life BC, before cancer.

Everyone expected me to look forward to normalcy. To being back at work. To doing what everybody else does. But frankly, going back to all that scared the living daylights out of me.

That is likely to sound rather strange, considering I had just survived against the odds. I get that. So I shall elaborate.

To me, there was one thing scarier than death. That was dying before I had done half the things I had always dreamt of. Like becoming a writer and seeing the world.

Yet, for nearly two decades, I had been stuck at a job I hated, the book I had written and printed out for editing had been collecting dust in the drawer of my bedside table for close to a decade, and I had visited a mere fraction of the countries I wanted to visit.

So when the return to the old normal loomed, I was grateful to be still in the land of the living but desperate not to get caught in the trap again. I desperately needed to create the life I dreamt of. But already, after only a few months back at work, it was once again stealing my time and my energy.

Instead of working on book baby number two, I marked my pupils’ writing. When I wanted to be researching literary agents to send book baby number one to for consideration, I researched and prepared lessons. I wrote school reports and action plans when I wanted to be writing fiction and poetry.

But then came COVID.

I know it was a horrid time, and many people lost their loved ones, but for me, it meant staying at home again. Having only recently finished my cancer treatments, I was considered to be in a risk group, so I could not enter the school building even if I wanted to. Which I didn't. Needless to say, that suited me perfectly well.

With my school having been totally unprepared, to be fair though, I think most schools were, there was no virtual teaching from home during the first lockdown. Other than preparing a study pack per week to be sent home, I was once again free to focus on my writing.

But I didn’t just write. I made plans with my partner. Plans for after COVID. Plans that may have been fuelled by too much sun from sitting on the balcony and way too many beers. Plans that sounded crazy, impossible, at first, to our sober minds but that stuck with us. And the more we savoured them, the more possible they sounded. Even to our sober minds.

It wasn’t just the sun and the alcohol that fuelled our plans. It was the realisation that neither of us was happy with the direction our lives were going. We were both ready for major changes.

We also knew that we’d be living in a shoebox when we retired if we stayed in London. Although, the way prices in London are going, we’d be lucky to afford even a shoe box somewhere on the outskirts of the city. Since neither of us fancied living in a shoebox or on the outskirts, we decided to up sticks.

Where to? A small town on the Russian border in northern Finland. But before that, we had to get through COVID and carry out plan number one: a bicycle ride across Europe.


About the Creator

Reija Sillanpaa

A wise person said, "Be your own audience". Therefore, I write fiction, poetry and about matters important and interesting to me. That said, I warmly welcome you into my audience.

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