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Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Memoirs ~ 2 ~

Hello Independence, Goodbye Independence 

I was born in Zimbabwe and only moved to South Africa around 2009 when I got tired of flying down every month for check-ups and treatment. It made sense to live in the country that was keeping you alive! I didn't have a job or a home or any idea what I was going to do here, but I knew that this is where I had to be so I would just have to figure the rest out! I lived with my friends for a while, a month at each of their houses until finally moving in with my aunt and uncle when I got sick again. When I recovered, I found a flat with another one of my Zim friend's, Justine and we lived together for the next 3 and a half years.

I'd found a home so the next step was a job! I had convinced my parents to give me the same amount it would have cost them to fly me down to Joburg every month, as well as a bit extra seeing as they wouldn't be housing me any more. I got the bare minimum but I was thrilled to have my own independence and start my own life!

I started looking for work. All I had was my Cambridge A-Levels, with no experience or contacts in South Africa which meant that I was starting with a pretty foul hand. I enjoyed painting and thought that perhaps I could sell my art in one of the galleries here, but I quickly learnt that galleries not only take up to 70% of the selling price but that they are also very particular with what art they sell. Some only sell oil paintings, some would only stock 'local artists', some wanted framed, some wanted big paintings and some just said no. So, back to square one..... I searched online every day for jobs but it has hard to find a job that would accommodate my health needs. I couldn't au pair as being around kids could lead to increased infections and I also couldn't commit as I still had check-ups and hospital admissions. I was also SICK, some days I was ok but other days I struggled to get out of bed. How do you find someone willing to hire an individual who couldn't guarantee they would be at work every day?

As luck would have it, I finally got a job at a flower shop. I love flowers and I was so excited to start, even though my job was just running the till and doing petty cash. I worked morning only 4 times a week and if I couldn't make it I would just let them know. They were very accommodating and despite earning little to nothing, after a year of looking, at least I had a job and my parents didn't have to send as much money to me.

Another year passed and my health crashed. I was in hospital for about 8 weeks fighting to recover and once I was discharged I had to be on oxygen permanently. I had been using oxygen at night for many years and occasionally used it during the day when I wasn't feeling well or I was more tired than usual. Being attached to oxygen 24/7 meant that I had to quit my job and my mom had to move to Joburg to look after me full time. I had a portable oxygen machine so I could still get out the house and walk around but it didn't give me as much oxygen as I needed so I couldn't stay on it for long. That and the fact that my lung capacity had dropped to about 20% meant that getting around was exhausting and I didn't want to do anything except sleep.

Goodbye independence!

My mom did her best to keep me active, encouraging me to go out and have tea with my friends or to walk around the complex for a bit. I hated it but I also knew that it was important to try keep my strength up. My amazing friends Kerry and Ash even bought me a Nintendo Wii so that I could sit on the couch and play tennis or something to keep me active. It was hard and I hated that my body was a cage. A cage that kept me from doing things that I wanted but also a cage that kept me alive. I didn't hate my body or my lungs, I knew it wasn't their fault that they didn't work. It was my disease that I hated ,that was attacking my body. It was a part of me but it was never a part that I let consume me, I lived my life as normally as I could and in my head, my disease just tagged along. But as I got worse it became more difficult not to let it consume me. I had nothing else to focus on and so every day I lost a little of myself as my disease took over and slowly became to consume my identity.

My days were 100% focused on staying alive. At times I felt selfish, my decisions were based on what was best for my health. Every decision could add a day or take away a day of my life and with a limited amount of days left, I chose wisely. Not everyone understood this, friends would feel that when I didn't celebrate their birthday with them, I wasn't trying. If I didn't feel like talking, some thought that meant I didn't care what was happening in their life and that I was being a bad friend. I knew they thought this but I also knew that they didn't understand and they didn't have to. But I had to focus my energy and strength on keeping alive long enough to have a transplant. That was all that mattered!

I didn't like the person I had become. I was still positive but it didn't come naturally, I was still bubbly but only on good days, I was me but a diluted version of myself. The worst part of being sick isn't the physical pain but the mental pain. You have to be incredibly mentally strong and even then, the sickness starts to break you down. There's no escaping it, all you can do is hope that by the time you get over whatever you are fighting, there is still some of you left.

I know that through my journey I have changed as a person. I am stronger, I am braver, I am more determined. But I'm also weaker, more afraid and more numb.

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