This blog post is a creative piece written by Astriid candidate and volunteer Lucy Judd.
‘Baby steps,’ I say under my breath as I try to lift a foot off the ground, ‘just take a step forward.’ But my foot is stuck to the garden decking, as though the wooden planks are varnished with some horrible glue, determined to keep me in the same sticky spot forever. Opening my mouth, I find my voice has vanished. Yet my arms and body are flailing all over the place, like some irate fish, slapping the ship deck in sharp protest. Surely, these cannot be baby steps? As far as I can see, this is a dance with no secret meaning hidden in witty choreography nor opportunity for new life lying just out of reach. Instead, direct your attention to the image of that irate fish, soon to give sustenance to another life.
Baby steps. Family, friends, colleagues, doctors, nurses and every type of therapist known to me have uttered these words. Words easily said, nevertheless sounded like, and how about a sprint up Everest? Long-term health conditions can provide plenty of opportunities to think about what will be possible once health is restored. And if believing that one day I will sprint up Everest provides strength enough to keep going, well then, I was sticking steadfastly to it. I could taste the cold as I sprinted, no flew, past the panting climbers, smiling down at them with only a fleeting thought as I soared high above. Haven’t I earned this? Forget training and experience – I held a one-way ticket to the peak. I wasn’t going to queue weighed down by practicalities – I was going to fly.
Fortunately, I crashed. Probably into my younger self fleeing the scene at the peak. Standing, clinging to Mum’s arm outside the clinic on a busy city street, I watched people hurry by to their no-doubt exciting lives. When did the people of London become so pretty? I wondered, astonished by the catalogue of Greek gods sauntering by. Looking around, I could not pick out one face that appeared creased by pain, hardened by the side effects of medication or drawn by a debilitating tiredness.
So if flying was the goal, why did taking a baby step feel like an unachievable goal? The answer to that is simple, magic. I wanted to wake up and be perfectly healthy. Then I would live my dream life that had sustained me through the pain. I would lift a foot easily off the ground and leap into my imagination. Nothing about it would be comparable to a baby’s unsure first step. However, doubt began to creep into my mind. Would the dreams that had sustained me through illness exist in reality?
Baby steps felt like instead of Everest, I was standing at the foot of a Welsh hill. Well, no offence to the beautiful country of Wales, but I had my heart set on the Himalayas. This thought of the lush Welsh landscape made me think of a film I had seen with the dashing Hugh Grant, The Englishman who Went up a Hill but Came down a Mountain. For the villagers’ beloved mountain to be categorised as an official mountain in the eyes of British cartographers, the villagers work together, carrying the earth needed to heighten the hill to its summit to achieve mountain status. This endearing action cements The Garth as a mountain in the eyes of the locals – if not the officials. More than that, it shows that greatness is possible by the action of trying. Flying up Everest would mean I would miss out on the human connection and lessons learnt along the journey.
With this in mind, I changed ‘baby steps’ to ‘life blocks’. At least with blocks – even if they fall, you still have them. This means that the first step does not have to be preceded by a second, or does it matter if you step backwards: you cannot lose a block in the process. Building blocks assemble any way you wish and can be knocked down and rebuilt.
A long-term health condition knocked my blocks over like a tornado rattling through my abilities and confidence until there seemed nothing left but the rubble of what might have been. I needed to take a step backwards and remember that I still owned those skills I had created and utilised before I stopped working. Moreover, living with a chronic condition has taught me many more skills, so I was not stuck in the same spot forever. That was fear talking. I had moved forward further than I had ever hoped. Sometimes pushing an original plan can blind you to new possibilities. The life I was building may not resemble what I had planned, but, in any case, I was no longer the same person. I was creating a new life. Returning to the working world was not the first block I was obtaining – I was adding to my collection.
Thank you for sharing your work with us, Lucy!
Here at Astriid, we match talented people with long-term illnesses with meaningful employment opportunities. We work with employers to make sure that they can meet candidates’ needs, and help them through all stages of their ‘work ready’ journey. Visit our website to ou can find out more and sign up as a candidate or an employer!