Changing my bucket list

You have to be in a certain state to have an aha-moment, and I definitely was when we were on the cruise. Which I am so grateful for.

“Other people salted away money for their old age, but Nanny preferred to accumulate memories.” – my favourite Terry Pratchett quote, and also why I went as Nanny Ogg on Costume Night on the cruise

I’ve been trying to find out what I want to do with my life for my whole life. I started out wanting to be an archeologist when I was little, then I wanted to be a researcher, but then some grownup (rightly) told me how little money there is in research. Then I wanted to do something with arts, but I couldn’t decide on what – becoming a sculpturist (but there were no programs for that), a photographer (the studies seemed boring), interior designer (no programs for that either) or an architect (too much of the job seemed to be designing office buildings). All of them felt fine, but not great. Not like something important enough that I would like to spend the rest of my life doing.

I went to an occupational psychologist  and she looked at my profile and asked me: ”Have you considered becoming a psychologist?”

That was the first aha-moment that I can remember, because it felt as if all the pieces of the puzzle just clicked.

Of course I was going to be a psychologist! I would get to use all my creative and academic abilities and also help people, and the art thing – I could do that as a hobby. I put all my effort into getting into the program, and succeeded on my first try.

Then life happened. I got my psychologist’s license and a teaching degree on the side, because teaching was what I then loved most, and my husband and I both tried to get jobs after graduation. We told ourselves that we would move to the place where the first one of us got a job, and started looking for jobs outside Finland. Niklas (who has a degree in business administration) got a consulting job soon after that in Copenhagen, a real stroke of luck, and only a couple of months after we even talked about going abroad we were living in an apartment in Österbro, the northern part of Copenhagen.

I knew that it would be difficult for me to get any jobs in Denmark because of the language barrier, but I didn’t mind. I was happy going to museums and looking for an apartment and then later renovating that apartment. I tried half-heartedly to get into art school, but that was mainly to get all the relatives off my back about me being a parasite who was just living off my husband… I didn’t get in to my great relief, and then we surprisingly got a child. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, because we were in fact trying insemination at a private clinic (for free! Denmark has great health care, or had), but neither of us thought it would succeed.

I had to rearrange my whole life now that I was pregnant, and lay all my career plans on hold. I was to try and get a job and then later on we would adopt a child, but now the child was in fact growing inside my body.

I was so scared being pregnant, so unhappy about not knowing how things would turn out or if I would do something to make the baby not have the best possible start in life, but I tried to have my private little moments with the baby when there were just the two of us in a sauna at the nearby swimming hall. In spite of that, he turned out to have a pre-birth defect that made his birth more difficult. And I got preeclampsia and had to be induced. And I almost died afterwards because of complications that the doctors hadn’t foreseen. And the doctor made a hasty judgment that injured me for life. And I got PTSD and didn’t get any help for that, in spite of my first words after surgery being that I wanted to talk to a psychologist to prevent PTSD.

(Here’s a tip: don’t go to hospital during the summer months when everyone’s on vacation!)

This was now my new life. Three surgeries to remove scar tissue from my vagina (we’re grown people here, right? I get tired of euphemisms sometimes…). Constant pain killers for many months in spite of me breast feeding my son. I was almost not able to walk, and still through all of this I did physical therapy with my little baby that had to train his neck every day for the first five years of his life and always be careful not to injure his spine or he could die or be paralyzed from the neck down.

I had no thoughts of any career at this point, but after finding a physical therapist who helped me (Birthe Bonde, phys. ter. and also a sexologist) I could finally see a bit more clearly without constant pain. I also went to a great therapist specializing in PTSD and paid for it myself, and after that I was finally able to watch TV or talk on the phone again and not relive the same day over and over again.

I could breathe a little bit again and have actual thoughts.  I found out playing and talking to a restless child was not what I wanted to do 24/7, so I found a great little Kindergarten with just a few kids and lots of members of staff, and started studying economics.

Then we had our daughter through adoption. And then we had our youngest son. A surprise adoption, which almost never happens, but it happened to us.

I still can’t remember what I said in that one phone call, but it was life-changing, that’s for sure!

Suddenly we were a family of five, with the eldest being only four, and everything felt so overwhelming. We decided to scrap my plans of having a degree in economics. We scrapped the plans of moving to Sweden, and instead we moved back to Finland to be nearer to relatives and hopefully get some help with caring for the kids.

I really regret not living in Copenhagen anymore, but I don’t regret the kids getting to grow up here! The schools are great, the health care is excellent and the kids get to grow up sheltered with nature all around them. Now our family was on the right path with lots of help from both physical therapists and psychotherapists, and my husband found a job that he loved.

But what about me? Where did I fit into this narrative?

I had no idea. Suddenly I was adrift in a life that had tossed me in all kinds of unforeseen directions, and sometimes even because of a decision I had made. I had the life I had dreamed of, but I hadn’t come there by the paths I had thought I would take, and the paths had made me a different person.

I was home with three little kids and felt as if I was going a little bit more crazy for every day, so I started a blog. I thought: ”There probably isn’t that much money in blogging, but at least I can get some other things out of it like a sense of not just being a stay-at-home-Mom, and who knows – maybe a new path will show itself because of the blog?”

And it did. Many paths. I was encouraged to DIY our home, and we had our home photographed for many magazines and even a British book (the author came all the way here just to take pictures of my DIY:s!). Even our garden became interesting enough that many magazines wanted interviews about it.

I also made a craft book with a friend, and because of it got to make craft articles for a Finland Swedish monthly magazine, which I loved. I came in contact with so many new people through the blog, and got new friends (mainly before the smart phone revolution back then when people still commented on each other’s blogs).

This all would have been almost enough, if not for the fact that our personal economy tanked for the second time because of some bad choices that my husband made. This time I had more time on my hands when the kids had started school, so I thought  – now is the time to start with the whole writing business that you’ve always had in the back of your mind ever since you were five years old. The blog is not making you enough money, and how hard can writing be? you know how to put together a sentence. You have read thousands of books, and are always a critical reader.

I started writing and writing and writing. And listening. To podcasts, to lectures, to everything at least twice, doing all the exercises that they recommended. I did NanoWriMo twice, and while I was working away our economy got slowly better and I didn’t have the same pressure to submit anything, which was great because I still haven’t felt that anything I have written has been polished enough for submitting.

While doing all this – writing, trying to keep a damaged family together, trying to keep order in the household – I started doing my bucket list. I hadn’t made one in ages, and realized so many years had gone by without me even noticing that I wasn’t looking forward to anything. So many years spent taking care of others and trying to keep my head above water, that somewhere in all that I lost sight of myself and the part of me that defines me.

I wrote a bucket list and it contained only one item.

And that item was there only because I remembered it being on the bucket list from ten years ago. Not that I really wanted to visit the Chelsea Flower Show, but because I felt I ought to have more items than zero on my bucket list.

That is not a good sign, my friends. As a psychologist, I knew all the danger signs were there, but there were so many factors in my life that I had no control over. So many stressful things that I just had to endure.  But we muddled through somehow, and my husband finally found a psychotherapist that he liked and got to work on his issues, which lead to us becoming a better team taking care of the kids, and also the kids grew up and their brains matured, and they finally started enjoying school a little bit more,  and finally I had some space to breathe again.

I watched SKAM and remembered what I was like before life happened. When I was young and ambitious and wanted to change the world, be a positive force in the world.

I found a part of me that wanted to feel alive again, and I started on my YA-novel with new energy.

My narrative was still: ”I need to make a living out of writing so that I also have a place in the grown up-world”, and that didn’t sit right with me, not really. It was what I was telling myself and also others, but that never felt like the real story. There were still layers underneath that statement.

Then suddenly on the cruise I got my aha-moment. Emma Newman had had a lecture about fear and writing, and so many emotions ran through my body. It felt as if layers of skin peeled off and the raw me emerged, and she was filled with lots of other explanations for wanting to write than the more analytical side of me.

Emma told me ”You are coming from an academic background, and are seeing this as an academic exercise – but it’s not. It’s art, and art hurts.”

And that was it! My aha-moment. The second moment in my life when I felt that the pieces of the puzzle that was me fell into place.

I realized a few nights later that my narrative had changed. I was telling people I want to be a writer because I want to use all the experiences that I’ve had, all the education, all the difficult periods in my life and make that into art that can help people. I want to be my teenage-self again, she who wanted to make the world a better place, if only a little.

That talk about making money – that had only been a superficial argument, because if I had analyzed myself more completely (which I usually do, but this was my blind spot apparently) I would have seen that I have turned down job offers, because they would interfere with our family life, which always takes precedence. I’ve turned down queries about ads on my blog, haven’t written sponsored content almost at all, and turned down lots of little doses of well-needed money because I felt they would cause me more pain than gain in the long run. They would have chipped off a bit of what I felt was me.

And that is why ”I want to make money writing” is not the complete picture. That would be great, but that is not my main reason for writing. My main reason is to be truthful. To be part of the community. To get to tell stories that make the world a better place for my kids. To write stories for my adolescent self, she who was fed up with girls not getting to go on adventures in books or not getting to be anti-heroes.

To be that idealist that my husband and the rest of the world thought was a bit crazy, and not grown up enough. But that is who I am, deep inside, and that is what I want to be when I grow up. This crazy, idealist woman, who inside is still a teenager feeling everything in deep colours, and who wants to use all the impulses and inspiration that she gets from everywhere in art. In writing.

My new bucket list is very Prague-oriented – luckily we live just a cheap plane flight away from Prague, so this feels like something we might actually do some day!


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