An old friend and I were chatting nonsense the other day, asking each other silly questions as we tried to stop our feral offspring posting crisps into DVD players and taunting the goldfish. It’s the sort of conversation that springs from a comfortable familiarity. Two friends who have known each other since the heyday of fake IDs, underage nightclubbing and alcopops.
‘Ok, I’ve got one,’ said my friend, her eyes gleaming at me from over the rim of my chipped Penguin Classic coffee mug. ‘If you could go back and change one thing about your life, what would it be?’
I’ve been asked that question a thousand times before but somehow, this time around, I found her words loaded, perhaps in light of my recent diagnosis. My answer was stilted. Formulaic. Regrettably, it was also spiked with a poison called regret.
When faced with an uncertain future, such as poor health, your whole world tilts. Colours seem brighter, yet everyone around you moves slower. You find yourself thinking about the past more and more. Pouring over decisions and picking apart the seams. Did I achieve enough? Could I have loved more? Did I live my life right? Regret. Regret. Regret.
It’s one of those emotions I like to file away in my self-destruction ammunition box, along with envy and self-pity. Every time I want to feel particularly shite about myself I pop the lid, load my bullet of choice, aim the muzzle and then fire. I’ve opened up that box quite a bit recently as I’ve learnt to accept that things will never be the same for my family and me. Once a cancer patient, always a cancer patient they say.
I realise now that I’ve wasted too much time on regret. It’s ranged from silly stuff like always eating the last doughnut and crushing my Size 8 dream, or staying too long in Film Production because everyone else thought it was glamorous and fun, whereas secretly I found it a bit dull and forced, and couldn’t understand why everyone was snorting their paychecks up their nostrils.
Then there are the men. The short-termers that made me feel cheap. The crazy decision in my late teens that turned into a two-year kickback against parental control. Or the unequivocal disaster that never should have left University, let alone made it to my 25th birthday.
But yesterday I came to a startling realisation. I don’t actually regret anything anymore, because every poor choice, every crap experience, has made me dream bigger and laugh louder. I had to plough though the wrong jobs to see how much I wanted to write (plus it gave me some great story ideas!) And the wrong men purely existed to make me appreciate what I have now.
As for that doughnut?
It tasted delicious, thank you. In fact, I might just have another…