I’ve been thinking about my thirties. About how they started, and how they’re about to end. Ten years ago at my thirtieth birthday party, I was bloated from massive doses of steroids I had earlier in the year thanks to a serious respiratory virus. I was puffy faced and swollen, or if I was being truly honest, I’d say that going into my third decade, I was fat (for me, anyway. Or at least my face looked like a puffer fish).
For what it’s worth, I haven’t exactly loved my thirties. They started off on a bad note when I had to be treated for the early stages of vulvar cancer, where my oncology team and I were trying to keep the cancer at bay with a topical chemotherapy which would leave my vagina looking like I’d sat on a cheese grater and ridden it like a champ. I know – so glam. In November 2007, I underwent surgery so the cancer didn’t travel into my lymph nodes and metastasise, which would have afforded me protracted suffering and death. But the surgery left me teetering on the brink of death anyway. I had a poo bag and a broken vagina hanging together with skin grafts, and I honestly don’t know how I got through three months of non-stop shit explosions and blistered skin from a stoma that refused to stick, but I did (thanks for all the late night laundry, Mum).
When I was 31, I got myself into a destructive relationship, and my boundaries with men were still pretty woeful when in my mid-thirties, a person I was seeing got into a fight and called me for help. I cleaned and dressed his wounds, after which he pissed in my bed. He helped me move the mattress out onto my balcony, but left before I had to bring it in myself where I nearly popped my CV line out of my jugular (I was on home IV’s at the time).
My response was an almost ethereal calm, simply because not much fazes me. I thought, ‘hey, that’s ok. Mattresses can be replaced.’ WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK, CARLY? My response now would be entirely different. He should have bought me a new mattress, but he didn’t. Now, I’d kick him to the kerb without a second thought. I’d block his number, and never connect with him again. It’s then that a close friend began to teach me about boundaries, self-worth and self-respect. This friend has also helped me plug in to my intuition – something I’d not really been in tune with before. There was other stuff. My sister’s divorce and its ongoing aftermath has been confounding in its cruelty and acrimony.
All in all, I’ve learned my most powerful and empowering lessons in my third decade. Yes, my thirties saw its share of death, but through this came unexpected gifts. I discovered my true purpose and passion with caring for the dying. I went to my first Spiritual Care Australia conference which opened up the world of hospital chaplaincy (I call it spiritual care), and last year I graduated from my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. My CPE training was one of the most rewarding learning experiences of my life, and I’m now working at the city’s biggest trauma centre as their only non-religious pastoral/spiritual carer – such a privilege and so incredibly humbling. If you ever want a lesson in humility, go and sit with people in hospital and listen. This year I was asked to be on the organising committee for the 2017 conference, and have been made to feel welcome by all faith groups.
In 2014, I was invited to speak at TEDx Brisbane where I shared my story and my hopes for how we can do death differently and how we must do death differently. After seventeen years, I discovered who my donor is/was after realising that I needed to know about her, even though I’d had the information about her since just after I woke up after my transplant.
I have been lucky enough to work and learn with the best people in the death care industry, I did my first Vipassana, let go of my survivors guilt, and got clean. I’ve been clean for three years, and honestly can’t think of anything worse than taking opiates again. In fact, you’d have to render me comatose to get any narcotic into my system.
On Christmas Eve, I was accepted into the Karuna Hospice Palliative Care Support Volunteer training program – an intensive I’ve been dreaming of doing for many years. It’s as though the world is opening up for me, and for that I sit in a space of deep gratitude. Transplanniversaries came and went, but never without much introspection and indebtedness.
I discovered what I needed to keep and what I needed to let go. I realised that just because I have a history with a person, that doesn’t mean I have a present or a future with them. I know what ingredients help make me my best self, and I’m clear in my purpose. I’m settled, happy, and in love with giving zero fucks about what anyone else may or may not think of me. So what is that? It’s because I’m done with not being and living as my authentic, no-bullshit self. I was done with that a time ago, but as 2016 and this decade comes to a close, having lived with so much uncertainty, I am certain of one thing – life is beautiful, and all that matters in the end is the love you share and the love you get in return.
My wish for you, going into 2017, is that you embrace the simple things, because these too have been my greatest lessons. Go and hug trees, howl at the moon naked, walk in the rain (naked again), take less and give more, love yourself, treat others with kindness and suspend your judgment. Own your shit, be accountable, tread lightly upon the earth, and as my dear friend Andy who died last month waiting for a transplant would say, ‘don’t be a cunt’. Life is short – paint it your shade of spectacular.