"You know, we really prefer to talk to people who’ve come full circle," a magazine journalist who interviewed me last summer told me (or something to the tune of this).
The story still made the cover of the magazine in question in September, but at the time I had by no means come full circle, and have been pondering that concept at regular intervals ever since.
Do we ever come full circle, as in "arrive" or "completely reverse your original position" while still alive? It seems to me that whenever I feel like I’ve come full circle in relation to one phase another phase starts – and more often than not they overlap and run parallel each other for a while.
At the time of the interview, I’d just completed a stay at Sunnaas rehabilitation hospital, Norway’s largest specialised hospital in the field of medical rehabilitation, about 20 years too late.
A stay which took place less than two weeks after I’d moderated the keynote session at the annual conference of The Norwegian Online News Association, the organisation I co-founded and headed for several years.
This to me, felt full of contrasts and emblematic of my conflicting identities - or perhaps they’re just slightly conflicting to me. Because, as a former school-friend reminded me, I’m also the girl whose dog saved her life. I’ve used that phrase before, but it sums up so much – especially the gap in how people who know me from different parts of my life see me.
And this year (since last June/July) has really belonged to the girl whose dog saved her life. Not the commentator, journalist, blogger, science communicator or any of the professional identities I have held or hold (despite all the hours I’ve put in at work this year).
Sunnaas was a major turning point for me: At the time, it was perhaps the scariest, and probably the best thing I’d done in a long time.
The Saturday before I left for Sunnaas, I had been photo copying parts of the documentation from the worst period in my life: 41 pages about the time immediately after my dog saved me from certain death after I, as a pedestrian, was hit by a car and left for dead: unconscious and in a critical condition - and of the gloomy forecasts the hospital doctors gave me when I started regaining consciousness at the hospital some time (about a week or so) later.
Those gloomy forecasts, which I interpreted as my life as I knew it being over at 17, have haunted me ever since, and I’ve spent most of my life since in a state of constant emergency, trying to prove those doctors wrong.
So confronting all of this, which I’d in some respects so effectively run away from for so many years, was very scary and challenging, but ultimately very rewarding. Because the doctors were wrong back then, 21 years ago. The thorough medical and neuropsychological examination at Sunnaas proved I’ve recovered and coped magnificently.
Except for some of my coping, or survival, strategies, that is.
Some of those, such as living in a constant state of emergency (which could also be dubbed stress addiction), are not so sustainable (to say the least).
So, even though the stay at Sunnaas lifted something big, heavy and soul-destroying from my shoulders, and the examination results were good, it only heralded the start of a lot of hard work. It definitely did not herald the end of struggles - as Sunnaas provided me with a big to-do list regarding how to change my life (or those survival strategies which dominated it) around.
And even though I got top scores on my progress with that to-do list after my control stay at Sunnaas in February (I always work hard at the things I dedicate myself to), that was not the end of that chapter either. Neither was any of the hard work I, and even my family, put in the months since. Although I feel I’ve come a very long way, I cannot say that I’ve come full circle even though some of the hardest work is done.
Being a journalist myself I do understand the quest, or desire for a story with a clear beginning and a clear end, and the appeal of a story about some sort of final victory or of coming full circle. Except that feeling of final victory in the story of my life keeps evading me, as does the clear beginning and end of various chapters.
"In the media we like black and white stories with obvious heroes and villains a cartoon-like script treatment of the issues ," my friend Tom Burroughes once said. And then there’s life: messy, complex and often non-linear (at least in terms of challenges and life lessons).
Actually, the best journalists do come close to describing it, and sometimes do manage to describe it perfectly, but it’s not run of the mill.
Neither, I suspect, are those necessarily the stories we would prefer to read if we’re honest. I know I at least would prefer for dramas to have clear and achievable solutions, and happy and finite endings. I’d prefer wars to end, policy struggles to be resolved successfully and for all people to beat their personal demons once and for all.
Likewise, I would like to be able to say that I’ve now finally and once and for all got rid of all the negative aspects of those deeply ingrained survival strategies and come full circle.
Instead, If I’m truthful , I’ve probably just come a bit further along the road less travelled…
NB: No new age meaning implied when I use that term, "the road less travelled". However, it is often said that the brain pathways of our habitual thinking and reactions easily can become "superhighways to hell", whereas changing habits is a bit like breaking new ground/creating new brain pathways that, at least to start off with, are narrow and cumbersome to walk. The allegory mentioned in Matthew 7:13-14, about the narrow vs the wide gate, springs to mind, even though I’m not religious.