So they say that blood is thicker than water. And whilst that may be true, I have recently developed my own saying ~
Spirit is thicker than blood.
2017 has been a very interesting year for me.
2017 has been a very difficult year for me.
And yet, 2017 has been a year of great and utter triumph for me.
Really, every year is difficult in some way, and I’m pretty sure I say more-or-less this same sort of thing as each one passes. But sometimes, I really have to remind myself that all these crazy things that happen to me are in fact entirely real, that I’m not mad or dreaming, and that I have indeed been living this life, this fantasy, this art, and that it really has all been worth it… Over the last year I have hit some real difficult moments, I must say. It seems that everything has consequences, each act is balanced out by a converse one, and nothing can be given without something, somewhere else, being taken away. I sometimes feel as though I’m constantly fighting to live my dreams, to be the person I want to Be, to live out-loud and unapologetic. Sometimes I feel like I’m fighting to stay alive…
But here’s another saying I like ~ all good things are worth fighting for, and I’ve never been very good at giving up on things anyway… (stubborn doesn’t begin to cover it let me assure you).
I have to apologise to my readers for my quietness this year, and, indeed, it seems we have quite a lot to catch up on… (you’ll be glad to hear that I’ve just renewed my subscription to WordPress Business Plan, which whilst being bloody expensive does give me unlimited upload space, so that means plenty of pictures and stories to come. Hurrah! I do spoil you, I know…)
But the good news is I’m not dead! Contrary to popular belief I haven’t finally gone mad, retired from public life and moved permanently to the jungle, haven’t been eaten by a lion, fallen out of a canoe or been locked up in a castle somewhere to keep me from telling truths to the masses (although all of those have nearly happened at some point). And also, I must point out, I am in fact a normal human being (this point is debatable) and don’t float from place to place on a flying carpet, or live in a palace where I’m hand-fed grapes (I can do that quite well on my own, thank you), and indeed I’m far from being a millionaire jet-setter just yet.
In fact I have just got back to the UK to spend Christmas and New Year with my family before heading off again in January (Italy), and after surviving one of the most crazy trips I’ve ever taken, I am thoroughly glad to be back in Europe, to rest, recover and reflect…
But what a journey this year has been! If not the most difficult then certainly one of the best.
But before I get on with that, first I want to take you back to this time exactly one year ago, to Florence, Italy, December 2016…
(Warning, for those of you who haven’t seen it before you’re about to see my nude butt)
(And if you haven’t seen it before then you must be a new reader. If so, welcome to the Diary of an Aesthete… nude butts are totally liberal and potentially quite common here…)
Yes, so here’s me at home in Florence, standing on my balcony (in my all-time favourite outfit), wondering what the hell to do next with my life, whether to stay put or leave, stand my ground or lead the way…
In the brief three months I’d returned to the city not only had I witnessed two earthquakes, my entire flat shaking from its very foundations waking me from sleep, but I’d also been knocked off my bike by some absolute twat on a moped (smashed my poor little vintage bicycle in half!), I was in the midst of one of the worst romances of my life – and, to top it all off, I’d just spent a couple of weeks in hospital with a serious blood infection that spread up my entire leg, which had the Italian dottori running around like a bunch of loonies telling me I might die, or that I might have picked up some deadly tropical disease during my most recent trip through West Africa…
Not such a Dolce Vita afterall!
Although I must say it was the most fantastic hospital I have even been in – built in 1285, (!) my room overlooked the Duomo, there were nurses/nuns wearing all-white floor-length robes like something out of The Canterbury Tales and in the bed next to me was a man named Signor Spaghetti … I kid you not. Not you’re usual Room with a View-Florentine-Romantic-notion but certainly a story to tell entirely unique and all my own… as usual, things just seem to happen to me quite differently from the ‘usual’.
Once I’d finally managed to convince the doctors to let me go home I walked back unaided (2 miles, even though I was supposed to be in on crutches), climbed the four flights of stairs to my 18th century flat, laid across the bed and wondered what all this could possibly mean for my future. I felt sick to my stomach with fear. This was something I couldn’t run away from any longer. Was everything I’d been working towards suddenly about to come to an abrupt end?
You see, for years now I have been fighting an invisible disease. I may have briefly mentioned this before but I’ve never actually gone into detail, so here goes… I was diagnosed a few years back with Clinical Neautropenia and Lymphopenia, a potentially-fatal health condition usually caused by some underlying disease and yet in my case, apparently, completely unexplainable… of course.
The amount of times I have been told I am a ‘hypochondriac’ by so-called friends, partners and even doctors, is unreal. Back when I’d just turned 20, in the midst of my ‘party years’, I couldn’t help but notice how I always seemed to be getting colds, how my friends could party for days without sleep and how it would take me several days to recover from even just one night on the tiles… I knew something was wrong, and a couple of my closest friends had started to notice it too. I’ve always had strong instincts and I just had this overwhelming feeling that something was wrong with my blood.
I expressed this to some of the people around me at the time but all I got back was laughs, teasing and further accusations of hypochondria. I took matters further by taking it up with my doctors and eventually managed to convince them to give me a blood test. I was very disappointed when the results came back – blood sugars and haemoglobin were totally normal as were iron levels and liver function. The only thing that showed up as ‘abnormal’ was white blood cell levels but apparently that didn’t mean anything and I should go home and just get on with my life… ha! Flash forward to a few years later when my doctors were begging me to take my health more seriously, telling me that I needed to stay in the UK to get more tests before they could finally figure out why my white blood cells were getting increasingly lower, and dangerously so too… their advice when I asked them if it was okay for me to leave the country was that I should stay, come back every week for further blood tests. Apparently my bloods needed to be monitored closely and, yet, when I asked if there was any medication for something like this they just gave me some antibiotics, a number to call if I got fever, a load of referrals to specialists and plenty more appointments to stick in my diary. At the rate things were going I’d have to spend at least another year in the dreaded grey UK before they could give me a proper diagnosis and some kind of treatment.
It was the most confusing time of my life and I didn’t know where to turn. I was impatient. You see, I’d been having this dream – I wanted to travel the world, I wanted to backpack through jungles, climb mountains, cross the desert, raid ancient tombs, explore hidden temples, walk in the wild with lions and elephants and connect with the hidden meaning of this Blue Earth and its many and varied people. I’d never been to university and I wanted to become a student of life. My soul was desperate to live and experience and grow, and yet it seemed all my body wanted to do was stay in bed, rest and slowly deteriorate… But these dreams were all I could think about. So, I had a choice… to either listen to my doctors, be a good boy and take my ‘health seriously’, or to follow my heart…
Well, remember what I’d said about being stubborn?
I decided to hit the road shortly after. That was it. Once I make a decision I rarely go back. I suspended all my appointments with doctors and hospitals and told them I would get back in touch when I returned to the UK, whenever that would be… I literally packed a bag and left, alone. I took the biggest risk of my entire life and decided to put my health on hold, and let the long winding road be my healer…
Little did I know then the Journey that lay ahead of me.
I crossed the Sahara on camel back, crashed a Hindu wedding, caught two wild cobras, bathed with elephants and swam naked and alone in the jungles of India, walked with lions in the African Bush, kiss a croc, met chiefs and tribal kings, danced in waterfalls, with gypsies on the streets of Madrid, in fountains in Seville and Rome and at Voodoo rituals, cried in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, prayed at the Western Wall, nearly adopted an orphan in Ghana, one time had the Sistine Chapel all to myself, sang solos in Gospel choirs around the world and have truly met some of the most inspiring and unforgettable souls on a Journey I will forever remain wholly and utterly changed by.
I did all this and survived, without medication, without doctors notes and specialists, pills or injections. I managed all this for the better part without getting too ill or unable to carry on. For years I travelled on the most basic transport in poverty-stricken, developing countries, ate street food, didn’t stay in expensive hotels or use private taxis to ferry me around. Lived, ate and slept alongside local people and families. I did all of this because of one thing – faith. From the day I left I did not look back, I regretted not a thing, and, mostly, I never doubted myself, my abilities, my beautiful mind or this imperfect body. I have been strong and I have believed myself strong every second of every day. Yes, I fell down from time to time, but never had I taken my eyes off the prize and my dreams.
It is said that faith can move mountains, and for me, certainly my faith has moved some of my own seemingly impassable ones – mountains of fear, institution, rule-books, doubters and naysayers.
So, after returning to Europe, I went back to Florence, somewhere I’d enjoyed staying before and always seen as a kind of home, took a respite from my travels and some time to reflect before deciding where to go next. Needed to settle for a while, work on some music and share my stories of travel with the world. That was September 2016. The end of a long, hot Summer. A new beginning. Yet, somehow, it became an ending of something for me…
Was it the end of my beginner’s luck maybe? Had all of this been a lucky streak, some kind of fluke? Or was it simply youth? – was age so soon catching up with me? Everywhere I turned things just started to go wrong. Suddenly, for the first time, I felt like I’d made a mistake, a wrong turn… for the first time the idea of quitting seemed to make a lot of sense. For the first time, it felt like I’d failed…
Looking back it wasn’t all bad, there were some good times, great memories, I did have some very special people around me and got to work on some interesting creative projects, began networking in the artistic circles of the city. But it was all cut short too soon.
The time had come. I remember calling my mother, telling her about all that had happened, told her I thought I needed to come home and finally sort my health out. I think it was music to her ears. She booked me the next available flight home in a sort of frenzy. I said my goodbyes to my friends and like a teenager packed my bag, gave back the keys to my Florentine home, and went back to my old family home in England, my tail between my legs. After all that had happened, after all I’d been through, I was just a little boy again, homeless, tired and disappointed, returning to his mother.
After resting for Christmas under the lights of London, my old hunting ground, and breathing clean air in the countryside of Kent, Garden of England, I managed to get re-referred in the new year (2017) to specialist doctors and all the tests and appointments started again. The results weren’t looking good and my doctors were horrified by my travel stories and tales of hospital stints (I rather enjoyed the look on their faces) and the fact my immune system was at an all-time low making me extremely vulnerable to infection.
After a couple of months of extensive tests and me fighting desperately to be heard to get some-kind of treatment or medical help rather than endless blood tests and referrals I finally made a break through. All within the same week WordPress contacted me saying they’d chosen one of my travel posts to be featured on their Discover page (finally!), a new manager approached me wanting to work on new music and get into the studio, and the British NHS had finally agreed to put me, permanently, on GCSF injections – a type of live glycoprotein injection that stimulates the bone marrow to produce more blood cells, a very costly medication that they had been previously refusing to put me on. Hallelujah!
I cannot tell you how my life has been changed. It seems, even in the darkest times, when all around is chaos and slamming doors, there is a glimmer of light, and sometimes that glimmer can be all it takes, for you to hold on to your faith. I have written a song about this, which I hope to share with you all one day soon. I have gone from the worst to the best period of my life, and I have had one of the most transitional and yet greatest years of my life as a result of these changes and mass revelations. I spent the beginning of the year indulging in music and creative projects and planning ideas for future trips, getting physically and emotionally stronger again. That period of ‘rest’ was a huge learning curve for me, gave me a lot of time to think about my next moves, my goals, and which passions were still burning to be lived.
But as the Spring came I knew I had to get back on the road, continue my Journey. It would mean taking some risks again. On the new medication I was feeling healthier and stronger than ever before. But to take this next leg of my journey I would have to come off the meds temporarily and go it alone again, nurture my body and soul and place my life once again in the hands of faith. You see, my GCSF injections have to be kept refrigerated otherwise they ‘die’, and I wanted to make a journey deep into the desert so wouldn’t be able to bring them with me… so it was either desert or medication.
My soul chose desert.
With my rucksack packed and flights booked to North Africa, the Middle East and West Africa for another season of intense travelling and charity work, I felt scared. Petrified actually. What if I couldn’t do it anymore? What if all that magic that had happened on my first journeys really was just beginner’s luck?
…Sometimes Fear can feel like a very real thing.
But did I let it get the better of me? Stop me doing what makes my soul shine and come alive?
Did I hell…
Sorry, Fear, but this time you knocked on the wrong door… I’ve already left.
Full stories of the rest of my 2017 adventures will follow soon,
although my write-up of my time in the Negev Desert can be found here.
And now, in apparent speed of light, it is once again Christmas and fast approaching the end of another year. I happily say goodbye to 2017.
2017 and I are like two old friends, we’ve had our differences, we travelled together for what seemed like forever, each lost something and gained something to the other, and now, with glasses raised, it is time to respectfully say farewell.
2017 has taught me many things, in the weakness of blood and the power of spirit.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, don’t let anybody or any thing ever stop you from believing in you, in the beautiful life you can create for yourself and the power in the choices you have. Do not be afraid, face your fear head on and see it for what it truly is… just an illusion…
Here’s to whatever 2018 may hold, for better or worse.
…Bring it on.
Illness, whether physical, mental or spiritual, affects us all at some point in our lives, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. It can be very real and very scary. It can be one of the most challenging things one can face on one’s journey to True Self. But do not let that stop you. Never let yourself be reduced by your circumstances. Never let something that happens to you stop you celebrating who you are, expressing yourself the way you want to, and ultimately living your life exactly how you desire. Never lose sense of your skin, of the beauty of your mind, or the raw freedom of your soul. Never let the words or beliefs of others stunt your immaculate growth. We are here but once, time is short, yet there is so much to be seen, discovered and experienced. Regret not a thing, always continue your search, every day, and never give up hope. Sometimes hope is the only difference between a life of success or failure. I have proven this to myself many times across my voyage…
Here are some revelations from my own journey –
Be careful what your believe… about others, and especially about yourself.
Question everything you’ve ever been told. What may be Truth for one person may be completely irrelevant for another. We are all unique, our view of things will always be a little different, and that’s exactly the way the Creator intended us to be… no fingerprint is the same for a reason. There are no mistakes in Creation, you were made with purpose, intention and a unique personal destiny. Remind yourself of this and do not mistake insecurity for ‘modesty’. Work what you have. Celebrate yourself and celebrate others.
If you do not believe in yourself, no one will.
Respect the beliefs of others. Often respecting others’ beliefs is paramount to preserving your own. Each has his own journey – think carefully before interrupting life’s natural forces and cycles. It is not important to be always ‘right’. The wise man sits and listens while all others fight to be heard.
Be careful what you let into your body, and what you let out of it. Every action and decision absolutely has a ripple effect. Nothing should be said or done ‘sleepwalking’. You must be conscious as much as possible – only then do you have the waking power to recognise fully the reality of the day.
Anything that no longer brings joy, love, excitement or peace into your life – get rid of it. If anything ever jeopardises your Passion then it is in turn imprisoning your soul. Do not let dust settle in the mind – it must always be kept clean.
Always trust your heart, your first instincts. Your heart will never lie to you – your head often will. Furthermore, you must always do what your heart tells you to do, even if your heart tells you to hurt your heart…
Things change quickly, and let them. Do not expect any year, day or second to be the same or even similar to the last. Go with the ebb and flow of your personal universe which is constantly changing around you. And let a good thing die… enjoy any good thing while it lasts and celebrate it as it leaves. Accept that each thing has a purpose – once that purpose is fulfilled, it must move on to wherever else it is needed. The same applies to you and your gifts.
Know what you want, and do not for a second lose sight of it until you make it happen; give your vision wings and let it fly. It helps to be grounded… but not too grounded.
Allow yourself to dream, allow yourself a little fantasy, a little theatre, always. Never be too old to experience the beauty of youth. We are all entitled to be forever young.
It’s better to regret something you did do, rather than something you didn’t.
Remember that tomorrow is another day – what will you chose to do with it? The same as yesterday? Or is today perhaps the day to change – maybe something small, maybe something big… You can spend your whole life planning for ‘that day’, for the perfect conditions and timing… perhaps you will wait forever.
I hope to see you out there somewhere, in the Realm of the Free.
There’s space for us all.
Wishing your eternal love and happiness, freedom and bravery.