Do you ever feel like your poor health has completely taken over your life? As if there’s no semblance of “you” left? That was me a few years ago. 22 year old Jenny had critically low self-esteem, and felt that her life wasn’t her own. Sound familiar?
I wanted to shift my focus, and put more emphasis on the things I could still do, even if there weren’t many. And so I started a scrapbook. I decided I would secretly keep a record of everything my boyfriend and I did over the year, then I’d surprise Ryan with it for Christmas.
And so I did. I secretly stashed business cards, maps, tickets and bottle caps. I took more photos when we were out places – “to show Mum”. I printed, and cut, and stick, and told little white lies when he text asking what I was up to. “Oh not much”, sitting on the floor surrounded by paper clippings and desperately trying to stop the dog from adding paw prints to my Masterpiece.
I added in everything including trips to the shop for groceries - those things are an adventure with chronic illness. I even documented times we didn’t leave the house, movie days and the like. Those days mattered to me too, and I wanted a record of them. So I took note of everything from holidays we went on to his dancing around the kitchen at home making me laugh. All equally important to me.
Come Christmas I wrapped the bulging book in brown paper and wrote “the secret project – open me last” in the corner. A flare of suspense couldn’t go a miss, after all.
I spent 100 hours that year on scrapbooking, 99 if we’re being exact. Yes I kept count. And it was well worth it because his face when he opened it was an absolute picture. A picture that later went in the end of said scrapbook. For the memories.
I decided I enjoyed the process so much that I would keep doing it. Last year was my second one, and come Christmas again there was another book filled with memories. This time I wasn’t as diligent with filling it out consistently, perhaps because this one wasn’t a secret. I could get away with having a little pile of leaflets and tickets in my room, and so I got complacent.
Obviously the longer I left it, the bigger the pile got, the more I put it off. Which isn’t ideal when you suffer from brain fog. Suddenly I had a pile filled with things like tickets that simply said “Admission” on them. Shit, admission for what?
It’s not like me to procrastinate, but I did with this. Looking back, I actually think it’s a positive. And I’ll tell you why.
I started that first scrapbook simply because I thought it would make a nice present, which it did. But as time went on I think I was using it to prove something. I wasn’t aware of that at the time, but looking back it’s clear.
Like I said, back then my self-esteem was down the toilet. Through no fault of anyone I was around, I was convinced I made shitty company, and that my chronic illness had made me boring. Is it possible I was using the scrapbook to prove I still brought something? That there was still a part of me here? That I didn’t stop us from doing Absolutely Everything Ever. I think so.
I think it was more to prove to myself than to Ryan. He never made me feel less-than, or boring, or unworthy. Never. And yet so often I felt it about myself. Self-esteem is a funny thing, but that’s a story for another day.
Last year I didn’t keep up with the scrapbook as regularly, but it wasn’t because I was being lazy. Well, maybe a tad, but it’s more that I just didn’t feel like I had to. I didn’t feel the need to prove anything anymore. To anyone, including myself. Personal growth or what?
I caught up over December, scrambling to finish in time. And it reinvigorated my love for it. The process is enjoyable, and it’s something just for me. A lot of my hobbies I’ve had to give up because of chronic illness, and the others I’ve found ways of monetising. Chronic illness and financial insecurity will do that to you. Scrapbooking was something I did for no other reason other than I wanted to. It wasn’t at the beginning, like I mentioned, but that’s what it is now. And that’s what it will continue to be.
This year I’ll be making another. Keeping up to date throughout the year because I want to, not because I feel the need to. Scrapbooking gives me something low energy to do, that feels productive and brings me joy. I can look back on it in times of frustration or sadness, and remember the good times. Because there are still plenty, even when it might not feel like it.
Scrapbooking reminds me to be proud of myself for what I manage, no matter how little it might be. It reminds me that me now is different to me then, pre-chronic illness, but I’m still here. In one way or another. And for that realisation I’m grateful.
I started scrapbooking as a gift for someone else, but in the process I relearned my value and worth. Someone can tell you something 100 times and you still might not believe it. Sometimes you have to see it for yourself. Scrapbooking gave me a tangible way of doing that, and I feel like I know myself better for it. The gift that kept on giving.
If you're considering starting I’d wholeheartedly recommend, as long as you’re doing it for the right reasons. You don’t need to prove yourself, but if you need a reminder of your value every now and again – that’s okay too.
Fill it with things that bring you joy, because there will be something. It doesn’t have to be something grand like a holiday, it can be something simple. The way the sun shines or sets, a person that makes you laugh, or a really good ice cream. Even during times when life is incredibly difficult, there will be something at some point that makes you smile. And that should be remembered.