At 35 – A portrait

3:07 PM

Self-portrait in 2011: pregnant and in red

Then and Now

These images bring me back to another time. I was 29-years-old. Early pregnancy, not yet a mother, but beginning to construct an identity in transformation. Turning into something that nothing in my previous life had really prepared me for. Imagining, making space, fearing the loss of the possibility inside me, agonizing over the questions: who will I become? What am I now? Will I lose something?
Can my body really create a baby?

I was blissfully unaware of what was to come when I tiptoed into motherhood while writing advice books for children about farm animals, mini pigs and frogs (unglamorous, but I had to survive somehow). Yes, it is possible to remain unaware whilst overly preparing intellectually. Still, saying yes to this twist and change is the best thing I have done. How could I have known that becoming a mother would edge me closer to other events that were entirely out of my control? Other seismic life changes would follow. How was I to understand, that control was an illusion? That this illusion was offered to me through education and the ethos that hard work, social posturing, right eating, moving and thinking can keep me on some known track.

I had no idea. I was privileged, loss was strange to me, despite the fact that life had not been very easy until then either. I imagined all kinds of scenarios. I was empathic and fought for the right of being different, appreciated and free. But let me tell you, that beautiful young woman and this woman I am today – we are the same person, but each cell of this body has died and new ones have replaced them. Wrong cells have grown and taken over too. Things have gone horribly wrong and amazingly well almost simultaneously. So now I'm same but entirely different.

My 20s: pretty and lost

From here (in my bed with chemo side effects beginning to hit me) I think about my 20s with empathy, mixed with pity and acute jealousy: You dumb dumb woman, why did you waste all that time with insecurity? You had two breasts, a waist, two feet, two equally proportionate arms and a pretty head with a set of nice brains inside. You fitted into flea market vintage finds, spent large parts of your student loan on shoes and fast-track unethical clothing (as well as gasoline for a car you didn't need). You were smart, learning to articulate your ideas, you were creative and followed through. You ate carelessly, exercised marginally, enjoyed sex, had lovely friends, studied to become a Master's Degree holder at the age of 27, wrote and recorded three albums and made one cover album, toured around the world. You amassed experience and knowledge. You enjoyed privileges that a poor teenager from the suburbs of Helsinki and somewhat unstable home life could not have imagined. Meanwhile, you carried a heavy load. In addition to insecurity you had packed along sadness, anger, feelings of loss and denial. You had no language for your agony and no outlet most of the time (except for music). You struggled to get help and struggled to form strong enough symptoms.

Most of the time in my 20s I was high-functioning and appeared super prolific and successful holding down a musical career while being a diligent university student (and a long-term partner for my now husband and a part-time parent to his daughter). Being a young woman also submitted me to harassment, the sexual and verbal kind. I had no idea how to protect myself. I studied the history of feminism in the university, but in real life I was afraid to say when something or someone was hurting me. Often, I didn't know that it was. The daring to change things around and begin to listen to myself and my feelings came through a full stop: depression and its successful treatment in therapy.

My 20s was a careless wasteland and a soil for growth. Both a burial site and a tarmac for new flight. If the human teenage years are often looked down upon as the site of formation (and not fruition), I would add the 20s into that packet. I would also like to be kinder to my young-woman-self, – I would remind her to have more fun, own the fun she's having, enjoy it more and spend even less time with concerns.

In my 30s I was supposed to be happy

My 30s was supposed to be the happiest time of my life. This was an expectation I developed as a young girl after a good friend of mine introduced me to the idea. We imagined our futures through literature and the 1990s Hollywood movies, old musicals as well as some opera and some ballet. It was both a wish and an intuition.Who knows, maybe my friend forgot the dream of "our good 30s", but I carried it around like a promise.

Self-portrait: resting chemo week 5/6

In my 30s I was going to have arrived at a place where I would have what I need. I would be an adult. I would be doing professionally what I want, sexually what I want, I would define my relationships with others. I would own beautiful things. I would enjoy what brings me pleasure and I would know what I need in my life and what I don't. I would express myself without fear. I would own my dream wardrobe, expensive shoes and soft silks with funny detailed jackets. I'd look good and confident and I'd feel it too. In that dream state I'd look at my struggles during previous decades from some distance, having learned and moved on. I'd be communicating, yet protective in equal measure. I would be a parent too. I guess in my mind's eye I saw a black and white photo of myself in Vogue: a fag dangling from my lips, collarbones piercing through skin, wearing a half unbuttoned blouse, a disheveled bob of hair, effortless denim, wine glasses, a bunch of seasonal flowers on the table, a city home and a summer house near the sea. That's some supermodel obviously.

Now, in the middle of my year as a 35-year-old, I think of this young woman's dream of happiness located in this age and I see both dreams that came true and the underlining meanings and events that I had no way of predicting. The reality of my life now would have scared the little woman to her
bones. Still, she wasn't all wrong about this decade in life.

Self-portrait with a chemo scarf I made while suffering the side-effects of treatment in summer 2017

35: Where am I right now

Four days after my 30th birthday I released a human child from between my legs. I struggled through the first years making cocktails of blissful baby love, the loss of my previous self-image and sleep deprivation. I married my long-term partner (in a secret ceremony) after he proposed to me in the hospital where I lay feverish after an 18-hour delivery. I alternated between happiness and discontent. I also became a hell of a lot more confident and went for my needs and wants. My breasts could make milk and sustain a hungry child. My songs could pierce through to their meaning. My wardrobe became bold and luxurious. I committed to my life, dreamed of returning to the university to become a researcher while songs kept appearing through the ceiling and the floorboards. In 2014 these dreams were manifesting fast.

Then at 32, very close to my birthday, I became a breast cancer patient. I entered into a tunnel of extreme treatments and hospital life. By 33 I was a survivor learning to live without any normal hormone cycle of women my age. I was exhausted, living with symptoms that would have been normal for women 20 years older than me. I was going through acute and sudden menopause caused by hormone blocking medication that was supposedly keeping me alive. The doctors told me it was my way for more time on this planet. My body that I had just become familiar with as a source of pleasure and pride after childbirth, was now sad – like a complete stranger attached to me somehow. Everything reeked of death, hospitals and uncertainty. I didn't want to get to know this new me. I imagined that the old me would return if only I waited patiently.

So I got busy with life: realizing dreams, professional and otherwise. I traveled with my family, wrote songs allowing myself to focus fully and with complete intention. I applied for grants and got them for art, while not getting them for research. Letter by letter, note by note I gathered a belief in my self, in my truths and experiences, in my right to exist and express myself. From the edges of death I returned full of force and fragility. I was sailing full-tilt with black sales and glamorous shoes. I knew in my body that there are no promises of tomorrow. So I held onto the moments, the people and the places where I resided. I began to feel comfortable and curious at the same time.

By the time I turned 35 I was sick. My 36th year began with intense struggling towards the realization of my dream shows for my new album and the struggle to stay afloat while strange symptoms were gnawing on me each day a little more forcefully. I have remained in between a state of professional bliss and physical agony. At 35 and a half I am a chronic cancer patient with stage IV breast cancer.

Instead of a summer of cooling in the breeze with my long hair blowing and my spaghetti-shoulder dresses flowing, I have been a bold woman struggling with chemo side-effects and the mental adjustments that one makes with this re-diagnosis.
Yet, against my own expectations, I'm enjoying my life right now. Most of the time I am happy about where I am (I know, it doesn't make much sense). I don't feel like I've been dealt a raw deal and an unfair amount. I feel privileged and look forward to so much.

Oh, and I've began to plan my 40th birthday!

You Might Also Like