Three days before I gave my husband Deano a kidney for Christmas 2014, I received an email from a psychology PhD student asking me to participate in a long-term study of organ donors. She only needed half an hour of my time, but I didn’t have five minutes to spare then.
I was scrambling to complete the final editorial queries on my novel, Paper Daisies. I pressed send to the publisher with less than twenty-four hours to go until the surgery. The rest of my head was consumed with pumping myself up with confidence that Deano would love my kidney like his own and that I wouldn’t die in the process.
I was in a place beyond sensible conversation. I was standing on the cold, hard threshold of my mad aeroplane door waiting to jump.
But now, today, I’d like to answer that student’s questions, whatever they might have been, about how things have turned out for me as a donor.
To begin with, not a day goes by when I’m not blown away by the fact that things have worked out so well for us. The kidney elves at Westmead Hospital did a magnificent job: so much so that Deano and I often forget he was ever deathly ill, and his renal physician is apt to scratch his head at the wonder that such a small-girl kidney could produce such a stunningly great result inside such a big-bloke body. Yay, team.
But, apart from having a healthy husband returned to me, the experience has brought gifts I could never have foreseen.
Perhaps the most astonishing, and beneficial, has been that my own chronic illness – anxiety – has never managed to get its hooks into me too deeply ever since. Jumping out into that place beyond sense seems have caused some kind of psychic shift in my brain.
I’m no longer so fearful of failure; I’m no longer so interested in what others might think of me, either. I no longer listen to people whose opinions I don’t respect and at the same time I can hear smaller voices so much more clearly.
I’m a better mother to my boys: more relaxed in my support of them, less distracted by panic and more tuned into their needs. I’m probably a much better friend than I ever was, too, with my head uncluttered of so much of the self-consciousness that used to get in the way of everything.
It feels as if, in my own giving of that little piece of flesh, something in my soul has been turned permanently outwards.
Only a few months after the surgery, I was suddenly able to talk about my books and myself without feeling as though my heart was going to leap out of my chest and run for the hills. I could now see all the people who helped me and encouraged me to get on that stage and I was flooded with gratitude rather than terror. I could see the audience now as a bunch of people just wanting to connect with something outside themselves, hear something interesting. I could imagine that if someone in that audience was having a shitty day, a chat and a laugh with me might make their day a little less shitty.
I can’t begin to describe how liberating this has been. I can barely believe how much my confidence, and my joy, in sharing my thoughts and skills with others has bloomed.
The knocks and disappointments that are part and parcel of publishing don’t rock me the way they used to, either. Back in 2015, when I was told by one publisher that my work was of no interest to them, I wrote Wild Chicory – a book that has become my statement piece, the story that articulates most powerfully who I am in the world, and arguably the one my readers love best.
Since then, my creativity – my love and curiosity for words and stories and what they can do – has been in overdrive, and I’ve written four manuscripts; one of them, Jewel Sea, was published hot the heels of Wild Chicory. Pause for the arithmetic: yes, in a little under two and a half years, I’ve written five books altogether; two of them have been published, and two of them are being read by a publisher right now. This publisher is a weighty, prestigious block of concrete, and while it’d be nice to have them take me on, it’s no longer essential to my writing schemes and dreams.
I know who I am, I know what my story is, and I’ll drive my own publishing bus regardless of whose logo might grace the imprint pages of my books. I’m already in the midst of a major test drive with the republishing of my first four novels, which will be out in July. When a deal for them fell through earlier this year, I picked up sticks and organised it myself – something that would have been unthinkable for me a few short years ago. I wouldn’t have known where to begin; I’d have been too ashamed to ask.
But maybe most extraordinarily of all, I’m thinking about going back to uni.
Twenty years ago, I dropped out of my Master of Letters because I’d unexpectedly found myself having to return to full-time work and more or less sole-parenting my two small boys, making study impossible. But now – right now – I’m in discussion with an academic to see if the manuscript I want to write next might be a good basis for my own higher research degree. Whether or not this eventuates, it’s a turn that has truly shocked me for what it says about how much my faith in my work has grown.
So, dear psychology PhD student, organ donation has been a great, big, beautiful boon for me. I’d do it again in a blink, if I had another kidney available.
And dear readers, if you or anyone you know ever needs to chat through the process or the emotions of organ donation, my heart is always here for you. Drop me a line. In the meantime, love recklessly, love large. It’s good for you. Really.
You can read more about Kim Kelly and her books here.