mental health, Philosophy, Uncategorized

In sickness and in health

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As I sit at my computer today to write this Blog two friends of mine are going through one of life’s hardest experiences. Both in their early sixties and having long looked forward to a happy retirement and more time spent with their little grandson, Bob ( I have changed their names) is currently on the operating table having a cancerous tumour removed from his oesophagus, along with healthy surrounding tissue while Sally waits anxiously, pacing corridors and drinking endless cups of cold coffee or stewed tea. Having received a diagnosis last year Bob has spent many months undergoing chemotherapy treatment to shrink the tumour before surgery and whilst the operation gives him a good chance of more years he will never again be able to eat in the normal way. I am not aware of the total picture as he goes forward but imagine he will be restricted both in amount and type of food and will most probably be facing a diet of pureed food for the remainder of his life.

Bob and Sally have been married for many years and I know that the journey has not always been an easy one but facing this major hurdle has brought them closer together again and Sally has been an absolute rock for her husband to lean on. This is one of those moments in life when we truly see the calibre of people, their responses to hard times and difficult issues tell us so much more about them than all the shared good times and fun days out. They have been showered with love and support, offers of help and kind words but ultimately this is a battle which they have to fight together and all we as friends can do is to offer both emotional and practical help. They are in our thoughts today.

The situation made me ponder this morning on marriage and those promises we make and certainly if we marry in our twenties or thirties the times of struggle and illness seem a far distant thing although disease, redundancy and even death can strike at any age. When you marry late in life as my husband and I did, you do it with eyes wide open and an implicit understanding of what may be to come. We knew that we would be extremely fortunate to sail through our older years with no ailments and already there are times when we have to accommodate each other’s weak areas: he has type 2 Diabetes and now some tinnitus in the right ear, I have bouts of sciatica and have to watch my right hip but those things apart we are still in good health, we enjoy our food and a glass of wine, we walk almost every day, often many miles with few ill effects, we enjoy travelling and visiting new places, we can still run around and play with the grandchildren. We are blessed because without good health every aspect of life becomes harder, more challenging and less fulfilling.

So whilst sending our love and support to Bob and Sally we are also taking a moment to appreciate what we have and not moan and gripe about a blister on the heel, or a grumble of indigestion. To end this entry I would like to share with you one of the readings we used at our marriage ceremony as we felt it was perfect for our situation and it stands alone as a lovely reminder of what love is truly about, especially as we grow older.

 

 

What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nanna came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

 

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

 


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Philosophy, Religion, Uncategorized

Ten Commandments for the 21st century

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So Christmas has been and gone and is often the way when friends and family gather, the wine flows and conversations can quickly become passionate, even heated. One such debate that occurred in our home was the role of religion in the 21st century and in no way do I wish to offend any of my readers with a religious faith of any denomination but the debate ranged over many issues and finally focused on the relevance of the Ten Commandments.

In a fairly light hearted way and trying to rally a sense of proportion at this time of family togetherness I suggested that we should take up pen and paper and try to write some more suitable commandments for the lives we lead today. The following are the product of a multi generational group with varying views on religion and faith in general, but all were in complete agreement that a Code of Behaviour was a valuable thing for society at large, regardless of belief, colour, race or gender.

  1. Do not let money, material goods or mobile phones become your god.
  2. Do not worship the world of celebrity.
  3. Respect the beliefs of others.
  4. Lead a life that is balanced with time for work, play and stillness.
  5. Cherish all the generations of your family and value them while you have them.
  6. Treat the planet with kindness and care, mankind, animals and plants.
  7. Think twice before acting in a way which could hurt others.
  8. Never take anything which is not yours or freely given to you.
  9. Use words cautiously, lies have power to harm others and yourself.
  10. Be content with what you already have rather than what you think you lack.

At the end of this exercise all disagreements had been forgotten in the challenge of trying to update the wording of the Ten Commandments and it was soon found that we all had much more in common regardless of our age or religious inclinations.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts and views on whether we got it right or even, dreadfully wrong?

mental health, Philosophy, Uncategorized

Snowbound

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The snow started falling on Friday night and yesterday we woke to find a white world, a covering of two or three inches and trees and bushes laden with soft icing. The sun came out and wrapped up we had a wonderful walk, enjoying the scenery around us and the beauty of this quiet, clean world. Last night the weather forecasters were full of warnings of heavy and prolonged snowfall with very low temperatures and as so often is the case when the forecast is bad, they got it exactly right. The snow started again in the early hours of the morning and now at 2pm it is still snowing. All our tracks from yesterday have disappeared, no traffic is moving and the world outside is silent.

Before we moved back to Wales we had had little snow for years, the West Country rarely gets a decent covering so initially we were delighted to be seeing snow again. It was exciting, an adventure, we could feel a childlike pleasure in donning wellington boots and knitted hats and generally behaving like children. There is little to be concerned about, our house is warm and comfortable we have plenty of wood for the stove and the gas tank is reassuringly half full. I have never been able to throw off my Mother’s advice to keep a good store cupboard so the freezer is well stocked and we have all the supplies needed to feed us for at least a week. We have a television to watch, a list of films we’ve been meaning to see and plenty of books as well as the day to day chores to pass the time so the sensible approach would be to regard this time as an enforced holiday, a staycation and on one level we are doing just that.

There is however, a niggle just under the surface, a feeling of being imprisoned against our will, of being coerced to stay in or close to home. Our opponent here is Mother Nature and there is little we can do to win the battle. If the snow continues to fall and the temperatures to freeze then we are stuck. Today we are fairly relaxed about it, it is Sunday and we would often be at home anyway; tomorrow will be OK, we had no plans but on Tuesday I go to my Tai Chi class, on Wednesday I have a hairdresser’s appointment and already I begin to feel an irrational irritation that my plans may be thwarted. It was at this point that I decided to come and write down my feelings because what I am experiencing is an expectation that because I have planned something it should come to pass when in reality many things can cause us to change plans, to fail to meet deadlines, to cancel arrangements. It is a myth that we are in control of our lives and takes only a snowstorm here in UK or the horrific fires currently raging in California to show us that we have little control over the big things in life and very little at all where Nature is concerned.

I am one of the lucky ones, in no immediate danger just having to accept a little inconvenience, a reminder that my little niggles are of little or no consequence and life will not end if I fail to get a hair cut on Wednesday. My thoughts go out to anyone who is due to go to hospital tomorrow for a planned operation, for anyone living rough through this awful weather, for those who work in our emergency services to keep traffic moving and people safe no matter what the weather.

So, having given myself a good talking to, I shall do what I always do in times of stress – I shall bake a cake, coffee and walnut I think, and eat a large slice while watching the snowflakes slip past the window and focus on how my good fortune.

Philosophy, Uncategorized

Anticipation

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Tomorrow the countdown to Christmas will begin as children everywhere eagerly search for and open Door No1 of their advent calendars and the slow build of excitement will start with each day bringing them closer to the overwhelming awareness that Santa will be arriving. My own grandchildren are still young enough to be completely fascinated by the magic and wonder of this dear old gentleman, sliding down the chimney in his red clothes with never a smut appearing on his snow white beard, but when I remember my own nervous anticipation as a child, it always seemed to me that Christmas Eve was the most special part of the whole festive season.

For days I would have seen my Mother baking and the walk in pantry would slowly fill with all manner of delights, none of which we were allowed to taste before the 25th. Mince pies and puddings, trifles and jellies, pickles and ham, cheeses, nuts and fruit would take their place on the shelves all waiting in line for the arrival of the star – the turkey. Early on Christmas Eve the butcher would arrive, bringing the magnificent bird who would then lie in state on the marble slab with regular visits from my brother and I to make sure that all was well.

In my memories it was always cold at Christmas, often with frost or snow and my Father would have filled all the coal scuttles and log baskets, fires would be lit and at 5pm my Mother would begin to relax, ” The shops are shut now,” she would say.”What we haven’t got, we do without.” And so it would begin with a simple supper of egg and chips to rest our stomachs in preparation for the following day’s feasting. We would then walk to the local park where every Christmas Eve the  churches and chapels would combine to create a living nativity and sing carols outside. It was a ritual we followed year after year and once home again, it was time to prepare for Father Christmas. A small glass of whisky and a mince pie along with a carrot for Rudolph  would be placed at the side of the fire before we went to bed. Even now I can remember the tingle of excitement flooding through me, the knowledge that somehow things would be different tomorrow but with no certainty of how it would all happen or indeed what exactly might appear.

Of course I enjoyed the thrill of opening presents the next morning, the time spent with grandparents playing board games, the wonderful food my Mother had prepared but it was never quite as special as the anticipation and even now I enjoy looking forward to things and often get as much or more pleasure from that than the actual event. Perhaps because I enjoy planning, whether its a holiday itinerary or a meal for family and friends, from the moment I sit down with pen and paper to begin preparations I am anticipating what lies ahead and for me that is when the enjoyment starts.

On Saturday I shall be taking my grandson to his first pantomime, Peter Pan, and next week I shall be going to watch him take the role of a Wise Man in his school Nativity and share in his excitement and wonder as he slowly counts down the days to the big event. It is a wonderful part of being a grandparent to see the old traditions being played out again with another generation and a great privilege to be allowed to share in the joy of a childhood Christmas for the third time. So, tomorrow, I too will be opening the first door on my calendar, and looking forward to seeing young faces wide eyed with joy and wonder at this very special time of year.

Philosophy, Uncategorized

Where did twenty years go?

the-eleventh-hour-disaster-alarm-clock-clock

I am not a huge participant on social media, finding it all a bit unnecessary and narcissistic but a few weeks ago on my Facebook page up popped a name from my past with a friend request. With only a slight hesitation I pressed the button and initiated the start to a sequence of messages, culminating in a plan to meet up last Sunday.

This lady, I shall call her Jill, to respect her privacy, and I had been colleagues and friends  for many years until a series of life events had slowly separated us both emotionally and geographically. We had both been through the brutal time of separation and divorce before finally emerging as a more knowing person, more self reliant person and willing to take a gamble on a new relationship. When we had last seen each other we had been in our mid forties, now we are middle aged women in our sixties. As I dressed for the meeting on Sunday morning I felt unsure, nervous, apprehensive. Would we recognise one another? How would time have treated us?We had been at the peak of our teaching careers, well groomed and smartly dressed, part of the have it all generation running full time careers and families, successfully juggling all the balls in the air before everything started to tumble down.

I arrived first at the small tea shop we had chosen for this momentous meeting and sat for five minutes with butterflies churning in my stomach. Then the door opened and without thinking I stepped forward and was engulfed in a hug of such strength and warmth there was no denying the warmth of Jill’s greeting. Settling ourselves with hot drinks the conversation jumped and skipped throughout the years and ranged from topic to topic: children, work, men and relationships, redundancy and illness, surgery and house moves, retirement and lifestyles. Some two hours later we drew breath and realised that although life had taken us down very different paths we still had much in common. As with everyone we had both suffered losses, gone through periods of illness and recovery, had more wrinkles and a few more curves to show for all those years but inside we hadn’t changed very much at all and the years fell away as we talked.

We failed to pinpoint the exact year when we had last been together but it must be heading for twenty years ago and yet within a matter of hours I felt a deep connection that would have taken months if not years to build with a ‘new’ friend. This was the first meeting, there will be more I’m certain as we both felt really pleased to have come together again and hopefully this time life won’t conspire to keep us apart for so long. An old friend is irreplaceable because the ground work was done a long time ago; we already know so much about each other that it seems we can just jump back on the track and set off again. What a gift! Thank you Facebook!

mental health, Moving home, Philosophy, Uncategorized

Homecoming

Berwyn mountains

There is a Welsh word, Hiraeth, for which there is no direct translation in to English. It conveys a mix of homesickness, a longing to be back in Wales and a love for all things Welsh. After just a few months of being back in my home country I have begun to realise that I may have been suffering from Hiraeth without even knowing it.

Before our move we lived in  a beautiful part of Cornwall, close to Dartmoor and the wild and spectacular North Cornish coast; we were spoilt with choice whenever we fancied taking a walk or wanted to show off to visitors the beautiful part of the world in which we lived but somehow I always felt disconnected, a little out of joint with my surroundings, as if I was on a long holiday.

I left mid Wales when I was eighteen to begin the journey of my adult life by living in Chester and training to be a Primary teacher; from here I moved to Bristol in the South West, married and then spent two years in South Africa before returning to the UK and settling in Gloucestershire, later moving north to Lancashire and finally down to Cornwall. Throughout this meandering part of my life I have always returned to mid Wales regularly to visit family and maintain a connection and whether arriving from the North or the South I always felt a sagging in my shoulders and a soft sigh escape me as I crossed the border and felt myself wrapped around again in the soft hills and muted shades of the countryside. Apart from my two years in South Africa I had never been away for longer than three months without paying a visit, however short, and never failed to leave feeling a sense of renewal and with something deep and inexplicable having shifted within me.

Our decision to move back to this corner of Wales, unheard of by most people, was prompted by a wish to be closer to my elderly father, still in mid Wales and my children and grandchildren living in the North of England. The decision was confirmed by the low cost of property and the peaceful existence and stunning scenery. As is the norm the move was tiring and stressful, there were unforeseen complications and difficulties but now some 4 months down the line we are able to enjoy the new house and area. We can leave our house and immediately take one of four paths and soon find ourselves on the hillsides where the scenery is simply breathtaking and the air is filled with tranquility. Never before have I appreciated the amazing trees in Wales, oak, ash, beech and birch, chestnut and horse chestnut, willow and cherry abound throughout the valley and many of them have such an air of permanence and longevity that just to walk among them is balm to the mind and soul.

We Celtic races have a deep connection to our homeland but this move has brought home to me the intensity of that link as never before. Finally I feel at home, I fit in here, I connect easily with the people around me and my husband has been amazed and astounded at the friendliness and kindness of people and their lack of wanting to make money from every situation. Tradespeople know that their next job is worth more than the £10 they could charge for a call out fee and would rather have your good will and word of mouth recommendation. There is a true spirit of community and people are valued for who and what they are and not what they do and what they own.

I have been a nomad for over fifty years and although I have made many friends and enjoyed much of my travelling it is truly special to finally have come home.

mental health, Philosophy, Uncategorized, Walking

Gratitude

waterfall

This is Llanrhaedr Waterfall, the highest in Wales and this afternoon we took a walk through the hills to reach the top of the waterfall. At the base of the falls there is a small car park and tea shop at the end of a four mile long narrow country lane The road stops here and you can go no further. There is no mobile signal or internet, and the silence is broken only by the sounds of red kites wheeling in the skies or sheep bleating as they make their way down the hillside with the barks of the collie dogs at their heels.

The autumn colours are deepening, the reds and oranges changing the countryside with each passing day as the shades intensify. There were a few other hardy walkers out this afternoon but not enough to spoil our pleasure in a glorious afternoon, a testing walk and a cup of tea in a delightfully quirky tea room whose decor cannot have changed in the last 50 years.

There is something very calming and reassuring about being in such a remote and beautiful place; it is more than just appreciating the natural beauty of the scenery; there is something grounding about being in a place which has changed so little for many hundreds of years. The buildings we passed were farm houses and barns, both fields and hillsides were covered in sheep and bracken and for just a few hours it was so easy to leave behind the 21st century. So much of today’s technology is amazing and helps us to connect with friends and family from all over the world – this blog is just one example- but it also a millstone weighing us all down with the need to keep up, to show that we are connected and in tune, we are having a busy and interesting life….and so on. But just for a few hours to know that no one could reach me was bliss. I had no need to be a supportive parent, a dutiful daughter, a caring friend but could truly look after myself, could relish the opportunity to replenish my inner being without feeling in the least bit guilty.

Tomorrow will bring a busy day where I shall be Mum to a frightened daughter as she heads to the breast clinic to have a lump investigated, and Granny to a little boy who can’t quite understand why Mummy is not quite herself so my gratitude for today is huge. Having topped up my reserves I shall be better placed to cope with whatever  tomorrow may throw at us.

It has taken me a very long time to learn the value of self care but I would urge anyone who is in a caring role to find time for themselves on a regular basis to do whatever makes you feel whole.

mental health, Philosophy, Uncategorized

A brush with mortality

The picture above is one painted by my husband and it reminds me so often of the importance to share our feelings, make that phone call, pay that visit now before it is too late. 

Last week’s hospital visit with my much loved Father brought home to me yet again the inevitability of losing him. My Mother died when I was just 36, breast cancer treated her with cold indifference, resisting treatment and ravaging her body within a few short years. Although she was only 58 at the time she seemed to be to be slipping into old age but now I understand that that was the effects of the illness, all energy and vitality was drained from her at far too young an age. For her final year she had little interest in anyone or anything, just getting through each day was battle enough until she simply gave up and slipped into a semi coma, neither alive nor dead for many weeks before she died. My predominant emotion at the time was anger, rage at the illness that had so cruelly changed her and fury at her for giving up and losing the fight. I felt cheated that we had missed out on so many years of shared time, that my children had lost their Grandma and would never have the bond that I had been blessed to have with my Grandmother. So, between anger and fury I look back now and realise that I was too busy to grieve. I had a full time teaching job, two children to raise, a home to care for and I filled every hour with busyness. I thought of her often, brushed away the tears and hurried to another task until the memories became less difficult but I never really grieved.

The years have changed me though and I became aware a couple of years ago that I was already grieving in a sense as I accepted that I would have to say Goodbye to my father one day in the not too distant future but so often I would banish such thoughts with affirmations of his good health, lively mind, willing him to go on for ever. My second book, a short novella, was written to somehow deal with these thoughts, to help prepare myself for the inevitable and to some extent it worked. It was cathartic to write and many people have told me how much it helped them when facing the death of a parent. Should you be going through such a time do follow the link to ‘A Fearful, frightening Happening’; I would love to know your thoughts after reading it.

Dad has made a remarkable recovery from his surgery and for the moment his life goes on but the brush with mortality has reminded me yet again that none of us lives for ever and what is important is how we live and not for how long. There are no guarantees that I will outlive him, we simply don’t know but one thing I have learned from him is how much what we think, believe and do can affect not only our life but the lives of those around us. There is a responsibility that comes with maturity as we each become a role model for ageing. We can’t avoid the inevitable aches and pains , the need for spectacles or hearing aids, the joy of an afternoon nap, but we can hold on to our joy in life, a sense of fun and laughter, a curiosity in all things new and willingness to learn from our children and grandchildren. I have now become the conduit between the generations, making sure that my busy adult children find time to connect with their Grandad, that the great grandchildren spend time with this very special man so that they too will have memories of him, and equally sharing film clips and photos with Dad so that he sees the latest antics of the little ones, shares in their school plays and sports days and is able to take pleasure in knowing that they are happy and well even if it is at a distance.

Life today is so hectic and full, so busy and driven that a month, even a year can flash past in a blink and good intentions to spend time together have dropped to the bottom of the priority list. Sometimes we need a brush with mortality to help us focus again on what is truly important.

 

mental health, Moving home, Philosophy, Uncategorized

Life’s little surprises

It has been over two months since I last wrote anything on my Blog and now it feels as though so much has happened that I don’t really know where to begin. I expected a break due to moving house, what I hadn’t bargained for was over 6 weeks with out phone line or internet due to the incompetence of BT; an on running saga that I wouldn’t bore my worst enemy with.

Just as I was recovering from the stress of the move, the inevitable legal issues, lack of fuel delivery, newly ordered furniture going astray….and so on…it was time to be ‘Granny’ for a week and care for my 3 year old grandson which was a joy but brought a different kind of exhaustion by day 7. Now I was no longer just mentally tired but every bone ached from endless visits to the park, long walks, train rides and sitting on the floor to make the Pirate puzzle for the twentieth time in a day!

One young man headed for home with his parents and I collapsed in to an armchair for a snooze before clearing up the house, removing Lego bricks from the fridge, finding a stray sock under the bed, sorting out the pieces of at least five Thomas the Tank Engine jigsaws and slowly feeling the house settle back in the rhythm of two middle aged people. The peace was balm but I missed the cuddles and the bedtime stories, the endless questions and the sheer delight when he came across anything new.

Within a couple of day I felt a spring in my step again, only to be floored by  the news that my 93 year old father had been given a diagnosis of bladder cancer and was due to go in to hospital on Aug 24th. Thankfully he is otherwise very well, has now had his surgery which successfully removed all signs of the early stage tumour and he will need no further treatment. So after a few days he is now back at home, and having stayed with him to make sure he was coping, I am now back in my own home. I am in awe of his resilience, positivity and gratitude for his treatment; as I left him today he had his diary out making plans for seeing his friends within the week.

I have had a sign in my home for many years which reads :This too shall pass and whilst visiting Dad in hospital he told me that he always looks at it when he visits and how much it had helped him through the last few weeks. We talked about the simple truth of it, both good and bad times always pass, nothing lasts for ever and it is worth remembering to treasure the good moments because we know they will pass and not be worn down by the hard times because they too will come to an end.

Many years ago when running a workshop on lie skills I met an amazing American lady who encapsulated this thought neatly by likening life to a ride on the Big Wheel. In her words,

” Honey when you’re at the bottom and your feet are in the sh.. the only place you’re going is up to the blue skies but do remember as you sit at the top looking out at the wonderful view, the only place you’re going is back to the bottom !”

What a metaphor for life and one that has certainly been apparent in my life over the last few weeks and months. And right now, I feel that I’m starting to move slowly to the top of the Big Wheel again, the skies are blue and the sun is shining so I shall do my best to treasure it all.