A year ago, more or less, maybe just ten months, I was in a bit of a state.
I was freaked about having had breast cancer for the second time – first in 2000, 2nd diagnosis in 2014 and the last of my surgeries in 2015 – probably dealing with a whole bunch of stuff (fear, body image, fear, pain, fear) that I hadn’t really had time to deal with when I was diagnosed the year before because surgeries and pain tend to (immediately) supercede the emotional stuff and the emotional stuff gets left behind until the pain and physical stuff subsides (or that’s how it works for me, anyway), and Shelley’s father had been really ill and died, and his painful cancer death coinciding with my second cancer was very scary.
I was also working loads on the beginning of the Women’s Equality Party (mostly between 11pm and 2am) – as were dozens (but maybe only dozens) of other people who had stepped up right at the very start, and all of us were doing masses of work to help make a brand new thing happen and all of it in our ‘spare’ time – and many of them doing way more than me.
I was writing a book because I am always writing a book, and the book wasn’t quite right and it needed a load more work before my publisher wanted it (rightly) and so I was rewriting that book, having started it in 2012. And I’d also started another book – because I am always writing a book and sometimes the stories need telling.
And Fun Palaces was taking loads of time. Because it does, because it was ‘just an idea’ that became a passion project that has now become the passion project of thousands of other people and how often do we ever get to have something that cool happen from a dream of making change, and so of course it deserves all the work and all the time.
But I wasn’t OK. I wasn’t sleeping (even worse than usual so that’s pretty bad), I wasn’t eating very well, I was doing too much and doing it all as perfectly as possible and I wasn’t OK. At all.
Now, today, I went off to record a radio in town and I realised I’m feeling kind of OK. It’s taken quite a lot and I don’t think OK is a thing you attain once and stay there (!) so I don’t think it’s done, but because I know we all have times where it is too much and because I know we all think we can’t cope sometimes and because I know what I did to get to feeling a bit more OK than not-OK, I wanted to share it here. Not because my way is right for anyone else at all, but because it took taking action. (Edited to add: what I mean is, it wasn’t enough to just wait until I got over being in pain from surgeries, and/or got over feeling like my future dreams/plans had been rocked – again, and/or got over being freaked about what a cancer coming back meant to my life span and potential mode of death – I had to do something to help myself deal with it. Time passing wasn’t enough.)
I saw a cancer therapist. Someone from a psycho-oncology team who knows about this stuff in a way that I don’t, from a different perspective. And that helped. It was only 8 sessions and so it was tough work, but very useful. There’s some about that here.
I started doing some mindfulness work. It’s slow going for me, and I’m slow at it, but perhaps that is just fine. This kind (MBSR), because it seems to take it seriously and that’s what I wanted. And only from books, I’ve yet to take the leap to go to a course. I will. (Yes I have a Buddhist practice, mine is a chanting out loud practice, which is similar, but not the same, as mindfulness. They work very well together, for me.)
I started a daily yoga practice. I’ve always done yoga, on and off, but never before daily. I’ve been doing some yoga (10 or 30 or 50 or 60 mins a day) since Dec 18th 2015, and it feels vital. Also, Adriene is bloody gorgeous and her spirit and attitude makes it really enjoyable.
I read differently – I’ve read very little fiction this year, but I have been reading some philosophy (all new to me) and some psychology around anxiety and mortality. It’s been useful to read stuff I would usually find hard-going, too academic, too heady. It’s been interesting to push myself as a reader.
I’ve walked more. Fewer buses, more walks.
I am not working any less than I ever have – I LIKE working a lot, I like DOING a lot – but I am also making an effort to have more days off. And this year, for the first time in as long as I can remember, Shelley and I had a week’s holiday and I didn’t do any work at all. I didn’t write, I didn’t edit, I didn’t write a funding application – I did answer a few emails, but only to save the big pile when I got home. It was astonishing. There was so much time just to sit and be, looking at the sea.
I have spent a little more time looking at the sea. And more time in the sea. (Mermaid bodies rejuvenate in water.)
So – it’s Friday evening. I am, as often, at home alone and working. And happy to do so. I have 65 more pages to edit of the book that comes out next year (the rewritten one mentioned above comes out this October – that one took 4.5 years, this one will have taken 19 months). And I’m OK, for now, which is fine.
Life’s a square : my friend Helen once told me her mother Josie said “Life’s a square, you’ll always turn a corner.” I’ve remembered it for years. If you’re in a bad place, you will turn a corner and it will get better. Eventually. That’s just how it is. Nothing remains the same. And from a good place, we will turn a corner and it will get hard. Life’s like that too.
It’s possible the trick is to remember that the good and the bad are all joined up – which is, always, far easier to remember when happy than when depressed.
It’s possible to stare at the sea a bit more.