When I write a miserable blog post, like my last one (When everything feels wrong), I feel like I’ve got to write another one really quickly to tell you I’m happy again. It’s like I don’t want people to think that I’m miserable for more than a day or two – that wouldn’t be right, that’s not who I am. In fact, the other evening I gave someone my business card, which has a link to this blog, saying, “Ignore my latest blog post, I was really miserable then”, implying I wasn’t any more and that was a mere blip in a lifetime of contentment.
But the truth is the feelings haven’t passed. They’ve mellowed, softened a little since that post 10 days ago, but they’ve lingered and, every now and then, they’ve come back with force. I’ve cried a fair few times and while I’ve partied and socialised, smiled and chatted, I’ve felt the need to run home early and cocoon myself.
It’s a difficult time. Pain is depressing. Not being able to do the things I love is depressing (no cycling, no scooter riding, no running – since my ankle is sore too – and no two-armed swimming – I tried it but had to revert to floating on my back and swimming on my side). Not knowing when or if my hand/wrist problem will heal is depressing too.
I’m not sure if everyone would feel the same – I think it depends a bit on personality type. I can lose hope quite fast. It doesn’t take much to send me spiralling downwards into a dark hole. And I’m particularly sensitive to the physical stuff, to limitations around sport and exercise, as I’ve always been someone who depends on physical stuff to feel good.
But I did feel I had to write a happy post after the sad one so I began writing some of the blog below last week, but didn’t press send … the bit in the square brackets is from last week, with a bit of tidying up today …
[You know that song by Destiny's Child? The lyrics go like this (although I'm not quite sure what all the 'whats?' are about):
I'm a survivor (What?)
I'm not goin' give up (What?)
I'm not goin' stop (What?)
I'm goin' work harder (What?)
I'm a survivor (What?)
I'm goin'na make it (What?)
I will survive (What?)
Keep on survivin' (What?)
Well, I thought of that song today.
Monday's meltdown was of epic proportions. What I wrote in that post isn't even the half of it. The tears came faster and stronger later that night, accompanied by dark thoughts of the kind I don't have very often.
I didn't call anyone. In fact, I switched my phone off early. I didn't eat anything (beyond my planned meal), I just took myself to bed.
Stuck for something to read, I picked up The Fault In Our Stars by John Green. I read it in July, consumed it on an airplane and on my first day in Spain, but I knew I'd end up reading it again. And while it's a story about kids with cancer, something about that novel lifted my spirits.
For a start, I didn't need my right hand to read. So all is not lost, I thought, I can still enjoy the marvellous activity that is reading. Secondly, the writing, in my opinion, is so exquisite and the characters so real - making me smile, chuckle, nod my head in agreement and cry - that I couldn't help but acknowledge that the world is filled with beautiful, uplifting things. With people with incredible gifts like John Green, with an ability to bring characters to life with a few deft brushstrokes, to approach a subject that's so potentially devastating with such a lightness that it can't fail to inspire. It's art, I guess. And art has the ability to take us to another plane.
I read until my eyes – tired and heavy from so much crying earlier – would no longer stay open. And this morning, despite still feeling a little blue, something spurred me into action.
I may struggle with my emotional ups and downs but I've never been one to lie around moping. And I know the value of sticking to a routine that's served me very well in the past. So I got up early when the alarm went off, read my daily readings, said a few prayers, did 20 minutes meditation, 15 minutes of Pilates while listening to the Today programme, booked another appointment with my doctor and rang an osteopath.
I was showered, dressed, breakfasted and out the house pretty fast, which won't seem like much of an achievement to those of you have to go to work every day but when you're self-employed and feeling down, the temptation is to stay home and do very little. I got to my studio, switched my phone off and got on with some work (that didn't require using my right hand very much).
Why is all this so important? Why is it worth writing down? Because those dark thoughts, when they come, are pretty scary. Those 'What's the point?' questions can be terrifying. So it's really good to know that there's enough stuff on the other end of my internal scale to tip the balance away from the dark and towards the light. Right now, this all sounds a little melodramatic. But I'm reassured to know that even if it's all too easy for me to spiral down, I also have a strong survival instinct that pulls me back up before I fall too far.]
Not long after drafting that post, a friend had a great idea to go to the opening ceremony of the Invictus Games – a sporting competition for wounded soldiers. I almost didn’t go. There was a little voice inside me saying, “I want to hide, I want to go home”. But I managed to shake myself out of it and go along.
So there I was, at the Olympic Park in the late evening sunshine, watching the Red Arrows fly overhead, listening to military bands, watching horses parade, hearing Prince Harry speak and cheering on all these injured servicemen and women, alongside their families and friends.
I’d spent most of the day moaning and fretting about my sore wrist and dodgy ankle and here were men and women who’d lost legs and arms. But in recorded interviews, they didn’t just talk about the amazing stuff, about how brilliant it was to be an athlete now. They also talked about spiralling downwards, about the incredibly dark early days after their injury, about how they wanted to give up. And then about how they’d made a choice to find a way not only to live with their disability but to compete and win medals. As you can imagine, it was inspiring stuff.
Then actor Idris Elba took to the stage and read the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley, which ends, “It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishment the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
Yes, that’s inspiring stuff too and the evening was incredibly uplifting.
But I confess I don’t always feel like the captain of my soul, and particularly not of my thoughts, feelings and emotions, despite the fact I know intellectually I have the power to choose them. They have a life of their own sometimes and it takes all my strength to rein them in.
I’m heartened to discover, though, that there are some things in this world that have the power to bring me back instantly from the land of doom and gloom. A good book is one, as I’ve mentioned, and music is another. So I’ll end with a song that was sent to me by one of my dear blog readers that lifted my spirits today. And I’m pretty sure it’ll lift yours too. It’s Brazilian, in Portuguese. Of course, it has a special significance for me – I lived in Brazil for three years and spent plenty of time dancing to this samba beat, which has such an easy flow and which, if it could speak, might say “hey sister/brother, it’s all going to be OK, kick off your flip flops and feel that sand between your toes, then let’s take a dip in the sea, drink a caipirinha and watch the sun go down”. (Oh, if only life could be that simple … or perhaps it could be).
Play it loud and try and stop your foot from tapping, your shoulders from moving and your hips from swaying (even if you’re sitting down):
Not sure you need to understand the words to get the happy gist of this beautiful song, but a rough translation would be “Sing, sing, my people, leave your sadness behind, sing out loud, that life’s going to get better.”