I had made plans… imagining meals, banter, laughter and filling myself up with family, friends, flirting and fun, as I finally burst out of my calm COVID cave…
I had some big life goals coming to fruition too… Opportunities bloomed. And unexpectedly, some hidden parts of my heart and past came calling, asking to be healed and reviewed… All in all, the Universe was sweetly aligning…
THEN came the realisation that the transition to Tier 3 would scupper my day dreams, which in seconds, had suddenly dissipated into dust.
And my big life plans… they all had to be put on hold…
After I heard the announcement for the new measures, I cried for nearly an hour… Feeling as if the rope I’d been hanging onto, was rapidly running out, burning my hands as I desperately tried to hang on to its’ rough, tattered strands…
Now the world crowded into my brain. I was beset by anxiety and a cloud of misery hovered over my head…
Bloody COVID… Bloody tier system… Boo bloody hoo…
So I had to turn away from the noisy exterior world and the even louder traffic rumbling around my brain…
I chose to tune in, instead. I listened to my intuition – the pure part of my soul that senses with glorious clarity what is and what will be. I journaled and walked and worked it out.
As a result I realised I’d been in reactive mode for so very long. Then… just when I thought I had a route out, the road map was rudely snatched out of my hands…
But now I had paused and put the work in, my instincts told me what had to happen next. It felt liberating, loving and just the way it needed to be…
And since those realisations dawned on me, life still has its chaffing challenges, and it’s not all neatly aligned, but now I have faith, not fear. I also have a new set of plans – recalibrated with grace rather than grumpiness…
So today that meant going for a walk with my 2 oldest friends, accompanied by a daft dog, all of us together again at last…
I drove to meet them, happy and excited. We walked through a crisp and sunny winters day, chattering away. And at the end of it I felt so grateful – appreciating the simplest of feats, that of putting our feet one in front of the other. We 3 took steps which moved us in the same direction – all of us in our circle of familiarity and friendship, not cowering from COVID, but coming together to navigate it…
Then the sun and the temperature dropped and we stopped, bumping elbows, then heading away in 3 different directions…
And so it was, on this day of days, that I drove home with a smile on my lips. I felt beautifully blessed, having lived in each moment and savoured each one. And maybe we 3 were socially distanced, yet regardless, we were all distinctly happy.
So… I was telling someone last week that I was getting stressed trying to get a myriad of tasks completed before my holiday.
“YOU get stressed?!” came the response. Well YES as it happens, I do…
I work on managing it, I try not to take it out on other people… But yes, I DO get tense and anxious…
Yet I’m fortunate… I’m on holiday right now and have so many other things in my life to be thankful for, too…
I’m sightseeing, spending time with friends, and today I’ve been soaking in a spa. It’s freedom and bliss.
So basically, I’m blessed.
During these days, as in other days of my life, I’m not experiencing entire, unexpurgated joy…
Yesterday I felt really ill, low and thoroughly miserable. I had a deep sense of isolation and felt desperately lonely.
I stayed indoors and span the wheels of my work life. Then I spent hours and hours working on my novel – usually my core centre of contentment, but now a chore…
I was shocked, all things considered, that I was feeling so comprehensively crap.
But then I realised that I just had to let the darkness be… To have its dominion; to air it and allow it.
You see, just lately I’ve been running on anxiety… Impelled / fuelled by duty and crisis. Though this, it’s now clear, was at a surface level. The darkness was beneath and so, it broke through, like it needed to do.
And when I recognised this, I.just.let.it. I listened to it. I was frustrated and angry. I was grieving. I felt like a failure. I went with it and wallowed in it.
Because it’s OK not to feel OK.
And eventually the darkness dissipated.
So today my adventures continue and I’m having a spa day, with afternoon tea. A set of external circumstances which I desire and enjoy…
I don’t want another day like yesterday, but because I didn’t fight the darkness then, today I have more clarity. Decisions have been made and bridges crossed.
And now a new day has dawned, I have to say that the world still isn’t perfect and nor am I – but neither are any less brilliant or beautiful for all that.
~ Adapted by me, from the original, by Jonita D’Souza
I forgive myself for having made those mistakes. Had I known better, I would have chosen differently. So I forgive myself.
I forgive myself for having felt hurt when I didn’t feel loved and wanted. They never promised me they would, so it was just my unmet expectations. So I forgive myself.
I forgive myself for believing them when they said I’m unworthy. They didn’t see my light and spoke out of their own shadows. So I forgive myself.
I forgive myself for feeling scared and getting hurt when they acted out their anger. I know now it was not about me – it was their own inability to cope with life. So I forgive myself.
I forgive myself for the suffering when I felt I didn’t belong. It made me journey inwards and find my spirit, my true home. So I forgive myself.
I forgive myself for feeling let down. They did what they believed was right – my hurt came from what I expected of them. So I forgive myself.
I forgive myself for having believed that my love is worthless. My love is precious – but they were too hurt to open up to it. So I forgive myself.
I forgive myself for having learnt not to love myself. I accepted it was right not to care about myself, but now I know who I am. So I forgive myself.
I forgive myself for accepting things that were directed against me. They were just events that took place because the doers were not happy with their life. So I forgive myself.
I forgive myself for having given my power away and letting them decide for me. I felt fear or didn’t know better, but now I’m ready to learn. So I forgive myself.
I forgive myself for having expressed hurtful judgements of myself, which made me judge others too. I’ve finally tasted the sweetness of love over the bitterness of the (self) critique-poison. So I forgive myself.
I forgive myself for believing I’m unable, I’m small, I don’t count. I allow myself to acknowledge the truth that I have gifts and I’m worthy. So I forgive myself.
I forgive myself that it took me so long to learn to forgive, again. But I was willing to learn, again. So now I forgive and respect myself more and more, always.
LIFE AFTER LOSING GEORGE… Myself and the remaining pride of cats are adjusting… ~ I’m writing poetry… ~ My self contained, independent black teddy bear of a Tom cat – Taz has turned in to a constant fuss bucket… ~ Whereas my sweet, noisy, attention seeking little Miss – Sophia, has largely withdrawn (but gave me a lovely long cuddle this evening before disappearing off to hide again). I’m so glad of them ❤
I carry my aching heart invisibly. An icicle of pain at its core. But still it will spill, and so the ice melts from my eyes…
My shimmering shades of grief make a rainbow of love and loss, Raining down a tumbling waterfall of tears.
And I choose not to fight the pain; But to cradle it with compassion. As it sits and shapes within.
Sometimes I’m gripped with horror… Or I’ll re-live the latent trauma Of caring for a creature at his life’s end.
But at the time, I was in care mode. All that mattered was calm and comfort As I watched his breath rise and fall.
Then I’ll think ‘My boy is gone’ and weep. There are quiet leaking eyes or loud ugly sobs; So many kinds of tears tear or seep from me.
And my grief will take its own time. I’ll just let it take its wandering course. No medicating or predicating – just let it be – pure and raw.
You see, I’m BLESSED with this sadness. I’ve cared, fed, fussed and hugged. Sharing my life with one of God’s beautiful creatures.
It’s a simple, primal love That sits softly in the heart, as I carry on. And now its’ shape shifts, since
He has finished with the time that was only HIS to give.
Some very kind souls have asked about making gifts or contributing to a memorial, so I have suggested they make a donation to Birman Welfare & Rescue – a lovely group of caring cat people – here’s the link (if you would like to put something toward this cause too) xx
I have a pride of 3 cats. All very different in shape, size and personality. As I sit and write this, I am mindful of the head of the pride, AKA my furry wingman, AKA George Eyesapphire – to give him his full pedigree / posh name. George is clearly near his life’s end now, so I want to start to gather in our stories, to lift my heart and work through this transitioning time we still have together.
So I’m a cat person. Not anti any other animals – that’s just how it is. They’ve been in my life for most of my life, padding along its’ path with me through childhood and beyond.
I’ve grown up with moggies – rough-ty, tough-ty creatures created by a blend of genetics that chance and neighbourhood dictated. But then, one day I met 2 Birman cats who belonged to a friend. They were enchanting to look at and engaging to know, so I stored up a little desire, that one day, I would have one of my own.
It was actually many years later that the fates conspired for that desire to become a reality. I found a breeder and went to visit a litter of 6 kittens. All male. I walked in the house to be assailed by a terrier barking a greeting or warning at me – I didn’t know him well enough to decide which. At this point the mother cat strolled up to the dog and swiped him across the face, with a careful, clawless paw, then strolled away. The dog suitably admonished ceased his barking and I was left in peace to gaze at a raised basket full of sleeping kittens.
Well, when I say the basket was full, that’s true. But that fact didn’t matter, because one such creature had his head draped over the edge of the basket, sleeping sweetly. I knew right then and there, that this was my boy. I’m not sure that there was ever any choice involved, or who made the decision. It’s more that it was just so…
So my partner at the time and the breeder woke up the sonambulant balls of gorgeous fluff and made me inspect them all. Over my head, they discussed colouration and type. They placed other kittens in my outstretched hands. But it made no difference, because I already knew…
Then the breeder’s grandson, aged about 8, swooped in to play with them, joyously mauling them about. They all took it in good stead. So I knew they were well socialised, they had grown up in a home rather than a cage and could cope with dogs and childish man-handling. We handed over a bundle of cash and stashed the kitten in a cat carrier.
I had him out of the carrier once we were in the car and we started to get to know each other. As we drove past Middlemarch Business Park on the edge of Coventry, it occurred to me that I would call my new friend George, for three reasons: in honour of local author George Eliot (a nom de plum for Mary Ann Evans); to reflect the swoon worthy, handsomeness of actor George Clooney; and not least that this was the name of my best friend’s father, who I was inordinately fond of and had recently passed away.
My mother, also a cat lover from childhood, gave me some money towards the purchase of my puss. She joked many times, over the years that followed, that his flowing, lustrous brown tail was technically owned by her, whilst giving it a stroke and admiring it, with a smile.
We took George home and I witnessed the confident evolutionary temerity of a creature who had been transplanted from mother and siblings, taken to a new territory with new guardians, yet immediately adjusted to his new surroundings, as if they weren’t anything new – just the latest game or meal or place to snuggle.
I’ve witnessed this phenomenon before and since, filtering an animal’s actions through my human senses, but it still surprises me everytime. I guess it is one of those evolutionary quirks that have made the feline / human bond so sustainable. Adult cats I notice are often not so quick to adjust, having inprinted on a territory. But basically experience and a stint as a cat sitter has taught me that most cats will accept food from any old stranger and very quickly assimilate them as a friend on that basis.
That being said, cats, like many creatures, form their favourites and it’s intriguing to see their choice at play. In George’s case, we bonded straight away, even though at the time we were introduced, I was a dyed in the wool career woman, who worked 50-60 hours a week, whilst George stayed at home with my partner Clint, who ran a business empire from his dining room table.
But George was always my boy. At the end of the working day he would sit and wait by the front door, for my return.
Two weeks after his arrival in the house, Clint bought in another kitten, a beautiful, little tabby cat we called Tigga. She was sharp and stripey. She was the antithesis of the laid back George, who absolutely hated her. But she played him, she followed him around, annoyed him and was not put off by swipes and growls. And one day, when George was purring on my lap, she crept on too and grabbed him. This time instead of growling, George started purring and they become inseparable. So different to look at, but just content in each other’s company.
As a kitten, George was sweet and playful, and very little trouble. He would sleep peacefully at the end of our bed and generally act the complete feline gentleman. In delightful contrast, Tigga though rampaged through the house, hunted everything in sight (once we let them outdoors) and turned the bedroom upside down, so we couldn’t get any sleep unless she was barracaded out. Especially since, just as George had chosen me, Tigga knew that Clint was her special hu(man)-person and would insist on clawing at his head and purring in his ear instead of letting him sleep.
Clint and I broke up a few months later. It was all very amicable and we stayed friends for a few years, until we both moved on to pastures and people new. It was clear that each cat had their own hu-parent, so Tigga stayed behind, as George and I packed up house and home for our next adventure.
And so he grew from a kitten into a handsome adult cat. George is a Seal Point Birman and his beautiful long, fluffy coat and evolved, developed and changed over the years. The base colour is a creamy white. All his extremities – ears, nose, paws and tail are rich dark brown. The brown on his face was centred on his nose as a baby and over time spread like a chocolate tide to cover his noble, fluffy face.
But his stand out feature is his eyes. They are a beautiful sapphire blue – large liquid orbs of love, annoyance or demand, taking his surroundings in and regarding them with the happiness or contempt that they deserve.
Now, a long haired pedigree cat is a beautiful thing and with beauty often comes a certain amount of maintenance and effort. He grooms himself constantly of course and unless I groom him too, the fur flies through the air and sticks to every surface with magnetic purpose. I could spend hours brushing him and he would happily spend hours being brushed. As far as George is concerned, being brushed is sheer heaven. One of life’s absolute great pleasures. Brush the back, brush the sides, don’t forget the tail. Turn him over and brush the belly, which if neglected turns curly and sheep like. Then pull the fur off the brush and drop it into the bin, then begin again, until one of you grows bored of the pursuit. Then I look down into the bin and there are clouds of fur – cream and brown, billowing around and I marvel at how he isn’t actually bald, but constantly regrowing to maintain his fabulous furry mien.
And as a pretty pedigree is he a soft, characterless cushion of a cat? Far from it. He is a strong willed alpha male who has put himself at the head of the pride and will see off random feline interlopers who dare to stalk across its boundaries, with tooth, claw and ear splitting war-cry yowls.
Quite apart from the war cries, is the vast lexicon of his language – a panolpoly of vocabulary delivered at a cat’s whisper or rousing howl – deep, gutteral and primal, with every shade of sound and volume in between. Sometimes he cries endlessly with existential angst, others he demands attention, then again sometimes no sound is needed and he signals his wants and affections with a head butt or a cheek rub. One of my favourite things is that in the kitchen, whilst waiting for food, he will gently nudge my leg with his nose, a joint mark of affection and attention seeking.
Underneath that dictionary of meows, is the core of communication, the purring. His is low and steady, ramping up in intensity, the happier he becomes, usually when he is being brushed or having a chin scratch – which in his world, is the height of ecstasy.
And with all this, he has yet another layer of language – a series of low grunts and winnows overlaying the purring, which to my human brain sound like quiet declarations of love – although I completely accept I may only believe that, because that’s what I also give to him, in abundance.
Like most relationships, ours is multi-faceted. Because we’re both strong willed and stubborn, we’ve fallen out frequently, yet he is always the first to forgive and want to make up. And I have no choice but to acquiese in the face of such grace, every single time…
I could tell so many anecdotes, share so many stories, because George is 15 years old now. So there have been thousands of cuddles, of whispered exchanges. So much love and affection. So much pooh to clear up and the occasional dead animal. Unlike my two moggies who regard hunting as a constant, necessary sport and will frequently home hapless live creatures which I have to wrest from them and then repatriate to the wild, George was always a sporadic hunter.
Maybe once a year, he heads off and returns with a dead creature, such as a baby rabbit, and then, makes a big ceremony of laying it at my feet, then hunkering down and flicking his head proudly, for all the world like a patriarchal lion, providing for his pride. On one occasion he bought home a stoat – quite a magificent creature, with the most amazing coat. It is almost as if he likes to demonstrate that he is ‘all cat’ underneath that fluffy pedigree exterior.
Time passed and in his 14th year, as an old timer, he’d started to forget the fastidious toilet habits that most cats have, so the bane of my life became clearing up and trying to prevent mess and smell. I mean… cat’s pee… a vile smell that hits the back of the nose and refuses to be shifted by even the most advanced of modern cleaning products. And wasn’t just forgetfulness, sometimes, if I fell short as a hu-mum by leaving him alone too long, there would be a ‘protest pooh’ And once cats start this habit, the smell draws them back and they feel compelled to become repeat offenders. After a lifetime of freedom of the house, he and the other cats were all banned from the bedroom. I read up on what to do, I posted in online cat forums, but there was no one real solution. Until one day, I’m afraid I lost my own shit and yelled at him. A little later, the little sod started to squat on the carpet – so rather than yelling again, I picked him up and carried him over to the litter tray, with encouraging words. After a few more accidents / protests, he started to use the facilities rather than my living room carpet as his loo.
Apart from ‘pooh gate,’ after a life time of good health, some tests early last year revealed he had a kidney condition and towards the autumn he started, noticably to lose weight. Towards the end of September last year he had also developed an upper respiratory tract infection. I booked him in for a vet’s visit and then he started sneezing blood.
Within a few hours he had somehow sneezed blood all over the house. I found it on floor, carpet and walls. I had to cover up all my soft furnishings as within a short space of time, the house looked like the set of an armageddon movie.
When I got to the vet, she said he looked “chipper” but that sneezing blood was bad. She could put him to sleep right there or give him ‘one chance.’ I chose the chance, bought several types of medication and brought him home.
Back at the house I carefully placed his travel basket in the hall way as usual and opened the door. He stumbled out, clearly having lost the use of his back leg. I assumed he’d had a stroke, wailed with anguish, then called the vet. She wasn’t happy and we pretty much decided that he had used up his ‘chance’, but it was late in the day, so we arranged for me to take him back the following day. His leg, although not working, did not seem to be giving him any pain and he followed me round the house on his 3 good remaining ones.
Knowing this was our last night together, I slept on the sofa that night. A few minutes after I lay down, George jumped up and draped himself across my stomach. He lay there all night, purring for much of the time. It was a long, sleepless night for me, but I was so grateful to have that time with him before I had to say good bye.
When we both woke to the light of day, George had stopped sneezing blood. He also had some mobility back in his leg. I called the vet and cancelled the appointment, changing for a few days later. He was now on his second chance.
In the days that followed I went into a tail spin of grief tinged with panic. I couldn’t stop myself from talking about him constantly, whilst also joking to friends and colleagues that I was becoming a ‘dying cat bore.’
There followed many vet visits, injections and conversations about when he should be put to sleep. I started to dread taking him there, feverishly imagining they would grab him off me and forcibly take his life.
Meanwhile he became a cushion cat, barely moving from one spot on the sofa, except to do the daily necessities. Every day for months I dropped antibiotics down his throat to treat the constant sneezing. He was put on a special diet for his kidnies and at the back of my mind I wondered if he lost weight partyly because he hated it. Sneezing was a constant fact of our lives… sometimes it would be a good old fashioned wet sneeze, other times looked infected or bloody, regardless it was constant. It wasn’t fair to let him go on like that, I was coming round to the vet’s point of view and so the question became ‘when..?’
And when I reached ‘when’, I decided that I would stop giving him pills and taking him for injections. And if he only had a short time to live, then he may as well go back to having his favourite food again…
Somehow the autumn turned colder and shifted down towards Christmas. Having reached that far, and his being no worse, I decided to wait until the New Year… Christmas is always spent with my brother. I go for 2 nights and did not want to leave George in the care of anyone else, so took him with me.
My brother, observing the cat, remarked on how alert he was, how well he seemed (despite the constant sneezing) and how he took an interest in his surroundings, including several excursions into the garden. And somehow this little holiday seemed to shake George out of his antibiotic fuelled, cushion cat phug.
He got off the cushion and recognisably became his old self… After months of slow deterioration I had transitioned through the loss of alot of his characteristic quirks – like grumpiness with the other cats, being yelled at if I was the wrong side of a door, or having my belly pock marked with claw prints as he gave a purring paw dance at bed time. And then the sneezing stopped.
He was thin, but he ate prodigiously and often. Somehow we had both got a reprieve. And I always knew that there would be no miracle cure and that his span would still be relatively short, but he was still here. And he was having a good, happy quality of life, drug free, although I did put all the cats back on a more medicinal diet.
So there were months of gratitude that we had this bonus time together. I thanked him endlessly for choosing to stay and I treasured every second of licking and purring along with the constant contextual moments of habit and happiness that he shared with me. Time trickled from Spring into Summer and we would spend our spare time in the sunshine as the gates of COVID-19 lockdown kept me more close to home than ever.
And if I was grateful that George had stayed around, then to have his presence with me through lockdown was a balm. He relished having me working from home and glued his self to my side as I worked for long hours on my laptop and mobile phone. My summer birthday came and went and then so did his – on 10 July 2020, George Eyesapphire turned the ripe old age of 15.
And so I write about him in past tense as I recall the memories and also the present tense, because he is here in this room with me, but in a sense not here too, clearly withdrawing from life as his alloted span runs its course. So I write to manage the pain of losing him, which has already started, for very soon now he will be a creature of memory, made then of fixed pixelated image. Then I will cry more and smile and grieve and be glad that I knew him.
All my cats are different, so I love them all differently. Already I start to feel his loss, where there will be his shape missing in my heart. The flavour of the love I have for George is made of time and temperament; millions of shared moments; simple co-existence; the sheer pleasure of just watching him – sleeping, grooming, being. He is a strong character who holds a definitive place in my soul, so the grieving is starting to gnaw at me and I will give myself up to it soon enough, but for now, I wish to live in the living moments. To try to understand this bond we have. This animal human co-existence is built on and yet bypasses cupboard love. This creature is part friend, part family and it’s a simple primal feeling which is possibly made all the more solid by its very simplicity.
And I’m running out of words now, like my darling George is running out of time. But then again you see, it is his time and given all the love and lessons that we have shared together these 15 years, then I know that this time has been good. And we’ve both been blessed by sharing it.
Postscript: George passed away today. In the past 36 hours he suddenly deteriorated. I will spare you the details. And for all my mixed feelings about vets and euthanasia, I asked to the vet to come to my home as soon as possible, to end his suffering.
So he left the living world with kind words and a gentle cuddle from the creature he was closest to. And I can’t vouch for him, but that surely has to be a fine way to go. He has been in the room with me now for a few hours, so I can say my final farewells to the physical part of him. I have also let the other two cats see him. They sniffed him without interest and went on with their day, so I guess that was more for my benefit than theirs.
My brother is coming over soon and he will be with me for what happens next – when George leaves the house for a while and then returns in altered form. I haven’t decided what comes after that. I can bide my time and let my subconscious and I work it all out from there.
At this moment in time, I am tearful, but calm, feeling I made the last best act of love for him. I am so very grateful to have known / loved him, and he, me, for what is almost exactly 15 years to the day, together.
As I reflect I realise too that I have been incredibly privileged to have been a first hand witness to the complete life cycle, from kitten-hood to old age, of one of the Universe’s many amazing creations. I am blessed beyond measure for the experience.
And that is all for now. I guess my feelings will flux as the shock wears off and I adjust to him not being here. But those are other moments that do not or may not ever exist… and right now, I will inhabit this moment and what ever that entails.
So… At an office somewhere, someone was angry and she was yelling at me…
I stayed calm, listened, applied logic… But logic and anger do not necessarily go hand in hand… I wasn’t enjoying the exchange, but chose to stay outwardly calm. But maybe that annoyed her even more… She kept on shouting… Still I stayed calm on the surface (not so much deep down, in truth), so next she yelled one of those potentially ‘combustible bomb’ questions at me; with the kind of furious logic that only an angry person can hurl, with all their strength, to demand a yes or no answer, which you could never get right… “I’m not going to answer that” I replied, “because it’s your ANGER talking right now – not YOU.” She stopped dead in her tracks. “That’s true” she said and just like that, the anger evaporated, right then and there…. And then we resolved the ‘angry’ issue together – softly and sanely… We had never discussed choosing a response, rather than simply responding in kind, but in that moment I was blown away how the realisation hit her and she let the anger go… Together we had outed it, and suddenly it had no power over us…
That was nearly 2 years ago and I had totally forgotten the conversation, until she reminded me of it, last week.
She told me it pretty much changed her view of anger since she had a realisation that just because someone throws it at you, you don’t have to throw it back – instead you can CHOOSE how to respond. And I was blown away… AGAIN.
So, we both chose a response and in turn, can remember that lesson, maybe in the next minute or two years later.
You can drop a stone into a pond or drop a pearl into it – they will both ripple outwards…
And we never know how the water will ripple, radiate and who or how it might touch…
But sometimes we get to see… and then, how blessed are we..???
I blog therefore I am… I feel and I think and I write. And for me this is a process of creativity, working things through and then letting them go…
My style is to write very honestly about how I feel and this is not always easy to write, or read for that matter. At times it feels as if I am literally riding the rollercoaster of life, with more devastating, screaming lows than highs, but when I get to the point to where I can write about what ever is going on for me, it’s because I’m at the point of working things through, assimilating them and moving on.
It’s a style I’ve unconsciously developed as a gateway to sanity – a junking and unloading of all my emotional crap, so I can learn, create and release.
By the medium of blogging, my inner life has become public property, being something I can both splurge and share. So it seems that many human experiences and emotions are common, and by sharing them, you can touch and teach others; or at the very least, let them know they are not alone, in their times of trial and triumph.
I put this out there not as some got together guru, but as a dreamy realist, who has worked on my own self development, and quickly discovered that I wanted to share the lessons I’d learnt. So on the road to learning and sharing, I became qualified and have worked as a Life, Career, Corporate, Performance and Development Coach. Whilst the labels have varied and the intended outcomes potentially differed, many of the processes employed with each client has fundamentally been the same: namely questioning and then working through issues, blockages and emotions to get to a new, desired state of being / doing.
Sometimes when I make painfully honest posts, the response I receive is a reaction to the pain, offers for help, or sympathy. And in truth, that annoys me. Such responses seem to undervalue the process I have clearly undergone and the positive place I have finally reached.
But then my coach-ly knowing has to assert itself and I realise that different people read things differently, and have their own filters through which they experience the world, or indeed my words. Fundamentally I have to accept that I may not have expressed myself in a way that touched those readers in the way that I intended. And that can be down to me or to them. Ultimately which, doesn’t matter. I’ve always felt that if something I have written touches or changes even one person’s psyche for the better, then it’s hit the mark, perfectly.
This particular post has been sowed and germinating in my brain for a few days, as the latest in my series of blogs on ‘Love in the Time of Corona’ – a chronicle of life in lockdown and beyond. Sometimes the posts are directly related to the effects of COVID-19 on my life and sometimes are purely circumstantial. Albeit, at this point in time, with lockdown slowly unwinding, the pandemic still is virtually all consuming on so many levels.
But the circumstance of this particular post is that I hurt my ankle 2 weeks ago, which changed my life changed subtly and dramatically, in a variety of ways.
The injury came about in what for me feels like a particularly familiar, clownish, fashion. I was leaving a friend’s house late one evening and crossed the road to my parked car. I stepped up to a narrow pavement, missed it and fell headlong, immediately knowing that I’d twisted my ankle. It hurt… a lot. I swore… a lot. And I cursed myself because I knew right there and then that I would not be able to run for a while.
If you’ve read any of my previous posts you will know that running has been my ‘thing’ during lockdown. I have hated and loved it; been challenged and stretched by it; and both retreated from and been attracted to it. But regardless of its multifarious roles in my life, it was my lockdown thing and suddenly it had been taken away from me.
In the moment it happened I was with another friend who I needed to take home, so I got in the car and drove. It was agony. I knew that that level of pain would not just evaporate quickly – inevitably the ankle would swell and bruise. The pain throbbed and ebbed. When I got home I read up treatments online. I iced, raised and rested. Still the next morning it hurt. But I decided that within days and continued care, it would be better soon. I would get on with my life and my hurt ankle would be a minor incident, soon forgotten.
So I quickly expended my efforts at care, strapped it up and limped on with my life. After a week when I decided to chance taking a long walk, it rewarded me with hurt. The bruises had finally come out and they were spectacular – a rainbow of dead blood shaded from delicate yellow, through grainy green, to dire purple. The swelling had not receded.
And then my back gave out. It decided to join with the ‘ouch party’ going on below – first trying to adjust and then giving up, and complaining loudly / painfully instead. Where I could at least stand before, now I would have to hobble and wobble until I got a grip of pain vs gravity, and was able to propel myself forward.
Clearly I was in pain, although that would ebb and flow. But it took me a while to realise that I was living with pain constantly, as a low level constant hum, just beyond my consciousness – yet ever present and poisonous.
The physical pain took a while to assert it self in that sense, because the mental pain was overshadowing it. I felt low, exhausted and stressed. I tried not to limp my way through life, but could not help myself.
Odd now, just days from this stage, I realise that I was cursing myself for doing something stupid and having to slow down. I felt I had self-sabotaged somehow, which will be an omni-present theme for someone like myself who has done any kind of ‘self-development’. So it was that I had a low grumbling blame game going on – criticising myself for doing nothing in those days, except survive. I worked, I rested and nothing else. But ‘nothing else’ in my world is actually a lot! I fed myself healthily, got myself to work, worked hard, kept the house to a basic level of cleanliness and tidiness, did the laundry, took care of my cats, engaged with my friends and kept my life going. All despite the pain I was barely acknowledging.
Been then I realised that the pain – either physical or mental was not going to just dissipate. It was still ever present and was bringing me down, on every level. I couldn’t go it alone any more and needed to get it properly checked. When I finally called my GP 8 days after the injury, he was disinclined to diagnose a fracture, since he said, I could put weight on my ankle. And remember that this was a COVID consultation, done by phone at a distance and without the benefit of seeing the level of bruising and swelling, which other experts in my life, said could mean that it was indeed fractured. But I explained this to him and the fact that it was still so painful. So, if you’ll pardon the pun, I stood my ground and asked him to make an appointment for an X-Ray.
By now the pain was ever present and now longer ‘humming’ quietly in the background. I had to wait 3 days to get an X-Ray. When the call finally came, I spent the best part of day at my local hospital, waiting for a definitive diagnosis, sat in socially spaced chairs, along with other injured and sick lone wolves, all of whom had to wait solo, because of Coronavirus risk and space and control.
Each stage took an age. X-ray. Wait. Referral. Wait. Triage. Wait. Examination. Wait. Consultant… Being talked about by the staff, though I was feet away from them. “Who’s dealing with Sandra Peachey? Has Ortho been called? Yes.” Right: So I’ll sit here then, moving through a well oiled system; apparently invisible, yet the object of discussion and action, though right now I’m actually inactive, yet listening.
Eventually I was acknowledged and actually talked to, by the Orthopaedic specialist. In fact he explained the X-ray to me, in very thorough detail. It turned out that I could bear weight because the X-ray showed my leg and foot bones were all whole and exactly where they should be. The pain and swelling was due to what even my untutored eyes could see, was a fractured ankle bone. Then we discussed treatment options and, being posed with questions, eventually I asserted an answer and so I got the boot. A Support Boot that is, to immobilise and protect my ankle whilst it completed the process of healing.
I had finally got an expert opinion. I had external validation of my situation. In reality, I knew from the minute I did it, that I hadn’t simply twisted my ankle. But instead, I followed old patterns, laboured on and ignored my intrinsic wisdom. I limped quietly about, until I had ‘real’ recognition of my situation. Finally, a medic had confirmed the source of my pain, and given me a range of solutions. But fundamentally, what happened next and how I handled this, was up to me.
So being armed with knowledge, my actions altered. I stopped and considered. I rested. I sat still for a change. I literally elevated my right foot to regal status – resting it royally on a plump cushion, cossetted and pompous, far above any other part of my body – day and night. There it drains and heals from within; and from without is externally receding from a rainbow bruise palette, to pale skinned normality.
After 5 straight days of rest and elevation, this morning I woke up full of energy and almost free of pain. This time of stillness has been boring and frustrating, but ultimately nurturing and restorative. My ankle is still stiff and sore, but the swelling is finally shrinking. It will still be a while before I can run again, but I can walk a little, swim and do yoga, and so work my way back to picking up the pace (in every way), again.
So apparently I needed a break and quite literally, got one! I had to be stopped in my tracks, to take stock and gauge what was truly important at that point in time. And of all the things in my life, it turned out that the road to recovery for me, was creativity.
My life had centred on many things, all of which led away from, not towards my inescapable need for creativity. So it was time to return to my writing. After months away from the pen, it always seemed easiest, with the few physical and mental resources I had left after work, to just binge watch TV, then go to bed. Then then start again and so the same, the next day. Even though, intrinsically I knew that creativity is fundamentally at the heart of me, and that my desire and destiny is to write. And not just that, but to use my writing to right… my issues, to share my soul and move me ever forward.
And the voice that told me to stop doing this was keeping me small, in order to keep me safe within defined parameters of routine and misery. But then I got that oh so clichéd wake up call, and picked up my ‘pen’: I went back to my fiction writing and spent a day lost in my own authorly world of voices, places and stories. These were not the whispered conspiracies of my stone-age brain, but conscious stories of creation and imagination, entertaining, occupying and completing me. And this creative process for me could never be complete without a blog to record those slow steps; to anchor the lessons, and ultimately share the experience.
Some may say that on some level I created this break, but that’s not how I interpret what has happened. Ultimately I know that my actions, combined with fate and circumstance, led to my ankle being fractured. But what I have created as a result, is a series of lessons: I must listen to myself deeply, knowing that at the core of me, I inevitably have the right answers. I know my body and having become a runner in recent history, I know what it is capable of.
I could and should give myself credit where it’s due, since I achieve a lot in my life; despite the fact that my self doubt often emotionally paralyse me; along with the fact that I’m chronically sensitive to how I perceive those around me, respond to me. As a result I spend far too much time and energy focussing on perceived criticisms, including those that I unintentionally inflict upon myself…
These lessons are not the end of this particular story. There are yet more, both in this, and for the future… some new, and many to be repeated and re-learnt.
But for now, I shall continue to revere my healing ankle, and elevate it to the status it deserves – high on its cushion; whilst my head and fingers work happily at making stories, blogs, tears, dramas, laughter and what ever springs from my creative core, into ‘more’.
And that more as it happens, is me.
Yours, SandraPeachey She of the Fractured Ankle and Creative, Optimistic, Spirit
I‘ve been silent on here for some time, concentrating on work in the adult world, which left me with little time and energy for anything else. After a break and time to recalibrate, I’m on this page again… Seeing metaphors in my growing garden and this strange time of semi-lifted lockdown.
So.., sew..? How does my garden grow?
Unlike the nursery rhyme, apparently:
Mary, Mary, quite contrary How does your garden grow? With silver bells, And cockle shells, And pretty maids all in a row.
Well, I’m not Mary, though at times I could be described as ‘contrary’… And in the elongated, strangulated times of COVID, my garden grew in pretty much the way it had always done – soaking up sun and rain and reaching higher into the sky. The garden is split into upper and lower levels and below, nature tended towards wild, whilst I tamed and pruned and mowed, just every now and again, to keep some sense of man-made order in the tangles of sap and seed that nature decrees.
My upper garden is a terrace and in that I seek colour and variety by planting up pots every year with a mixture of annuals and perennials. These are purchased from favourite independent plant nurseries in May, when the frosts start to thaw out and I can plant species of exotic origin, which will thrive for the short band of summer in the centre of England where I currently live.
But not in the time of Corona… In a land in lockdown I must do things differently… The garden centres were closed or restricting their custom and so, instead, I found plants at local grocery stores, where I had to stand in a long line to buy, or at supermarkets at the end of the day, dried up and wilting. By habit I shop much the same plants, but in lockdown, such choice was denied to me, so I took what I could find… Begonias, which I dislike, dried up petunias that no one else wanted: a half dead pack of lobelia, which my local Co-Op sold to me for a pound – “I can’t charge you full price for that…”
Each find was a little victory – a tiny triumph of patience, with trophies of a successful hunt which were carried home with a small smile of satisfaction.
At the end of May, when I should have been on ‘the holiday of a lifetime’ in Bali, my travel plans scuppered by COVID; I was planting up pots in my garden instead, feeling grateful for my gains, the sunshine and the soil in my fingernails.
And my garden grew through lockdown, with some human care and intermittent attention. As June peaked, the upper terrace revealed its’ treasures of bloom in a rainbow of glorious colours, jewel bright, amidst the green foliage. All this was just in time to impress the allowed number of guests who came to celebrate my birthday in the safely spaced arena of my garden.
The combination of plants gathered serendipitously, is decadently different to my norm, but somehow all the more special for it. All those nascent wilting plants have revived, thrived and continued to reward me with new flowers and inspiration throughout the wending UK weather, through out July and now into August, currently hot and sweet, so I spend my spare time in the garden, eating ‘out’ and engaging with the birds and my senses.
And outside the lockdown lid has started to lift. Some freedoms have slowly been restored, whilst others have clamped down, tighter. It’s an odd, jerky time and having now to emerge from my cosy COVID cocoon, I am negotiating it and the changes it brings, one step at a time. Some of the changes are jagged, sharp and unpleasant, but in this Corona time must be worked through, applying logic and compassion in strange, equal measures.
The authorities in the UK are reacting to the vicissitudes of the virus in an un-co-ordinated and clumsy way. I have some empathy with this though, as responses seem to be for me too, a weird wedding of expertise and knee jerk response. To control this , I break each situation down in to its’ base elements and build them back up again into the shape they need to be. This isn’t always easy in a world of relentless hard work, chaos and shifting sands of circumstance, but it gives a structure in this altered landscape of life and a level of controlled sanity.
And I take care to take care of myself. If I neglect this, which I have at times during the recent crazy path of the past, the madness takes over and I’m in danger of being subsumed by it. So I balance life and work. I focus on my creativity, my rest and recreation and then I have the fuel I need to focus wholly and resolutely on my work.
In the meantime there are the new found appreciations of meeting a friend for a meal, taking a small holiday, going for socially distanced swim and seeing my garden grow. This summer I have spent so much time in that garden and we’ve grown together. I’ve taken stock, I’ve pruned carefully and pulled out the dead leaves. And I’ve pulled the dead heads off plants, so they can breath and reward me with more flowers.
And as to those begonias that I used to hate, well, whilst not invited, they’ve gone and given me an endless supply of large, beautiful yellow blooms. The wilted petunias have provided endless purple flowers and the half dead lobelia – a cascade of sky blue and white to soften the edges of my tended terrace.
So actually, in this time of Corona, my garden has grown beautifully and so, it can be said, have I, without a predictable ‘silver bell’ or ‘cockle shell’ any where to be seen.
The global phenomenon of COVID-19 has impacted many millions of people, in many millions of ways. There are millions of stories with a myriad of changed lives; and so too, there are people whose existences have carried along, pretty much undisturbed.
If I think through my own trajectory of this time, I remember that at the beginning I was blasé about it all. It was the joke du jour amongst many people I knew that when someone would sneeze, everyone would jocularly say “Uh oh! You’ve got Coronavirus”, ha ha, hee hee…
And the news of a possible pandemic bought out anxiety for some I knew, scared of something they felt they could not control. Not me for though: I was sure that I would learn all about it, as inevitably I would have to incorporate it into my work somehow; but apart from that, everything would be fine. I had after all survived swine flu and bird flu. And I wouldn’t be ‘self isolating,’ any time soon – I had a busy life to lead. My year was all mapped out – I had holidays planned, I had weddings to go to. This COVID thing was all just news spin – a Media induced panic that would eventually blow over.
I discussed what was happening in the world with family and friends, but the turning point for me was someone explaining that self isolation, as a means to stop the spread of infection, was being mooted because it would save a critical drain on the country’s health service, which was simply not designed for such a catastrophe and did not have the resources to cope with a massive onslaught of cases. Suddenly my world view became different and I had now grasped the global gravity of the situation.
Yet still I was living a ‘normal’ life; but now it was coloured COVID and I started to feel uneasy. Like millions of others, I pried online, looking to buy gloves, masks and hand gel. I read up on infection rates and prevention techniques.
Then, one languid Sunday in March, a close friend telephoned. “Come out to lunch” she said, “it may the last time we can do this in a very long time.” So I got in my car and drove to a local pub for a roast dinner. There were 5 of us round the table – 3 generations, all of whom I regard as family. We were upbeat – all happy to be together – to chatter about and ‘chew the cud’ of our life and times. The place was quiet for a Sunday and the waitress who served us wore plastic gloves, but all else – the sights, smells and sounds, were as they had always been. Later on, when I thought of it, the memory of that day felt pre-apocalyptic…
Soon the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the lockdown gate was about to be closed and suddenly everything became serious. From being blasé, now I was anxious – it was as if my world was a triangular house built of playing cards, now collapsing and blowing away in the wind. The cards fell down one by one, starting with the social group I was an organiser for cancelling all events before I’d even managed to voice an opinion on the subject.
The week stretched on, whilst the world was shutting down. By the end of it, I was looking forward to my Friday evening ritual of going for a long swim: I swim solidly for 40 minutes, mentally working through my week and then letting it go, so I can wind down and relax into the weekend. As I left work that day, with my gym back packed, I checked my phone to find a message telling me that the Health Spa had just been closed till further notice. And that was when it all really hit home for me…
Suddenly, so many freedoms I had previously taken for granted were gone. Work became more and more frantic as all the economic and organisational ramifications hit home. All around me people were losing their livelihood; old and vulnerable people were suddenly stranded and the infrastructure that surrounded my life seemed to be crumbling. As the walls of my life closed in around me, I decided to take some decisive action.
I self-isolated. I avoided going out, even to shop, as much as possible. When I had to of necessity, I wore washable masks and gloves. These were things I had control over; yet from having felt so laisse fair at first, I now started to feel panic, breathing in the mass hysteria of a world in free fall. My mind would spin… as an asthmatic, what if I was put on a ventilator…?
In my ‘adult’ life, as a senior manager in global business, I had some empathy with the authorities, although too, they befuddled and muddled much of the messages they put out. I don’t praise or condone the actions of the UK government. But the world and I had never experienced anything like this, so from moment to moment, we largely had to make it up as we went along – cobbling together what previous experience had given us and inventing everything else from a combination of expertise and ineptitude.
As for the things I can control, I know from experience that I’m stronger when I support others, and to do that, I have to first take care of myself. Basically I had to stop panicking and make my peace with what was happening to the world, then decide how I was going to negotiate it. As such I consciously choose to control the things I could, doing my best work and ensuring my own safety and by extension – that of others.
At this time too, I made a pact with myself that if the thought of someone passed through my mind, then I would reach out to them. So it was that I messaged, emailed, texted, called and WhatsApped friends I haven’t seen for decades, Christmas Card only family members, old work colleagues and even an ex-boyfriend. Some of the responses were warm, some dismissive, some were guarded, whilst some opened up and poured out their hearts. It was a sweet and cathartic process, this reaching out and gave me a sense of doing something conscious and constructive.
Having more time to navel gaze – I navel gazed… picking up on my intermittent practise of meditation and returning regularly, to my infrequent writing of blogs and of editing my seemingly endless novel, which has been part of my life now for over 6 years.
Now that my recreational walking and swimming had been taken away from me, I had to look for new ways to maintain my physical fitness, too. Having been to group yoga classes for several years, I now moved online, practising poses and mantras on my living carpet via Zoom calls and practising workout programmes which my phone dictated to me.
But somehow it wasn’t enough. I felt I needed a challenge and so, I turned to the physical thing I hated worst of all – running. Running for me was the very antithesis of enjoyment. It’s been for most of my life an occasional, necessary evil. For decades I have taken my exercise within my own prescribed comfort and happiness zone, either doing just enough or what I loved…
But running was a stretch and it was also ‘easy’. Just pull on a pair of trainers and go… I downloaded the Couch to 5K App onto my phone, which then coached me through running for intervals of 90 seconds, until eventually I hit 20 minutes. So it was that I joined the throngs of runners, walkers and cyclists that suddenly were every where, instead of the occasional smug and svelte athletes I use to drive past with mild, seated irritation.
Despite all this exercise I was barely losing any weight. My next mission therefore was to focus on my nutrition, which was already quite healthy, but just, somehow staid. Weight loss though took its toll on my energy though, which slowed my running down to a near stop. Suddenly, having running taken from me, I decided to get educated; get all the kit; join online communities; and eat to run. As a result I devised my own running programme and gradually built my running up to 30 minutes at a time. As an asthmatic, only a few months before, running for just 90 seconds had made me feel sick and tearful. And whilst I would never claim that my running journey has been easy, it has shown me what mental mastery as well as physical training can achieve in a relatively short space of time and the sense of achievement (especially at the end of a run!) has been immense.
So, having graduated from Couch to 5K I stepped on the scales and along with everything else that I had lost in life because of Coronavirus, I had also shed a stone in weight. Having achieved that, my new challenge is now to improve my speed and distance.
And life despite lockdown, has gone on… I’ve continued to work long hours as a Human Resources Manager. My god-daughter had a baby girl. My cousin died. All things I have chronicled in other COVID blogs; all impacted by the parameters of contact and context. Yet all somehow negotiated and come to terms with, in my world.
And through all this, I realised that I had found a surprising contentment, by turning in on myself, spending time with my thoughts and working through the kinks of a strangely seminal situation. In my own sweet COVID cocoon, I felt safe and in control. As a mix of extrovert and introvert – whilst my extrovert felt stifled at first, my inner hermit was only too happy to retreat into her cool, safe cave, alone.
So at the time of writing, the lockdown gate has started to lift and with that comes the gratitude of such simple pleasures as meeting a loved one for a socially distanced walk and meaning that I was able to celebrate my birthday, in my garden, with a legal outdoor ‘gathering’ of six people…
I wonder just how long it will be before I get to take these things for granted again? I wonder too if things will ever be entirely ‘normal’ again, what ever that is. In fact I’ve already decided that the world will find its own normal again, as I will – either to be interrupted or cancelled or continuing on into infinity.
Yet part of me too wants to carry with me constantly what Coronavirus has given me, trusting that when I leave my COVID cocoon, that the positive impacts I have chronicled here, will imprint on me for ever.
From Sandra – student, jogger and believer…
PS: You can buy the paperback or Kindle edition of the book of ‘Peachey Letters – Love Letters to Life on Amazon or you can get an author signed copy on my website for just £7.99 including P&P. You will also find the book on all good book selling websites around the world.
Featured on the BBC, as well as local and national media (including Psychologies Magazine and The Lady), the book was also honoured as a Finalist in the 2015 International Book Awards.
‘Peachey Letters – Love Letters to Life’ takes the best posts from this blog, adds new content and wraps it all together in a sweet bookish structure.