If I had to boil down 2016 into a single lesson, for the world at large, as well as for me, it would be that you shouldn’t take anything for granted. Life can knock you down, knock you sideways or just end, when you are least expecting it. So cling to the things you care about and fight for them!
But it also taught me, personally, a bunch of other things. These are the ones that come to mind this hot January afternoon…
1: I wear glasses now. I have owned reading glasses for well over a year. Can’t quite remember when I got them, but I know it was sometime in 2015.
But for ages, I forgot I had them, as mostly I could manage without them. I would only dig them out of my bedside drawer when I was especially tired, or if I had to read the writing on a pill bottle.
(As as aside, what is up with that? Who, hands-down, takes the most medication? The elderly. And who is least well equipped to read teeny tiny writing when they need their pills? Pshaw!)
But now, I need them most of the time. I can still manage on the iPad if I hold it a bit further away, but for reading, writing and sewing, I need the goggles. I don’t really mind, but I get frustrated when they get dirty, which is a cause for considerable amusement in my glasses-wearing husband and daughter. Oh well, as Mr Bennett would say, ‘for what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and to laugh at them, in our turn?’
2. Self-care is important. No, don’t skip this section! If you read that first sentence with curled lip and judgy-face, I’m talking particularly to you! I know that some people see the idea of self-care as self-indulgence, but it isn’t. It’s about putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others. It’s about giving at least some priority to your own well-being, because you’re no use to yourself or anyone else if you don’t.
In practical terms, that means making sure you get decent food, some exercise and enough sleep, as often as humanly possible. It means doing some things you like just because you like them, at least occasionally. The world will not come to a shuddering halt if you have a bath, read a book or eat a piece of cake – or whatever floats your boat. But your mental health will benefit, and that’s important too.
And when it comes to your physical health, don’t ignore symptoms and don’t let medical professionals fob you off. I’ve had some joint problems in the last couple of years and it took me ages to get useful answers about what was going on. The first lot of physios – at a rehab hospital no less – were next to useless. They didn’t listen to what I told them about exercise and when it didn’t fit with their view of the situation, they just ignored my pain. I’ve had some great physios in the past, but this lot didn’t help at all. The surgeon told me I didn’t need surgery and then had no further interest in me. Fair enough, I suppose, but that doesn’t help me with my day-to-day issues. I had more useful help from the people in the sports equipment shop than from some of those medical pros. I’m now working with an exercise physiologist, who is fantastic, but it’s taken me the best part of two years of pushing and trying new things and new people to get to this point.
So don’t give up! Don’t let diminished become your new normal. You know when something’s wrong. Trust yourself and persist until you find someone who can help you. And if you have an injury, take a tip from me and seek out medical types who work with sports people. They tend to focus on what’s actually happening, rather than on the theoretical, which I have found helpful.
3. My family like eggplant fresh from the garden much more than bought eggplant. I should plant it more often!
4. Profound grief and joy live in the same place inside me. Is it the heart? The soul? An undiscovered gland in my left big toe? I don’t know, but it seems that experiencing one makes it easier to experience the other.
As regular readers know, I lost a dear friend last year. She was very ill and it was her time, but knowing that, and knowing how miserable she was before she went doesn’t make the loss any easier. I am crying as I type this. But it seems to have made me more open to happy things. Some of my online friends have had babies this year and seeing pictures of the babies thrills me. That may sound weird. Babies are always happy news, but to feel actual joy when seeing baby spam on Facebook may strike some people as odd. But since I lost my friend, that’s what has happened. It’s as if, with the door to the deep feelings open, I can feel everything more intensely and my pleasure in my friends’ happiness is strong enough to describe as joy.
I have also really learned the meaning of bitter-sweet in the last few months. Since my friend died, it’s a very rare day when something doesn’t bring her to mind. Just yesterday, I was using embroidery thread from a box she gave to my daughter when her nerve damage meant that she couldn’t hold a needle any more. Everything about it is her. The order, the beautifully neat handwriting on the thread cards, the handy little gadget for winding the cards; using it, I simultaneously hate that she is gone and love to remember her and how much a part of our lives she was. And how she would give you, quite literally, the shirt off her back, if she thought it would make you happy. Remembering is sweet, loss is bitter. They come together. You can’t have one without the other. Much the same way that I am glad to have learned new things about emotion and sad that I had to learn it this way.
5. And now, just to end on a more upbeat note, in 2016, I also learned that, once you have two instruments under your belt, it is apparently no trouble at all to take on a brace of others! I have not learned this from personal experience, but from my child who officially plays trombone and bassoon, but who can also acquit herself creditably on ukulele, keyboard, drums(!) and, it has been recently discovered, vibraphone and djembe. Not to mention sight-singing alto harmonies. I get quite ridiculous amounts of amusement from her random collecting of instruments.
So what about you? Did 2016 teach you anything useful?
Copyright © Imelda Evans 2017