I’ve long had a sneaking position that I’ve been treading water in terms of growing up these last few years, and even going backwards a little. But the last week has shown me that, actually, surprisingly, I’ve got more mettle than I used to. For once I won’t go into too many details (a natural splurger of information, this is not in character). Suffice to say I ended up last Friday and again this week having to have some tests in hospital, and spending several days and nights worrying about their outcome. I found out yesterday that the preliminary results are all good, and the lightness I have been feeling both last night and today is glorious.
But that’s not really the point. The point is that over the last week I’ve really had to put my money where my mouth is. I bang on about spark and mettle and flourishing and character strengths and all this crap, and I am obsessed with thinking about how we can consciously practise and develop them and enable others to do the same. And yet when the shit hits the fan for me (as it did in the summer) I waver and stumble and falter and fall into a well. I’m talking the talk, but not walking the walk.
Except, this last week I’ve learned that I’ve got more mettle than I thought I had, and that I used to have. I’ve learned that some of things I encourage others to do when going through tough times (or preparing for them) do actually work. And I’ve learned that every piece of life that we live, the good pieces and the crummy pieces, can help us develop these very strengths that we need. And increasingly need. I mean, if your world hasn’t gone to pot by the time you’re thirty, there’s a whole heap of stuff that’s going to befall you. Illness, death, heartache, betrayal, financial crises… look at me being all chipper. But the little bits of tough stuff we’ve faced already add up to gaining enough experience to be able to manage what’s to come a bit better.
Seven years ago I was diagnosed with Stage III cervical dysplasia, which is one step removed from full-on cervical cancer. It came completely out of the blue, and completely floored me. I didn’t know how to cope, and I didn’t cope, and it was a really rough few months till I had a procedure that gave me the all clear. Since then there have been various other un-fun health situations, from a miscarriage, to a breast cancer scare to all the stuff that’s gone down this last week. And each time, although terrifying, it’s gotten a little easier to cope.
This last week I have focused on the two things I know I need to do to keep refilling my mettle. I need to keep emotions positive (without being wildly optimistic), and I need to do things that boost my energy and vitality levels. I need the strength of people around me—the positive relationships I have have done no end to help me through. And I need to weave distractions through it all.
So I purposefully looked at the positives of all possible outcomes—allowing myself to think through, in some detail, what that would feel like. I prepared myself for the worst by thinking about how it would still in the end turn out okay. Hearing other people’s stories of similar situations was really powerful.
I told my close friends and family, and found the factual recounting of information and probabilities, plus the warmth and kindness of those I was telling, to be extraordinarily grounding and supportive. The relentless optimism of my husband was particularly reassuring.
And I got stuck in to my own version of hygge. It’s not the right time for me to be out running, so instead I get my energy from the pleasurable, old-lady-like pastimes of crocheting and books on tape. No better way to replenish myself and distracting myself all at once.
Finally, I am now at a stage in life when I have stuff to do regardless of circumstances. And boy am I grateful for it. I’m grateful for my work, and how much I enjoy it, and how flexible it can be—so that I can enjoy it from home rather than the office, so that I can have a crazy wonderful day working with a team of people delivering an event and then time out to strategise and regroup. And I am grateful for having a hugely energetic and independent young son who has absolutely every intention of occupying my time as much as he can.
In the grand scheme of things these recent tests and the other dodgy moments in life of late are no big deal. There are swathes of people who have to go through far more significant worries, troubles and decisions than I have ever done. I don’t want for a second to sound as though I am aggrandising this stuff.
I live with someone who has been through the ringer more than most.My husband lost both his parents by the time he was 13. So I am all too aware of the smallness of my bad things, and aware too of how lucky I am that, so far, we’ve had positive outcomes from tricky times.
But I also know that there are lots of people, like me, who haven’t yet experienced a tidal wave of shit, and are nervous about how they might cope when it comes. Because it is going to come, somehow, some time. Life is far from being the hockey stick of success and happiness that we would like it to be.
However inexperienced we are with tough times, there are ways and means with coping and bouncing back. And it’s no bad thing to think about what could help us through before anything happens, and then trying those things out when it does.