Sometimes life punches you in the face. You get dumped… you don’t get the job… someone lets you down badly… there is a horrible loss or gut-wrenching disappointment. These are the times most of us go through that don’t make for an Instagram moment.
I’ve been around for a while now, so I’ve had my share of tough times and probably have plenty of them ahead too. So, The Woman Who Ran For The Hills was inspired by the slow and often painful, but sometimes really quite funny and healing process of getting back on your feet and putting yourself together again.
To mention just some of my Big Punches in the Face over the years: a brutal liver infection, writing books that no one wanted to publish, several majorly stressful financial situations, and no forgetting the horror show that is parenting teenagers!
Many things helped me to pull through and I wanted to share some of my thoughts about those times, in case it helps anyone else.
- I certainly didn’t want to tell everyone about everything. It’s painful to share your worst hurts and disappointments, so I preferred to hunker down with the support of a few carefully chosen people. It was also powerful medicine to go out with the fun friends and have a laugh, talk about nothing serious and forget it all for an evening.
- It’s Buddhist advice, and I like it, to remind yourself often of what you’re still very lucky to have and all the ways in which ‘it could have been worse’. This kept me sane at times when I could have spiralled. When it was a money crisis, I was so grateful for my family’s health. When it was a health crisis, I was grateful that I was the only one ill and everyone else was healthy.
- I spent time with the people who filled me with hope. The friends who insisted: ‘You’re so creative, you’ll work this out.’ And I’m forever grateful to the alternative therapist who used to tell me with complete conviction in her lavender-scented room: ‘Of course you’re going to get better!’
- During times of let’s call it ‘Crapimus Maximus’, I tried to really enjoy the small and not at all expensive things. A deep bath that smelled good, taking care of my existing outfits with ironing and polishing of shoes, looking after a few houseplants, cuddling the dog, and going for long walks when I looked for birds and beautiful trees and reminded myself what an amazing thing it is to be alive.
- I tried to have a good night-time routine and sleep a healthy amount because everything is worse when you’re overtired. But when I was jaw clenching and lying in the dark fretting, I went to the sofa, put the light on, cuddled up with the dog and read. I recommend the comfort of favourite and familiar books, so nothing unexpectedly upsetting happens. I also recommend reading cookbooks and planning the meals you’re going to make and cakes you’re going to bake when you feel better and cheerful again. (My latest heroine, Jen, does this a lot because nothing bad or sad ever happens in a cookbook.)
- When husband and I were in the throes of renovating The House Where Everything Went Wrong, we borrowed the concept of ‘the watershed’ from TV. After 9pm, we weren’t allowed to talk about the floor that was rotten, the ceiling that fell down, the incompetent bathroom guy etc etc because it was ‘past the watershed’. And this did help because it kept night-time and bed-time free from those awful angsty discussions and even lying in my bath, whenever I was about to dwell on the problems, I would say to myself, ‘it’s past the watershed’, and park them till the morning.
- This Too Will Pass… sometimes you have to say that to yourself a lot. It’s not to diminish how painful and horrible things are. It’s not to try and force you to ‘chin up and soldier on’. It’s just a gentle reminder that everything does eventually change. Nothing lasts, not even bad times. Life will provide reasons to smile and even laugh like a drain all over again.
- A sense of humour always helps. No matter how bad things are, there is always room for a joke. Trust me here. My husband has made jokes about me being ‘the winebox at a vampire barbeque’ when I was wearing a cannula and I laughed. But I am the person who jogged along to ‘Staying Alive’ by the Bee Gees in those first horrible weeks of lockdown.
- The good news is that when life turns sunny side up again, as it will – yes, it really, honestly will – then you will appreciate it even more than before. Plus, I realise I have so much more empathy, optimism and resilience now, which needed all those painful, crushing, crappy times to develop.