Stop the world, I want to get off ...
"I think we all have responsibility to add our own little stamp in this world and leave it in a better place for everyone else."
Dear Little Owl,
I’m 60 miles in, cycling up Box Hill; a road I use most weekends (it was also in the London Olympics). I’ve been focused on this ride for a while as I know it will be my last chance to put down a good time before the end of the year, just a personal goal to see how much I’ve improved. I know the route, and I know I’ve made big improvements this year. Today is different though; you are in Intensive Care. You've been sedated for a week and visiting hours start at 2pm. As chance would have it a Mark is over from New Zealand as his mum has just passed away, so he is coming to dinner. In the car park as I prepare for the ride I meet up with Dave who asks how I am, “ok”, so we start the ride. I notice straight away my focus keeps going back to you. I keep trying to calculate the time I need to complete the ride by, in order for me to get back to see you. Usually with every effort or incline or tough moment on the bike I work hard to pull my focus onto something else; I know if I start chasing the finish with my mind how tempting it is to throw the towel in. Giving up has never been an option, “if you give up once it makes it easier in the future”, is a mantra I say to myself quite a lot. Today though it’s too hard, as the ride goes on it all seems pretty pointless. I hit Box Hill a road I tackle every week and bang. I don’t want to keep going. I only have 40 miles ahead and it looks like I am going to get the time I wanted but it doesn’t matter. I get to the top and at the cafe I get off and decide to go back. I get to the car and drive to hospital and get to spend a few precious moments with you. I’m not sure how often the ICU staff get to a man in Lycra turn up on their ward… shame you didn’t see it - it would have made you laugh.
They sneak up on you, hang around and you don’t really realise you are under the spell of one until you are deep in it.
£ months have now flew past. My motivation and seeing things through has been challenged quite a lot since you died. When I look back, during the first days of you dying, when I was getting ready in the morning, I remember I kept consciously thinking I must make an effort and keep doing the little things i.e. shave, try to dress up, and most of all keep applying E45, (yes I use E45 and wear Lycra at the weekends), somewhere along the line this stopped. I always set myself a target of books to read every year and that stopped the moment you died. I stopped riding the bike, I found lots of reasons not complete things at work, and this all crescendo-ed with me dropping some of my daily routines of meditation and journaling during the holidays. I thought to myself all this stuff going on is too hectic, I just want to stop for a moment, I want to stop the world and get off (just for a bit).
The thing I didn’t anticipate with dealing with grief isn’t the obvious trauma and breakdowns you see people getting Oscar’s for, it’s the sneaky hidden bit that isn’t so obvious. Like that one cloud that appears from nowhere on a sunny day and blocks the sun, lowering the temperature just enough to make you turn your head and change your mood, “where did that come from?” These changes in mood aren’t the dramatic ones experienced in the early days triggered by an obvious memory, sound or smell. They sneak up on you, hang around and you don’t really realise you are under the spell of one until you are deep in it.
The first day back at work after Christmas it got really bad (nearly 3 months after). I remember thinking this is hell, this is pointless, I don’t think I can do this. Going back though gave me time to start my daily routine again on the train which consists of a 20-minute guided meditation and writing a daily journal in the morning, then on the way back in the evening capturing what I’m grateful for as well as reading a book. I also set some goals around what I wanted to achieve on the bike this year and signed up for some tough events including one that coming Sunday.
I finished that ride in a decent time and something shifted. A similar thing happened a couple of days later, I finished reading my first book in a while which I had been dragging around me for ages. When I closed that last page, I thought, “wow I’ve moved forward and completed something again”. I got on the indoor trainer at home one night that week as well and completed a session. I started doing little things that were not the easy option, if I wanted to sit down I stood up, if, if I wanted to buy a coffee at work I made one instead, If I put off sending an email I sent it and yes, I started applying E45 again! In fact, anything that meant I didn’t take the easy option was a winner. I started to build that resilient muscle again.
It’s easier to just stop at times and let life just happen to us ...
For me, dealing with grief has so many lessons which I can apply to help create a meaningful and purposeful life, which requires unbelievable emotional resilience and the momentum to keep pushing forward when all you want to do is lay down. Having a goal or reason that excites me to keep moving forward, being brave and not taking the easy option, being grateful of everything and everyone I have in my life, being mindful of the narrative I give things when they don’t go to plan, and not being too hard on myself, are all things that are helping me.
I’ve learnt that emotional resilience and bouncing back from setbacks isn’t just an intellectual process or something you can read in a book, for me it’s about “doing”. Doing those things that we avoid when faced with an easier action or thought. It’s about sticking to a routine. It’s about facing into the wind. It’s about finding gratitude in the most challenging times. It’s about setting goals, and taking small actions every day to work towards them. It’s easier to just stop at times and let life just happen to us, but one of the things that keeps me going is our ability to learn from adversity, to grow, to help others. I think we all have responsibility to add our own little stamp in this world and leave it in a better place for everyone else.
Love you lots, I'll write again soon,