happiness · mood management · Self improvement · travel · wanderlust

Lessons from 2017

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I’m not going to beat around the bush: I, along with many others, will be glad to wave goodbye to 2017.

The mood in the UK this year as we navigate Brexit, the horrific squeeze on the public purse and the dying, wheezing last breaths of the NHS as it’s taken apart by our government is sombre, to say the least.  Our emergency departments and mental health services are in crisis; 1 in 200 people in our country are now homeless; the numbers of children in care and on the child protection register are soaring.

It hasn’t felt a positive place to be.  I think many have felt a bit lost this year.

And for us: In 2017 my husband (who three years ago I was climbing mountains with) was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

We decided to move to where we now live to give our little girl opportunities to run free outdoors, to play in the waves and clamber across rocks.  We wanted to take it easy, go on long walks together and take in the natural beauty around us.

The reality is, we can’t do these things together in the way we envisioned.  My husband walks a few metres before his legs start to wobble.  A 200 metre walk to the seafront is enough for him to need to spend the afternoon in bed recuperating.  He falls over when he turns on the spot.  He can’t dance anymore.  He will never run on the beach with our little girl like we imagined he would.

But there are others facing far harsher and more difficult realities than us.

I bumped into someone recently who has a son the same age as my little girl.  She told me her husband is going to die from a rare form of cancer.  An entire life together has been taken away from her, yet her resolve and her strength and her hope for a future beyond this life astonished me.

Life is painful sometimes.  It really isn’t always kind.  It throws huge curveballs and the goalposts have to shift, or they’re blown entirely out of the water and we have to rethink it all and start again.

The main lesson for us this year was this:  there is not enough time.  Use it wisely.  Life is too short.

I blinked and I’m nearly 35 and have spent 12 years in a career I don’t enjoy.  I have never lived abroad, I never did learn to play the guitar and I still don’t speak Spanish.

What on earth is stopping me?  What is stopping you achieving what you want to do?

The photos I have of my husband and I travelling together, grinning at the camera on the side of a mountain take on a whole new meaning when I look at them now.

Life is too short not to be the person you were meant to be.  Book that trip.  Go to that class.  Call that friend you wanted to catch up with.  Drop that grudge.  It’ll be too late one day.

While I feel sad and I have been angry about what has happened to my family’s future and how much our lives have already changed – it could be worse.

For now, we’re all still here.  We need to make it count.

depression · happiness · mood management · Self improvement · travel · wanderlust

Lessons borne of wanderlust: making it count in the everyday

Three years ago today, I was a proper smug bastard.

Social media reminded me this morning that on this very day in 2014, I was looking at the truly awesome sight that is Machu Picchu, in the flesh. That mandatory photo popped up on my timeline: me grinning to camera above the site with Huayna Picchu towering majestically over me in the distance, kissed with mist like something from Last of the Mohicans.

It was a truly epic and liberating time.

I had wanted to go to South America for about ten years.  I mentioned in my first post how I have always felt a spectator on fun and this was definitely one example where, as the years went by and the dream failed to materialise, I stopped thinking it would ever be me.

When the captain announced we were landing in Lima airport, Peru – I cried.  I can’t even describe that feeling.  It was the same feeling I felt on the train up towards Machu Picchu, watching the Inca sites etched into the hillsides as we wound through the valley.

“I did it.  I did it.” Ten solid years of yearning, of longing, of imagining but not quite believing.  But I did it.

I recently had to do some timeline work as part of my psychotherapy (the task of chronologically mapping out your sadness for dissection by another person!).  I identified those four months as being the happiest in my life.  As well as sharing incredible experiences with the person I love, there was something about the newness and the freedom of everything that was profoundly liberating.  Every day we woke up and said “what do we want to achieve today?” and we achieved it.  There was not one single day wasted and not one day I would do differently.

I could bore you to tears regaling you with tales of the things we saw in those months: the other-worldy Uyuni salt flats where balletic flamingos danced through lakes of red and emerald green; the glint in a caiman’s eye as we reclined in a river boat in the Amazon basin, where howler monkeys surrounded our cabin each morning in their own, unique jungle dawn chorus; the bustling, vibrant and incredible nocturnal metropolis that is Buenos Aires;  kayaking around icebergs and trekking over glaciers where we sipped whiskey with ice from beneath our feet; swimming with sea turtles in a secluded, perfect bay (the fisherman’s secret) off the coast of Brazil; sitting with a beer on the Arpoador as the sun went down on another sunny, perfect day in Rio.

Those memories flash across my mind and I am there; in awe, in wonder, with a heart so full I could burst.

But it wasn’t just the sights we saw, the people we met, the food we tasted.  Every day was a goal, every day was something to be accomplished. Every day was a choice.

Clearly, when there are incredible experiences laid out before you like the most wonderful of smorgasbords, this is an easier task.  When I wake at the moment, it is invariably raining, dark and my head is pounding with exhaustion.  I live in the UK.  I currently do a job I don’t enjoy.  It isn’t a South American honeymoon.

But what can I learn from it?

Achievable goals spur you on.  They can help you create adventure in the every day.  They allow you choice.

For the final week my daughter and I spent together before I went back to work, I made a list of places I’d like to go with her each day.  I was so conscious of that time slipping by and so when we woke up each morning, it was with a purpose.  I don’t know why I’ve stopped living like that.  I’m going to make a fresh commitment to ask myself this cheesy but very appropriate question when I start my day:

What is my purpose today?

And I think I’m realising that sometimes it really is OK for that purpose to be time out.  As a society we are bombarded with messages and phone calls and alerts and calendar invites and news feeds, all telling us where we could be, should be.

Some days while we were away, we took a day out to amble slowly through cobbled back streets and look at local art in the markets and allowed ourselves time to be and to immerse.  We took it in.  Sometimes, I carry my daughter in the baby carrier and a flower catches her eye, or the wind on her face delights her so she leans backwards to catch the breeze, laughing.  These moments happen when we slow down.

Just because there is somewhere I could be, that does not mean that I should be.  If we need to say no to something because we need amble along the cobbles that day, that is OK. That is healthy.  That is a good thing.

Which leads me to the other question I intend to ask myself :

What do I really need today? 

I am not very good at the latter.  I am learning though.  I might talk some more about that in my next post.

I don’t quite know where this will take me, but I think…probably nowhere bad. Somewhere better.

And on that note, I promised myself I would read a magazine in the bath tonight so I need to go and do that.

Sleep well. x