White knuckles anyone?
You know that feeling when the safety bars go up and, jelly legged, you step back out onto the platform of some white-knuckle theme park ride your pelvic floor has just brutally reminded you you’re probably getting a little too old for? The feeling that you’ve been out of control, hurtling through space and time (thinking you probably should’ve made more effort with the Kegels) but somehow have emerged relatively unscathed thanks in no way to your own capabilities, course not, but to the efforts of all the better people who buffer you? Yeah, that feeling.
What a year.
Actually, what a run of years. There have been some hefty personal hurdles to get over in our neck of the woods, long before Covid got a hold of the globe. But, jelly-legged though we may still be, there was something unifying about this last year. A feeling that, for all that was turning our knuckles white, we weren’t facing it alone. Others were strapped in too. Everyone was strapped in too.
And now, life feels very different. Not just because of Covid, but because of all those other hurdles that came before. I’ve learned a lot over the last year. A lot of situations came to a head and there’s been plenty of food, and time, for thought. Some things I already knew but had probably forgotten how immovable ‘their truth’ is. Some things I thought I knew and found out to varying degrees of crushing disappointment I was dead wrong about. And some things have been an absolute joy to discover. Here are a few examples of each...
The immovable truth stuff:
My bottom clenches every time I hear 'their truth' or 'his truth' or 'our truth'. Bleurgh. How about everyone just sticks with the truth? Oh Lordy, I have needed to get that one out of my system.
I love my husband. He's a keeper alright. After twenty-five years of bickering, snogging and laughing together, Knighty’s still The One. The only one. It will only ever be him, and there isn’t a white-knuckle ride I can’t handle if he’s strapped in next to me. Unless he's driving. Oh no, things do not go well when he's driving...
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And knackered.
Looking directly at my offspring here. Nothing quite pushes you to your mental limits like a houseful of boys. Other than maybe a houseful of boys on lockdown. Homeschooled. Yikes. Pain-thresholds have been tested. Also, there’s nothing like a houseful of boys to test the human capacity to love intensely that which you could’ve happily throttled five minutes before. If you want to feel alive (and a little bit on the edge) go get yourself some sons.
We are where we are.
I’m trying to remind myself of this truth nugget regularly. For all that has gone before, we can’t go back. We can’t change a lot, anything in fact. Not what happened then, or that person said, or this person did, or our own failings either, so unless someone’s got a Flux Capacitor in their bumbag, the only way is forward. So get moving. Just try not to step on the same cracks that wobbled you before.
The things I thought I knew:
I thought I was steering my own ship but whoa, it turns out that life is pretty bloody fragile. Which I already did know, but had conveniently forgotten. It’s nice to kid yourself that you’re behind the wheel, but we’re all passengers. People get ill. Sink holes steal the earth out from under you. Viruses sweep the world. Cars jump red lights. Shit happens. Life is painfully fragile, and that’s ok. It’s not ok if your relationships are fragile. Someone gloomily warned me when I was a kid that ‘people will disappoint you, Anouska.’ How right he was. The magnitude of these disappointments rests largely on my own shoulders though because I probably let them pile up there. If your instincts tell you hurt is on the horizon, at least the same old hurt on the same old horizon, maybe it's time to start taking note long before you reach that destination, again. There are plenty of other places you could be sticking your pin into the atlas and heading towards. The world is full of good people, there is an option to spend our energy trying to bump into them, instead of chasing after the wrong ones hoping they’ll come good. This, folks, I reckon is about the only thing we can actually control – where we channel our energy. The rest, well I’m afraid the rest, from sinkholes to snogging a keeper, is all down to luck.
The absolute joys I’ve discovered:
(Not discovered exactly, they were always there, I just wasn’t looking)
If you’d have asked me at the start of last year what was going to get me through, I’d have said red wine and Peanut M&Ms, no question. And hey, they sure helped. But you know, if you’re going to consume these dietary cornerstones en masse, and regularly, there’s going to be a day of reckoning. I saw that particular spot looming on the horizon from miles away and guess what? Yup, headed straight for it. So this day of reckoning of mine came about six months ago when I finally confronted how sluggish and generally grotty I’d become. I spent another couple of months dithering about how I was going to get back into my apparently shrunken clothes, what with all the swimming pools and gyms still shut and all, and then a very fit and optimistic friend made an utterly ridiculous suggestion – ‘We could do a half-marathon?’
Now I’m not saying this suggestion is any less utterly ridiculous now that I’m six weeks into my Couch2Half training programme, I’m not. It’s still AN UTTERLY RIDICULOUS SUGGESTION. It’s hard work, I haven’t lost a single pound in weight, there’s next to no chance of me making it over the finish line sans stretcher and everything, bloody everything, aches. But, I can’t deny that over the last few weeks my brain has felt the best it’s felt in a good while. Those endorphins are, yep I’m gonna say it, even more delicious than the peanut M&Ms. I run/walk/wheeze through stunning Cannock Chase three times a week and unless I take my idiotic dog, always come home feeling energized and sort of... filled up. Not super-human just... glad to be a little human, moving forward, in a beautiful forest, breathing in the air. ‘Nature is the cure,’ I heard the other day while Insta-stalking Pink. Amen to that, sister.
We have a treadmill that duly went kaput one week into my ‘training’, hence my reluctant foray out into the world of pavements and trails which, if I’m honest, absolutely terrified me to begin with. My biggest fear when I started running in those little 1 minute increments wasn’t that I might die mid-jog (a valid concern, but not my biggest) it was that I might die mid-jog in front of Joe Public. And that he’d have to poke me with a stick for signs of life, because who's goin' in for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation before everyone’s had their second jabs? Not Joe, I'll bet.
I needed the treadmill to have any hope of seriously getting into running. But, credit to Knighty, he refused to get it fixed and buried it under a pile of crap in the shed so that I didn’t bother calling anyone in to dig it out and take a look.
‘The fresh air is doing you good,’ he observed. And I hate to say it, but the wise old toad was right. My last run was diabolical, my right buttock has a sciatica issue and for whatever reason, mind or matter, the second pitiful 10-minute burst I was scheduled for was just beyond me.
So instead of 2 miles, I ended up walking for 4 miles, trying to psyche myself up. And failed. No second run. But, that was still 4 miles of glorious greenery I wouldn’t have clapped eyes on in my sheds.
So exercise, while literally a pain in my ass (and knees and hips and shins) has done me no end of good and the feeling afterwards, of actually sticking with it and making just the tiniest of gains, is nothing short of joyful. I recommend it. If you can do it outside, all the better, amigo. If you can talk the teenagers into coming with you, and actually spend time with just them and the endorphins, mo power to you.
Exercise isn’t everyone’s bag of course. I don’t blame anyone who baulks at the thought of profuse sweating. But whether out galumphing in it or just stopping to smell the roses, Nature sure has been a big part of the cure for me over the last year. The first lockdown hit and we found ourselves stuck in a half-renovated lawn-less house, stockpiled with building materials we hadn’t gotten around to using. It turns out, I’m a pretty keen gardener! I have LOVED starting our garden off, nurturing seedlings, watching the grass take, planting freaky bulbs, taking cuttings AND keeping them alive into the next season. Gardening is just so good for the soul, I’m desperate for Knighty to demolish our sheds so we can get stuck into the next phase of landscaping out there.
And finally, the other big hitter that has brought me uncapped joy over the last year of lockdowns and anxieties and arguments with the men I live with, has been music. Not just listening to the stuff, which we do a lot as a family, but playing it. I inherited a piano last year and aside from the four other humans and aforementioned idiotic dog who share this old house, it is one of my most beloved belongings.
Couldn’t play it at first, obviously, but possibly the best money I’ve ever spent was about £80 on a year’s subscription to the SimplyPiano app. It’s absolutely fantastico and has completely enriched my life this last year. I am now happily murdering all genres of music on a daily basis, and it’s been a real tonic. The old fingers aren’t all that dexterous, but they can move a hell of a lot more fluidly than my legs, so what I’m floundering at up over Cannock Chase I think I might be making up for when tinkling the ivories. Who knows? Who cares? Joy is joy, right? Playing piano, gardening, running with teenagers. Joy is joy. Take it where you find it, I say. Here’s hoping there’s more of it to go around for everyone on the ride ahead.