Tuesday, January 4, 2022

So, What Now?

At some point, in the blissful Before time, when we were locked down but hopeful that 2021 would be the best year EVER, I’d decided to upend my career to see if I could develop one where I ran my own little nursery and basically got to spend every day with plants. 

So I duly jacked in my secure salary, my employer’s pension contribution. Waved goodbye to colleagues I loved working with. Set up freelance to free up (ha!) time to train. Joined the WRAGS scheme. Signed up for an RHS Level 2 course. Spent lots of time at the allotment, practising. Asked my doctor if anyone was actually going to do anything about my arthritis. 

Well, no. No they weren’t. Because it didn't exist, see? Oh, well if I was going to insist - and I was - they’d book a scan but they wouldn’t find…ah. 

They did find. They found extensive arthritis in both feet. Extra bone is growing where extra bone is not necessary. It rubs against the tendons, aggravating them like a persistent toddler, making walking HARD. Making yoga impossible. Making the idea of being on my feet all day laughable, then cry-able.

When I was working in a museum, on my feet for great parts of the day, I could lie on the sofa at night and watch the nerves in my feet jump with such severity, my feet twitch and leap of their own accord. Whilst that's a good trick, it is more than a little freaky. Freaky feet! It's every girl's dream. Most shoes are unwearable (and a plague on those designers). I will never run a marathon. 

To be fair, that last was never going to happen regardless, but now I have a cast-iron reason why it's not. Win!

All throughout 2020 and 2021, I watched as appointments were pushed back and back and further back. I need is a steroid injection but for that I need an MRI scan and there we hit the sticking place. When the poor receptionist called early December to tell me that it was being cancelled again (third time) with no new date in sight, I actually cried and tried to plead my case. Nothing doing. Orders from management. 

Notice how it’s never management who make those cancellation calls. 

Now, this is not the NHS’s fault (although I shake my fist in the general direction of  “management”). It just is what it is in a time of pandemics, sneaky dismantling of the NHS and the chronic underfunding and undermining of what’s left of it. Fault aside, this kind of thing does tend to bring about a reckoning. 

I am living now with two chronic conditions: my under-active thyroid (I like to think of it as the only lazy part of me) - which is an auto-immune condition - and the arthritis (likewise). Which will only spread and worsen with age I, literally, can’t run from this. It needs facing and adapting to. 

So I am. I no longer do yoga (all those downward dogs and planks are Too Much) but I do Pilates and my teacher is aces at helping me adapt postures. I don’t walk too much but I do go to the gym and do core strengthening work: the aim is for seven thousand steps a day because then I’m not in too much pain the next day. I go to the allotment but only for an hour at a time. I am as physical as I can be with the resources I have to hand. 

Obviously, if I feel like hiking up a bloody big hill, then I'll do it anyway and deal with the consequences the next day. I am stubborn like that. And I like being on the top of hills. Or deep in mossy woods where the very air is green and light.  

There's been a lot of research and consultation, which has led to me kicking wheat, sugar and dairy into the long grass. Which is ironic because it will feel like I’m eating nothing but long grass as I up and up my vegetable intake. Right now, my craving for sugar is so bad, I've been staring at a pot of honey for 30 minutes before eating 3 humbugs left over from Christmas. 

Who has humbugs at Christmas? Before you ask, yes I do also quite enjoy a Werther's Original. I know

Sadly, that idealised dream of running my own nursery, where I wore sensible but flattering no-nonsense dungarees, I rocked some adorable plaits and my face was permanently shining with good health and cheer, has had to come to an end. I need to be, as N so very often pleads with me to be, sensible. You can’t be on your feet all day when your feet don't work properly. My brother in law is a gardener and he regularly clocks 30,000 steps a day. That would finish me off. I’d need a week to recover. In fact, I did do over 30,000 steps in London and exactly that happened. 

Employers take dim views of such things. So what can I do? 

I'm trying not to post a gloomy, woe-is-me piece. A public breast-beating at the unfairness of life. Life is unfair and I’ve done all that in my own private time - I’m done with it now. Come on Collett*: refocus, recentre. 

Also, I do like a new beginning. It gives me the excuse to buy notebooks and pens that come with the promise of Potential. I can clear my desk and rearrange it, creating the optimal space (there is no such thing, I know). I can sit in my lovely soft-pink office chair (a complete indulgence and tres not practical)

So, what can I do? My little consultancy is still running, because if there's one thing I'm good at, it's sitting down and telling people what to do. This year, I'm developing some training courses and resources, which is both fun and exciting. What else can I do? Well, I can do this. I can write. 

And boy, do I write. Here, there and anywhere that stands still long enough for me to put ink on it. My WhatsApp messages are veritable essays. If I'm asked to create a plan for a room or a garden, I write one. Sitting down with a blank page and hours to fill it makes me giddy. Give me a moment to think and then I'm away, 4 fingers (I'm no touch typist) galloping across the keyboard like wild horses. Thank god for spell checks because they sometimes have the accuracy of wild horses, i.e. none. 

As I type, the 90% complete first draft of a potential first book is sitting next to, waiting for the finish and the first of many, many edits. Want to see a sample? I'm just going to put this PDF first page here and then run away and hide through the sheer embarrassment of admitting publicly that I've written something. 

I like the little thrill of a new adventure, wondering what I’ll be like at the end of it. This one is still unfolding, still developing and I don’t know what will come of it at the end. Perhaps nothing, perhaps something. 

Whatever does, I should be able to do a respectable amount of sit ups at the very least. 


*A family phrase, usually employed when one of us needs to pull our socks up and just flipping well Get On With It, despite various hurdles and things to overcome. Can also be shortened to CoC, which has the added benefit of looking (and sounding) almost rude. Hey, you take your giggles where you can. 

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