We Owe It To The People Suffering To Live Our Lives To The Full

27047393_10155000472936277_225680280_o-684x1030+2The news doesn’t seem to get any better and I expose myself to it daily in search of inspiration for my writing. While physical empaths are people that absorb the physical symptoms of others, I absorb the anguish of others and the unfairness in their lives, and that transference has a direct impact on my mood and mental health.

Poor me!

Stories such as the shooting of the two teenagers by their father last week in Sydney and articles and fiction I’ve been reading about the victims of our under-serviced mental health system can turn a promising day into a bad one.

And then, occasionally, a post like this one from Victoria.com catches my eye. I shared it last week on my FB page because I recognised it as an important reminder not to wish our lives away or forget to make the most of every opportunity. Many of us are guilty of packing so much into our lives that we find ourselves looking ahead all of the time rather than relishing every precious moment. In my case,  I waste far too many hours brooding about the problems that I can’t change in the world. I consume the pain of others and carry it around with me. It diffuses through my pores and weighs me down until the shame of my privilege feels like survivor’s guilt.

And seriously, what right do I have to pretend to know anything about the suffering of the mother of those teenagers?

At one point during the lunch I described in my last post – as I was sinking the final mouthful of perfectly-cooked lemon meringue tart into my mouth whilst bemoaning the migrant crisis – one of the other guests pointed out to me the danger and futility of absorbing everyone else’s pain. The point he was trying to make, I believe, was that life is too short to waste beating ourselves up about things we cannot change. We have one journey and we need to make it a good one.

Which is selfish, right? And for a second, the serial (wannabe) do-gooder in me, reared up defensively like a snake on behalf of all of those suffering right now in the world, while I digested the perfect steak with my perfect friends. I wanted to remind him that we should all be doing more. I wanted the eight of us to get up the following morning and enlist in a world aid association or train to become mental health nurses.

But instead, I bit my tongue – because, as painful as it was to admit, I knew that he had a point.

My own time is running out. Each of us has an internal timer, and none of us knows when it will stop. And there is another part of me – that I secretly despise – that wants to put myself first now as illness begins to ravage people my age to remind me of my mortality. Life is short – indeed, it is getting worryingly shorter. We get one bite at the cherry. And while we can be mindful of the plight of others and lend our support in whatever small ways we can, we have to make the most of this, our one opportunity at living.

While I thought about those boys and their parents in Thailand, I recognised that they needed something greater than my compassion – whether that was a God or the wonderful people that risked their own lives to save them. We can’t fix everything.

I have been lucky enough to have been given the opportunity of a good life. No road is free of dips and I have been forced to fix some potholes along the way, yet I have never looked at the smooth tarmac of others and felt resentment. To use a monetary term, we live within our means, with the hand we are given.

How many times have you been shocked to hear someone who has been seriously ill or faced a tragedy admit that they are glad it happened? Because it made them recalibrate and appreciate life for what it is – in all its beauty, brevity and fragility. Those people are our inspiration, and we owe it to them to live our lives to the full. 

Your Fifties: The Make Or Break Age Where Bad Decisions And Bad Genes Can Catch Up

c360d830ff6fe6d59c4cd99911501992It is always a shock to hear about the death or illness of celebrities around our own age. While I don’t believe that their lives are more special than mine, it can be hard not to secretly suspect that their barbeque areas aren’t paved with gold.

 

Which was why the passing of Emma Chambers at 53 and Stephen Fry’s cancer diagnosis were all the more shocking this week. Without meaning to give them god-like status, it’s easy to assume that these people are untouchable, for no other reason than they have the money to pay their way out of death.

 

Not true, sadly.

 

I don’t know Emma and Stephen personally, but the gifts of the arts and culture are their reach and the poignant way they touch our souls. The works of these two, in particular,  have resonated with me on different levels: I have followed Fry’s struggles with depression and tested my stress incontinence several times watching Emma in Notting Hill and The Vicar of Dibley.

 

Emma was 53, Stephen is 60 – similar in age to myself – a make or break period where the poor decisions of youth and bad genes can start to catch up. I’m not afraid to admit that I get a bit scared when I look back at all the cigarettes I rolled in my twenties.

 

Worse, I know from experience that death is forgotten, quicker than any of us would like. Not because of our shallowness or callousness, but because of its inevitability, because of the prolonged pain from dwelling upon it, the busy-ness of life and the salient reminder to squeeze every last drop out of it.

 

So I’ve decided that I want to die from a long illness – words I imagine I will eat should my fate work out that way – and in spite of the inevitable pain and suffering that decision will cause to my others and myself. I want the luxury of being able to say my goodbyes, and in a perverse way, I want to feel spoiled during my last moments. I want everyone to focus on me for once, and the role I played in their lives. I don’t care if there’s a wake or a party – I’ll be dead anyway.

 

Thanks for the laughs, Emma. Good luck, Stephen.

 

Family and friends: FYI, I don’t like grapes, but weirdly I am quite partial to wine.

To Be Loved In Death As In Life Is All Any Of Us Can Really Hope For

I lost an uncle over Christmas. And as I write this post, an aunt lies in a hospital bed somewhere in the UK in a medically life-changing situation. Both events have been a sharp reminder that the wheels of time stop for no-one.

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In words that echo the theme tune of Love Actually – sort of – it is a sad fact that death is all around us, and no matter how much we cut down on wine or how much time we spend in the gym, it gets all of us in the end.

 

Death doesn’t terrify me as much as it used to. Anyone who has been exposed to the death of a close loved one at a young age will know that it has a habit of fucking you over, yet it can also harden you to its inevitability. When you’ve experienced such a huge disappointment at the start of your life, nothing else comes close.

 

But that experience can mean that I don’t react appropriately to the news of a passing. I don’t grieve for long. With a heart half-closed and a head that has forced itself into defense-mode, instead, I focus on the practical; on how best to utilize the time I have left. There is a satisfaction in spitting at that sucker in the face, the closer you get to doomsday. After all, none of us has the power to change the rules.

 

I’ve shared lengthy discussions with people over the years about the best way to go. I’ve seen people go slowly, through debilitating illnesses that have nevertheless given them time to say goodbye, and I’ve experienced first-hand someone go just like that, with no warning. Whoosh! – in a puff of smoke. 

 

Optimists and religious people tell us that we grieve for our own loss, rather than for the person that has died. And I believe that to be true when death is provoked by natural causes, although not if someone is taken in the appalling circumstances of murder, for instance. I try to remain optimistic about the day I will finally meet my maker. I comfort myself with the knowledge that although my body will pass, no one can take my legacy away from me.

 

My name will remain on my family tree as a fully paid-up member, and although I might not see them often, the branches of my extended family remain close to my heart – as they have been this week. The hope is that my successors will keep my memory alive – through silly and embarrassing anecdotes and stories, I imagine, rather than a pompous list of achievements that I deemed important at one time.

 

‘Remember that time that Lou (or Auntie Lou or Grandma or Mum) ‘… they’ll say…and for a moment I’ll be remembered – in all likelihood for that time I made a complete ass of myself when I fell off my bike into a rice paddy in Bali.

 

My uncle will be remembered for being a good man, who took us cousins swimming together on the weekends with the boundless energy and enthusiasm of a man half his age. He was also one of the archetypal dad-jokers before the phenomenon was formally recognized, and he will continue to be as loved in death as he was in life.

 

Which is all any of us can hope for.

 

 

Living Each Day And Surviving Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare

The most annoying thing about being the mother of a rebellious eighteen-year old is that you can’t always ensure they go out in their best underwear. ambulance-148747_1280

 

That was one of the things that went through my mind on Thursday as we wove our way through city traffic to every parent’s worst nightmare…

 

After the call…to say that our child had been involved in an accident.

 

First of all, Kurt is okay – shaken, not stirred; nor deterred unfortunately from future trouble. By my estimation he has about four lives left. Three days down the line, I can now think about that day without wanting to vomit.

 

As long as there’s no blood, I’m actually very good in a crisis; surprising when you consider what an emotional wreck I am the rest of the time. If fact I’m eerily calm, so when we received the call to tell us that Kurt had experienced some sort of fit on a bus and that they had called an ambulance, I remember steadily relaying the information to the old man like I was discussing the weather. Somehow, magically, we got our legs to walk to the car.

 

So many ‘what ifs’ go through your head in these situations. What if I hadn’t shouted at Kurt that morning? What if I hadn’t been short with him on the phone only a few minutes before that call because I was working? What if I’d bought him some new boxers for Christmas? What if he was…?

 

The ER was as crazy a space full of madness as I had hoped it would be, having been an avid fan of 24 hours in Emergency for the past year. No Dr Ross, though, and you get a different, much more unnerving perspective when you’re on the other side of the fence.

 

And there were far too many middle-aged people in there, not much older than the old man and myself, experiencing chest pain, for our liking.

 

The surprising fact about those interminable waits in the ER is how you cope with whatever bad news is thrown at you because you have to. ‘Oh, he needs a brain scan,’ I remember responding calmly to the doctor, when inside my body my heart was doing a triple somersault and quivering in my rib cage. At least by that stage Kurt was conscious and moaning about the wait with us, nevertheless we still had to go through the process of getting him thoroughly checked out.

 

As our very tired-looking doctor informed us, ‘emergency medicine is about excluding any risk that might kill you immediately,’ which for some reason was vaguely reassuring at the time.

 

A kid with ADHD and anxiety disorder, no emotional control and prone to angry outbursts, is not the kid you want to be when you have to wait six hours for results. Of course Kurt had assumed the worst about his diagnosis. His body shuts down to emotion when he’s scared and can’t go out for a smoke to calm down – ‘No you can’t go out because you’re waiting for a brain scan’ – I reminded him at least ten times. But nothing I said was going to be right. When he asked me if I thought he had brain cancer and I answered with an emphatic ‘no’, he rationalized that I was only saying that to make him feel better; when they took us onto a ward and I started to look worried, he told me I should do a better job of hiding my fears.

 

The old man’s dad jokes about the neurologist discovering what we’d known all along – that Kurt doesn’t actually have a brain – went down really well, as you can imagine, but pretty soon he found his invisibility cloak on the ward and turfed some patients out of the best seats in front of the television, which meant I didn’t have to worry about him as well.

 

Long story short, it was a mild seizure, cause unknown but hopefully nothing serious, and my prodigal son remains in an interim period of forgiveness, milking it for all its worth.

 

I have a renewed respect for the kind people of this world, particularly the bus driver who allayed Kurt’s fears as he regained consciousness and called us with an update every few minutes until the ambulance arrived.

 

I shall be buying Kurt some new underwear this week, along with some new trousers. When the doctor said that it must have been a seizure rather than a faint because his trousers were all torn, Kurt informed him that they were ripped because I refuse to buy him any new ones.

 

Kids!

 

Live each day, peeps.

50 Of The Best Things In Life That Are (Almost) Free

The sound of Kurt singing Pharell Williams’ song ‘Happy’, on repeat all week, has made me uncharacteristically sooky.

Anxiety tells me that by writing a piece about the best things in life, I’m tempting fate and a horrible Karma will descend on me from above. Therapy tells me that anxiety goes away when you stop feeding the bastard and focus on the good stuff in your life.

So what to do? No matter how much my inner spirit might veer towards cynicism, it has been a good week after all.

So I thought I’d share the love.

Don’t worry though, there’s absolutely no chance of this new Louisa hanging around for too long – we’re about to commence week 7 of the school term, the scales haven’t shifted in at least ten days and the old man continues to irritate the fuck out of me. 

So ‘take a gaze’, as my son would say, and let me know if you identify with any of the best bits in my life?

  1. Connecting completely with someone else’s humor and really belly-laughing with them
  2. Getting drunk with your girlfriends and forgetting about the inevitable hangover
  3. That first touch from someone you’ve been stalking for a while
  4. Eating raw cookie dough straight from the fridge when no-one’s watching

    cookie dough!
    cookie dough! (Photo credit: reallyboring)
  5. Sleeping alone and spreading your body from one side of the bed to the other
  6. Reading the trashiest magazines in bed with only a bottle of wine for company.
  7. That quiet time in the morning before the rabble awakens
  8. Crisp clean sheets, soft clean towels and a new toothbrush.
  9. A clear inbox.
  10. Shopping, even if you only have $20 in your pocket
  11. Fantasising about celebrity men eg. Chris HemsworthChris Hemsworth as Kale
  12. Fresh flowers, even if you have to buy them for yourself
  13. New lingerie, even if you have to buy it for yourself
  14. Mango sorbet on a hot day
  15. Someone remembering you when you’re feeling meh
  16. An unexpected hug from your kids
  17. When he admits he’s wrong
  18. Orgasms
  19. Not having to fake sex
  20. That spontaneous day out that turned out even better than you hoped
  21. Great coffee
  22. Any kind of chocolate, but the darker the better
  23. Fresh basil, bocconcini and tomato – the best food combination ever
  24. Exercising outdoors
  25. Finding out that a celebrity you respect has put on weight
  26. Discovering that the secret to long life is doing something you do already
  27. A compliment from an admirer
  28. Waking up refreshed, before the alarm goes off
  29. Sunday mornings
  30. Good wine.
  31. That first sip of wine on a Friday night
    Coffee C0531
  32. That first potato chip on a Friday night
  33. Friday night
  34. When your teenagers trust you with something confidential
  35. Watching the trailers at the movies
  36. Going to the movies
  37. Salmon sashimi
  38. Starting a new book
  39. Being recognized for your hard work
  40. Feeling needed
  41. Live music
  42. Writing words you’re so passionate about, they bounce from your head straight to the page and then read like poetry
  43. A dog snuggle
  44. Being spooned, even if it’s by the dog
  45. A short, light period
  46. Wearing something that was once tight but now fits, and gives your confidence a massive lift
  47. Dressing up for a big night out
  48. When your kids make you proud
  49. Doing something charitable that only you know you’ve done
  50. Educating yourself every day50 Of the Best Things In Life That Are Almost Free

For the purposes of equality and comparison, I asked the old man for his list and here’s what he came up with:

  1. Swimming in the sea
  2. Masturbation
  3. Laughing
  4. Toast
  5. Crisps
  6. Surfing the net

Which begs the question just how we women adapt to living with such simpletons?

What are the best things about your life?

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