February 29th, 2012

This day has been a focus point for me for the past four years. On February 29th, 2008 I wondered where I’d be on Leap Day in four years time. Let me tell you the story of that day, and what happened after it. It’s not a short story, so get comfy. Or flag it altogether, I promise I won’t be offended. This is my story, for me.

On February 29th, 2008 I was lost. My life had been changing for a couple of years, so I didn’t notice the lost-ness creeping up on me. By the time it hit, I was a goner.

I don’t know where it started, but a couple of memories stand out. Coming home from work one evening in October 2006, a fleeting thought crossed my mind: “I’ve fulfilled my purpose in life…there is no point to me any more”. In the biological sense, I’d done my job. My son was soon to turn 18 and I was examining what I’d done with my life.

And I had a good life – a great job that I loved, two awesome kids, a stable relationship, a nice home. Lots of great friends.

Bebe and Antz

On my son’s 18th birthday in November 2006, I had an overwhelming sense of sadness. For his passing childhood, and for the loss of my own youth. I grieved the teenage-hood I never had because I was too busy raising two young children. I know it was my choice and I never regretted it, not even for a moment. But sometimes when I saw my little people growing up, doing things I missed out on, it made me sad.

That moment passed and life moved on. But I think something shifted without me realising it. I had a growing sense of dis-ease. Like a faint voice in the background that got louder as time went by.

Restless, irritable, discontent. This was me.

My partner was diagnosed with cancer in 2007. He shut himself away from me and didn’t want to face it. That’s just not the way I do things, so I faced up to his mortality on my own while he ignored it. We grew apart.

My job changed from being a joy to a chore – I was bored, and had no room to move. My contented life was unravelling.

Fast forward to the end of 2007. I had planned a trip for my daughter’s 16th birthday. A big OE for us both – London, Paris, Athens, Rome and everywhere in between. The thought of that adventure kept me going through 2007. The faint noise had become a din. It threatened to drown me out, but I didn’t realise that then. I thought I could move through it – my attitude to life was that everything would be okay eventually, just wait it out.

I experienced the joy of watching my baby girl turn 16 in Paris. So grown up. So didn’t need me anymore (I thought to myself).

Bebe and Meagle

At some point during our holiday, my brain made a decision that would change everything. I have trouble saying that ‘I’ made the decision, because it didn’t feel like I was deciding anything – I felt compelled to change my life. It felt necessary for survival. After I came home in January, I ended my relationship with my partner. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done. He had recently recovered from intense chemo and things were looking up. He might recover. This was my dilemma:

Do I stay with him only because he has cancer, and wait to see what happens? Or do I leave now, and become that girl who broke up with her boyfriend even though he’s dying of cancer? Rock / Hard Place.

Like I said, it felt more like a compulsion than a choice in the end. It’s one of the few choices I’ve made in my life that I feel truly bad about. It wasn’t the wrong choice – I don’t regret it, but it sits uncomfortably … if that makes sense.

At the same time, I made a decision to leave. I needed to get away. All the things that gave me joy in the past suddenly felt like they were crushing me. So I ran. At the beginning of February 2008 I quit my job, sold my house, left my partner. I’d never been so miserable.

Here’s how I remember February 2008. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t think. Everything I ate made me feel sick. I could only sleep for a couple of hours at a time before I jolted awake, exhausted but unable to sleep again. I got to cracking point in mid-February and went to a doctor for advice. She suggested I had a form of anorexia nervosa. She prescribed anti-depressants and sleeping pills. I didn’t trust myself to even fill the prescription. I tore it into tiny pieces and scuttled back into my misery.

On February 28th 2008 I was at bottom. I was too tired to do anything. I lay in my bed too exhausted to get up and eat or drink. I felt done. I was chatting online to my friend Scuddy. He told me I’d feel better if I got up, had a drink of water, ate some toast and went for a walk. It sounded so simple. So I did it. And I did feel better.

Whatever had descended felt like it might lift. It was like I could see a tiny glimmer of light down a long black corridor. I woke up the next morning with a resolve to find myself. I used to be happy. Where had that Bebe gone? She was there, I just had to figure out where exactly.

It was February 29th, 2008. Leap Day. It seemed like a good day to make a change. I took a bus to town and went to a jewellers. I purchased a plain silver bracelet. On the inside of the bracelet I had inscribed, “To thine own self be true”. To forever remind me of this day. I went home and figured that I had four years to find myself. In four years it would be February 29th again, and I’d be somewhere different. I thought about that unimagined future, and it gave me hope.

The voice that had been a din, drowning out all thought, whispered, “you can be anything you want, you can do anything you want”. It scared me, but another feeling was in there too, interest. What would I be? What would I do?

You know the rest of the story. In slow steps, I got to here and now. I left, I wandered, I cried, I found myself, I found peace. I came back, found a new job, became a grandmother, met Stephen and resumed life amongst the humans.

From this vantage point, I look back on 2008 Bebe and I’m thankful. As painful as it was to hit bottom, bouncing back up has been an amazing experience – because it is such a contrast. I’ve been able to reinvent myself and find a life for myself that is beyond my wildest dreams. And it’s a better life because it’s purposeful. I’ll never forget how I felt that day and what I did next. And if I ever do forget, I have a little jangling reminder on my left wrist.

To thine own self be true

Living life

In the book ‘About A Boy’, Nick Hornby talks about living his life by units. Each task is allocated units of time to make his day more manageable:

“I find the key is to think of a day as units of time, each unit consisting of no more than thirty minutes. Full hours can be a little bit intimidating and most activities take about half an hour. Taking a bath: one unit, watching Countdown: one unit, web-based research: two units, exercising: three units, having my hair carefully disheveled: four units.”

It’s a sensible way of thinking about each day. When my day looks too long, too busy, or even too empty to manage, I focus just on the bit I’m in right now, and work on getting through – or making the most of – the moment I’m in.

The past few weeks have been long and stressful, each one more difficult than the last – stress has a cumulative effect. So I started this week tired, and as it drew on, I was more so. I had a lot to do, a lot to think about, and not a lot of time.

When my life is like this (and thankfully it’s not usually) I remind myself that life is an endurance event. There are difficult bits and easier bits, and the trick is to get my head down and get through the tough bits the best I can. I try to slow down, stay focused on what’s in front of me, and keep my eye on the horizon. Everything ends eventually, the trick is to keep moving forward.

As Winston Churchill once said, “when you’re going through hell, keep going!”

Inspired

After work last night, I met up with Gerard in Auckland city and we went for a walk around Britomart. I’d only heard of Britomart as a transport centre. And until recently, Gerard explained, the area was an urban ghetto – lots of empty and derelict buildings, a place nobody would want to go. Not so now. The area has recently undergone an amazing transformation.

Pop-up shops

I am truly impressed with this newly built shopping spot – it’s funky and attractive and makes really good use of space. It’s right in the middle of sky-scraper city, and yet the main square was roomy and light with grass and trees and warm sun and lots of people. The buildings are a mix of high-, mid- and low-rise and of old and new. The newest are a set of temporary shops that are described on the website as ‘pop-up shops’.

It inspired me. I imagine that the rubble that is Christchurch could grow into something like this.  It was vibrant and alive, full of people, but still functional – a transport centre flowing with traffic.

We need this. We need to rebuild a functioning, functional inner city that people want to work and live in. Until now I really only had a vague picture of what was possible. Now I’ve seen the reality of what we can have. I cross my fingers that those who are rebuilding my place have seen what I saw.

Because standing amongst the glass and brick and cobbles and people, I felt real hope for the first time in almost a year.

The tyranny of the scales

I weighed myself at the gym today, it made me remember once again why measuring myself this way is a waste of time.

When I first started losing weight in 2003, I was going to the gym every second day, and I weighed myself once a week. It was a good way of keeping track of the slowly diminishing number and gave me something to spur me on. Sometimes I’d gain weight and it would give me a fright, but in general, the trend was downward. Once I reached 83 kilos, the weight-loss stopped. I’d lost 45 kilos in about two years, so I was happy with this. Losing more weight would have involved serious dieting, and I didn’t think that was wise.

Since then, I have continued to eat sensibly and exercise regularly, and my weight has fluctuated very little. There have only been two only exceptions to this, in 2008-2009 and 2011.

In 2008-2009 I was very ill, culminating in the removal of my gall bladder. Both before and after surgery, I had trouble eating and dropped to about 78 kilos. The weight gradually climbed and settled again at 83 kilos once I got better. Isn’t that a funny thing?

Last year after the 22/02 earthquake, the huge changes we all went through altered my diet and exercise routine again. My weight jumped to around 87 kilos. I went back to the gym, refocused on what I was eating and once again I returned to 83 kilos.

So here’s my point …. today I weighed in at 84.5 kilos. In the past couple of months I’ve been doing a lot of running, and I know that I have changed my shape – I have more muscle and less fat. I’ve lost about half a dress size in the past two months. Not a lot, but just enough for me to notice that my clothes are looser. So I’ve gained weight and lost size.

So while the scales might be telling a sort of truth, it’s not a truth I want to listen to.