Thursday, February 5, 2015

Good news at a time of renewal and change

On the first day of Spring, with a longer stretch evident in the evenings, renowned Shaman Midie Corcoran asked a group of us to pass through a giant St Bridget’s Belt to mark the passing of Winter and the hope of renewal which comes with this time of year.

As I left the weekly meditation class, I realised the depression which had gripped me through much of the Winter had all but disappeared. My health was improving and it was great to share my hopes for better fortune with a wonderful group of people as we marked the start of February.

Sometimes life works in mysterious ways. Since taking voluntary redundancy from the Connacht Tribune I have had surgery twice on a serious shoulder injury, had to visit the public health nurses about 70 times since Halloween, and found myself gripped by fear through the dark winter months.

Instead of taking up a job I had been promised, but which subsequently fell through, or helping out the poor of Nicaragua – where I found such fulfilment four years ago – I found myself facing my demons in wintry Galway with a lot of time on my hands.

People had read my blog and said I was too hard on myself, which I definitely was. And sometimes, in the midst of pain and suffering, it really is hard to believe that everything happens for a reason.

But now I’m convinced of it. The start of a new life after 22 years in the same job did not mean I had to run away to the other side of the world, much as I love travelling and experiencing different cultures. Not straight away, anyways. Perhaps I needed time to face the fears I had avoided by being busy for so long. 

When you have a crazy, busy life, like I had, you may never have time to really look at yourself in the mirror. Rushing from job to gym to social event, which is the life of a busy journalist, can mean there is little time for taking stock or recognising what’s really important in life.

Over Christmas, I was delighted to meet old friends, but I also wallowed in self-pity over the troublesome shoulder and the fact that I no longer had a job. It was probably a good thing that all the antibiotics kept me off the demon drink!

I almost had to reach rock bottom to realise the importance of living for today, right here, right now, rather than worrying about what life will be like in six months or a year.

I hit a low point when I applied for a job which was far too similar to the one I’d left, simply because I wanted to stay in the comfort zone. As the wind howled and the rain poured down two weeks ago, I began to feel sorry for myself.

At times like that, it’s hard to reach out and engage with the world. Friends and family might not even realise how much they helped to lift me out of the Winter blues.

Then I remembered the dignity of friends like Karl and Liam, friends who have tackled far more serious health issues than I have with far more bravery than me over a much longer period of time.

Over the past few days, since the start of Spring, I have come to realise that leaving the ‘safe harbour’ could yet become the best decision I ever made. It’s a chance for growth, for change, and there is nothing fulfilling about staying in the same place for too long, even if being unemployed or self-employed can be scary at times.

On the second day of Spring, I jumped out of bed. The Public Health Nurse who had seen me most over the past three months had made an appointment for me, even though there was no onus on her to see me since the second operation two weeks ago.

After knocking me out cold, the surgeon had given me the kind of stitches which dissolve by themselves. But she wanted to make sure everything was ok after seeing me wallow in despair for a few weeks.

On a bright Monday morning, she had great news. It looked as though the injured cyst, which caused a serious infection, had finally healed. Two more weeks and I might even be back in the swimming pool for the first time since Halloween. As I left the clinic, I was on Cloud Nine.

Then I went for an interview for a ten week course, which is all about starting an online business. It will give me skills in Search Engine Optimisation, pay per click, and website design, exactly the kind of skills I will need after leaving the regional newspaper behind. 

And the course is allowing me to meet a wonderful mixture of people from a variety of backgrounds, all seeking to change their lives and careers. Looking at them, seeing how keen they all are to learn, has brought it home to me that there should be no stigma attached to being unemployed.

One lady told me she had been made redundant three times. Change, and how we cope with it, is fundamental to all our lives.

I now know that I will be in Galway for the next 12 weeks and the course has given me just the focus I need as I start to move on with my life. Nicaragua can wait, while I sort myself out and come to terms with how much anxiety the redundancy and shoulder injury brought up in me over the past few months.

On the same afternoon, a person I had admired from a distance for years met me for coffee to talk about changing careers. He gave me so much wonderful advice and wanted nothing in return. He, like nurse Joanne, reminded me that there is so much goodness in people if you only ask them for a helping hand.

Afterwards, I walked the fabulous Salthill promenade, revelling in the extra bit of sunlight and the flat calm sea. Suddenly, it didn’t matter that I was not in Nicaragua or Thailand this winter. I was enjoying a wonderful walk in my home town and filled with gratitude for the uncertain life and new adventures which lie ahead.

Yes, three months of pain, antibiotics, and daily visits to the clinic were not part of the post-redundancy plan. But they taught me so much about my own fears and frustrations that they may really stand to me in the long-term. 

They also taught me to never, ever forget that good health should never be taken for granted. It’s far more important than a job or career.

We all have magic inside us, but it’s hard to find the magic if you spend your life rushing from job to gym to gig, or flying off to escape in the sun.

Spring is in the air and, instead of rushing off to save the world in Central America (much as I’d love to yet), the freak shoulder accident and subsequent surgery have taught me so much about appreciating what I already have in my life.

I might never get a chance to spend wintry Wednesday afternoons hanging out with my elderly parents or two year old nephew again. I might never get a chance to hook up with unemployed friends for leisurely coffees and chats down by the sea.

So January has come to an end. It is hard to imagine how dark and bleak Winter in Ireland was for our ancestors in the days before the electrification of the countryside. No wonder they used to dance with joy when St Bridget’s Day arrived.

Happy Springtime . . . the Winter was long enough this year, but dark days are necessary in order to appreciate the light.

After three months of pain and self-pity, this was a very good week.

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