This was not on the List …

If you’re reading this, then hopefully you’ve been following me on my 40 before forty journey through The List, and my attempts to be present in each moment. And to live intentionally, and deliberately. Which means that you’ll be expecting this post to reveal the next item on The List – that is, after all, what my blogging is (and has been) about.

However, this post is going to be a bit different. It’s been a difficult one for me to write and I have been putting off publishing it for a while because of the judgment I know I will encounter once this is out there. Nevertheless, there are things in my heart and mind I want to share, which I do today through writing about something that was not on The List.

In my last post, I shared my story around the Paris Marathon which I completed (and loved!) in April 2017. It was such a blissful time for me – not only did I achieve the very thing I had been dreaming of and working towards for the last year, but I had an amazing holiday in Paris with my bestie while I did it. And my time in Paris was only part of a very special two months of being on sabbatical from work.  I know many people swoon when they find out about this particular perk that employees at Lightstone have – being a fully paid two-month sabbatical after five years of employment.  And it is certainly swoon-worthy. I’ve never had two months off work in my entire career, and it’s not something I ever thought I would have. So when the time arrived, I grabbed it with both hands. My sabbatical was a mixture of time spent at home with Chuckles, travel to Paris and the Champagne region, doing stuff around the house that I’d been meaning to do for months (or even years!), time down in the Cape where I could walk on the beach, catch up with friends (while Chuckles caught up with his friends in the Cape too ;)) and just allow my soul time to breathe.  Doesn’t it all sound magical? It was. I won’t downplay it one bit – it was an absolutely amazing and special time.

I duly arrived back at work in the middle of May, ready to pick up where I had left off, both regarding the content of the work I had been doing, and catching up with the people that I had been working with over the years. However, in the context of some comments that had been made prior to my sabbatical, there was a seed of angst that I carried inside me on my return to work. And that angst proved justifiable – within two weeks of being back in the office, I found myself packing boxes of my “stuff” from the last nearly six years. Files, papers, photos, miscellaneous junk that somehow manifests in your desk drawers… there I was, silently packing my boxes and packing up my professional life as I knew it. I had been retrenched.

original-logos-2017-Jun-9545-594fd38bf3fc0I had been thinking about setting up my own business for a while, and so this was probably the push that I needed to get it going. And, in fact, for a few days I was really excited about the opportunity – being retrenched meant receiving a severance package, which in turn meant that my living expenses could be taken care of for a while, while I set up the business. Seemed almost ideal.

I had no idea, however, of what I was going to go through in the weeks that followed.

On the morning of Monday, 5 June 2017, I woke up feeling like someone had squeezed all the air out of my chest and left a ten-ton bulldozer on top of me. It was the first full work week where I didn’t have a job to go into and although I logically knew that this was the beginning of an exciting new venture, it was also the first time in my working career of more than twenty years where I didn’t have a workplace to call my own – a place where I had a substantive role to play and a contribution to make. I felt completely (and unexpectedly) overwhelmed. I felt empty. And purposeless. I felt that if I got knocked over by a bus that morning, no one would even know for a few days. There was nowhere I had to be, and no-one that was expecting me.

Be braveTo re-emphasise: I really do know that my new venture is going to work. I know that I am a good attorney, I do good work, I develop great relationships with my clients and other people I work with, and I believe there is a market for my services. I’m putting the building blocks in place to establish and grow my business. In my first two months of business, I have already done significant work for new clients and have generated revenue, facts which I view as extremely positive and encouraging. And I know this is just the beginning.

So if I am so positive and encouraged about my new business, then why did I experience those feelings of purposelessness a few short weeks ago? And where did the emptiness come from? And why the need to write this post? And it’s not only that I did experience those feelings (as in – past tense), but that I’m still experiencing those feelings 😦

I think I’m sharing this post just because I’m being true to who I am. I have said on so many occasions throughout my posts that I believe in being real, and that I’m nothing if not real. So I guess it’s that I want you to know why I’ve perhaps been a bit quiet of late, and why there’s no immediate plans to attack the next thing on The List. Life is not a list, and it can’t be perfectly planned – sometimes what’s not on The List is what threatens to characterise your life for a while, as opposed to what is on The List.

I remember when I left the large law firm environment six years ago, I went through quite a crisis of identity – I realised so much of my identity had been wrapped up in being a partner at a large law firm. And when that was no longer, it took a while to figure out who I was again. I’m going through a similar thing right now – my career has always been the stable thing in my life. I’ve put my head down, worked hard, worked smart, added value and progressed significantly throughout my career.  On the occasions when I’ve had meltdowns about how life has turned out for me (or not) in personal spheres, when I’ve cried heavy tears that I’ve not found someone to settle down with and have a family with (and that time is now running out), I’ve always had the apparent stability on the other side of the scale, on the professional side. But now – now… it feels like I have uncertainty on every side I look.

As you’ll know, I’ve been on a long journey fighting depression Hours(And yes, I use the word “fighting” very deliberately – it’s a daily struggle that I take on, a battle which I turn up for every day and arm myself as best I can). Over the first five or so months of this year, it was incredible that I felt (for the first time in years and years) that perhaps I could finally beat this depression thing. That perhaps I could live with some semblance of hope and expectation for the future. And for someone who’s had very little hope, to find even a glimpse of that hope – you can imagine, is life-changing. But now – now… the darkness is real again. And close. And suffocating. Those five months seem like a dream, a temporary repose from the painful reality which I now face again.  Even as I write this, my chest is constricted and I can’t breathe properly – the heaviness over my heart feels physical. A great sadness weighs me down to the extent that I can’t even imagining breathing freely again.

And the more I tried to reason with myself that everything was going to be fine, better than fine in fact, the more I was confused by the immense (and seemingly disproportionate) sadness that I felt. It was only when my doctor shared that it is not uncommon that a major life change (such as a change in relationship or job) triggers an episode of depression and anxiety, that I understood that this was something I simply wasn’t in control of.  The illness that is depression had struck again.

There are a myriad of guides out there giving insight into how to treat people with depression – and by “treat”, I don’t mean treat medically, I mean how to treat on a day to day basis in relationship. So I’m not about to try and rewrite the self-help books and medical journals.  However, I have had one major realisation (well, major to me at least) as to something I believe we need and crave as humans, which I’d like to add into the mix.  Following my retrenchment, the people in my world have gone above and beyond to be encouraging. There’s been loads of “this is going to turn out to be the best thing for you” and “your new business is going to fly” around me. And when people ask me how I’m doing, it’s generally in the form of asking how the new business is going, and client- or work-related stuff.  It’s all about looking towards the silver lining. And I have so appreciated everyone’s encouragement. But do you know what I’ve really needed? More than positivity and encouragement? I’ve needed someone to acknowledge how painful this process has been. I’ve needed someone to just be with me, put their arms around me, and recognise the pain and hurt, without trying to fix it.  Just to sit with me in the fire so to speak, and say “Nix, this is really rough. And painful. I can’t change it, but I’m here with you.”

I’ve found it mind-boggling that, by and large, we all tend to practice positive psychology in tough situations, always encouraging others (and ourselves) to look up, look forward, look at opportunities, stay strong, believe, etc. etc. And before all the positive psychology followers start shouting me down, hear me out….positive psychology is largely awesome, and encouraging, and all those good things.  What I’ve experienced over the last while though is that we seem to treat each other ONLY using the principles of positive psychology, with little acknowledgment of what is really happening and how we’re really feeling. And for me, when I’ve been related to that way, it has made me feel even worse…as I then feel badly about myself that I’m hurting and sad, and unable to get on the “positive bandwagon” with everyone else.

ReaI think it’s partly a product of the social-media dominated society we live in, where everyone’s lives are reflected as a highlights reel on Facebook or Instagram. When last have you seen a post on social media from one of your friends that tells you they’re anxious, sad, or even lonely? And I guarantee you your Facebook friends experience all of those – and yet we can’t put it out there, because then it doesn’t look like we’re living a happy, fulfilled life that everyone is envious of. We are ashamed of the less-than-pretty parts of ourselves and our lives, so we can’t be authentic and put those out there as we’re scare of being judged.  And if we can’t put those out there and be real with ourselves, then how can we expect to be real with others – to meet them in their place and space of vulnerability.

The realization of needing to be acknowledged in the space that I’m in has impacted how I’ve been relating to the people in my world. I’ve been trying to first acknowledge where someone is and the reality of their situation, whether good or bad, before offering any “positive psychology”-type encouragement. Whether it’s been with someone who was struggling with leaving a job, someone who has been ill or someone struggling with a relationship.  And it’s been amazing how well that acknowledgement has been received. It creates another depth to the relationship when we’re willing to just sit with each other in the fire first (and I say ‘first’, because I’m in no way advocating that we must leave each other there…)

It’s perhaps summed up best in two lines from my favourite poem, The Invitation, where the poet says “I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it…. It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

I completely acknowledge that this post is somewhat long-winded, and not particularly well structured – if you’ve made it to this point, thank you for your understanding.  I don’t even have one particular goal in writing this post, but rather a number of them, including filling you in on the reality of my retrenchment, sharing my unfortunate re-encounter with The Great Sadness that is depression, illustrating that sometimes life happens outside of The List, and most importantly encouraging us all to be authentic, to meet people where they are, to sit with them in the fire and acknowledge their reality before offering encouragement and proceeding to help them out of the fire.

Postscript: the reference I made at the outset to exposing myself to judgment through publishing this post, is because I know that there are people who are going to be thinking things like “Pull yourself together, there are people with much greater problems or issues than you”. And that’s true – I know there are. I know that on the whole I am immensely blessed. But I also know that there are not enough people who are authentic about themselves, their world, and how they feel. And so if my authenticity bothers you, or you feel that I share “too much” (which I have been accused of in the past), then please feel free to move on. I make myself vulnerable in the hope of encouraging others to be vulnerable too. So if you are moved to judgment rather than vulnerability, I invite you to move on and wish you only the best.

Another postscript: if you’re reading this and thinking “What is she talking about? I’ve been there for her!”, then you are absolutely right. You have been there for me, and I am so grateful to you for being there.  My writing is in no way an attack on anyone. My writing is a reflection of what is in my soul, and I don’t want to have to make any further disclaimers than that. I love you.

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Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Paris is always a good idea!

I’m told by brides that, at the end of your wedding day, your cheeks are sore from smiling for virtually the entire day! Well that’s exactly how I felt a few weeks ago, on Sunday, 9 April to be exact. But before you get excited, it wasn’t my wedding day (alas) but was rather the day I was running through the streets of Paris, drinking in the sights, experiencing the most exhilarating atmosphere and fulfilling a dream by running and completing the Paris Marathon.

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Receiving my Paris race number at my 40th

You may recall that I previously shared some of my running journey (In it for the long run…) when one of the items contributed to The List was to run another half marathon or marathon. I duly did the half marathon on The List and wrote about getting back into running, some of the challenges I’ve faced in running and shared my experience of running my first and only marathon back in 2011, which I did for the sole purpose of proving to myself that I could do it (in the context of my physical limitations with my club foot). At the time of writing that post about a year ago, I never dreamed that I would ever take on another marathon and my view was that I had completed that item on The List, in that I had run a half marathon. But the universe (and my brother) had other thoughts, with the result that for my 40th birthday I received my entry and race number for the 2017 Paris marathon as a gift from Craig! Wow wow wow!! A marathon in my favourite city in the world! I couldn’t think of a more amazing gift!

It didn’t take too long for reality to hit though…and while running the Paris marathon sounds super glamorous, I soon realised it would involve months (and months) of training, hard work, commitment… all the stuff that sounds so noble, but is often hard to follow through with. I won’t bore you with all the details of my training, and how I went about slowly building up my endurance and distance – suffice to say that it didn’t initially go according to plan. My plan was to train and build up sufficient distance so that I could run the Kaapsehoop marathon in the first weekend of November (thereby giving me the confidence for Paris a few months later). As happens with many runners when increasing distance though, I suffered an injury, which resulted in about six weeks of little to no training leading up to November, and ultimately realizing that I just wouldn’t be sufficiently trained in time for the Kaapsehoop marathon. I had my accommodation booked and arrangements made for the weekend in Mpumalanga, though, so I decided I would still drive down, and just do the half marathon and use it as a training run.

Kaapsehoop

Kaapsehoop marathon startline

Cue another thing that didn’t go according to plan – in the week of the race, a relationship unexpectedly and abruptly ended, leaving me overwhelmed by a storm of emotions  – betrayal, anger, hurt, disappointment. And so, on the four hour drive to Kaapsehoop for the weekend, with lots of time to think and process, I decided to channel the sadness and negative emotions into something worthwhile – to rather convert the emotions (if possible) into physical energy and to try and push myself over the marathon distance, just starting and seeing how far I could go on the day. Foolish? Maybe. Probably. But that’s what I did.  Met up (and surprised) Coach Jeannie at the start line (who virtually shed tears of joy at seeing me there, so determined to put my mental strength to the test), and headed off on a beautiful run (with about two thousand other people) in the early morning from Kaapsehoop.  After an awesome run, through the mist in the early morning, through the forests alongside wild horses, I ultimately called it a day at about the 34km mark – very very happy with the distance I’d achieved and the mental strength that got me there – taking negative emotion and using it to my benefit.

Jax

This is the gorgeous Jacqui who, despite looking so sweet and innocent, has hands of steel. She is simply the best physio there is

Although my injury before Kaapsehoop interfered with my carefully planned training programme, and another (different) back injury in December threatened to again derail my progress, as we know the universe works in mysterious ways, and these injuries ultimately resulted in one of my current greatest blessings. When I first got injured, Coach Jeannie referred me to her physio, Jacqui, and, from the moment I first walked into Jacqui’s physio practice and met the bubbly, loving, caring, amazing woman that is Jacqui Gallagher, I knew I was in good hands. More than Jacqui being a phenomenal physio, she has become a close friend and confidante, and she played an enormous role in preparing me for the Paris marathon. My weekly physio treatments in the months leading up to Paris not only kept me injury-free and ready for the race physically, but were times filled with chats, laughter (and tears occasionally), race discussions (as Jacqui is training for her second Comrades this year), encouragement, story-sharing and so much more. Jax – clearly my injuries were part of a greater plan to ensure you and I met – you’re amazing, thank you for everything! I love you dearly and you are SO ready for Comrades, it’s in the bag, you go girl!

Okay, I digress….back to the journey to Paris. I continued training with Coach Jeannie, increasing my distance and endurance, and running four times a week as the time drew ever-nearer.  I stayed accountable to both Jeannie and Craig, who were always available for advice and encouragement. And I put in the miles and the time on the road. I won’t lie and tell you I loved it all – I certainly didn’t! Hee hee – given a choice to go out after work for a glass of bubbles with a friend or to go and run, I would almost always have wanted to choose the friend and the bubbles. But I didn’t really have the choice – I had to stick to the training programme if I was to be ready for Paris. So yes, there were sacrifices, but I made them knowing (hoping?) they would be worth it in the end.  I had to keep that end goal in mind constantly – and I often mentally pictured the finish on Avenue Foch in Paris, running over that line having achieved what I set out to do. It kept me going many a time, including those early Saturday and Sunday mornings when you have to get up at 3:45am (or, as Amanda calls it, at stupid o’clock) to be in time for a race starting at some little-known place in Pretoria or in the south of Joburg at 6am.  (Those mornings were not pretty!)

I arrived in Paris a few days before the marathon, to be met by my bestie, Mands, who had decided just a few weeks earlier to join me in Paris to support me and cheer me along the way. (Wow, how blessed am I with friends like that?!!) I landed in Paris having discovered Mands had already created a closed Facebook group “Nicky’s Marathon le Paris” to keep my family updated (and to which I added only three or four people who wouldn’t be bored to tears by constant running updates 🙂 Like Jeannie, Jacqui, Christine and Dannean).  And so our whirlwind time in Paris began… from being greeted at 7am with a carbo-loading breakfast (i.e. champagne and croissants :), to picnicking in the Champs de Mars gardens under the Eiffel Tower, to fulfilling (another) bucket list item by having a glass of bubbles in Bar Hemingway at The Ritz and then going to Salon du Running on the Friday for registration and to wander through the Expo. It all became VERY real at registration and the Expo – all of the 57000 entrants’ names were on a massive banner (and of course it was great fun to go searching for your name).

Before I knew it, the morning of Sunday, 9 April dawned. I had done the traditional “lay-out” of my gear the night before, packed everything that I needed and gotten a really great night’s sleep (because, unlike our South African races which start so early resulting in having to get up at stupid o’clock, the Paris marathon started at a respectable 08h30 (for the elite athletes) and, with a staggered start, my start time was only 09h50).  Mands and I made our way to the top of the Champs Elysees and, after some mandatory photos and much nervous laughter, she gave me a final hug goodbye, with good luck wishes and promises to see me soon (at the spots we’d picked out where she would be) and I joined the masses in my seeding pen.

Paris7

Goosebump stuff…

And pretty soon, we started moving slowly forward en masse – with music playing, adrenaline pumping and of course some tears of emotion seeping out. And that was when my smiling (no, GRINNING!) started for real and didn’t stop for the first 23km! In my brightly coloured SA flag running vest I headed out on the greatest run of my life, down the Champs Elysses (on one of only two days in the year when the Champs Elysses is closed to traffic), turning on to Place de la  Concorde, running past the sidewalk cafes (where the locals were having their regular morning cafe and cigarette) and past the Louvre.  I had my first “local” support at about 10km when I just heard “Go South Africa!! Jy lyk goed!!!” My grin only got bigger (if that was even possible).

We then headed into some of the most beautiful parklands that I didn’t even know existed in Paris, before turning back and running up alongside the Seine, past Notre Dame and over the halfway mark (smiling as I looked at my watch as it showed a PB half marathon). After what had seemed like only a few minutes since she’d left me at the start (but which was in reality about two hours and thirty seven minutes), I saw Mands on the side of the road, with her SA flag, waiting for me at the 23km point. My cheerleader!! With some snacks and some encouragement, and after exchanging big smiles and sweaty hugs, I headed off again…

Paris9

About 12km in … still grinning

It was unseasonably hot that day, which actually played to my advantage (relatively speaking) as those were conditions that I was used to running in and it really didn’t bother me, but the poor Europeans. Shame, they were just not used to running in that heat. It was only 25 degrees celsius, but for early April when the maximum should have been around 14 or 15, this was really hot for most of the field.  There are some definite advantages to being African, and being used to the heat! (I confess, I wasn’t complaining when I ran past the cooling stations every 5km where the local firemen were cooling the runners down with the massive firehoses being sprayed over the street…you know what they say about men in uniform – nothing like a little bit of eye candy to help with the motivation 🙂 )

Eiffel Tower

Seriously? Who gets to do this??

From that point, to be fair, it was hard work. And while I continued to smile during the hard work, my legs certainly felt it.  But I had set my “mental markers” – and the next big one was the Eiffel Tower at 29km. Wow!! The Eiffel Tower!! Who has that as a marker in your Sunday run??!!! I grin just thinking about it!

And there were these awesome, quaint little bands along the route – I reckon every 1.5km so – a whole variety…some drumming groups, some singers, some brass bands, some folk bands, you name it.. .they were there. And I made a (mental) deal with myself that I would not walk past a band! Because yes, there was quite a bit of walking in the second half. So I experienced a mixture of thrill when I saw or heard the next band, and a half a second of dread, knowing that it meant that if I was walking at that stage when I heard or saw them, I had to pick up those legs, and get them running 🙂 Was my own little game!

And then, before I knew it, there was Mands with her SA flag, big smile, bag of snacks (and attempting to get in a whole conversation with me in 30 seconds) at the 32km mark (while she even took a live Facebook video for the Nicky’s Marathon le Paris group). I found out afterwards that the race app had not been working at all (much to the frustration of all supporters, especially my brother who runs a race timing business and could not contain his frustration at a simple thing like an app not working for such a big event). So I think the live Facebook video was more just to serve as a ‘proof of life’ for my family and friends 😉

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Still grinning …

Those of you that know a little bit about my running, know that I am not a fast runner and so the six-hour cutoff time was always going to be a challenge for me. But I was determined. And in my long training runs during the preceding months, I would try and contextualise them as to how they would translate into ultimate marathon time – would I make it?

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On the green carpet at the finish! Yes, STILL grinning!

My training (under the guidance of Jeannie and Craig) showed that I should (hopefully) make it under six hours, and get that sought-after medal, but it was by no means a sure thing. But to be honest, at no point after lining up at the start line, did I have even a second’s doubt that I would finish within the allowed time. The last ten kilometres (after seeing Mands) were tough – they really were. But I just carried on… still smiling, still plodding, still making sure there was no walking when I could hear or see the various bands… which ultimately, after about 41.5 kilometres, led me around a corner and on to the Avenue Foch. (And now… rather than just smiling as I write this, I actually have goosebumps and a lump in my throat). The crowds were all along the sides of the road, banging on the advertising boards, and cheering madly, “Allez, Allez!”and I was drinking it all in, really experiencing the moment, THAT moment that I had dreamed of, and worked for… and so, with tears in my eyes, looking all around me all the time to try and take in as much as possible (which is why there is no photo of me at the Finish where I’m looking front-on, hee hee), I crossed that Finish Line. I did it! 42,195km in 05:49:00! I finished the most beautiful marathon I could have ever dreamed of…the culmination of a year of planning, training, saving, training, treating injuries, training, running races at stupid o’clock, training, crying, training, laughing, training… always knowing, that Paris is ALWAYS a good idea!

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My most treasured medal ever!!

Postscript: there are a couple of people who need to be singled out here, in addition to what I may have said about them above.

Craig – you are my hero. Without you, I would have never run my first race back in 2007. And without your constant encouragement and belief in me, I would never have made it to Paris. Oh, and of course, thanks for my amazing priceless 40th birthday gift!

Jeannie – I still wonder at how you manage to put in so much love and enthusiasm into coaching me, as a slow, amateur, social runner – when you are used to being surrounded by elite runners and are, yourself, on your way to a Silver at Comrades this year. You are far more than my coach, you are one of my best friends, and I love you!

Mom and Dad – thank you for showing me that I’m special, no matter what I do… and for always ALWAYS loving me. Every journey I take, is with you in my heart. (And Mom – your additional contribution to making sure I was loved and supported in Paris, is priceless. You know what I’m referring to).

Mands – the absolute BEST friend, supporter, cheerleader, looker-afterer (yes, I make up words!), bubbles supplier EVER! There is no way that my Paris experience would have been anywhere near as magical without you. And thank you for keeping in constant contact with my family on race day and keeping them calm 🙂 You are one in a million. Love you bestie!

And yes, I know there will always be more people who I have left out, and who played a part in this journey… so thank you to each and every one of you for the part that you played. (And, before you ask, in my Facebook LIVE feed video at the finish, when Mands asked me whether I’m ready for Comrades, you should know that my answer contained too many expletives to make it suitable to be reproduced here 🙂 )

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Snippets (of forgiveness) & other stuff

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No sexy frenchman, but Paris with Mands was unbelievable!

You would be forgiven for thinking that I’ve a) gone AWOL b) given up on The List c) stopped writing or d) eloped with a sexy Frenchman following my recent dream-come-true trip to Paris.  The reality is that none of the above are applicable, although option d) would have been a nice one to report back on.  Okay, who am I kidding…I wouldn’t be reporting back on the sexy Frenchman, I’d be too busy having fun 🙂 🙂

While I know I’ve been very quiet on my blog, I have indeed still been enthusiastically adventuring through The List. But given that it’s now been a few months since my last post, I thought I could get back into the swing of things here by sharing a few snippets of the things I’ve been doing, and the progress I’m making through The List.  Before I get to that, however, some quick admin. In a few weeks’ time, I’ll be forty-one, and the (dreaded?) year of turning forty will be behind me.  So you would be justifiably confused that I’m still doing a “40beforeforty” List (and blog)! But while the title may no longer make complete sense – the concept behind it is still as relevant as ever for me. And so I would like to continue to blog about my journey in trying to live intentionally (even after forty :)), which includes continuing to do things on The List as well as things that are not on The List, but which are still part of my pursuit of living deliberately and properly being in each moment.

So onto The List…

About a year ago, I was at a friend’s house with a bunch of girlfriends and we were all chilling around the lunch table, chatting, connecting and just enjoying a lazy Saturday afternoon together in the winter sun. Sounds idyllic, right? It was – for much of the time – but the afternoon was marred for me when one of the girls made an insensitive (and, in my view, hurtful) comment about depression, mental health and, in particular, when people have to go to “the loony bin“. As you will know by now, I strongly advocate openness and understanding about mental health issues and I consider it part of my personal mission to try and lessen the unfortunate stigma that society attaches to mental health issues wherever I can. So on this day, when the comment was made, I spoke up, interjecting that I didn’t agree and that I found her comment “..was not fair“, only to be dismissed with “Oh, you know what I mean“.  Yes, I did know what she had meant – in that particular context of the conversation she meant that someone who had been hospitalised for depression and related mental health issues wasn’t to be taken seriously in the professional world and people with high-flying careers justifiably didn’t have time for that. I was saddened. I was hurt. I was offended.

Over the weeks (which possibly stretched into months) that followed, I mulled over this conversation and what I should do about it. I felt that I was being hypocritical if I just let it go and pretend it never happened. But I also knew that if I brought it up again, I would probably just be labeled as being ‘oversensitive’ (which, to be clear, I have no problem with, provided that the right message ultimately gets across, and I didn’t think it would in these particular circumstances 😦 ). So what to do… because the conversation HAD happened, and it HAD affected how I was feeling about this particular friendship.Forgiveness

To make a long story short – I stumbled across an item on The List some time after that, which read simply ‘Forgive someone – even though you have not received an apology‘. And I knew immediately that item was intended for me at that particular time – that was what I was required to do – to forgive that friend, despite her not having apologised and not realised the extent of how her comments had hurt. And make no mistake I’m only human – it was hard for me to just forgive, particularly without any acknowledgment from the person on the other side. But I just knew I had to do it. And so, reluctantly at first, I did it. I made the decision that day – I forgave her, and I indeed moved on. And all is good in our friendship. (I carry the learning with me, however, that the battle to destigmatise mental illness, even amongst highly educated emotionally mature individuals, is still going to be an uphill battle, and one that I need to carry on fighting).

And while I know the particular situation I’ve told you about required forgiveness on my part (yes, even without an apology), and I was indeed able to forgive, let me not create any false impressions here that I can simply do that in any and every situation. I was hurt deeply towards the end of last year in a particular relationship, and I have not managed to forgive (and forget) that person and his particular actions yet. Too often I think back on conversations and memories from then that still hurt. A lot. So I’m by no means saying forgiving is easy – and my sharing my story of forgiveness in just one situation is not intended to trivialise what is a HUGE ask in many situations – it was just one particular set of circumstances where I was lucky enough to be able to forgive and move forward. I’m hoping forgiveness in other situations will come in due course, and I similarly hope that where I have wronged people (of which I’m sure there are many), I will similarly be able to hope to be forgiven.

Okay, let’s get to some lighter stuff that I’ve ticked off The List:

  • ‘Eat ice cream straight out of the tub’ – did that yesterday!! Sorry Mands, hope you weren’t hoping for leftover ice cream in your freezer when you get home tomorrow… oops! (I’m spending a few days at Brett and Amanda’s home in the Cape, enjoying some time out and also looking after their beautiful dogs while Brett and Mands are in Joburg for a few days)
  • ‘Pay for someone’s coffee at another table at a coffee shop as a surprise’ – a few weeks ago I was in Seattle at Grosvenor Crossing (remember I classified them as the best coffee in Bryanston in a previous post?) and overheard a guy at another table apologising to a business associate for his phone ringing during a meeting, but that it was because it was his birthday. So when his colleague left and he remained at his table carrying on with his work, I went and ordered him another coffee and delivered it to his table with happy birthday wishes. He was so surprised – it was awesome!
  • ‘Buy a homeless person a bag of groceries’ – this will never be a once off for me as I often pay for the purchases of the person in front of me or behind me in the supermarket queue, at least once a week. And I seriously think I get more out of it than they ever do – it’s so rewarding to be able to bless someone unexpectedly, even in such a small way. It’s one of the things I love doing!
  • ‘Have a close encounter with elephants’ – I was lucky enough to experience this with my folks in November last year. Close up with those gentle giants…wow! Something very special to experience as a family!

    Elephants

    What a privilege to interact with such a gentle giant

I have many more experiences that I’d like to write about and share with you, and hopefully I’ll be a bit more diligent about this going forward.  But in the meantime – thank you so much for still being with me on this journey, it means a lot to me. I’d love to hear from you if you have any specific things you would like to see added to The List and, until then…. my story is not over, there is more to come.

;

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Confessions of a Bibliophile

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Paradise

 

I sit here on yet another awesome Saturday morning of writing, with my dear friend Amanda. Only this time, our writing venue is itself an item on The List.  We’re in a building built in 1935, holding three floors of treasures, both old and new, being both a place of refuge and a place of learning, a place of pleasure for adults and children alike, and a place where a very specific musty smell permeates every breath – the Johannesburg City Library – a place I’ve wanted to visit for many years now.

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Johannesburg City Library 1935

Being my partner in crime for writing and seeking out unusual places to write about (and, in Amanda’s case, photograph), she blessed me with an exceptionally special birthday present for my 40th – in addition to a sentimental bottle of bubbles (a story for another occasion), I received a personal “voucher” for a trip to the Johannesburg Library, with Mands, for a writing morning. What could be better – being in a place I love, with a friend I love, doing something I love, surrounded by things I love.

I’ve been fascinated with books for as long as I can remember – one of the very first gifts I ever remember getting was a book. I must have been about three years old – Craig and I each received a book as a gift from a lovely lady who was friends with my folks and who had recently returned from some travels abroad. The fact that I can’t remember her name, but I can clearly remember the names of the books and can still see those pictures in my mind (I received The Gingerbread Man and Craig was given Rumpelstiltskin) is probably an indication of the prominence that books would play in my life.

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These are the actual covers of the books we received – brings back some earliest childhood memories. (Craige – remember??)

As you probably know, Craig is just more than a year older than me and so naturally he went to school a year before me.  (In that time, we didn’t have things like grade R or RR, you either went to nursery school, or “big” school, which you started in Sub A (which is Grade 1 for those of you that are too young to remember Sub A and Sub B)). I remember Mom and Craig sitting on the edge of Craig’s bed when Craig was in Sub A, doing his reading homework, and me – not one to be left out when a book was involved – sitting on the other side of Mom following where Craig was reading to her.  I’m pretty sure they thought I was just looking at the pictures – but in reality, Mom or Craig (or more likely both, were actually teaching me to read. They may have taught me unknowingly, but those reading homework sessions of Craig’s became priceless to me, and opened the world of books on a whole different level. (Of course, when I did start Sub A the following year, my teacher couldn’t believe that I could already read – I can honestly say though that this was one occasion where I wasn’t trying to be an over-achiever just to prove that I was “enough” in some way, and that it was purely because of my love of books).

The memories I have around books and reading are endless and varied. Some of the memories that remain particularly vivid in my mind centre around special times that I spent with my Dad on Saturday mornings when I was growing up.  Every second or third week, Dad and I would go on our regular Saturday morning outing.  (Craig came with sometimes, but seemed happier not to have to participate in what were probably considered mundane tasks for a Saturday morning).  Those Saturday mornings played out almost according to an unwritten formula – starting off at the building society to deposit some money, moving on to the butcher for some biltong and meat for the braai the following day, then the bottlestore for some beers for Dad, then on to town for the highlight of the morning, going to the public library.

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Remember these?

Entering the library with our plastic packet carrying the books that we had previously lent, we inevitably also had a handful of coins at the ready, because we were often late in returning the books, and so would get fined.  (The fines now seem laughable, but it was a fairly big deal to have to pay 50c or a Rand for being late!)  Those times were special – we’d spend a good half hour or more browsing through the rows and rows of books, overflowing with possibilities of new adventures and worlds to be found within the pages and, with new books under our arms, we’d then go visit Mom in the mall just down the road from the library where she worked most Saturdays. If I was lucky, after saying hi to Mom, we’d go and get an ice cream cone before heading home again with our new books. So yes, it may well sound somewhat mundane to some – but isn’t that what life is actually made up of? A bunch of small moments that, when you look back on them, you realise are actually big and meaningful moments. So it is with my Saturday morning library outings with Dad!

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Mrs Ploos – my teacher and mentor, and now my friend

I wouldn’t be able to write about books and their associated treasures without spending a few moments thinking about my high school English teacher, Mrs Ploos van Amstel (Hee hee, I know, not the most English-sounding surname for an English teacher :)) Mrs Ploos (as we affectionately called her) single-handedly cultivated in me a deep love for Shakespeare. She introduced and discussed Shakespeare’s works with us in a manner that made them so real, so meaningful and enthralling. And while some some of you may be rolling your eyes right now at the words ‘Shakespeare’ and ‘enthralling’ being used in the same sentence, I really did fall in love with Shakespeare’s works – a love that has remained with me and which is borne out by the fact that the most special books in my library are a set of Shakespeare plays that were published in the 1890s. I can take any one volume of that set off the shelf, open it at any page, just smell that “old book” smell, skim any words randomly, close my eyes and experience a moment of pure contentment. I’m still in touch with Mrs Ploos – the only difference is that she now insists I call her by her first name, Es. (Do you know how difficult it is to call your high school teacher by their first name?) I can never repay her for the love of Shakespeare (and much other literature) that she developed in me. Es – thank you! You will never fully know how much I appreciate your guidance and mentoring in my life. I love you!

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One of the precious Shakespeare volumes: 1895

When I moved into my home in January 2013, it was super exciting for me to have a garden and some more space, having previously lived in an apartment (which, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved!)  The first time I viewed what was soon to become my home, my folks came with me to have a look and I remember my Dad saying that it wasn’t even an option for me, because it had three bedrooms and what would I do with all that space?! Little did he know that it didn’t actually have three bedrooms – no, it had two bedrooms and a library 🙂 Since I was a little girl, I have always dreamed of having a library in my home one day. And although I had pictured it countless times in my mind, to the extent that it was virtually tangible to me, I never thought it would ever be possible. But clearly we should never give up on our dreams. Today my library is my escape, my haven, and my absolute favourite room in my home. A big couch (with enough space for both Chuckles and I to curl up on) with richly coloured throws and cushions, beautiful dark wooden floors and shelves and then, most importantly, my growing selection of precious worlds between pages – all of this accompanied, of course, by the old book smell that only a library can have (yes, even a private home library has that smell 🙂 )

I could spend the next fifty blogposts writing about my love of books, reading and all things related, and I still wouldn’t tire of it or run out of things to say.  For me, every book yields new adventures, different ideas, challenging insights…every book I have ever read has contributed to forming the person I am today. Books are powerful! And one day, I hope that the books I ultimately dream of writing will make an impact, even if it’s just on one person – that I may draw some readers into the worlds I create and leave them feeling just that little bit richer, and their hearts just that little bit fuller, for having read my musings.

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My 1890s Shakespeare collection – my pride and joy in my library at home

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The world (still) needs more hugs

Birthday2You may recall that in February I wrote a post called ‘The world needs more hugs’ and ended it with Virginia Satir’s expressed belief that “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.”  I had some awesome feedback about that post and about how it had encouraged some people to give more hugs, which absolutely thrilled me! But moving on from there, about two weeks ago I decided that would be a day on which I would contribute to the growth of everyone I interacted with… yes, everyone!  How could I could do that? Well, if it requires twelve hugs a day for growth, I determined that I would contribute to those twelve hugs a day we all require, and in so doing, hopefully contribute to the growth of everyone I interacted with that day. And, believe it or not, this was actually part of The List.  One of the items on The List (number 12, to be exact, although I’m not doing them in chronological order) is to “Hug every person you meet in a day”.

So, on my way drive in to work on 11 August (somewhere during my seven-minute trip, between flicking through radio stations, salivating in anticipation of my first cup of coffee at work and working out how far my running program dictated I had to run that evening during training), my thoughts turned to The List and the many items still to be accomplished. And I realised, the time had come… for “hug day”.

While I’m a naturally affectionate person, don’t just assume that hugging everyone would necessarily be an easy thing for me to do. It may well be easier for me than for many other people, given the fact that I am generally affectionate and quite tactile, but that doesn’t render it without its difficulties.  And so it was that, after declaring 11 August “hug day” in my mind, I was immediately overcome by anxiety, thinking of the people I was going to encounter during the day and where it would not come naturally for me to give them a hug. Let’s be real – we’re not best friends with everyone we interact with during our day and, going a bit further, there are some people we interact with who may not be our favourite people (and, in my case, I know that there is one particular person in the office who probably considers me his least favourite person).

I had to establish a couple of ground rules to start off with:  Firstly, I would hug everyone I encountered personally or interacted with that day – not everyone I saw! So, for example, I did not need to walk around Virgin Active that evening and hug everyone in the gym – that may (would!) just have been weird! Secondly, I would ask permission before I gave anyone a hug.  I know that personal space is often a touchy subject (pun intended), and I did not want to make anyone unnecessarily uncomfortable. Thirdly, I would explain to the person where required or appropriate that it’s “hug day” in my world, and I was seeking to spread some love and bring some smiles through hugging everyone I spoke to… provide a bit of context for them (so that not everyone thinks I’ve totally lost the plot!)

Abi Chuckles (2)

Two of my favourites to hug – Abi and Chuckles. (And only a mother can hug Chuckles when he’s as filthy and wet as he is in this picture, after a swim in the dam on our recent weekend in Dullstroom!)

So I won’t go through the chronological detail of all the hugging that took place that day, but I can confirm that I duly did hug everyone I encountered.  I started with the first person I saw in the office, being our office manager (who is a great hugger 🙂 ) and made my way through the office hugging everyone, including our CEO (who was somewhat taken aback, but nevertheless accepted the hug). But I had to take a massively deep breath when Mr…. um… let’s just call him Mr NFN (Not a Fan of Nicky) walked into the office.  My colleague, Tam, sitting next to me immediately turned to look at me, knowing how anxious I was about this individual, urgently whispered to me to take a deep breath, get up, and go and hug him immediately… the longer I waited, the more anxious I would become.  So with a whole lot of trepidation, I walked into his office (where he was talking with the boss), explained that it was “hug day”, asked him for a hug, and then held my breath waiting for the disdainful response that I was sure was coming.  The boss laughed and responded that I had no chance of getting a hug from Mr NFN. So you can imagine both my (and the boss’s) surprise when Mr NFN turned towards me and opened his arms for a hug! Seriously?

And so the day continued with hugs for everyone – even a new service provider that came for an introductory meeting with us.  When the consultant from the service provider walked into the room, introduced himself and held out his hand to shake my hand, I asked him if I could rather give him a hug. While everyone else in the room visibly cringed, he readily agreed and our relationship was accordingly established through a hug.

And while I know that I was enjoying “hug day”, bring smiles and a bit of extra love to people that day, I also came to learn that the people around me were enjoying it just as much. After being out of office for a meeting in the afternoon, I got back to my desk where a Skype message was waiting for me, from my colleague and friend, Linda, who had clearly been told about “hug day” and thought I wasn’t coming back to my desk. Needless to say, Linda got her hug 🙂

Linda

There were two very interesting reactions that I have thought about many times since then.  The first was from a guy in the office whom I have worked with for just less than a year. When I approached him during the morning and and asked him for a hug, he responded with a mumbled (but firm) “no” accompanied by an embarrassed laugh. Notwithstanding that he is an introvert and fairly quiet, I didn’t expect that reaction, and it somehow left me feeling a bit embarrassed and exposed – notwithstanding that I realised it actually had nothing to do with me.

The second was from a lovely lady at Bryanston Virgin Active. She swiped my access card as I entered the gym and, when I asked her if I could please have a hug, she immediately came out from behind the counter, gave me a warm hug and asked me, more than once, if I’m okay.  Although I assured her I was fine, and that it was “hug day” in my world, she insisted in making sure that there was nothing wrong that required me to need hugs from everyone that day. She was the only person during the day who tried to dig a bit deeper to really check that I was okay, and given that I had never met her before and she had no idea what my story is, this really touched me.

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My special virtual hug

I haven’t sat down to try and count everyone I physically hugged on “hug day”, but at a rough guess, it was about 40 people. And even though I couldn’t physically hug everyone in my world that I would want to on that day, the day still  ended with a virtual hug from someone very special to me who was out of town at the time, and who gave me a virtual hug via whatsapp to end my day instead.

I think Virginia Satir would confirm that 11 August was, for me, definitely a day of growth, having far exceeded the twelve hugs needed for growth.  More importantly, however, is my hope that I contributed to the growth of those in my world.  When I said in my post in February that the world needs more hugs, I firmly believed it at the time. And I believe it even more now, having seen the impact that “hug day” can have on your world.

 Two important postscripts:

  •  A few days ago, the guy at work  who refused my hug came up to my desk and asked to speak with me privately. (Now just to contextualise, if you ask me if you can speak to me privately, I start stressing.  It’s the same as if you leave a message on my phone asking me to call you. I need to know what it’s about, otherwise my overactive anxious mind jumps to the worst, and I immediately start worrying about what I’ve said or done wrong.) Of course I agreed and, in a meeting room behind a closed door, he confessed that he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about the hug (or lack thereof). And he wanted to ensure that I didn’t take it personally, and that I knew it had nothing to do with me. He said that he is the most extreme introvert and was completely taken aback by my request. But most importantly, he wanted to make sure that I was okay about it, and knew that it was not about me. Wow! I had a lump in my throat. This man having the guts to chat to me about this – as an introvert, and someone who does everything possible to avoid confrontation, I knew how hard it must have been for him to chat to me like this.  And, despite the lack of a hug, my respect for him is tremendous.
  •  The second postscript is more of a personal one and relates to the virtual hug that ended “hug day” for me.  That hug was sent to me from a man in my life whom  I have known for about nine months now and who has become very important to me.  Our relationship has gone through interesting times, and sometimes months have passed between when we have seen each other or chatted. Yet somehow we have always reconnected.  This man has been through a lot over the last two years or so and I have given him as much support and space as I could.  However, after recognising that I was starting to fall in love with this man, the reality was that we seemed to have different perspectives on our relationship and, a few days after the virtual hug, I lost him.  My heart is  sore. Very very sore. I was hoping to build a relationship with this man that would last a long time.  Why am I telling you this? Because the virtual hug I referred to above in this blog, is somewhat bittersweet to me as I look back on it now.  It was the last hug I received from him…and I didn’t know it at the time. So take the time to appreciate the hugs you give and you get. And never stop giving them! Your life and the lives of everyone in your world will be so much richer for it. 
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I wrote a letter to my love…

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I bought this tshirt for Abi last year when I was at Le Tour in Paris (and naturally she was never far from my mind)

Do you remember playing that game as a child? All of us sitting in a ring, most often at someone’s birthday party, with one person going around the outside of the ring with something akin to a letter in his hand and the rest of us chanting “I wrote a letter to my love and on the way I dropped it. Someone must have picked it up and put it in his pocket. It wasn’t you, it wasn’t you, it wasn’t you…” until someone was tagged “it was you!” and had to get up and sprint after the person who dropped the ‘letter’ and try and catch them before they sat in the empty space in the ring. (Repeat ad infinitum for purposes of a kids’ birthday party 🙂 )

Letter-writing is, however, so much more than a game. It’s an art. And there’s a reason why it is so often referred to nowadays as a lost art, given the instant communication we engage in, trying to say the most things in the least letters (but let me not get started on my pet peeve of text-speak…aaargghh!!!) I think you’ll struggle to find anyone in this world who doesn’t appreciate receiving a letter – the mere knowledge that someone somewhere took time to sit down and devote time to writing to YOU, and when time is the most valuable currency we have, I always find it an honour to receive a letter or a card.

Before any of you get carried away with wondering whether I’ve met my knight in shining armour given that I’ve referred to writing a letter to “my love” in the title of this blog, let me quickly say that alas, that has not happened yet. I have, however, written a letter to someone whom I love more than life itself. Let me explain.  Another contribution from Nicky to The List was to “Write a letter to your niece filled with all the lessons you have loved learning for when she turns 40.. or 18, or 21 or 30“. And it was a no-brainer that I would follow through with this suggestion when it combines two of my loves (being my niece and writing).

In thinking about the letter to write to Abi, however, I realised that there is so much more that I want to say to her, than I can fit in just one letter.  And about a wider variety of topics than only the lessons I have learned that I want to pass on to her.  I’m sure you’ve picked up through my previous posts and, on a much more regular basis, through my Facebook posts how much I absolutely adore Abi, my princess.

I remember every minute of 26 January 2014 when I was waiting at the hospital for Abi to be born and then the miraculous moment of seeing Abi for the first time. A part of my heart melted at that exact moment – a part that would from then forevermore belong to Abi. I regard it as significant that I was the first person after Craig and Keri to hold Abi in my arms. And instinctively, the first thing I said to Abi as I looked into her precious face, was “I love you”. I knew then, as I know now, that Abi and I will always have a very special bond and relationship, and I intend guarding that fiercely.

So back to my letter to Abi.  Despite knowing how special it is to receive handwritten letters, I decided to take a different approach given that I don’t just want to write one letter to Abi.  I want to write a few – maybe 5, maybe 50, maybe 500 – who knows? But I want to be able to write a letter to her at any time, and about anything – so that when she is 18 or 21 or whenever the right time is, I can hand them over to her, and she can know how loved she has been and what a role she has played in my life. So, instead of handwritten notes, I decided that I’m going to email her from time to time.

This idea was clearly written in the stars some time ago (and way before the concept of The List came into being), because just after Abi was born I created an email account for her on gmail. I didn’t yet know what I was going to use it for, or whether I’d give it to her as soon as she was old enough to be emailing…I just didn’t know. But now – it’s perfect. I’m going to be using her email address to send emails to Abi from her Aunty Nix.  And yes, I’m sure they’ll include some valuable lessons learned in life as initially proposed by Nicky for The List – but they’re certainly also going to include some other things that are more general, some recollections of funny, happy times, some sharing of emotions and thoughts, some encouragements, sometimes even feelings about disappointments – some things that I just want to tell her, so that she’ll one day have some more insight into her Aunty Nix and realise very clearly how loved she has always been by me!

And so it was that, last week, I went to the Grosvenor Seattle coffee (which you’ll remember from my last post “won” my best coffee in Bryanston project), and sat myself down with my “tall skinny cappuccino, in a takeaway cup, extra hot” and my laptop, and wrote my first email to Abi. And, with it being electronic, I could even attach a video clip  to the email, which will no doubt embarrass her and make her giggle when she’s all grown up! And the email wasn’t about anything particularly spectacular – it was just a message from the heart for Abi from her Aunty Nix. So Abi’s inbox, as you can see below, now has one unread mail… the first of many….

Abi email

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Anyone for coffee?

coffee5It’s been a strange time over the last month since I turned forty – rather difficult to put into words (and for me, who loves and thrives on words and language, that’s saying a lot).

Today, however, is probably not the right time for me to be delving into that “strangeness”, and trying to figure out all the mixed emotions that seem to have followed me over the past month.  Why? Why don’t I want to try and explain and share some of this strangeness (because we all know that, if nothing else, I’m always real!) – to be quite frank, it’s because I’m not feeling quite strong enough today. While it’s a public holiday here in South Africa and I imagine most people are enjoying a day off work and spending time with loved ones, the last few days have been rough for me, and there have been moments when the anxiety has been overwhelming. So I’m doing some introspection, which includes figuring out my worth and my consequent boundaries (which has always been a challenge for me).  And one of the unfortunate things when you suffer from depression is that you don’t necessarily see your worth in the same way that others do and, as such, the introspection is not always pretty.

But moving on. I met Nicky for coffee this morning which, in itself, is nothing unusual as Nicky and I often meet for coffee, lunches, catch-ups, bubbles and all manner of good things, and probably see each other most weekends.  So what was so special about coffee this morning that has prompted me to write about it? Well, it has to do with another item on The List (which coincidentally was contributed by Nicky).  Nicky suggested that I discover the best coffee in the neighbourhood – whether that be my home suburb of Bryanston, the greater Sandton, trendy Braamfontein or wherever I choose.  This was not going to be a hard task – I love coffee as much as I love bubbles! So, without making a specific choice as to which area was going to become my subject, I started taking particular note of the coffee at the various places at which I’ve had coffee over the last few months (of which there are many!) so that I could come up with the winner for The List.coffee2

As can be expected, I had a number of different experiences – different tastes, quality, roasts, temperatures and ambiances in which the coffee was served.  In no particular order, there was the faithful Woolies cappuccino (and I say ‘faithful’ because it is of a consistent quality – you always know what you’re getting, no matter which Woolies Cafe you go to). There was the coffee at Tasha’s at Atholl Square, which was unfortunately a bit weak for my liking. There was Motherland at Dunkeld – lovely rich (but not overpoweringly strong) coffee, but a bit of a hit-and-miss experience with regard to friendliness of service (which is super important to me!). Mugg n Bean – often great coffee because I associate it with the halfway point at the 1-stop on the N3 on the way to Durbs. Are you starting to see the pattern of how other things are affecting the coffee experience?

And then, of course, there’s Seattle at Grosvenor Crossing, where Themba and his team greet you by name when you walk in the door (having remembered your name by the second or third time you’ve been there). And without fail, they make me giggle.  My coffee order is pretty consistent (as any of my friends will tell you) – tall skinny cappuccino in a takeaway cup, extra hot (or sometimes hot, hot, hot) please. And so at Seattle, when I walk in the door, I am greeted with “Tall skinny cappuccino today? Extra hot, like you!)” How can that not make you smile?! Glenda’s at Hyde Square was lovely, had quite a “posh” feeling associated with it and who can forget Naked Coffee at Melrose – excellent coffee, made triply enjoyable by the fabulous barista there, Mpho.  He is a real gem and, even though I’ve only been there once, he made such an impression on me and I will carry on recommending Naked Coffee because of him alone (although, like I say, the coffee was fab!).

So many options – and I’ve only mentioned a couple of them above.  So which one was going to be the winner? And on what criteria would I make the selection?

At the risk of disappointment and an anti-climax, ultimately the winner is not one of the above. Rather, to an extent, it is all of them… and none of them. Let me explain.

coffee1What I discovered is that, as I have already alluded to, there are a myriad of factors that influence the coffee experience – factors completely outside of the strength, roast and quality of the brew. And the biggest factor? Without any doubt, the company! Which brings me full circle to my coffee with Nicky this morning. We met at the Woolies cafe in Morningside (so it was sure to be a ‘faithful’ coffee) and, even though I spent most of our time together with tears falling into my coffee, I can still say it was one of the best coffee experiences. Why? I was with a best mate, I was listening to her exciting story of an evening out a few nights ago, and she was listening to my ‘stuff’ and supporting me through the tears. So even though my tears could have overwhelmed our time together, on the contrary it was an awesome coffee experience evidencing the depth of our friendship.

And so it is that I’ve realised that as with most things in life, it’s all about the people.  I have coffee traditions with so many important people in my life – Penny and I used to have coffee together every morning when we both worked at ENS, which was replaced by coffee (still virtually every morning) at the Vida e Cafe on Fredman Drive after she left ENS.  That Vida saw its share of laughter, tears, frustration, relationship analysis and virtually everything else through us.

Mands and I meet once a month on a weekend morning for a coffee and writing morning, where we drink good coffee (that’s still important!) and work on our respective blogs (take some time to see Mands’ awesome blog at http://cleanlivingchronicles.co.za). It’s an awesome focused time to write, but in the best company, which gives both the coffee and the writing a whole new meaning.

There are so many other examples of awesome “coffee mates” and experiences which are all about the company more than the coffee – Dannean, Jules, Angela, Heather, Ingrid, Christine, to name but a few (and who I’ve pictured here above). And let’s not forget John (who only drinks tea, but it’s still a “coffee experience” for me). coffee7John and I have coffee/tea together virtually every day at the office (sometimes just instant coffee in a big mug – see? nothing fancy, it’s the people!)

If I absolutely had to choose the best coffee in my area for purposes of The List (purely on the basis of taste), I’d send you to Seattle at Grosvenor Crossing – that would be my favourite. BUT (and it’s a big ‘but’) I cannot emphasise enough that, for me, it’s the company that dictates the coffee experience. So to every person that I’ve had coffee with over the years – thank you! A coffee experience is, for me, a bonding experience and a special experience. Thank you for being part of my world.  And to those “extra specials” whom I have coffee with SO often – know that for me a coffee meeting is a “heart” meeting – I love you!

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Some things are forever…

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Getting some love from my gorgeous boy before my birthday party

Having officially reached the big four-oh last week (eek!), the question I’ve been asked most is whether I’ve managed to tick off everything on The List. I’m surprised (although pleasantly so) that this question is what is most top-of-mind for the people in my world when considering my fortieth, but I am significantly encouraged by this! I am so very blessed to have had all of you join me and become so involved on this journey to live the days and months before (and around) my 40th birthday intentionally and with meaning. Thank you!! And to answer your question – No – I haven’t come close to completing The List. BUT (and it’s a big but)… my story isn’t over yet. I’ve decided to extend the time period for completing The List until the end of this year, so the journey rather becomes my “40 before the end of the year in which I turn 40”.  A mouthful, I know, as well as clearly taking a bit of poetic license – but hey, I’m 40, it’s allowed!

Although there were two fairly big things that I ticked off The List before the actual big day on 23 May, I’ll confine myself to just telling you about one of them for now, which happened a week before my birthday when I found myself heading down to Parkhurst on a cold and rainy Sunday morning, for an appointment I’d booked a few weeks back. You’d be forgiven for thinking I’d booked a luxurious pedicure, facial or massage – after all, a girl turning 40 deserves to treat herself with some pampering.  However, it was a far bigger treat than that – I had an appointment at Hardcore Tattoos to unveil another personal and permanent expression of myself.

I know that just the name ‘Hardcore Tattoos’ probably conjures up images of tattoo-COVERED bodies, leather, darkness, piercings and all such things that may well have been associated with tattoos in the 80s and 90s. The reality, however, is totally different. Yes, the artists themselves may have more tattoos and piercings than your regular man on the street…but they’re artists! They express themselves far more freely than the rest of us generally do (and I, for one, think we can learn a lot from such freedom and confidence). In real life, the studio is open, clean and, above all, everyone is super friendly. So even when you hesitatingly edge in there for the first time feeling like a bit of a fraud (well at least that’s how I felt the first time – after all, I’m generally a clean cut and fairly conservative girl who you ordinarily may not expect to find in a tattoo parlor) you are welcomed with genuine smiles and warmth, and made to feel immediately at ease.

A couple of things before I tell you more about my latest ink expression that I acquired that day (and which I wanted to acquire before my birthday as an item on The List): this is my fourth tattoo. When I had my first one done (in May 2012), everyone told me that tattoos are addictive and I would soon get many more. I scoffed at them – I wanted ONE tattoo, that was it! And it was my life word “believe”, which I have permanently inscribed on the inside of my left wrist. I love the script, the word, the meaning…I love everything about it and just knew that was the only tattoo I would ever want or need. (Haha). However, even at the age of 35, I was still somewhat concerned as to what my parents would think of it when I showed them. I needn’t have worried about my mom – when she saw it (and finally believed me that it was real), her spontaneous response was “I want one too!” 😊 Dad, on the other hand, was somewhat less charmed (let’s just leave it at that).

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I am African – not because I live in Africa, but because Africa lives in me

My second piece of art came a year later and was no surprise to those of you who know me well and know how passionate I am about South Africa and about being African. Africa will always be in my blood – and now I have a permanent reflection to the world of the importance of Africa to me.

I’m still not one who says tattoos are addictive, but I can attest that the beauty of a tattoo and the art of tattooing grows on you much more when you have one and, for this reason, I think you become a lot more open to the possibilities of other tattoos. I won’t go into too much detail about my third tattoo, as I have already mentioned it in one of my previous blogs – it’s Chuckles’ pawprint, which I have on my left shoulder just above my heart.

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Even when Chuckles is not with me, his pawprint is always right above my heart

As I’ve shared previously, Chuckles lives in the centre of my heart, and this way he is always with me. And yes, it is his actual pawprint. It’s my favourite tattoo because of the depth of meaning it has for me.  (I still giggle now thinking back on the time when I showed the pawprint to my dad. He looked at me, visibly trying not to grimace, and pronounced that he “did not approve”. While not intending to be disrespectful in any way, my response was “Dad, I’m 38 years old. I don’t need your approval for this. And I’m sorry you don’t like it. Just as well I didn’t get it for you, I got it for me”.  This exchange highlights a couple of things for me…firstly, tattoos aren’t for everyone – I completely understand and accept that.  And secondly, you get a tattoo for yourself, not for anyone else. It’s an extremely personal (and hopefully meaningful) thing. It’s the art you choose permanently for your body. Yes, it is art! And in exactly the same way that we don’t all have the same taste in painting or sculpture, so we won’t have the same taste in tattoos. But that’s okay – we don’t have to like it, but we do need to respect each other’s choice of art.

And so full circle… there I was, on that rainy Sunday morning a few weeks ago, in the capable hands of Chelsea (who did my pawprint tattoo as well – she is fabulous, funny (and loves dogs!) and I highly recommend her), trusting her to bring the vision of my next piece of ink to life.   (Dad – don’t stress, it’s just a tiny semicolon!)

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My semicolon – so simple, but so meaningful

Prior to sharing the symbolism of the semi-colon with some of you on my birthday a week ago, I know all except a few of you would have been wondering why on earth I’d want to have a punctuation mark permanently imprinted on my body.  Even if I am passionate about books and writing, surely that’s a bit much? Well this semicolon is much more than a mere punctuation mark – it is a bold statement, and a symbol of hope and possibility. You will know by now that I was very ill a few years ago, and ended up in the Sandton medi-clinic for a few weeks. And while most of you will know that I was suffering with severe depression at the time, many of you will not know that I was suicidal, feeling no hope whatsoever. I had the manner, the means and the details of my suicide planned, the only thing that remained was to fix the time for it (which I was ultimately saved from doing through being hospitalised). From being at rock bottom, seeing no hope or light, there was simply no way that I could have imagined that, four years later, I would now be at this point in my life – celebrating (yes, celebrating) my fortieth birthday, surrounded by amazing people in my world, looking back on the last few years of family, friendships and adventures, and having dreams of what may still be to come.

Yet, here I am indeed…and it’s for this reason that I have my semicolon. The semicolon has become an international symbol for those who have attempted suicide or been suicidal. Just as a semicolon is used in writing where the author could have put a full stop, but chose to rather put a semicolon and carry on with the sentence, as the author of my life I could have chosen to put a full stop in my life in 2012.  However, I instead chose to use a semicolon. It’s my symbol that my story did not end there, that there’s more to come.

For me, it is best explained in the words of Lewis Thomas, who said:

“I have grown fond of semicolons in recent years. . . . It is almost always a greater pleasure to come across a semicolon than a period. The period tells you that that is that; if you didn’t get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with a semicolon there you get a pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; read on; it will get clearer.”

So this small but powerful tattoo, which is on my right index finger where I will see it all the time, is my constant reminder to stay strong, be expectant, things are getting clearer, there is more to come….

Postscript: although I generally talk quite openly about depression, and the difficulties I have had to face because of and through it, my heart is beating a thousand times a minute as I prepare to hit ‘publish’ on this post which reveals details of the depth of my despair in 2012 that may make some people uncomfortable.  But I will nevertheless press the ‘publish’ key…and hold my breath…and hope that my vulnerability has not scared you away.

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In it for the long run…

I didn’t grow up running – in fact, I hated it! I was a tennis player through school and varsity – there was no mention of running anywhere other than around the tennis court in those days.  (In fact, when it came to the school athletics day when it was compulsory for every girl to participate in at least one event, my house teacher diplomatically suggested (or instructed!) that I do shotput! Enough said.

But after I was unceremoniously thrust into running a half marathon in Knysna in 2007 (thanks Craige!), my road to running (pun intended) started and I strunning8arted entering a few races, going to time trials and including a run or three in my week. I was purely a social runner. Yes, by that I mean a slow runner – I kept the back of the pack going nicely, thank you very much. I’d love to tell you that I enjoyed every step of my running, but very often it was far more the feeling of accomplishment after the run was finished than the run itself – I know you understand 😊 So after having not run for a good year or so and, even then, run relatively little for quite some time before that, one of my mate Nicky’s contributions to The List was to run another half marathon.

And before you think you know where this post is going and this is going to be some motivational post about getting off the couch and getting active, I’m not about to tell you about the training I did for the race (which wasn’t enough) or any magic strategies I implemented going into the race that I chose. Suffice to say that yes, I did it 🙂 I finished the Pick n Pay half marathon on 14 February 2016 in a time that I was properly chuffed with. And I finished it because in my mind I knew I could – I knew that, despite not being quite fully trained for it, I had it within me to finish the race, and to finish it strong.

And so it is that I’d like to share with you the story of a seemingly impossible race for me where I only finished because I mentally knew I could.

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Still happy and smiling at the 8km mark on my marathon

Some years back after having completed quite a few half marathons, I decided that I wanted to run a marathon.  I may well have had too much champagne when I made that decision, or I may have been just unrealistically inspired by my brother, who has completed seven Comrades ultramarathons, countless marathons and two IronMan events. He is my inspiration and my hero on so many levels in life.  Nevertheless, having made the decision, I marked the marathon on the calendar that I was aiming for – Waterval Boven 3-in-1 – and trained religiously, slowly building my mileage up. Even after not being allowed to train for six weeks before the race because of an injured foot, I lined up at that Start Line, ready to take on my marathon, both literally and figuratively.

I will not subject you to a ball by ball commentary of my marathon – but what I will tell you is that as I crossed that Finish Line, some five and a half hours and 42.2 kilometres later, the lump in my throat that had been with me since about the 20km mark, finally gave way and the tears started to fall.  And while being hugged by Mom and Dad (who had made the journey to support me along the road) I said to them through the tears “I bet, when I was born, you didn’t think I’d ever run a marathon!” By this stage Mom was crying too and then either Mom or Dad (I can’t remember who it was through the tears and emotion of that moment) said “When you were born, we didn’t even know if you’d ever walk, let alone run a marathon!”

The reality is that I was born with a club foot. For those of you that don’t know what that is, essentially my left foot was turned inwards and upwards – the level of severity of my club foot was such that my toes were virtually touching my shin (and hence my parents’ fear about being able to walk). While there are many newer and successful methods of treatment of clubbed feet today, some 40 years ago a club foot required fairly extensive surgery, often without significant success.  My lower left leg was in a cast for much of the first year of my life (with the cast being redone every six week to try and straighten the bones as much as possible) and I had three sets of surgeries.  The first was when I was a few months old, the second when I was 3 years old and the last when I was 5. And in between that, as a toddler going off to nursery school, I had to wear some sturdy black boots (the type that are often accompanied by callipers and are (or were) fairly common for kids who have had polio).  And those boots hardly came off. To this day I recall a nursery school ‘report card’ from when I was about 3 or 4, specifically commenting on the fact that I apparently “happily” wore my boots in the playground while all the other kids were running around barefoot on those hot Free State summer days. My casts and my boots were just part of who I was.

All credit to my parents, who never let the disability hold me back in any way.  Despite the surgeries, they didn’t make me feel different because of my foot – the only thing I knew as a little girl was that one foot was smaller than the other, it looked a bit different, and I couldn’t balance on my left leg. (I love it how simple things are at that age!)  I certainly didn’t think there was any reason for me not to be out running around and playing sport with the other kids. I played (and excelled in) tennis, and loved being out on the court.  I remember one Saturday morning in Standard 9 (that’s Grade 11 for my younger friends out there!) going to a first team tennis practice with a new coach and, when explaining the first set of drills which involved some sprints and skipping, he turned to me and asked if I’d be able to manage that with my foot.  I was so offended – how did he think I got to play tennis for the first team if I couldn’t run or skip? (Yes, I know in retrospect he was being considerate, but try tell that to a 15-year old!)

You may wonder what the relevance is of all of this to The List – why am I sharing this story ? Well, taking on that marathon is the one and only thing I’ve ever taken on in my life (so far) purely for the purpose of proving that I can do it despite my foot.  And I didn’t want (or need) to prove it to Mom, Dad, that tennis coach or anyone else – it was solely to prove to myself that I could do it, that I was stronger than some physical disability. And I was. I am.

Physically, have I let my foot impact me? Hardly. Yes, I limp when I’m tired and I often have people asking me what’s wrong or if I’m okay and I wonder what they’re on about, until I realise I must be tired and I must be limping a bit more than I appreciate.  Probably the biggest impact is when I go shopping for shoes. And before you laugh and shake your head concluding that it’s always about shoes with girls 🙂 let me fill you in. I long to wear a pair of glamorous heels, but unfortunately I can’t.  With virtually no mobility in my left ankle and overpronating substantially, I am physically not able to walk in heels.  So my dream of wearing a pair of high-heeled knockout glamorous shoes, will remain a dream. And when buying shoes, I need to buy two pairs every time – my left foot (or my ‘little foot’ as my family affectionately calls it) is a size 3 and my right foot is a size 6.   In addition to this often being practically difficult as a shop doesn’t always have both sizes in a particular style, you can imagine it’s also expensive. But if those are my biggest physical limitations, then I’m doing well (and better than my parents could ever have imagined when I was born).

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Mom and Dad – thanks for believing in me. Love you more than words can ever express!

Emotionally, however, my disability has impacted me. Like I said, my parents were amazing, but as I grew older, I saw that I was different to the other kids. And so started the striving to be “good enough”. I felt that because I had a disability, I had to make sure I made up for it in every other aspect of my life.  So I tried to be the child who never caused problems or issues and just tried to make sure everyone else was happy – in some way trying to justify my place in the world.  And let me be crystal clear – my parents only ever encouraged and supported me. They in NO WAY made me feel “less than”.  The striving to feel as good as everyone else was all self-imposed – and it’s amazing to me now to see the complicated emotions and strategies we can teach ourselves from a very young age!

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My brother, my hero

Bottom line… despite the physical and emotional impact of my club foot, it’s part of who I am. I’ve earmarked my next marathon and I’m in this for the long run, both physically and metaphorically. Most importantly, this is a big thank you to Mom, Dad and Craige who have supported me in everything I’ve put my mind to, including climbing mountains and running marathons – it’s because of you that I know that physically I can do (virtually) everything that anyone else can do. I know that there are times when it must have been hard for you, when you have wondered why certain things turned out the way they did – but thank you for never letting me see that, and for only letting me believe that I was perfectly made.

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The centre of my heart

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Wind in my hair, sand beneath my paws – pure joy!

When thinking about where to go for a coffee and some writing time on this lazy Saturday morning in March, I knew I needed somewhere with good coffee (obviously!), a place you could sit outside to enjoy the awesome end-of-summer weather and, most importantly, a place that allows dogs.  And so, as I sit here at the Mugg ‘n Bean in Lonehill (which fulfills all of these criteria), with Chuckles next to me, I am struck by how much my life (and my requirements for an ideal coffee shop) have changed over the last few years.

Not only have my requirements for a coffee shop changed, but similarly my requirements for a weekend break or a holiday.  I’m sure it wouldn’t surprise you that one of the items on The List was a trip to the coast for a long weekend – for some long walks on the beach, fresh air, sun, sea, ocean spray… and just to feel the sand beneath your paws! Yes, you read that right… paws! Because on The List was to take Chuckles on another beach holiday!

I first took Chuckles to the beach about two years ago, when my dear friend Penny invited Chuckles and I to join her and her family in Zinkwazi Beach.  I had no idea how Chuckles would react to the beach and the waves (particularly given that he took a few years to learn how to swim!), but surprisingly he had absolutely no fear and cavorted in the shallows as if he’d grown up on the beach (as opposed to being a Sandton dog!).

And so I wanted to have Chuckles experience that again – I knew that seeing him so happy and carefree would bring me as much (if not more) happiness as it did him. I’m like any mom that way – just wanting to see their child happy, having fun, fearless and carefree, and enjoying even simple experiences to the full.

After endless searches for pet-friendly accommodation (which is a lot harder to find than you may think), Chuckles and I headed for Salt Rock on the north coast at the end of February. And immediately after checking in at our beautiful apartment, we headed down to the beach in the late afternoon to feel the sea sand between our toes and breathe in the sea air as soon as possible.  And again, my heart just melted at the sight of my boy running through the sand and the waves.  (He didn’t venture in to the sea very far…in fact, he didn’t venture in at all, he only got wet when the waves came closer to him than he’d been expecting and he couldn’t get away fast enough 🙂 ) I don’t think it was a coincidence that these first photos I took of him that evening shows his footprints having formed the pattern of a heart, with him in the middle.

Whenever I’m trying to explain to someone how much my precious Chuckles means to me, I always say that he lives in the centre of my heart – it’s the best way I know to explain it. And as I said at the outset, I still can’t believe how much my life has changed since it was blessed with Chuckles.

You would, by now, have seen many photos of Chuckles – both on this blog and on my Facebook page. So you’ll know that he’s a maltese (albeit a ‘giant maltese’ as I call him..the biggest maltese most people have ever seen. Hee hee, when he was a puppy, I feared he was going to grow into the Dulux dog when he didn’t stop growing 🙂 ).  A few months ago, my dad asked me how I came to choose Chuckles, given that I had never had an affinity for small dogs.  And my response was simple and immediate: “Dad, I didn’t choose Chuckles. He chose me.”

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“Why is there soil inside, Mom?” Such an innocent puppy after digging up the potplant!

Let me take you back to an ordinary Saturday morning in March 2012. It was just over a month since I’d come out of hospital, and I was trying desperately to put my life together again.  So that Saturday morning saw me doing normal Saturday morning chores at the Morningside shopping centre, when I bumped into one of my best mates, Nicky.  After hellos and hugs, she told me about these gorgeous puppies she had seen in the petshop downstairs and asked me to come with her and have a look.  Now, for the record, I HATE petshops – they break my heart. And I would normally find a reason to say no – but I found myself saying yes (thinking to myself “just humour her, she’s your friend, just go”). So Nicky and I headed down to the petshop and as I walked inside, there was a cage front and centre, with this little bundle of cream fur inside and which I found myself making a beeline for.  (Evidently there were some spaniels in the window, which is what Nicky actually wanted to show me as I’ve always loved spaniels, but I didn’t even see them).

I wasn’t looking for a dog, had no plans to get a dog, and yet when I picked up this bundle of fur and snuggled him in my arms, I just knew I was going to be taking him home with me. I was too smitten to be logical about any aspect of this experience, and unbeknownst to me Nicky was checking his paws, checking his eyes and checking for various other signs of health (Thanks Nicks!) while I was falling in love. (The one thing I do remember is that while I was cuddling the bundle of fluff, a little girl of about five or six came up and wanted to stroke him in my arms and was in the process of calling her parents over to tell them that she wanted him.  And Nicky, in her inimitable fashion, told the little girl to “Back off. We have a credit card, you don’t”. Hahahahah – I still giggle about that moment now.)

So, moving forward, precious Chuckles joined my world on that day in March – a day which started out as ordinary and turned into being extraordinary and the day that my life changed forever for the better.

I can’t begin to explain everything that Chuckles means to me and I could never hope to convey it fully.  I know, though, that I feel about him the way others would feel about their human children. He is my child – the centre of my world and my heart.  And he is the happiest dog you’ve ever met – people always comment on that.  He doesn’t have an angry bone in his body and loves everyone and everything. And heaven help anyone who refers to him as “just a dog” – he’s not “just” anything – he’s everything to me!

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My friend Max and I (with Chuckles’ pawprint always with me!)

And if anyone didn’t know how much he means to me, they would certainly be able to guess it if they met me and saw my tattoo. I have Chuckles’s pawprint tattooed on my shoulder – and it’s not just a generic pawprint, but his actual pawprint. It’s my favourite tattoo and an indication of how much he has impacted and changed my life.  On my journey of healing, Chuckles has done more for me than any medication and therapy could have.  And I know this is true for many people (I think Discovery should start offering benefits and subsidies for having dogs in your life, the same way they subsidise you going to the gym – it makes you healthier!).Chuckles9

So, if you want to call me a crazy dog lady – go ahead, I’ll be honoured, because that just means that it’s evident how much I love Chuckles and what an integral part of my life he is. I’d prefer, however, that you are merely grateful for the love he continually gives me, and the joy he brings to my life. I wish moments of that kind of joy for all of you – they are priceless!

**Postscript: this morning (which is a few days after writing this post, but before it was ready to be published) I had a bit of a rough morning. I was lying in bed and was just incredibly sad because of a number of things that have happened over the past few days. And as I lay there and cried, Chuckles came across to me and gently licked the tears off my face as they rolled down my cheeks. There are no words to describe love like that.

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