Change For The Better

It has been a long ten days here at Chez Blueday. Paul has been in hospital, he's had surgery, he's not dead. In fact, he's back at home bouncing around, recovering splendidly and rebuilding his home-made fridge. As you do. Me, on the other hand, since Paul made it out of hospital, well, I have been as limp as a wrung-out dish rag. For a week I couldn't sleep, couldn't function, and could hardly string two sentences together. It's all slowly getting better. I have been pottering in the garden for hours. I read some nice books. I have some lovely friends and Paul's family have been extra kind. My friend Shirley always gives excellent hugs. She says ten seconds is the minimum amount of hugging time to register with your nervous system and elicit comforting hormones (clearly she has done her research). When she saw me on Tuesday she decided I needed at least a double dose, and gave me a long, comforting hug which was very therapeutic. Sometimes it is the smallest things that make a difference.

I realised this week that I have a deep-seated belief that I am responsible for the safety, health and happiness of everyone I love. Also friends and often also random strangers. I remember sitting on the beach once, counting and re-counting the bobbing heads of the surfers out in the waves. This belief is not based on any observable evidence at all. There is not a thing I can do to guarantee anyone's safety, health or happiness. The reverse of this belief, of course, is that when the people I love are not safe or healthy or happy, I am to blame. There is no basis in reality for this belief either, and it is very debilitating, because blaming yourself for things that are not in your power to change is a terrible waste of energy.

Since I have realised what my sneaky brain has been up to I have felt much better. I am not responsible for Paul's health, I tell myself, and when I say it out loud, of course it makes sense. I can't make the children happy, I can't keep random surfers safe. Such a very small circle of things are within my control, maybe only the things that go on in my mind. I can make sure I wear a seat belt, but that doesn't guarantee my safety, it only increases the chances. I can't guarantee my health, or even my own happiness. Who knows what will happen tomorrow?

Keeping that thought at the front of my mind has helped me to create some calm this last couple of days. Any sense of control we think we have is largely illusory. That is a Stoic philosophy I knew in an intellectual sense but am just beginning to experience it as something I now know.

These last twelve months have been a very inward-looking time for me. There are a lot of mind-habits forged over a lifetime which probably seemed like a good idea at the time but aren't serving me well. I have been slowly letting go of the more problematic ones. Starting to let them go, in any case. They keep popping back of course, which gives me the opportunity to say, "Well, hello, old friend, it's you again. Let's have a chat then move right along.."

Today has been a warm autumn rain day. Red and I walked to the doctor's and back in the drizzly rain. I have started to clear some of the perennial garden I planted a few years ago. It is beautiful, but time consuming. In a couple of years my plan is to move up the mountain with Paul, and rent my house out, so I would like to streamline the garden, and make it more maintenance-lite. I am going to plan a dry garden of mostly native plants, and most of them the kind that grow naturally into lovely rounded mounds. My plan is that it will have the effect of a lot of green and grey pillows, with flowers for the bees and birds. So far, I have achieved this effect only in one small corner of the front garden, so there is plenty of scope for further experimentation.

Today I pulled out a dying rose bush which looked by its trunk to be decades old, which did go on the compost heap, and some perennials that I grew from seeds and cuttings. I'm giving away the plants I remove, so they will have another life in the gardens of family and friends. I love that gardens go round and come round. Here are some tubs of columbine and lamb's ears for my mum and a friend.

On the weekend I dug up a dozen bearded irises and took them out for afternoon tea. No, they are not edible, and we didn't eat them.. it was a gift strictly for gardening purposes..

Here is the top terrace, all flowers, some fruit, and then the top vegie garden, which is too shady and full of tree roots to be a really good place for vegies. Both these spaces will turn into a floaty Tasmanian native garden and I will be a calm and Zen gardener. Maybe. This is the future according to me.

So last year, inward change. This year, change in the garden, and who knows? Maybe out in the world as well. But mostly just very pleased that Paul is still here and we can continue on with our life together.


Anonymous said…
Oh dear! Extra long cyber hug. As long as you like - wise words from Shirley.

Glad to hear is OK. Keep reminding yourself that you cannot control and you are not responsible for others.

Wishing you zen-like gardening. Annuals, including veggies, do take so much time.

Anonymous said…
Jo: So very glad Paul is recovering and back home. Your reaction is so familiar to me. Whenever faced with a family medical emergency, I go into business mode (which is why I am the "medical person for all family members), I handle the stuff, Drs, information etc. You get the picture. When emergency over and recovery begins, I feel like I GOT HIT BY A TRUCK. Quite the physical reaction, and it takes me a long time to recover both physically and emotionally. I actually started planting during one of these episodes.
Long hugs do help, quiet contemplation, and maybe an afternoon cocktail. Might be time for the Boy and the Chef to return and supply you with their concoctions? :)
Sending you a very tight hug through the distance, along with healing, and recovery. I look forward to blog posts of your life with Paul up in the mountain in the future! Be well, my friend.
simplelife said…
Gosh Jo I'm nodding along like one of those bobble headed dogs people used to have in their car windows.
Yes yes yes I hear you and I totally relate to all you have written, except I feel that maybe you are further along the journey of understanding than I.
Cheers Kate
PS it's so lovely to see you pop up here and very glad to read that Paul is doing well.
Deborah said…
Oh Jo, you've been through a tricky time but you have so much insight into how you feel and react so you're miles ahead. Keep doing what you do, enjoy your family and friends and best wishes to Paul for a speedy and complete recovery. Deborah
Treaders said…
I get that about feeling responsible for making sure everyone's ok. Particularly your kids, of course, but anyone you love - and even some you don't. I'm glad you've come to the realization that the health and happiness of the world isn't on your shoulders though - even Atlas couldn't cope with that! And I'm so glad that Paul is doing well. It's been a stressful time for you!
gretchenjoanna said…
When we are joined to others by our love for them, it's not just our abstract feeling of responsibility that burdens us, but something real, not intangible, that makes us feel in our deepest parts when their lives are threatened or hurting. We can't escape the difficult aspects of this communion which your description of this experience conveyed very well, i.e. painfully. I'm glad the immediate crisis is past, and you can be strengthened for the next trial of your spirit. Thank you, Jo.
Jo said…
Lucinda, I can feel that hug from here. Thank you xx

Patricia, oh yes, I very much can identify with your experience. Very much like being hit by a truck. Much better now, with time and rest, and that awful extra anxiety has been blown away by getting to the root cause of it, common sense, and gardening. I hadn't even thought about cocktails! You may be right. I shall get some expert cocktail-maker advice on that!
Jo said…
Kate, I loved those nodding dogs. My great-grandmother gave me one when I was a child:)
I think that sharing epiphanies is most useful, as we get to nod along, and say, "Oh, yes, I recognise that!" Hence the usefulness of that sharing. I sometimes hesitate to write about what I'm feeling, but so often I have been blindsided by some unexpected truth in the course of ordinary conversation and i hope maybe some jolt of recognition will be useful to someone else on their journey as well..

Deborah, I think it's true that identifying a problem goes a long way towards resolving it. I'm not there yet, but I can see the problem:)
Jo said…
Anna, there's a Greek myth for every situation, isn't there? I think that maybe it is the hardest lesson to learn to let go and let your kids just get on with their own lives. Believing that we know best as parents is a difficult one to let go of..

Gretchen Joanna, oh, yes, you have put that so beautifully. Yes, there is that very real sense that we are truly connected, both in pain and in joy with those that we love. I do very much feel that. What I am talking about though, is a very much less useful condition - where you blame yourself for failing to take care of the health and happiness of those you love. It's a much more negative and self-destructive path, even though it can sit side-by-side with love, and the care with which you treat those that you love. Relationships with self and others. So complicated.. I was hoping I could have had it all worked out by now..
Kathy said…
It's terrible when loved ones get sick, my brother in law has been in hospital for a few days and my sister needs a minor op. Health is most certainly wealth these days that's for sure. Have a good week. Kathy, Brisbane
Jo said…
Kathy, I do hope all is well with your brother in law and your sister. Everyday life can be quite suspended until we hear that our loved ones are well and safe.
Anonymous said…
I'm so pleased that Paul is well again, and that you have recovered from the tough days of the last few weeks. I think the worriers have had a hard time of it over the past year. When it all gets a bit much, the best thing for me to do is drop my shoulders and breathe deeply, sit quietly for a bit, and remember to look for the little, beautiful things that are always there somewhere.
All good wishes to you and Paul.
Linda in NZ
Jo said…
Linda, tiny beautiful things - in my experience they help so much. My mum used to point them out to us as children - spiderwebs and bugs in flowers, the peculiar shape of a particular cloud. Come to think of it, she still does this on a regular basis:)
And, you know, I never used to think of myself as a worrier, but here I am, worrying over stuff which can't be changed..

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