Archive for October, 2016

What if this was your last To-Do list?

shutterstock_4175839A friend confided in me recently that she’d seen her GP for help with depression only after my husband died, because she felt she needed to address her health in order to support me the way she wanted to. I thanked her for taking this step for me, but observed how sad it is (and how common) that we don’t rate our own needs as highly as we rate those of others. What about seeing the GP for herself, so she could be present in her own life to a full extent? That’s something she’d been putting off — swept in the chaos of family life and the never-ending ‘to do’ list.

I gave an awareness-raising talk at a government department on Friday, about the importance of prioritising our health over all else. I was able to share our story, to show the impact of thinking “I’ll get around to that …” (whether “that” be changing our habits or having routine or specialist tests or seeing a GP about a niggling concern that is “probably nothing”).

When we were clearing out my husband’s office at work, it wasn’t the photos of his children on his desk that upset me. It was seeing his last To-Do list. There were 15 items. Ten were crossed off. Missing was the one thing that might have saved his life: “book GP and have heart tests done”. And this was missing despite a strong family history of heart disease and early death.

I could feel angry about that, and perhaps I will be one day, but I’m not now because I know I’ve been guilty of the same thing. I’ve thought: “I’ll get to it when we’re through the next week…”

Or fortnight …
Or after the school holidays …
Or when I submit my final book draft …

The intention is there, but the timing is inconvenient.

Our family has learned that intention isn’t anywhere near good enough. It’s not the thought that counts, it’s the follow-through. Everything we believe to be important is rendered null and void if we’re prioritising any of it above health and well-being. All those other pursuits — the work pressures and family commitments, even the “me time” and dream-chasing — are rendered pointless if we no longer exist.

There were some big things on my husband’s last To-Do list:

Rhodes Scholarship reference
ABC stuff
Book chapter
Conference paper

But which of these was more important than ‘find out I urgently need heart surgery’? The conference paper? The radio stuff?

Those things, and all the other achievements he pulled off in his productive, prolific, love-filled life have been traded now with seeing our five-year-old son grow up. That’s the stark reality of it.

I’m overdue for a routine skin check, but I’m off to Adelaide later in the week for a workshop. Even though, based on this message, the skin check is my top priority this week, another part of my brain is still playing it way too cool. Maybe I’ll schedule it for the week after, when it’s less stressful …

It’s so easy, putting things off — dicing with death the way we all do, whenever we write a list of things that we effectively rate more highly than the only thing that matters: staying alive to enjoy it all.

I challenge you, before you click away:

Please pick up the phone and make a GP’s appointment for a check-up, or for any tests you’ve been putting off.

Because there’s no ‘bliss’ and no ‘work’ without ‘life’. It’s that simple.

What I learned in the gutter

Last weekend, my five-year-old son had a meltdown outside a Byron Bay surf shop, and we gave into it and cried in the gutter. He was upset about Daddy dying and telling me how sad he felt.

We have these conversations regularly, within our family and with the various psychologists we’ve begun seeing over the last couple of months. This was a case of experiencing the same emotions as we do at home, but in a warm, tropical setting. And why not?

The old song lyric, ‘pack up your troubles’ makes a lot of sense sometimes. We took our grief on the road for a week, and took a break from the place where it had been unfolding for weeks. And it was good for us.

Going away doesn’t magic away your worries, but the distraction of a different perspective and place can be soothing. If we’re going to be melting down here about this, we might as well melt down about it on a beach on the far north coast, in T-shirts and shorts.

We don’t want to put off ‘living’ until we feel better. No matter how bad we feel, things feel marginally better — or at least different — somewhere new and pretty.

My daughter turned 18 while we were away. We set our alarms for 4.30am and drove from Ballina to Byron to watch the sunrise over her adulthood, from the most Easterly point in the country.

We’ve been doing these life-affirming things since the day after Jeff’s funeral when we re-purposed the floral tributes for strangers in hospital, and these experiences — bitter-sweet though they are — are forming precious memories, at a time when we could write-off any positivity altogether.

We spend a lot of time waiting for circumstances to be right. We wait for the ‘right time’ or think, ‘I’ll be happy when …’

There is no right time. There’s only now. And there are almost always things we can choose in every moment to improve our context.

Since we returned from the trip, and after an inevitable ‘low’ coming home to the house we now associate with the worst experience of our lives, things have been marginally easier. I’m not keeping as many lights on at night. I’m not shutting as many doors.

Even if something improves a situation by 5%, that’s a step forward. Every step forward, no matter how small, is worth taking. It’s a philosophy we can all apply, any time, no matter what we’re dealing with, and where we’re dealing with it. Days don’t need to be perfect or idyllic. A single day can have its ‘gutter’ moments as well as the promise of a sunrise on a new future.