Tuesday, March 1, 2011

In the Doldrums - and coming out

My last post was about six months ago. I've been in the doldrums since then, a long dip into lassitude, sails limp, going nowhere. It seems there's a slight breeze stirring, so I'll reset my sails, and make way while the going is good. That's 'me' in the picture, the one with they spy-glass. The one with the tipped bowler hat in the smaller boat is the former 'me'.

I had a stroke in October 2009, and retired from my part-time nursing work in December of the same year. I wasn't fit for work, and I was relieved to give it up, having worked for 53 years - I felt proud of this achievement, fifty years a Registered Nurse. Now it seems distant, almost like something that happened to somebody else. Interesting how the mind works, weaving memories into stories, binding stories into books - books whose pages yellow and curl, whose stories seem quaint and old-fashioned in the telling; books with strange archaic indexes that seem to omit everyday words or concepts. Old books, with rubbed and faded covers.

The relief of retiring gave way to a complex of other emotions, including those I understand are typical of bereavement. I don't recall being in denial, angry, or depressed, but I know I displaced a lot of energy into qi gong. This produced a deceptive state of calm and equanimity, a feeling of well-being. I remember laughing a lot, and being aware of this as a new phenomenon, I'm not known as a jolly person. I don't think those who knew me thought my laughing was an expression of jollity either. It's likely that I was angry, depressed, and in denial too.

I also found myself 'doing my rounds' in my head. 'Doing the rounds' is a nursing thing - you go round early in the morning (or late at night, depending on the shift you work) and greet your patients, many of them in bed or maybe getting up, and you check them out clinically, psychologically, making a note of any immediate or pressing needs they may have, for future action.

This doing-the-rounds happened 'in my head': I made a virtual tour of the people I had nursed before I retired, a small community of people with 'severe and enduring mental health problems' - the chronically mentally ill, refugees from long-stay asylums. I missed them very much. Each bedroom had a different smell. I missed the smells. Nursing is a very physical undertaking. I was taught as a nurse probationer to use my sense of smell as a diagnostic tool, it made a lot of sense too. Now I've given that up: I've given up a lot besides, and I know now that I was - and am - bereaved, and to an extent disabled.

But I'm 'into acceptance' now, or at least I feel I am. The journey isn't over, but the road under my feet feels more familiar, I have lengthened my stride, am making more sense of the terrain than at first, and am beginning to enjoy it.

I've also begun to let go of other things that defined me, or which I've used to define myself throughout my adult life. Too many unconsciously or fearfully assumed identities and roles to catalogue, and who's interested anyway? That's a glib question. Many of those whose identities and roles have been determined by my own, by my assumptions and presumptions, would claim a right to express an interest, intense and personal. Some have done so. I have encountered them on the road I mentioned; the encounters have been challenging. Loving as well as fierce. And they will no doubt continue into what remains of the future for me, and so they should.

While becalmed in the doldrums I stopped practising qi gong, partly because I thought that it had become compulsive, I was hooked on the feeling of calm and the illusion of control of my thoughts and feelings. Qi gong practitioners are counselled about suddenly stopping practice, but I ignored the warnings, and I've learned why: my energy-levels plummeted so that I could scarcely crawl around, feeling weak and lop-sided. I've recently resumed the practice, and - perhaps coincidentally - my energy-levels are climbing back. The other day I found myself jogging up the road, having seen the bin men looking for the bins I'd forgotten to put out for them. I hadn't broken into a trot since before my stroke, and I was surprised that I still could after partly losing my right-left-leg coordination as a result of it.

It's been a struggle staying 'on top of' the small heap of Trust issues that accumulates over a six-month period, and I missed an important Trust meeting earlier this year, a meeting at which a new Hon. Secretary - Willemien Hoogendoorn - was elected to give our affairs a much needed boost. Willemien is a Pure Land practitioner, a personal friend, a talented clear-thinking and logical woman, with the confidence of all the Trustees 'going forward', to use a brisk and breezy new term that seems to invest the more passive 'in the future' with an appropriately modern dynamism.

Some dynamism seems to be called for, not least in extending and strengthening the Ananda Network, which - through neglect of a means to maintain it - has become very attenuated and thin. Recently I've had to use the Internet to search for potential volunteers who might be willing to respond to urgent calls for support. Fortunately, this has done the trick, but not without effort and some difficulty: "cold-calling" established sangha for help in an emergency is leaving too much to chance, and not all sangha seem to be able to reach decisions without a lot of consultation; moreover, some sangha (or established Buddhist groups) seem to meet infrequently - for example during University term-time - and may have no contacts who can respond quickly to events. At any rate, it seems that the Buddhist Hospice Trust can still fulfil an important function in British Buddhist life - and death. In future - and more frequent - blogs I intend to report further on progress, and to comment on current affairs from a personal - idiosyncratic - perspective, as I've done in the past.

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