Tag Archives: anxiety

RD Holidays

School’s out for summer!  Well almost, anyway; I’ve seen all those hideous ‘thank you teacher’ gifts in the supermarket, waiting to be snapped up in preparation for their relocation to the depths of barely used cupboards while their proud new owners gorge on chocolates and celebrate the start of a glorious long run of freedom.  As for the University… our long summer vacation is already in full swing, for the students at least.  Less so for the staff, particularly as we’re now in the depths of appeals season.  However, the long vacation certainly makes parking a lot easier, as well as navigating on foot across campus without having to dodge the crowds or guess where people with their eyes firmly fixed on their ‘phones are about to step next.  “Look around you at the beautiful scenery!”, I want to yell at them.  “See the majestic trees; admire the rolling green slopes leading down to the cathedral in the distance; giggle at the rabbits as they defy Registry regulations and graze on the grass!”

Naturally, at this time of year there’s always much excited talk of holidays, purchasing of sun cream (don’t forget your sun specs), intensive research on Trip Advisor, packing of bulging cases, and… holiday pictures on Facebook.  A few days ago, one of my eye buddies in the RD support group commented:

“Meh. I’m not usually an envious person but I’m really struggling with seeing so many holiday posts on my FB. I can’t get away on holiday this year; surgery, recovery, no money then back to work in Sept teaching. Feeling sorry for myself 😦 Would love to be carefree with no eye sight worries. It’s shit!”

I could appreciate where she was coming from.  I also thought she was remarkably restrained in her expletive use.  My last holiday was back in 2012 – a few days in Cornwall at my aunt and uncle’s house.  After a particularly grim year in 2013 due to two close family bereavements, in 2014 I resolved to make the most of the good things in life and get out and enjoy myself.  So I booked a short city break to Berlin in April with one friend and a few days in St Petersburg (somewhere I’d wanted to visit for years) with another friend in August.  On the afternoon that I arrived in Berlin, I began losing vision.  I was diagnosed with a macula-off retinal detachment in hospital there in the early hours of the following morning, and as dawn broke I was on an emergency flight back to the UK for surgery.  When attempting to claim money back through my travel insurance a few weeks later, I had to explain through gritted teeth that no, I hadn’t enjoyed the benefits of the hotel for the first night as I’d been stuck in the hospital and then travelling back to the airport!  The trip to St Petersburg had to be cancelled due to surgery number two, after my second detachment.  My sense of disappointment paled into insignificance beside my misery and fear in my grim situation of retinal re-detachment horror, as well as guilt that my friend had to forgo an exciting trip to Russia.  (Fortunately, she was very understanding about this.)

Since then, holidays have been pretty much off the radar for me (apart from those pictures on Facebook, of course).  It probably hasn’t helped that a lot of people (including myself initially) assumed that the flight to Berlin must have caused my detachment.  Doctors have assured me that it didn’t, but of course the association lingers.  Many of my eye buddies also worry about flying and when it’s safe to fly again following surgery.  We all know that flying is forbidden when there is gas in the eye.  This is because the lower air pressure in the cabin of the ‘plane would cause the gas bubble to expand, causing a rise in intraocular pressure which would result in extreme pain and sight loss.  It is safe to fly with silicone oil in the eye, and I know that a few of my eye buddies have bourne this out, albeit very nervously in most cases.  Despite this, I’m doubtful that I will ever fly again.  Although I feel sad about this as I used to love flying and exploring places in different countries, I’m resigned to it at the moment.  I know that the stress and fear of anything going wrong with my eyes would far outweigh any pleasure gained from a trip abroad.  But I feel far more upset that RD has in effect stolen my peace of mind and ability to enjoy certain things.  I think it’s all part of mourning for our pre-RD lives, which I touched on in the blog post Crying over lost sight.  Personally, I find that it doesn’t help when people – with the best will in the world – encourage me to book a holiday in an effort to overcome this fear.  I’m sure that at some point I will be able to go on holiday again, but it will definitely be in this country and to somewhere which has easy access to Moorfields Eye Hospital, in case of emergencies.

Whilst chatting about all this on the RD support group, it was clear that many of my eye buddies share exactly the same fears.  One of them joked that if any of us decided to take a trip up to Aberdeen and experienced problems with our eyes, we’d be in very capable hands with his retinal surgeon there.  “Eureka!”, I thought to myself in excitement…  Of course, we just need to set up some kind of RD holidays exchange system, whereby we can go and stay with another eye buddy!  That way, there would obviously already be a ‘getting to the hospital in case of emergency’ plan in place.  It would also bring other benefits: understanding and empathy from a fellow eye buddy; no weird glances when doing visual checks; no irritating comments about ‘thinking positive and it’ll all be fine’, plentiful supplies of painkillers and eye drops on hand; knowledge that certain activities are off-limits; the opportunity to enjoy eating ‘good eye food’ together…  In the UK, I have eye buddies in Wales, Ireland, Scotland, London, Surrey, Cheshire, and Lincolnshire; and I’m based in Kent.  Now who wouldn’t want to enjoy a holiday in the garden of England, for starters?!  Abroad, I have eye buddies in the Netherlands and the US.  Maybe the whole world isn’t my oyster, but there are certainly a few pearls in that list…

Strong and stable?

I was feeling about as strong and stable as a certain indecisive woman’s preposterous policies when my sister and I set off in the grey drizzle for my appointment at Moorfields Eye Hospital on Monday morning.  My last appointment hadn’t gone as I’d hoped, and I was convinced that they’d be booking me in for my much-feared sixth lot of surgery this time.  With an eye full of oil and rising intraocular pressure, it seemed that the only way was up (baby!) in terms of the latter.*  I’d spent the previous week or so in a state of mounting anxiety, and things weren’t helped by a run of stonking headaches, increasing queasiness and belly ache as the dreaded day loomed closer.  Just in case I was in any doubt about my state of inner turmoil, my subconscious saw fit to remind me of it in the form of nightmares on the rare occasions that I managed a bit of decent shut-eye.  I dreamed of being trapped in my house as the sea roared and raged ever closer, flooding my garden in giant waves and seeping into my place of sanctuary.  I should add at this point that the sea is about a mile away from my house, so this was a most unlikely scenario.  However, it felt so real that once I’d woken and calmed my thudding heart, I peered through the bedroom curtains to check the windows for salty spray.  Drumming home the point, the following night I had a terrifying dream in which I couldn’t see properly out of my good eye.  Each time I tried to blink the floaters away and focus on something, it appeared as a blurry mess of confusion – just the same as the vision in my bad eye.

Things weren’t improved on appointment morning, when we missed the train we were aiming for and, upon arrival at Moorfields, discovered that the grumpy receptionist was on duty in the clinic.  (Well, it was a Monday morning to be fair, so she had every right to be grumpy.)  Lucy somewhat gleefully pointed out that it was All My Fault that we’d missed the first train, as I hadn’t been as punctual as her in getting myself ready.  I protested that the reason for this was that I’d been trying to force my breakfast of peanut butter on toast into my churning stomach (much to the dog’s benefit and subsequent surprised delight).  My taught nerves required me to pay an urgent visit to the facilities before we descended to the clinic, so Lucy went ahead to book me in.  The grumpy receptionist lived up to her name when she stared at Lucy in disdain and demanded, “But where is she?”.  Fortunately, I appeared shortly after this and she waved me through without further interrogation.

We settled down for the usual long wait but were taken by surprise when the nurse called me through within the space of a few minutes.  Visual acuity was as expected, and then came the pressure check, which I’d pretty much been worrying about ever since my last appointment back in January.  I held my breath.  Then I reminded myself to breathe, in case holding it affected the pressure.  I opened my eyes wide and stared straight ahead as the nurse advanced with the pressure monitor and I waited for it to flick against the surface of my eye.  As always, she took a few readings in each eye and then stood back and declared, “21 in the right and 20 in the left.”.  “Ooooh, it’s gone down again!  That’s good, isn’t it?!”, I exclaimed.  She agreed, and proceeded with the dilation drops.  I smiled through the stinging and watering as I felt myself relax ever so slightly.

We headed out to waiting area number 2 and settled in again – it’s always best to expect a long wait and this time we weren’t disappointed.  I dampened my sandpaper mouth and we ate bananas, discussed politics, and played ‘I Spy’ as my pupils dilated and my vision blurred.  Each time a doctor appeared carrying a particularly bulky file, I braced myself in expectation, as we waited… and waited… and then waited some more.  After a while I gave up on watching out for thick files and eventually I was called through by a doctor I’d never seen before.  I already knew that my consultant – ‘the Prof’ – was away that day, as we’d spotted it noted on the whiteboard as we’d entered the clinic.  This did nothing to calm my screaming nerves.  We later discovered that he was away at a conference, so I like to think that he was sharing ground-breaking research about a cure for PVR.

The doctor I saw was extremely patient, giving both eyes a thorough examination before checking my right eye over a second time.  Much to my delight, he was very receptive to questions, which we naturally took full advantage of and obtained answers to even more than the nine on my pre-prepared list.  My shoulders slackened slightly as he told me that everything looked the same: the area of detachment beyond the laser line hadn’t progressed any further, the abnormal blood vessels were the same, and the oil wasn’t causing any problems at that point.  He emphasised that I must return to A&E if anything changed, adding that I would know in my gut if I experienced anything which needed to be checked out.  He then went on to pronounce that word which is far more meaningful when coming from the lips of a retinal surgeon: ‘STABLE’.  As my eye was stable (aaaah… bliss!), he didn’t see the need to rush into further surgery and therefore asked me to return for another check in six months.  Resisting the urge to kiss him, as I suspected this would be frowned upon, I thanked him warmly instead and headed out to make my next appointment with the grumpy receptionist.

The grumpy receptionist took the full force of my delight and relief, as I gleefully told her that I didn’t have to return for six whole months and added that I felt as if I’d been given a wonderful present.  She smiled, and I observed in a most uncharacteristically chatty manner that we usually saw her in my previous clinic rather than ‘the Prof’s’ clinic.  We were treated to another smile as she explained that someone was off sick, and then she ominously remarked that she’d seen my name on the list that morning.  Considering the huge numbers of patients she must see, and knowing that in my own job I only tend to remember the names of people who are either very nice or incredibly annoying, I briefly wondered which category I fell into.  However, after further chatting as she made my next appointment, she smiled again before bidding us goodbye.  We skipped out into the London streets, where we discovered that the grey drizzle had given way to weak sunshine.

Word that I was in celebratory mood had clearly spread, for as we piled onto the tube and sat down, two men clutching saxophones (soprano and alto) climbed aboard along with another guy who turned out to be the singer as they broke into a jazzy version of ‘Hit the road, Jack’.  Ignoring the stony-faced feigned oblivion of most of our fellow passengers, Lucy and I grinned at each other and bopped along in delight, receiving a nod and thumbs-up from the singer in return.  We continued to celebrate my good news by treating ourselves to posh sarnies from M&S (good eye food ones, obviously).  I demolished my share with gusto as we journeyed back on the train; my appetite having made a welcome return.

*You may like to check this out if you’re wondering what on earth I’m talking about: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOMvs_1UFCk

CBT in hindsight

After my pretty dire and incredibly unhelpful experience of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), which I related in my last blog post, CBT for RD… WAPOS!, I reached the logical conclusion that what I’d been subjected to probably wasn’t actually kosher CBT at all.  That confusing mix of very basic common sense, preposterous suggestions, and u-turns which Theresa May would be proud of was so ridiculous that I wondered why I hadn’t smelt a rat previously.  I concluded that the counsellor had been so bad, it was highly likely she wasn’t even properly qualified.  Out of a sense of somewhat morbid curiosity, I decided to do a spot of research in an effort to find evidence which supported my conclusions.

First of all, I turned to my friend Google.  I thumped in the counsellor’s name, and sat back with the expectation of being informed that there were no results available.  Instead, Google informed me that she had a variety of degrees in Psychology, including a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from a very reputable university.  I checked a few different sites and found the information to be consistent.  I was baffled.  How could a person with this level of education and specialism in various areas of psychology have given me such farcical advice?  Plus, if she was intelligent enough to have completed a doctorate, why had she not realised that I would have already attempted all the obvious solutions for myself, before seeking help?  I was perplexed.  Perhaps she thought I was stupid.  Or… perhaps this meant that CBT was aimed at people who were unable to think for themselves, I mused.

In order to test out these theories, I rang an old friend who works as a CBT practitioner for the NHS.  She asked me to explain what the counsellor had discussed with me and the various theories she’d explained to me during our sessions.  I obliged, and – much to my surprise – my friend punctuated my recital with verbal nods of approval: “Yep, yep – that’s right – that’s classic CBT.”  She seemed unsurprised that I hadn’t got on with it, suggesting that I had already been biased against it before I started, and hinting that my tendency to overthink things meant that I wasn’t a good candidate for CBT.  This didn’t really help matters as it simply led me back to my earlier assessment of it.  During this conversation, I also received the distinct impression that people for whom CBT doesn’t work are generally regarded in the trade as ‘awkward’, and having only themselves to blame for either being predisposed against it or for not engaging with the process sufficiently.

After this, I decided to just crack on with things as best I could and rely on the methods of support I’d built up for myself.  I didn’t even think about the whole sorry saga again until a recent conversation with another friend who practices CBT alongside other forms of therapy.  Interestingly, she likened CBT to putting a sticking plaster on a gaping wound.  She told me that it simply isn’t effective as a long-term solution as it’s far too simplistic and doesn’t deal with whatever the crux of the problem might be.  She said that the over-simplification of CBT is compounded by the fact that, generally, only six one-hour sessions are offered to patients and obviously this isn’t sufficient to deal with what are often long-term, ingrained, and highly complex issues.  When I told her of how the counsellor I saw first praised me for having lots of coping mechanisms in place and then thoroughly confused me by telling me that I had too many different coping mechanisms, she was horrified.  She said a good counsellor should never try to take away someone’s coping mechanisms.

In hindsight, if I’d known all this beforehand, I wouldn’t have ventured down the CBT route as it certainly made things worse.  Part of me wonders if I was just unfortunate in being matched with such an unbelievably useless counsellor.  I do think the experience could have been vastly improved if she’d demonstrated even a hint of understanding and/or empathy regarding even just the basics of eye problems.  With this in mind, I’m curious to hear how one of my eye buddies gets on with a course of counselling offered by the RNIB.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will be far more useful and effective.  In retrospect, I should have put a stop to my CBT sessions about half way through, by which point it was obvious that it was exacerbating my difficulties.  But, like a deluded idiot clinging on to the rubble of a poisoned relationship, I just kept going in the hopes that things would improve.  I also wonder, looking back, whether there was anything she could have really done to help me anyway.  If she was genuine in her comments early on that I already had a lot of support mechanisms in place, perhaps she should have simply told me at that stage that she couldn’t improve on what I was already doing to help myself.  Fortunately, I’m usually fairly resilient and after a few weeks of feeling low and fuming about the whole thing, I picked myself up and ploughed on as best I could.  But it did make me worry for people who perhaps aren’t able to do this.  I can see how such a cack-handed approach to mental health could quite easily have the effect of pushing over the cliff someone who was already teetering dangerously close to the edge.

Note: Since publishing CBT for RD… WAPOS!, two friends who are CBT therapists have contacted me about it.  One said that what I experienced definitely wasn’t CBT, and the other said that it was proper CBT but could have been more sensitively applied.  These are both intelligent people whose opinions I value, so now I really am baffled!  However, if there’s one useful thing I’ve learned from the experience, it’s this: for anyone embarking on CBT or any form of counselling, a) don’t assume that the counsellor necessarily knows best, and b) don’t be afraid to question them or to stop the sessions if they’re making things worse.

CBT for RD… WAPOS!

The emotional impact of retinal detachment is an issue which is frequently discussed in my online RD support group.  Recently it came up again, and there was some discussion of the role of various forms of counselling in helping people to deal with the anxiety and depression which are often associated with visual impairment.  It got me thinking about my own experience of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) with regard to this, so I thought I’d scribble a few things down…

It was the Occupational Health woman at my workplace who referred me for eight sessions of CBT with a local provider.  This was back in September 2015, not long after my return to work following surgery number five to fix the detachment which occurred less than two weeks after my surgery to remove the oil.  Needless to say, I wasn’t in a great place.  Feeling distraught and depressed after my hopes had been crushed by the fifth detachment, I was riddled with anxiety about my vision and my future.  I was grieving for the sight I’d lost and insomnia was my constant nightly companion.  Furthermore, there was talk of yet more imminent surgery, which I was quite frankly terrified of.  Knowing that CBT had a reputation for being very effective in treating anxiety, I leapt at the opportunity when it was suggested to me by the Occupational Health woman.  In retrospect, I should have known better.  After all, this was the woman who had – the first time I met her back in July 2014 after my first detachment – brusquely demanded to know why I was worried as I’d had the surgery and therefore of course my retina wouldn’t detach again.  But I digress…

Off I went to my first CBT session, feeling nervous but hopeful.  As I had expected, the counsellor asked me to talk through the events which had brought me there and explain what I hoped to gain from the sessions.  I said that I’d like to reduce my anxiety, particularly regarding my almost obsessive need to constantly check my visual field for potential symptoms, and also that I’d like to improve my sleeping.  It became apparent within the first few minutes that she had no idea about eye issues (unless you count the ability to apply thick gloopy mascara), but she assured me that she would definitely be able to help me and so I left that first appointment feeling optimistic.

The next couple of appointments included an explanation of the function of worry, helpful and unhelpful thought patterns, and discussion of what she termed ‘catastrophising’.  ‘Catastrophising’ was the word she used to describe my fear of further sight loss and ultimate fear of complete blindness.  She made it sound as if this was an illogical fear with no foundation, and that I was being over-dramatic in entertaining it.  I explained that retinal detachment leads to sight loss if not successfully treated and that as I already had significantly impaired vision in my right eye due to multiple detachments and surgeries, and I’d had two large tears in my left retina, this had caused me to be fearful for both eyes.  Her pat responses delivered in artificially soothing tones together with familiar over-use of my first name made it obvious to me that she just didn’t get it.

At the next appointment we moved on to coping mechanisms, as she enquired what I did to try and reduce my anxiety.  I listed talking to certain people about my worries, chatting to my eye buddies via the online support group, and writing my blog.  I explained that I had attempted meditation/mindfulness techniques using an online app and I also told her about my ‘eye book’.  This is the little notebook I take with me to all my hospital appointments, in which to record the information.  If I’m worried about a specific issue between appointments, I often refer back to this book for confirmation or reassurance.   She voiced approval of the fact that I already had a lot of coping strategies in place, and I left that appointment with a lighter step, feeling that perhaps I wasn’t doing so badly after all.

Soon after this came a discussion of insomnia and what I could do in order to try and improve my sleep (or lack of).  She asked me if I’d tried a warm milky drink before bed, or tried reading or listening to music.  Instead of saying what I was actually thinking, which was: “Do you really think I’d be sitting in front of you now if I hadn’t already tried all that?!”, I nodded, with a certain weariness which couldn’t be attributed to lack of sleep, and added to the list of things I’d tried: burning lavendar oil, lavendar pillow spray, eating a banana or cherries before bed, meditation/breathing exercises, a warm bath…  She appeared entirely ignorant of the soporific effects of lavendar, bananas, and cherries, and went on to suggest a few of her own alternatives which I might try.  It was December by this point, so naturally she thought that if I couldn’t sleep, I might find it helpful to get up and put up my Christmas decorations.  When I told her that I don’t tend to decorate my house for Christmas, she faltered slightly but went on to suggest that I could do something else instead, like the washing-up or a bit of cleaning.  (Clearly she had never been to my almost freakily immaculate house.)  “I do all that before I go to bed”, I told her, doing my best to maintain a polite tone.  However, she was on a roll, and went on to ask me if I had any pets that I could get up and feed in the night.  Again, I crushed the voice screaming in my head, “You Have Got To Be Kidding Me?!”, followed by the more reasonable observation that if I had pets and their feeding timetable was dictated by my insomnia, they would probably be dead pets by that point, due to morbid obesity.  Instead, I just stared at her and told her politely that I didn’t have any pets.  My face must have betrayed me somewhat, as she laughingly observed that I was looking at her as if I thought she was mad.  “How very astute of you.”, noted my inner voice, icily.

About two thirds of the way through our sessions, she wanted details of all the various visual checks I do.  I obliged, and she proceeded to draw up an action plan whereby I could only complete the various checks a certain number of times a day.  I tried to explain that this simply wasn’t practical – if I think I see something different or worrying, I can’t ‘unsee’ it and I will obviously check it.  A certain amount of checking is helpful for reassurance, but this kind of thing can’t be set down in a prescriptive fashion.  She didn’t seem to understand, and told me that although it might be difficult at first, it was important to give it a go.  So off I went with my piece of paper, feeling immensely frustrated and depressed by her lack of understanding.  Over the next few days I became so wound up by what I was and wasn’t supposed to check and how many times a day that I made the decision that it had to stop.  I hauled my cross-cutting paper shredder out from the cupboard under the stairs, plugged it in, popped the piece of paper into the slot at the top and watched with satisfaction as it was greedily devoured by the sharp metallic teeth.

When my next session came around, I simply explained again what I’d told her before as to why I felt that her approach was fundamentally flawed.  To give her credit, she seemed to take this on board, saying that we would need to find another method and that (horror of horrors), our sessions could possibly be extended if we needed more time to work on things.  She then changed tack completely and announced that she thought I had too many support mechanisms in place and was confusing myself by flitting between them.  Instead, she advised, I should concentrate on just a couple.  I told her that I wasn’t in the least bit confused and that different mechanisms were appropriate for different issues.  I gave her a few examples but by this point it was glaring obvious that she, like me, had pretty much disengaged with the whole sorry process.  I almost skipped out of my final session, my sense of relief that it was over matched only by my frustration and anger that not only had the whole experience been incredibly unhelpful and a shocking waste of time, it had actually made matters worse in terms of increasing my anxiety.  I’ll leave it to the reader to deduce what the last five letters in the subject title of this post stand for…

 

Eye to Eye 2017: Susan’s story

Susan, showing off her pink wellies

Susan, showing off her pink wellies

On 12 March 2017, my sister and I will once again be walking 14 miles from Moorfields Eye Hospital to the London Eye (via the scenic route) to raise money for sight-saving research.  This year, we’re taking part as a team, along with other people who have been affected by retinal detachment.  I thought it would be interesting to share the stories of my fellow team-members, so this week it’s my aunt’s turn.  After featuring in a few of my blog posts, she gets to have her own say…

I think it’s worth mentioning at this point that my aunt has been a huge support to me throughout my ongoing RD journey, not only with coming to the rescue in helping me through the most difficult ENTIRE MONTH’S worth of posturing back in July 2014 (https://rdramblings.wordpress.com/2015/06/28/pondering-posturing/), but also in the constancy of her caring and understanding.  She never fails to text me before an eye appointment to say she hopes all will be well, and rings me up afterwards to ask how it went.  She shows a real interest in the medical complexities of my case and both she and my uncle have helped me a great deal with their emotional support.  So… if you’d like to sponsor Susan and the rest of our team, you can do so at: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/rd-ramblers.  Alternatively, you can donate by texting: “ISEE66 £5” to 70070 (or whichever amount you prefer, of course).  All donations, no matter how small, are very much appreciated!  🙂

Eye to Eye 2017: Lucy’s story

 

Christmas kindness and a criminal confession

I have a shocking admission to make.  It may be advisable for readers of a more delicate constitution to ensure that smelling salts are on standby, or at least a cup of hot sweet tea.  My confession is this: despite being an ardent admirer of nineteenth century English literature, I’ve never been able to get along with Charles Dickens.  I know… I know… [puts head in hands and sighs in shame].  In fact, my crime is heightened by the fact that I’ve never even been able to make it past the first few chapters of a Dickens novel.  Lord knows, I’ve tried.  I’ve attempted ‘Hard Times’, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’, and many more besides, but all have been cast aside with a frustrated sigh.

During my student days, studying a module in Victorian literature, the two lectures on Dickens were my only absences during the entire three years of my degree.  When gently asked by my English tutor if all was well, as she’d noticed my unusual absence, it probably wasn’t a great idea to admit that I detested Charles Dickens and that as I had no intention of writing an essay on him for either coursework or examination, I had felt that my time had been better spent in studying other authors.  She stared at me in consternation for a few moments but happily didn’t hold it against me.  I won’t go into the reasons for my dislike of the grandfather of Victorian literature as, after all, this is supposed to be a blog about retinal detachment, not literary criticism (although you might be forgiven for querying this if you read my blog post, ‘More than this…?’).  Bear with me, dear Reader, for I will get to the point eventually.  So said Polonius too, I seem to recall…

A few months ago I stumbled across the quote, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”  Much to my amazement, it was attributed to none other than a Mr Charles Dickens.  “Oooo”, I thought, “I really like that concept!”  Personally, having been forced to deal with a life-changing eye condition on a daily basis, along with the constant worry of what the future may hold, I’ve found it very easy at times to become frustrated, low, and end up feeling generally useless in the world.  I suspect that this is probably true of many people dealing with a long-term serious health condition, regardless of what it is.  Additionally, as one prone to unwelcome visitations from Mr Pip, this sense of uselessness can, at times, be very much heightened.  Hence, I found Dickens’ quote to be hugely encouraging because basically it points out that there’s pretty much always something which can be done to make life a little brighter for someone else.  Even in the grimness of posturing there are potentially interesting conversations and ‘phone calls to be had, or dogs to encourage upstairs (have a read of Pondering Posturing, if you’re wondering what I’m going on about here).  I decided that I would make a conscious effort to remember this in my moments of gloom and acquired a simple framed print of the quote which now hangs on my wall as a reminder of this resolution.

When I came across a ‘kindness advent calendar’, the purpose of which was to encourage people to carry out a small act of kindness each day during advent, I rather liked the idea, and entered into the challenge with gusto.  Topically, being somewhat Scrooge-like about the whole ridiculous over-commercialised materialistic nonsense of Christmas, I regarded the kindness advent calendar as something of an antidote to these negative aspects of the festive season.  I’ve gone off-piste with the challenges and pretty much done my own thing, although I have used some of the suggested ideas as well.  My alternatives have included: donating books to charity, writing a funny poem to my sister (fortunately, she did laugh), baking shortbread to cheer up a colleague, posting a bottle of lavender pillow mist to a fellow insomniac, and many more besides.  I’ve found it quite satisfying – and occasionally challenging – to think of different things to do, and it has certainly offset the sometimes crippling feelings of uselessness.  Interestingly, the person who came up with the idea suffers from ME / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  In her blog, ‘make today happy’, she talks about incorporating acts of kindness into her daily life as a mechanism for aiding her recovery journey.  I think Charles Dickens would have approved.  Incidentally, after a fair amount of hunting around, I discovered that Dickens’ quote appears to come from his last completed novel, ‘Our Mutual Friend’ (someone please correct me if I’m wrong here).  I may need to locate a copy and have a last-ditch attempt at redeeming myself as a true fan of nineteenth century English literature…