I arrived back from the Spirit of Caring Conference late last Friday, directly into organising a birthday party for Son who turned 16 the day I packed up the exhibition and drove like a weary bat outta hell all the way from Northampton to Petworth, where he was staying with his 82 year old Grandma. It was agreed that I would do the birthday lunch for nine guests the next day, as Grandma is not up to it, and so I did. And cleared up. Grandma bought all the food and had everything ready, it was not hard work at all. Except that my body was tired and my mind was on overdrive. All went well, and Son was unaware that Laurel and Hardy were singing Way Out West in my brain most of the time.
We come to Monday morning. The day I had set aside to sit on the sofa and snooze, thinking only thoughts of a fluffy nature and smiling softly to myself as I plump up the twinkly cushions on which I lie. Everything was set so that there was nothing more for me to do. Sunday had seen the house cleaned, the washing and ironing done, food for the week bought and put away, and jolly banter with Son who had not seen me for most of the week dutifully performed, there was nothing more to do. We come to Monday morning when everything in my world, domestically at least, was shining and under control.
But the mind is a very separate entity. Oh yes it is. I had had all the bubble baths and pots of tea that the best psychologists insist will calm our fevered thoughts, I had spoken my intentions aloud as the best life coaches have advised that we do - I am lying on the sofa this week in order to indulge in watching 999 What's Your Emergency on a loop on the laptop and so to rest my weary mind body and soul. As I lay on the sofa on the Monday morning, I found I could not disconnect my mind from all the things that it told me that I ought to be doing. And if these things were not done, somehow I would be sucked into space and disappear into a black hole. And everyone who was relying on me to do these things that I ought to be doing would look on with folded arms and a frown and say Well. We gave her plenty of time. She ought to have done those things and it is all her fault. It was as if I had cleared the way for a stampede of nonsense in my head by carving out time in a busy life, for rest and recuperation. I had removed all the obstacles in the way for a mental free for all. I lay on the sofa last Monday morning and worried, fretted, bothered myself with myriad things that needed to be done as a matter of urgency. Here is a list of the kind of things that became terribly important.
- Reading. I have some light reading to take my mind off things and to entertain me. You can't read those, said my mind, you have to use this time to catch up on all that other reading that is good for you! If, said my mind, you don't read all of these books and articles you will never know anything and you are doomed to be useless for ever and people will know that you didn't read important things when you should have done so and it is all your fault that you are a flibbertigibbet.
- Network! If you don't contact people you have met, said my mind, they will not only forget about you, they will hate you and there are so many of these people you need a day to sort it all out. And you have only today and so time is running out...it is time for you to panic, thank you very much.
- Plan the Future. I have some very good events and work to do until Christmas, but my mind wasn't having any of it. After Christmas, it said, you will be completely ruined because unless you sort out all the details now about all your plans next year it won't be possible, none of it will, it is all going to be your fault because you have not done a pie chart, a flip chart, a plan, a list in bullet points, a power point (nooooo) or a risk assessment - it is time to get really agitated because it needs to have been done by midday today and there is no time.
- Confirm all the things that you are doing anyway. I have everything nicely charted in my diary and on the various white boards that I keep in the kitchen and the studio, so that I know what we, Sons, Daughter, and I am doing and of course, what work I am doing. My mind suddenly sat bold upright. Goddamn! It said. Are you sure that you confirmed that work, that appointment, those commitments, are you sure? You probably didn't and now you have to check them all out and re confirm but stop! You will look like a fool for not remembering the first time if you really have made all these arrangements and what if you are wrong and yes! Everyone will sigh and say, Be nice to her, she has Laurel and Hardy singing Way Out West on a loop in her head.
- Don't care
Tuesday was much better. I even found that there was not enough time in which to do nothing. That was a very nice turnaround after my rather embattled Monday. A pile of old cummerbunds, I whispered to myself, a pile of old cummerbunds. Wednesday saw me at my Age UK lady (Darling, why exactly are you here?) and Thursday with my Daughter and then my Older Son in Brighton (Mum, let's have another meal. Don't mind if I do, I am resting and recuperating. Don't mind if I do.)
And so. Friday today and what have I done. I have done a week more or less on the sofa. I have rested, I have gathered my strength and I have seen how if I am busy, I have to work at arriving at a point of being not busy. It doesn't just happen. I need, in the language of the psychologists, to wrestle busy-ness to the ground and sit on it's head. And now, next week, and the weeks after, seem possible.
On Monday, I am driving the A Graceful Death exhibition to Edinburgh to the annual event hosted by Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief held in the Chimp House of Edinburgh Zoo - look on the 14 November event on this website http://http://www.goodlifedeathgrief.org.uk/. This will be a very good event, and the people I have dealt with at Good Life Good Death Good Grief are very good people indeed. On Thursday evening, I shall return home. Almost at once, I shall start to illustrate a new book, a children's book about a witch called Isi, and I will paint the backlog of Angels that I have collected. I will have a Soul Midwives meeting here on 27 November, and I shall speak to a lady who is researching compassionate communities about what is happening here, with our Soul Midwife meetings. I will meet with Nigel, my dear Soul Midwife friend and colleague, about our working partnership and how we continue to work together. And at all times, I shall effortlessly read and absorb all the documents and books that will inform me of Important Things, I shall network and remember people as if I am born to it, I shall find that planning the future is a doddle and I can do it in between emptying the dishwasher and calling Channel 4 and I shall merely glance at my timetables and arrangements with a knowing little chuckle, and know it is all up to date and so very sorted out that even thinking about it makes me give a teeny yawn.
It has been a week of hard work, staying horizontal on the sofa and eating a lot. But I want you to know that I did it. Against all the odds, despite all the anguish, and now - now, I have to get off it. Good Lord, I didn't plan for that.