59) Strip it back

Imagine one day you were forced to strip your life back, right back to the basics. You were allowed nothing but food and shelter. No tv, no music, no sounds, no books, no conversation, no distractions, no friends, no exercise. Nothing. Food and shelter only.

Slowly you were allowed to add things back in. A walk, a chapter of a book, a chat with a friend.

This year was the hardest year of my life. Now that I’m about to step out of it I feel like I can finally look back at it properly, I can see it for what it was at last. A massive lesson.

You can’t see the full mountain path you have just climbed until you are on top of the mountain. I’m finally starting to have good days and it’s giving me the clarity to look back on how far I’ve come this year. It wasn’t just a mass of trees and rocks, it was a mountain path I was climbing all along. There was a purpose to it.

Strip your life back to the basics and what is it you miss? Now introduce one hour back into your day, one hour where you can feel ok, one hour to spend on something you love. What do you choose?

That was how I slowly built my life back up this year, one hour at a time. I started to feel good for just long enough for one activity, then after a few months I could do two activities. When your life is structured like that there is no room for things you don’t actually care about. You learn to prioritise joy, to only focus on the things that make you feel good, the things and the people that bring you happiness.

Instead of waking up and thinking about what I ‘had’ to do that day, I would wake up and pick one thing to do that would bring me happiness.

If you had only one hour a day when you were functional what would you choose?

I walked my dogs every chance I got. I got out in nature until the path started to blur and my balance started to go again.

I read books until the words danced around the page and refused to sit still.

I wrote, I kept a diary and eventually realised it wasn’t a diary I was writing but a book. I wrote until I wasn’t able to spell anymore.

My camera became my best friend, it showed me how to look at the world one frame at a time. How to focus on one thing instead of trying to see everything at once.

Gerry. I cherished every second I was well enough to follow the conversation, the quiet hugs when I wasn’t and the help given without me even having to ask.

For anyone who thinks that marriage is just a piece of paper, when you are helpless and terrified and so dizzy you can’t walk to the toilet by yourself, that ring on your finger sometimes feels like the only thing holding your limbs together. Knowing that I had him in my corner ‘in sickness and in health’ was the main thing that got me through some of the hardest days.

He read to me when the words danced, he brought me jigsaws when I couldn’t look at the tv screen, he showed me the patience that I wasn’t able to show myself.

The concussion pulled me out of my life and made me a spectator. I couldn’t participate anymore, just watch. And so that’s what I did, I watched the people that stuck around, the activities that drained me, the things that brought me joy. I watched the good stuff and I finally saw the bad stuff for what it was. I stopped accepting it as part of my life. I learnt how to say no at last.

I lost a lot of things this year: fairweather friends, old beliefs, bad habits, I could write a long list but I no longer linger on the negatives. The truth is I don’t miss one thing from that list. When you only have an hour a day you learn pretty quickly what the important things are.

I thought I was in hell, for most of the year I honestly thought to myself: this is hell, what have I done to deserve this. Now that I’m sitting on my deck in our new place in Arrowtown I can see the good in all of it. My best friends are in my inbox, my first draft of my book is on my desk, the postman has just dropped off my new camera lens. The concussion means that I can’t continue in my current job, I’m devastated but I’m also excited as it means I’ll just have to bite the bullet and start my own photography business. I thought I was in hell, when really the accident cut all the crap out of my life. Lesson after lesson was thrown at me, and I caught and juggled them the best I could until I was finally ready to embrace them.

Strip your life back. Give yourself one hour of pure joy. Cut all the crap out of it and fill it with happiness instead. It took a head injury for me to start really living.

I still only have a few hours in the day, I’m building them up slowly. The thought of having 24 hours is quite overwhelming. It makes me wonder what I was doing with my life before, when I used to have all that time. What did I do with it and why did I let it get so cluttered with crap? Why did I think I didn’t have enough time, that there were never enough hours in the day when I spent my evenings sitting in front of the tv instead of writing?

When I stopped fighting the lessons that this year threw at me I started to grow. I stopped staring at the doors that had closed and instead turned around and opened the windows. I am more excited for this New Years than I have ever been before.

Give me time over money any day, give me joy over drama and love over fakeness. If you have your health then you are a millionaire, spend your time not your money.

So after a year of hard learned lessons, this is my advice:

This new year strip your life back. Choose joy. Cut out all the crap. Love the people that love you. Learn to say no. Learn what makes you smile and embrace it. Most of all, spend your time wisely, it is your most valuable asset. Don’t fight the lessons that come your way, soak them up like a sponge. Don’t be stubborn, let go of the things that no longer serve you. Know that you are important, stop putting everyone elses needs before your own. Figure out what your dreams are and follow them.

Strip your life back. What is important?

Happy New Year, I hope its your best one yet x

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