Thinking about grief, and what helped me recover, I was surprised to discover I’ve used the strategy-following four times in the last 25 years.
When I was 50, after two years of floundering with ME/CFS and grieving over the loss of my previous life, I still needed a lot of down-time. I decided I needed an activity I’d never done before to get into a place where I didn’t have to worry about the disease and everything that went with it. Where I could spend a bit of time creating, relaxing, being a normal person. I gave myself an hour, whether I produced anything or not. A lot of time was thinking about it.
Obviously, an activity I’d never done before needed time learning how to do it and lots of it. That was part of the charm. I had a lot of time. I decided I would learn how to write flash fiction, little stories of about 500 words. I’d read plenty but never written other than letters at that point. Learning is by doing. So every morning I would spend an hour writing or thinking up what I would write. On the backs of envelopes and other scrap paper at first. Eventually I got my son a word-processor and used that too. Writing gave me a reason for not feeling bad about having to spend so much time alone. It helped pass the time. As I grew stronger I began to spend more time on it and one thing led to another.
Then my mother died. I recall coming home after the funeral, aware of a huge empty space in my mind where she’d been. I had been thinking I wanted to learn how to paint with watercolors, but no time, sick mother. The next day I bought a cheap set of little tubes, five colors, with two brushes and a plastic daisy-shaped paint mixing thing that I still use six years later.
I painted on all kinds of paper at first, the back of weetbix cartons and the backs of calendars. A few free online youtube lessons and away we go. I posted many of my efforts here and on my FB page. Had a great time in between all the sad thoughts and might’ve beens.
Fast forward to 2020. I was diagnosed with lymphoma, had 5 months of chemo, moved to Brisbane, weak as a kitten, and fumble-fingered in the extreme due to neuropathy, a side effect of my chemo. After a couple of months of recovery I cast around for a way to retrain my fine-motor coordination. I tried knitting but could only hold the knitting pins for a few rows. Flat puzzles didn’t do it for me. Pieces hard to pick up. I got my son’s 30 year old Lego out. Made all his models, learning to follow the instruction booklets. Started to make my own ideas. Decided I needed more Lego … started to feel better. I’m building a tabletop town.
January 2023, with three huge stresses all coming together, I fell apart. I didn’t at first know what was happening. Lots of fatigue. More allergies reared their heads. Fluttering heart. Hot feet. Eventually recalled my ME/CFS symptoms. Learned all the modern names for them. POTS. PEM. To name but two. I was obviously in a flare-up.
At that time I had already been posting little slideshows of my Lego stories to my FB page, for my friends. So when I felt slightly better, I decided to start a blog with Lego stories. That needed a lot of thinking through first. Now already it’s hard to limit myself to one hour a day. There’s the building. Ordering spare parts which means poring over various online secondhand Lego catalogues. Writing stories for the characters to act out. Taking photos of the scenes. Editing photos. Blog posts etc etc.
This is it in case you’re interested. https://reetsbricktown.wordpress.com
Some days I hardly think about my crappy indoor life. Before I know it, it is time to go for a little walk. Then make my dinner. Watch TV one hour. Paint dreams for one hour …this last is my third thing that is helping me recover. Another time for that one. Bed.