These are tough times for everyone. I’m in healthcare, so I see the impact of the disease on the population and I see (and feel) the impact on the healthcare system and its caregivers. I’ve struggled with my own mental health, and now that I’ve bid good riddance to 2020, I’ve spent some time thinking about what has helped me keep moving forward through times that have been more difficult than anything I’ve ever experienced. Here’s my list:
1. Family and friends Nothing is as meaningful as the support of those who care about you. Whether it was packing a healthy meal to take to work, a well-timed email or phone call checking up on me, or scheduling a zoom cocktail party, the human touch made an enormous difference. At work, a caring colleague asking how you’re doing meant a lot.
2. Exercise For me, it was walking, hiking (something new that my family has discovered) stretching, weights, and core training. All of it made me feel better, and I managed to lose some weight during the year.
3. Meditation The best stress-reliever I’ve ever found. I’ve got much to learn and a long way to go, but I’m committed to the journey.
4. Counseling Therapists aren’t magicians; they can’t suddenly make everything all right. They are professionals trained to guide you as you work things out, leading you to telling yourself better stories about yourself and your circumstances—past, present, and future—so you can face each day better equipped to make the most of it. This is my third round of counseling and I’ve always found it helpful. In Charlie Mackesy’s wonderful book (see below), the boy asks the horse, “What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said?” The horse replies, “Help.”
5. Golf One of the few public activities you could do for a while, I enjoyed walking when I couldn’t ride, and then when it got really hot outside and I could ride, I enjoyed that, too. Now, I’m back walking, so I get exercise while I play. My son and I play together, which is a great joy, and we have three other wonderful friends who join us as they can, which thankfully is quite often. The game challenged me and distracted me from the other things going on. My handicap is now as low as it has ever been, but I still let the game get to me more than it should.
6. Music John Prine’s death in April caused me tremendous grief, but as time has passed, I’ve dedicated myself to learning more of his songs and I’ve studied his lyrics more deeply, confirming my impression that his lyrics were brilliant and insightful, shining a bright light on life in a way that few songwriters ever have. My band hasn’t played together for more than a year and I was only able to play in public once (at a small private gathering), but I played and sang at home almost every day and learned how to play a dozen new songs, including one of my own.
7. Reading I read some great books, including The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt, Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner, A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (I had never read it!), and A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. All remarkable books, as was The Circadian Code by Satchin Panda, a book that changed the way I eat and enabled me to lose ten stubborn pounds. The great surprise of 2020 was The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy. A beautiful, simple book that I try to read every day.
8. Gardening I have a patio garden that began with an herb garden, but has now expanded to include radishes, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, and squash. In 2021, I plan to add lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, and turnips. I have a rain barrel and a compost bin out there, and although the yield is not abundant, the crops are tasty and the work is fun.
9. Writing Last here but never least. My writing was somewhat limited to editing my new novel, but I wrote a few poems, one country song, and began scratching out ideas for my next novel. I have one poem accepted for publication; it should be out early in 2021.
There were a number of things that did not help, but I’m choosing not to dwell on them, certainly not here. The act of reflecting on the helpful things has taken some of the sting out of the things that have been harmful, and I’ll leave it at that. I hope you have things that feed your soul and give you joy. Until we get through this (and we will), use your passions to keep moving forward.