positive change

When I look back on this year, one of the most interesting things for me personally has been the number of small changes that have occurred in recent months. When one considers such changes individually they don’t seem like much – but when I think of them collectively, their impact on me has really been pretty huge.

I had to deal with a few health-related changes (and challenges) this year. These were nothing in comparison to what I’ve previously experienced – which perhaps makes me quite sanguine about such matters – but such things still have their downsides – not least among which was the cancelation of various travel plans. Because of this, and a few other issues, towards the middle of the year, I found myself feeling at quite a low ebb both mentally and physically. A few changes helped me to work through my fug and come out the other side – not least among which was discovering open-water swimming.

It’s quite a simple thing – reminding yourself of what you can do, and making the effort to do it. But it can make all the difference.

Getting out in the water was a small change with big positive effects on me. And then – thanks not least to the supportive and encouraging comments that so many of you left here – I got over my fear and reticence, and I found a pool and gym I liked. I worked with a helpful trainer who developed a simple programme to help me, and, after just a few months of going to the gym a couple of times a week, I noticed that I was able to close a car door with my left arm for the first time since my stroke, and pick up a pan or plate with my left hand without worrying about dropping it. Wow! I also found that simply taking a couple of mornings or afternoons out from work, moving away from my desk, spending a few hours each week on my own, swimming, or working out, or simply relaxing in a fantastic hydrotherapy pool, has made a huge difference to my head space as well as my physical health. Small changes, big effects.

Another not insignificant change (though perhaps not the one that some of you were expecting, ho ho) was cutting off my hair, and going grey.

I’m not sure what I anticipated when I took Tom’s clippers to my head, and cut away my old, ratty dyed-brown bouffe.

I certainly didn’t expect to like it as much as I do.

I’d go so far as to say I love it.

Weirdly, and completely unexpectedly, this short grey hair just feels like me.

I’ve found I’m really enjoying seeing how the hair works with lots of different colours (yellow, orange, two-tone black and white) and it’s also really easy to manage (I just buzz it off every 3 or 4 weeks with Tom’s clippers on a number 7, then cut into it myself to make it a bit more ‘interesting’).

The meanings of hair – its care, its styling – are, as I’m sure you realise, not remotely frivolous. I wrote about the rich cultural significance of braids, and of my own braided hair at length in Handywoman, so it’s something of a shock to me to find that I enjoy this radically different hairstyle so much, and to discover that this new heid of hair has already shaped my identity in some way. For among its many other benefits of simplicity and ease of management, this inch of grey has somehow released me from any niggling concerns I might have harboured about my changing appearance and my ageing, wonky post-stroke body. And certainly, this feeling of contented ease in ones own (older) skin is not to be underestimated.

Finally, among all the other positive changes this year has wrought, I can’t not mention the arrival of this little guy.

Bobby is a very different puppy to Bruce (who now seems almost zen-like and philosophical in comparison) and there have certainly been a few interesting chewy moments (Bobby himself might tell you about those another time). But any predictable puppy-related challenges have been outweighed tenfold by the companionship of a dog with an extraordinarily sweet and affectionate nature. Bobby is now an integral part of the household, bringing much joy and laughter in his wake, and even great uncle Bruce (yes, the two of them share a ‘line’) has warmed to his unruly relative.

So from Bobby, Bruce, Tom and myself, thanks for being here with us through 2018. Here’s to a relaxing festive season, and another year of small, positive change.