UPDATE, 3 FEBRUARY 2017: I feel so sad to be publishing this now, but I don’t know what else to do with it.
I wrote the blog post below during my recent trip to Suffolk, 22-27 January, and it was due to be published last Saturday, 28 January, by which time I should have been on holiday with my husband. We never made it on that holiday because I was badly injured in a serious car accident on my way home from Suffolk on that Friday, and spent the following five days in Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Huge thanks to the staff there, in A&E, ICU, HDU, neuroscience, trauma and psychiatry – as well as the paramedics and air ambulance team who took care of me at the scene. I feel very lucky to still be alive under the circumstances.
I’m publishing this now from my bed, with a broken left wrist (disastrous for a left-handed writer), two spinal fractures (which means eight weeks in a neck brace), and a lot of bruises, but fortunately no long-term physical damage. My mental health’s pretty shaky, to say the least, and I’m less certain about how long that will take to heal.
In terms of work, I’m hoping to keep on top of emails, social media, and regular client commitments as much as possible, but please bear with me. Everything is slower, more painful, and more difficult than normal. I suspect next month’s update won’t look quite how I’d imagined it at the end of this post…
January 2017: I’m writing this from a cottage by the sea in beautiful Thorpeness, Suffolk. The morning sunlight’s streaming in through the window, and the only sound is birds tweeting. By the time this is published, I’ll be in the Bulgarian mountains, enjoying the après-ski at a riverside hotel in Bansko. So, how’s that for balance?
In all seriousness though, January has been a real mixed bag in terms of my 2017 challenge to become more balanced. It all got off to a pretty good start. The first couple of weeks after Christmas were a busy time for cat sitting, which really is the most perfect sideline for me as a freelance writer. For the first week or so of January my days were bookended by a 10-20 minute morning and evening walk to other people’s houses – with the added therapeutic benefits of cuddling their cats once I got there! On New Year’s Day I spent a couple of hours on a client’s sofa, with a book in one hand, a 4-month-old kitten on my lap, and his brother on the back of the sofa, head resting on my shoulder. What a blissful moment of “wow, I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this” contentment.
Then the reality of January kicked in and, for a few weeks, balance gave way to merely trudging my way through increasingly bleak, grey days. Between the political climate and the weather, the post-Christmas period felt even more grim and austere than usual. And then some devastating news – from a refugee friend who I know from my work at Women for Refugee Women – really knocked me for six. I knew January would potentially be a struggle, but in lots of ways it’s really tested me to my limits.
It’s hard to keep up a healthy balance of exercise, reading, and self-care when that heavy dark cloud’s hanging over you, and you have to prioritise your energies for the things that need to be done. January has had a few more than its fair share of really bad, bleak, hiding-under-the-covers-because-I-can’t-face-the-world-days.
Of course, it hasn’t all been doom and gloom. Another refugee friend received some much more positive news this month, and I’m overjoyed for her. I’ve started working with a couple of great new clients, writing content for their small business websites. I treated myself to a massage, a facial, and my first BuddyBox. (Past Sarah who thought self-care was frivolous and self-indulgent doesn’t know what to think!) I’ve had a steady stream of repeat work from clients I’ve enjoyed working with in the past. I had my first freelance article published by The Guardian. I’ve raced my way through the backlog of Couragemakers podcasts, so that I’ll soon have to start listening to them once a week like everyone else. And I’ve had some exciting commissions from publications that I love writing for.
I’ve also read some brilliant books, and really rediscovered my love for getting stuck into a good book at any opportunity. I finally got round to finishing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. Although I struggled to get into it initially, I ended up finding it so interesting and insightful. Animal: The Biography of a Female Body by Sarah Pascoe was my favourite read of the month. I love her as a comedian, and her book somehow manages to be fascinating, funny, and totally raw all at once. Her honesty about the anxieties and struggles of life as a cis, hetereosexual woman is so authentic and refreshing. In memory of Carrie Fisher, I ordered Postcards From The Edge the day after she died (along with The Princess Diarist, which I haven’t read yet). What a wonderfully striking, witty and incisive read on mental illness and addiction. My final book of the month is Terry Gibbs’ Why The Dalai Lama is a Socialist. It feels like just the antidote I need to the current political situation.
When I write it all out like that, I’m not even sure why I’ve spent so much of the month feeling tense and miserable.
Fortunately, despite the low points, my mood and my energy have been well and truly restored in January’s final week. First, on Saturday 21 January, by the Women’s March on London. What a festival of hope, sisterhood, and love. It was really uplifting to join 100,000 people, all united against hatred and division. For most of the afternoon, we lined the streets between the American Embassy and a packed, defiant rally in Trafalgar Square. I was so proud of my refugee sisters Joy, Rahela, Shahd, Jade, and Rehemah, who performed their own poetry – and absolutely rocked it! – to that enormous crowd with such confidence, passion and flair. They never, ever fail to make me cry, or to restore my hope for the future.
Then, the following day, I left for my short break in Suffolk – which has been restoring in a totally different way. I booked the trip back in August, when I still thought that I’d be freelancing full-time again by now. The idea was for a kind of DIY writing retreat – a time of solitude and contemplation, to pin down my freelancing plans and goals for 2017, and to clear my head for some more creative projects.
Aside from some problems with my accommodation during the first day, my retreat went exactly as I’d planned. Beautiful sunrises and sunsets; walks along the beach at Thorpeness and Aldeburgh, and around the Meare, a Peter Pan-inspired lake; peace, solitude and tranquility; great food and drink from The Kitchen, The Dolphin, and the Meare Tearoom; and lots and lots of reading, writing, and scribbling down ideas. Besides working on client work and feature interviews, I planned for the year ahead, drafted pitches to my target publications, and wrote the first few thousand words of my novel. Yes, you know, that novel I’ve been talking about and thinking about writing for the last 20 years! Obviously, don’t expect it to be finished any time soon – but hopefully getting started was the hardest part.
Before January’s through I’ve got to make it through a week of skiing without any major injuries. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but I’m a pretty anxious, risk-averse kind of person. It’s taken my husband the best part of ten years to persuade me to hit the slopes with him – and not without plenty of apprehension and misgivings! What I am looking forward to though is following my Suffolk retreat with another week away from reality. If the skiing doesn’t work out, at least I can seek sanctuary somewhere warm, with a gorgeous view of the snowy mountains and a good book. Then, in February, there’s a lot of running, swimming, and pitching to be done…