Going on hiatus

I’ve decided to pause blogging here. I don’t imagine this will materially affect anyone’s life apart from mine.

I started this as an experiment really, and it’s both succeeded and failed.

I wanted to write, and since the standard advice is to write about what you know, I chose to write about living alone and how to do it well. Sometimes I stayed on topic but more often than not I wombled off into peripheral ideas and completely unrelated topics. I don’t know where I’m trying to go with it any more and I’m loath to make you wander aimlessly in the wilderness with me while I figure it out.

My initial intention was to offer advice and insights into living alone. I’ve lived alone for decades, and more importantly I enjoy it and choose it. That makes it a very different experience for me than for those who have it thrust upon them.

But I discovered that I feel uncomfortable telling anyone “this is how to do it”. (Ironic, as I’ve had to train myself to stop giving unsolicited advice and problem-solving other people’s lives in real life). Particularly since if you don’t want to be alone, having someone tell you that the way to do it is to embrace it, is like telling an insomniac the way to feel less tired is to get a good night’s sleep.

In terms of success, I count the fact that I’ve blogged pretty much once a week (with a few lapses) for over 2 years. One hundred and forty two posts, counting this one. I wanted to write and I did.

I may be pausing just at the wrong time. I don’t pay much attention to blog traffic but today I did look and total views over the year have grown. More surprising to me was where they’ve come from:

I love that someone in Nepal and someone in St Vincent & Grenadines once read a post! This is the long tail of readers — I haven’t shown the high end, but it includes the expected US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and others.

Still, I want to take a break and rethink what to do with this blog. I may decide to embrace the rambling, head off in a new direction, or give it up completely. I’m not yet sure so in the meantime I’m going to stop posting.

But not before saying thank you for reading and for the “likes” you’ve given posts. Until you do this blogging business you have no real idea how significant a view or a like or a follow is. It’s impartial validation – since you don’t have to read or like or follow, the fact you do is incredibly encouraging.

So thank you for humouring me and for showing your support by reading.

I may be back, but whether I am or not, may you live well, alone or in company.

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Planning a social life

Yesterday I went walking with my friend G. It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed a lovely couple of hours walking through bush with views over the sea. At the conclusion of our walk we went to a cafe for lunch and shared a slightly geographically confused but very tasty paella and pizza.

Like me, G lives alone and also has RA. We both acknowledge the need for regular exercise so we make an effort to get together and walk somewhere every few weeks, because walking is a good way to catch up without dealing with noisy cafes or bars.

I know these catch ups are important to him. He’s told me how he makes a real effort to plan his weekends to ensure he has social contact and doesn’t just sit around his flat feeling sorry for himself. I suspect he has a much greater need for social engagement than do I, do I think it’s very self aware of him to be so proactive about organising his time so he makes sure he gets the level of interaction he needs to keep well.

It occurred to me that this is the very issue I face, but I’m not as disciplined as he is. My issue is how to say no to engagements so I get the solitary time I need for good mental well-being.

People think it’s hard to reach out to others to ask for help, and it is. Asking for company can sometimes feel needy rather than an act of sharing. But it’s very difficult to refuse when someone offers to share their company with you. I feel rude and ungrateful and I suspect I always will. But I’m still going to say no.

One week in

I go back to work on Monday after a pretty decent break. Here, we get 2 public holiday days for Christmas and two for New Year so for 6 days of annual leave I got a break of 15 days. Nice.

It’s now the end of the first week of 2018. So how is it looking so far?

About the same as last week, truth be told. But this is no criticism. The promise of New Year is that we can transform our lives into a more perfect version through the act of wishing it to be so. Unsurprisingly this doesn’t work. If it were the case, we’d have wished it so a lot earlier and we’d no longer be in this imperfect place.

Transformation is jolly hard work and mind numbingly boring, tedious and uncomfortable. This morning I went for a run — I’m easing back into training again now that my medication side effects are better controlled — and it was horribly hard work. I kept needing to stop and walk, my lungs hurt, my legs felt like lead. I thought to myself, “why is this so hard? It wasn’t before, I used to be able to run, maybe I shouldn’t even try” (because of course there is a Rule that if you’re rubbish at something you have no business doing it, right?) But of course it’s hard: I’m starting from square one. I could run 21.1km before because I’d spent months running regularly before I reached that goal, and I have simply forgotten how painful and tedious and frustrating and occasionally miraculous those “learning” runs were.

We all do this, focusing on the end goal we want to achieve and glossing over the hard yards required to get there. I know I’ll forget this repeatedly throughout the year but I hope I can remember it just often enough to keep going no matter how hard it is and how rubbish I am. As someone wise wrote,

Practice isn’t for those who know how, it’s for those who don’t.

New Year, same old me

Women’s magazines love New Year. Their covers are full of titles like “New Year, New You!” and “How To Have Your Best Year Yet!”

This only brings out my inner cynic who, lets be honest, is rarely far from the surface. I recognise the absurdity of these false hopes even as I am drawn to their promise of transformation and the lure of Better.

Let’s face it: I’m not going to transform myself into a gregarious, high-energy style icon with a multi-million dollar business developed in my garage. One thing I do agree with those magazines on is that if I really, really wanted this I could achieve it or most of it. But it’s not going to happen because it’s not something I want.

And here I return to a persistent theme, namely how difficult it is to follow your dreams when those dreams are the antithesis of what the world says you Ought to want.

Dreams and plans and goals that the world endorses are big and bold, active, social and public. I want smaller, quieter, more private.

I want less stuff. I was thwarted in this by my father who gave me a book I wouldn’t buy because a flick through it in the library would be sufficient, and a very expensive designer alarm clock that I won’t use and have no need for. Now I have to figure out how to dispose of these items without causing offence. I realise this sounds ungrateful. It is. But I’d have been more grateful had he listened when I told him I didn’t want anything and if he really wanted to buy me something I’d prefer food or wine that I could consume.

Quieter should be easier to achieve, although it takes some discipline to shut out noise in all its many forms including social media, aimless web surfing, reality TV and the aforementioned women’s magazines. My real challenge will be to stop browsing on my phone when I wake up and to do something a bit more life-giving and positive when I start my day.

More private is entirely up to me really. Many would say I keep pretty much everything to myself as it is. And one has to share in order to have conversations with people and build relationships of any kind. But while I am hardly the type to air all my linen in public I do want to honour my need to keep some things to myself, not because they are scurrilous or shocking but because they are important to me. And I don’t want them tainted by others not treating them as important.

Those are my rules to live by this year. Same old me, really, only more so.

Incidentally I had a lovely Christmas Day with my nephews, no. 1’s partner & child, and my father, probably the nicest family Christmas I’ve ever had. But I won’t lie: it was taxing and I was completely over people for the next few days.

Christmas and loneliness

Christmas is almost here, only one sleep to go. I’ve done what food prep I can for tomorrow and just hope Number 1 Nephew shows up with the ham as promised or I’ll be scrambling to feed everyone with tins of beans.

Christmas is renowned for being a high stress time of year, either because we’re with family or because we’re not. Damned if we do etc. I’ve been thinking a lot about past Christmasses spent on my own and how choosing to be alone is so very different from being alone because there’s no other option.

I’m thinking particularly of the elderly. In the paper there was a story about a Meals on Wheels volunteer who was making the regular weekly meal delivery to one of his charges, when the customer asked if he could spare 5 minutes to come inside. The elderly woman just wanted someone to be there with her when she opened her Christmas present.

This choked me up. It seems desperately sad that at the end of her life this woman was so isolated. It’s not uncommon, I know, but it seems like a terrible indictment of our way of life that this happens.

My love of solitude, my preference for spending time alone, may mean I never experience this kind of loneliness. Or it might lead me to exactly this point. I don’t know.

My father struggles with loneliness, not that he’ll admit it. He does all sorts of irritatingly demanding things that make me cross and it’s only later I realise they are driven by loneliness. He doesn’t call it that because I’m not sure he realises it’s that.

What strikes me, thinking about this, is how a lifetime spent pretending all is fine can become a handicap later in life when you can’t ask for what you need. The woman who asked the meal delivery man to be there while she opened her present at least managed that. It takes real courage to ask someone to help you be less lonely.

Winding up in the wind-down

I should be winding down at work given there’s only a week to go before the entire country shuts down to enjoy some sun at the beach and a Christmas picnic. But instead, that peculiar madness has come over everyone where they suddenly decide project/thing X absolutely must be completed by the end of the year. Invariably X has been sitting around ignored for months prior to this rise in its priority.

So I have been busy doing other people’s work for them, which normally leads to feeling tired and grumpy. However, I have managed to keep my wits about me and not let this get to me. It’s only taken me 30 years to learn I can say no at work and I won’t be fired.

This is a good feeling, being unbothered. I wish I’d known how to do it years ago. But it’s only possible now with the confidence that comes from years of proving myself capable, reliable, dependable and useful.

So I ignored all thoughts of work this weekend and spent it instead making a compost bin, painting the bannisters, and baking Christmas mince pies. It’s now Sunday afternoon and I feel achy from the painting but pleased with my progress.

I’m giving credit for this burst of activity to the impact of the change in my medication. I got permission to stop taking the particularly nasty RA drug that, while effective at keeping the disease well controlled, left me feeling about as energetic as a hibernating bear. The new drug has its side effects but debilitating fatigue isn’t one of them. I’m calling that a win.

How to do Christmas alone

With only three weeks to go, small talk has begun to focus on what people are doing for Christmas.

My preference was and is to spend it alone and do things I enjoy, invariably solitary pursuits of minimal interest to anyone else. Over the years I’ve developed the following approach to having a successful Christmas alone:

  1. Plan your solo day with the same forethought as you would if you were hosting Other People for Christmas at your place.
  2. Make sure you have food you like to eat, and make it a bit special. A bag of chips and a glass of red wine is fine (?!) for a Friday night dinner but Christmas dinner needs to be better planned. Since it’s summer at this end of the world my preference is salmon and salad with a special dessert like French chocolate tart. And bubbles.
  3. Decorate the house however you like. Or not at all. I never used to because I didn’t like the mishmash of decorations I had, but I finally got rid of them and spent a few hours making decorations. I’m much happier with my homemade strings of paper stars. It feels like me.
  4. Buy a present for yourself, something you really want. Wrap it and put it under the tree. Don’t unwrap it until Christmas Day. This is called delayed gratification and it means you’ll enjoy it all the more when you finally unwrap it. In my case I usually buy myself a book so I can spend the day reading it. I look forward to unwrapping the book because that signals the start of a day spent reading. Bliss.
  5. Do things you enjoy doing, and nothing you don’t. If you want to read all day, do that. If you want to lie in the grass and count daisies, do that. If you want to drive backroads singing Glen Campbell songs, do that.
  6. If anyone asks about your plans for Christmas, and you don’t want to tell people you’re spending it alone (because they will judge and will likely pity you then insist you join them or someone because they can’t deal with you being alone) you may have to dissemble a little. I usually respond “oh the usual, food, presents, what about you?” when I’m asked what I’m doing this year. It’s perfectly true.

So that’s it. Christmas on your terms. I can highly recommend it.

I’ve had Christmases alone for probably 20 years, off and on. Lately with my elderly widowed father and me the only child in town I’ve had to sacrifice my solitary Christmases to keep him company. This year, nephews 1 and 2 plus partner 1 and child 1 are all going to be in town and I’m having to host it. It’ll be the biggest and most peopled Christmas I’ve had since I was a teenager.

Much as I love my nephews, I’ll miss my solitary Christmas.