In the first week of January it seemed like eleventy billion posts went up about the year that had just passed and what was ahead for people.
I couldn’t bring myself to write one.
Then over the past couple of weeks there have been eligibility posts popping up all over the place. “I should write one of those,” I thought.
But I couldn’t bring myself to write one.
I looked at the blog and realised that, for really quite a long time now, most of the posts have been Tea and Jeopardy episodes. I posted other things very sporadically last year. The reason why is tangled up with the inability to write the posts above.
Last year was the worst year of my life to date. And believe me, I’ve had some really bad years. And the thing is, when a year is that bad, it doesn’t do the decent thing and keep itself confined to quarters once the new year comes. No, it leeches into the next.
The danger and strength of narratives
I need to write a longer post about this, when I’m stronger, but for now I’ll just talk about one narrative. Back in April 2014 I had major surgery. I hoped it would take me a couple of months to recover fully.
It took four. And arguably, I’m still not fully recovered as something is wrong, it just hasn’t been diagnosed yet.
All through May, June, July and then into August, as the despair deepened and it felt that the world was passing me by, I kept telling myself that the second half of the year would be much better. I would recover, eventually, do ALL the conventions, get back to pre-op levels of productivity and kick the ass out of the last six months.
Then just as I was starting to do that, my poor Mum was diagnosed with cancer.
It’s treatable, thank goodness, but still a terrible blow. She’s now coming to the end of the chemo phase (which has been utterly hellish) and will soon have surgery, then maybe radiotherapy. Her prognosis is good, but it’s tough to go through.
Three weeks later, my best friend died at the age of 41. October disappeared down a well of all-encompassing grief. In November and December, something acutely stressful happened that I can’t talk about publicly and there was very little left in the tank to deal with that.
That narrative that I had kept myself buoyed up with fell apart. The second half of the year turned out to be so much worse. And it sounds silly, writing about it, but I clung to the idea that things would turn around in September. I really did. It kept me going. Then it twisted into the belief that 2014 was just a shitmonster and I was just going to have to battle it until one of us was left standing.
At one point I got so low I nearly gave up writing. I nearly gave up all together, but thinking of 2014 as that monster made me dig down into reserves I never realised I even had. Sheer bloody-mindedness made me get back to work.
Of course, I got a book deal during all this and I was so relieved there are not adequate words to express that. But the day I found out was the same day I learned about Mum’s cancer. The joy was hard to feel when set against that.
But this isn’t what I want to write about. I don’t want to because I am still living through the aftershocks caused by all those life earthquakes. 2015 has not had a great start, but I’m not going to write a narrative for it yet, other than “Holy shit, surely this has to get better at some point, surely?”
No. I want to talk about jigsaw puzzles.
Over Christmas, thanks to a gift for my son that was far too hard for him, I discovered I like doing jigsaw puzzles. So I got myself a 1000 piece one and thought it might be nice to have something to do whilst I couldn’t play Dragon Age Inquisition.
In fact, I had stumbled upon something that has kept me sane as that horrifically stressful thing rumbles on, as the grief deepens with the dark days and realisation that my best friend is gone forever, as my Mum suffers and I can’t do a thing about it.
They are simple things, jigsaw puzzles. There’s a picture on a box. Inside the box are a thousand pieces. Chaos.
Make the chaos into the beautiful picture on the front of the box.
Making order from that chaos is so soothing. Methodical progress and the knowledge that there is an absolutely, objectively, correct way for all those pieces to fit together. No pressure. Little bursts of pure satisfaction as a tricky bit is finished and the thrill of nearing the end. The feel of running your fingertips over the completed puzzle…
Seriously, take my word for it. If you suffer with an anxiety disorder, if you’re going through something horribly stressful or, as I am, both at the same time, try a jigsaw puzzle.
There’s a whole world of jigsaw geekery out thereI bought my first 1000 piece puzzle with a voucher I got for Christmas. I can’t afford to feed my new hobby at the rate it demands, so I go to charity shops and buy second hand puzzles for a fraction of the price. Invariably I have a nice conversation with the volunteer who is serving who seems delighted that someone as ‘young’ as me enjoys puzzles with the same passion.
And it is becoming a passion. I’m a geek, so it makes sense I’m developing the same intensity of pursuit for this as for Dragon Age or D&D 5th edition (ZOMG it’s so good!). Ravensburger is my favourite puzzle make so far. I like puzzles with lots of details rather than uniform sky or roof or fields or whatever. In the first phases I go by detail, then by colour, then by shape of the remaining pieces. I take a picture of each puzzle when it is completed before breaking it up. Why? I don’t take many pictures at all, but this has rapidly become a ritual.
I didn’t talk about it online. Admittedly I haven’t been as social lately for reasons previously mentioned, but I did talk about it for the first time yesterday. And, of course, others agreed and shared their love for puzzles too. I realised I wasn’t alone in this passion. Because they are my glorious, geeky, gentle tribe and I love them.
That probably includes you, if you’ve read this.