Sometimes, when I don’t know what to write to you about, I simply turn on my laptop and start typing, trusting that in the very motion of activating my fingers and brain, a message will emerge.
It’s what I’m doing now.
You see, it’s not that I don’t have things to say (I always have something to say), it’s that my experience is that this strange World we find ourselves in right now is making our individual experiences more heightened in their differences.
Some of my friends and clients are locked in grief, bewildered at the news of another loss. Some are exhausted at the thought of more home schooling and the sense that even a moment of peace is outside of their grasp. Others are struggling to focus or lacking energy. Some are lonely and deeply missing physical contact. Many are worrying about their future. Some are absolutely fine, steady, sure, relaxed. And others, well, they’re having the best time ever.
And whilst I know it was always like that – that these differences were always there – somehow, this stage that we are in, as we hopefully pass the peak of a global pandemic, is disorienting.
When writing to almost strangers to arrange speaking events or set up conversations, it seems risky to type, ‘hope you have a great week!’ when I have no context on which to base it and chances are, they might not have such a great week at all. My usual ways of being are adjusted, more considered, more careful. I want to check how you are before I share that actually, of all the periods of this pandemic, this one currently feels the easiest for me and I am rested in a rhythm and routine that brings me joy. I don’t want to rub your nose in it, or make you feel even worse.
My senses are heightened to disparity, difference and privilege everywhere. I’m not a mum, there is no home schooling for me, I’ve worked from home for more than four years now, I’m well to do enough to be able to afford exercise kit that means I can move whatever the weather and I live next to the most beautiful expanse of water you can imagine. The business is thriving. We are healthy and well. And whilst it troubles me that I can’t bring my mum up for a needed holiday, or hug friends through a zoom camera, I’m in pretty good shape as it happens.
Grateful? Yes, oh yes, so very grateful. And also, acutely aware that I fall into a small, privileged group right now that doesn’t need to worry about money, food on the table, the education of my children, or worse, risking my life to do a job that is classed as essential and probably feels like the complete opposite.
I do see this though.
A group of us are hitting The Wall.
Do you know, The Wall? You will if you’re a runner, but otherwise you may not.
It’s that moment in a marathon when the race goes from being hard, to verging on the impossible. The end is in sight, but you simply don’t know if you can make it. Depleted of energy, your legs feel like lead and your mind is shouting, ‘STOP. We. Can’t. Do. It.’. You’ve done 80% of the race, but the last 20 feels impossible.
I hit The Wall for real many years back. To be clear, I’m no runner (I’m not being modest here, you will always find me in the back 10% of any race, desperately trying not to come last and I only did the very biggest races to make that even less likely), but I turned out to be a pretty good speed walker in my one attempt at trying.
Revved up for a 26.2 mile walk that I had trained hard for with a friend, we hit the halfway point at the very front of the many thousand strong pack. Looking at our watches, we knew we’d gone out too fast. We were over 15 minutes ahead of where we anticipated (I’ve actually run half marathons more slowly) and whilst the competitive side of me was pretty chuffed at this achievement, we both knew we’d made a mistake. We’d got high on the buzz and the joy of overtaking (nothing beats it when you’ve been at the back all your life and suddenly realise you can be at the front).
We hadn’t nourished ourselves at all to plan (because this is fun and I’m FINE) and we knew, with no shadow of a doubt, that the second half was going to be payback time.
It’s hard to describe the moment. I remember exactly where I was. On a deserted street in the middle of the night (this was a midnight marathon), my body literally ground to a halt. One minute, I was forging ahead, the next, placing one foot in front of the other became an enormous challenge. And we had 5 miles to go. My racing partner, Laura, saw I was fading.
‘iPod ON, honey’ she said, ‘It’s time’.
Exhausted, I summoned up the energy to move the muscles on my face and crack a smile. You can’t imagine the effort that tiny movement made on top of the lifting and placing down of my legs.
We’d always had a plan to use music to boost us if we needed it. Knowing that there might be a moment we’d run out of air to talk, we’d packed our ancient iPod (this was before we all had Spotify on our phones), ready for the time we needed a good beat to give us a tiny boost.
It was like a slow motion film getting my iPod out of my belt. I didn’t even have the energy to find my carefully selected playlist. With a huge amount of effort, I simply pressed ‘shuffle’ and trusted The Universe would see me right.
Sick joke, Universe.
I can laugh at it now, but in the moment, it was ridiculously devastating.
Keith Urban began to softly sing a signature song, “Tonight, I wanna cry”, and I swear, at that very moment, if a car had driven by and stopped to let me in, I would have given up there and then.
For 5 long miles, I put one foot in front of the other. ‘You can do 5 more steps, Danielle’ I said to myself like a mantra. Counting 5, and then another and then another, just like my Mum used to do when I was a little girl and she wanted to get me to walk a little further. ‘You can always do 5 steps’.
And all the time, Laura kept present and alert, giving me what energy she had to get me there. Gently encouraging me. Knowing when it was wise to leave me alone and when I might need a little boost. Without her, I’m not sure I would have made it.
It was a tough and exciting moment to see the finish line, because those few hundred metres felt like the most impossible task in the world. But I did it, of course. We finished. Literally hours ahead of some people.
Proud and exhausted, I headed home to nurse a nasty blood blister that took weeks to heal and to lie in a body that literally froze its muscles in an attempt to recover that took many days.
A heroine’s story. One I look back on with pride.
But in the moment? I just wanted it over. And I didn’t give a monkey’s whether I finished or not. It took every ounce of strength I had to put my attention on those 5 steps and repeat them over and over again.
So, this is me today, being your Laura if you’re about to hit your wall.
Because there’s no real option to get off and give up. There’s just the light getting ever brighter at the end of all of this.
The way forward is 5 steps at a time. Maybe 1 if that’s all you’ve got. (And honey, you can so do just 1. You know you can).
It’s to be discerning about what gets your energy and what doesn’t.
To find 30 seconds to breathe in the toilet if that’s the only place you get some space.
To ask a friend to send you a better playlist than mine that you can dance alone or with the kids to.
To let go of what ‘should’ be done in favour of what you truly need.
To breathe in fresh air every day like it’s medicine.
And to remember, deep in your wise wise bones, that this too shall pass.
That you are going to make it to the end.
And that one day, we’ll be sitting round a fire telling stories about 2020 and 2021 and what we learned about ourselves and what we made happen.
They’ll be the stories of legends. And you’ll know for sure they made you who you are.
Hold my hand for a while if you need to. I’ve got you. It’s just a wall. Exhausting though it feels, we know we can get to the other side.
Let’s be remarkable together,