I’ve worn the same bracelet every day for the last seven and a half years. In bed. In the shower. On my wedding day. On flights around the world. In labour with my babies. Every day.
It’s nothing special. Just a black piece of string with some brown wooden beads. Small beads. Much fewer now than there were to start with. It’s not a religious statement, or a lucky charm. But for me, it’s been a symbol of calm. A reminder that I can do hard things. That there was a time when I felt completely at peace.
Last week I cut it off.
It came from Costa Rica. Made by the women of a remote rural tribe. The kind you have to access via a bus ride to an outpost, and a dug-out boat down the river, and a hike through the mud.
I lived there for a month, alongside three incredible friends, as part of our drama-school course. Running workshops with the village children. Escaping at the weekends to a coastal town where there were shops, and internet, and bars that played nothing but reggae.
I bought the bracelet just before we left. I’ve worn it ever since. Figuring that, if I can wash my clothes in the river, stir my porridge with a stick and share ice-cold showers with oversized frogs, whilst speaking nothing but Spanish, then I really can do anything.
In hard times, I’ve run the beads through my fingers, willing myself to be brave again. Trying to transport myself back to the shoeless, free-spirited, empowered woman I was when I returned to Heathrow. Trying to recapture that calm. Recently, it hasn’t been working.
Over Christmas, I finally realised why. Calm is not a destination. It’s not a fixed point on the horizon, teasing you with it’s proximity. Peace doesn’t stay in one place.
Yes, there were challenges in the jungle. Yes, it was a completely different world. But it suited me perfectly. Dramatic weather. Glorious sunshine. Great friends and amazing children.
An entire month out of life when all I had to do was prepare lessons, deliver them and then try to create a meal out of the ramshackle selection of foods we’d been allocated for our stay.
I had no responsibilities. Young, free and single. No children to look after, no house to keep. No doctors appointments or anti-depressants. Just me, my friends, the river and the sunshine. And the occasional encounter with a machete-wielding local.
Seven and a half years later, life looks very different.
That comes as no surprise. Yet I’m still expecting to find calm in the same place. Still looking back to a month in the trees, knowing that if I could just be there again, I’d be calm. I’d be peaceful. I’d be better.
The reality is, if I was there again, I’d still be me. I’d still have depression. I’d still have two small children and bills that need paying. It was a moment in time. And it can never be recaptured.
It’s taken me a long time to figure that out. To stop clinging to those memories as my chance for peace. To realise that actually, if I’m going to feel calm in everyday life I need to find a way to be calm in everyday life. Real life. Right here. No buts, or when’s, or if only’s.
And then there was Christmas.
As part of my great-Christmas-slowdown-of-2013, I spent most evenings curled up on the sofa with a blanket, a cup of tea and some Christmas telly. Who knew the festive season could be so relaxing?
Often I would sit in the dark. With just the Christmas tree lights. Little twinkling points of red and blue and green. After a while, I noticed something.
The longer I looked at them, the calmer I became. I felt safe. Secure. Transported back to my own childhood, when I would sit in the dark. With just the Christmas tree lights.
Those lights helped me navigate December without a nervous breakdown. Gave me space to think and to breathe. And eventually, the space to stop thinking, and just be.
When January hit, we had a tidy up / attempted some decorating / fixed cupboard locks on the entire kitchen so that you swear whenever you try to open a drawer. The usual.
When Wes called me upstairs to see our room, this is what I found.
Christmas lights. All round my mirror. So that every night, as I go to bed, I can sit in the dark. With just the tiny coloured lights. And think. And breathe. And stop thinking. And be.
My little piece of calm. In the midst of everything. That doesn’t make me feel guilty for the far-flung adventures I’m not having. Or nostalgic for a time when life was simpler.
Tiny little lights. A version of calm that accepts where I am right now, and works alongside it.
Which is probably the only way that calm ever really works.
I am not completely at peace anymore. Not like I was in the jungle. I may never feel that way again. But I’ve found a way to snatch moments of peace. In the midst of my here-and-now.
It probably won’t work forever. That’s ok. Times change. People change. The good news is, if you look hard enough, peace will be there too. Somewhere.
If I were you, I’d check the Christmas decorations first.