Hello again! I hope 2023 is going well for you, so far. Welcome back to my blog (and my recording for those who prefer to listen), and a special welcome to those of you who have recently subscribed. I’ve been really touched by some of the messages I’ve received from people who tell me that my writing is a source of hope and inspiration. This makes me feel purposeful and grateful for the chance to do something truly meaningful with my time.
If you had told me five years ago that I would be feeling this good about my life, I would’ve replied that I must’ve had a frontal lobotomy! Does anyone ever remember the drinking quip, ‘I’d rather a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy’? I’ve certainly quoted it at various times over the years. As I approach four years since I had a bottle in front of me, I’ve grown to understand the struggle that occupied the mind of the person who wrote this. I believe it was Dorothy Parker who penned it, although it has also been attributed to Tom Waits. Parker and Waits were both great artists who were in abusive relationships with the bottle so it could have come from either of them.
Treating mental health issues
Let’s pick that quip apart, even if it was said in jest. The writer acknowledges that they have a problem with their mind which they believe is serious enough to warrant a frontal lobotomy. Given the extreme nature of such treatment, they chose to drink instead. And you can’t blame them really. Who wants to have a part of their brain removed? The thing is, that sort of extreme treatment is rarely required to treat a person who is experiencing mental illness. As I wrote in my article in the Irish Times, I used to think I drank because I was depressed until I stopped drinking and realised that it was in fact my drinking that was causing me to feel so miserable. Alcohol is a depressant. While it might feel that it alleviates anxiety and stress in the first instance, it’s negative impact on the delicate chemistry of the brain has been well documented. Don’t get me wrong, I was struggling with underlying mental health issues even in my early years but it’s hard for me to separate them from my drinking because I started abusing alcohol at a very young age. At 15, I was working in a hotel picking up glasses at a chicken supper dance (sounds hilarious doesn’t it!). I wasn’t allowed to ‘work’ behind the bar at that age, but I did have to bring the glasses in and load them into the machine for washing. When no-one was looking, I would dispense myself a double gin, add a serving of bitter lemon and dose myself up. It’s insane to think that at the age of 15, I was drunk on gin on a regular basis. One of the reasons I’m so grateful for my life today, at the age of 56, is because my body seems to have forgiven me… for now anyway. Without a bottle in front of me, instead of a frontal lobotomy, I confronted my shame, my self-loathing and committed to recovering the person I was always meant to be before I became my own worst enemy.
The heart of the matter
Which brings me to the focus of this week’s blog – the core. The definition of the word core is this: the part of something that is central to its existence or character. The Latin word for heart is cor, in Italian it’s cuore and coeur in French. The English word bears no resemblance because of its Germanic origins. I wanted to clarify this for you so that you realise that when I talk about core values, I’m really talking about the things that matter deeply to us, the things that make us feel in our heart that we are living a true and meaningful life. My core values are compassion, creativity, honesty, integrity, love, and tolerance. I know that I am living my life well when I can see these values play out in the things I do and say in my day-to-day life. They’re like the moral compass I use to guide me on how to conduct myself. Nobody gave me these values; I chose them for myself. When I sat down to write them, I had to dig deep to see the real me and separate myself from what other people expect of me. The Stoic philosopher, Seneca, in his writings On the Shortness of Life, wrote that white hair and wrinkles doesn’t mean a person has necessarily lived long, just that they existed long. He went on to propose to us the following thought: imagine if we knew exactly how many years we each had to live. How alarming would it be to see that it might only be a few? Would we choose to live those years more carefully? For me, carefully means truthfully – honouring the person I was born to be.
Lest we regret
In a study published by the American Psychological Association in 2018 that looked at people’s most enduring regrets, it was found that more people regret things they didn’t do than the things they did, even if the things they did had negative outcomes. It makes sense when you think about it. With time and effort, we can make amends for mistakes made, but we can never go back and do the things we always dreamed of doing. Then all we can do is lament for how different life would be today if we had listened to our heart.
After spending many years caring for people in the last months of their lives, Australian nurse, Bronnie Ware, wrote about her observations in a book entitled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. This book is a real gift for those of us who are open to finding a perspective on living that cuts to the heart of the matter. Based on those top five regrets, here’s my take on what we can learn about living before it is too late.
- Have the courage to live the life that is true to who you are, not one that you think is expected of you by others. Take action while you still can, while you still have your dreams and the good health to live them.
- Do not for one second believe that working hard is something you will be proud of when you reach the end if it means that work was more important to you than the people in your life. As I said in a previous blog about gratitude, be thankful for the little things, such as being able to spend time with you friends, children, and family, for you may look back one day and realise they were the big things.
- Have the courage to express how you feel. Bitterness and resentment are the price we pay for not expressing our true feelings.
- Stay in touch with friends. Friends mean more to us than we care to admit when we are busy getting caught up in our lives. Don’t wait until the end to realise how much you miss them.
- Allow yourself to be happier and acknowledge that happiness IS a choice. Laughing and being silly costs nothing and will allow you to feel more alive than when you’re busy being serious. As Seneca said, ‘Hang on to your youthful enthusiasms – you’ll be able to use them better when you’re older.’
I hope that you won’t wait until it’s too late to do the things that allow us to feel like we’ve lived our best life when the end is nigh. I’ll leave you with this quote from On the Shortness of Life by Seneca, ‘Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.’
I’d love to hear what your core values are and how you are ensuring they are reflected in the way you live your life. Thanks for being here today. Until the next time, take good care and live immediately. Love, Gill x