‘Riddled with anxieties’, ‘led by fear’, ‘carrying a load of baggage’ are phrases I had not thought related to me. I like to think of myself as someone who does things. I have felt fears, of course, but I’ve learned to say ‘yes’ in their faces and gone and done stuff anyway. I remember being a teenager and school had organised a potholing trip in Yorkshire. There I was, fully kitted out, standing with a few other quivering teenage girls, looking down into the hole and declaring in a squeal that I’m not going down there. Then I watched in half horror and half jealousy my class mates all going down into the depths of the earth. One teacher stood, just the right amount of pissed-off emanating from him, with us to make sure we were ok. OK?! Weren’t we taking the easy option? The safe way? Half a minute elapsed until the ‘just bloody go down it’ in my head erupted into the world and I declared I was going down. Just that. A decision to say yes and to release myself from the fears of doing so. I had an incredible time, of course.
Roll on twenty-odd years and that day’s lesson has failed me. All I had to do was drive down the M6 to Wales and go on a retreat in a forest. Just me and a few people, my tent and some quiet time to reflect, learn, recharge, and be at peace. Sounds idyllic. Necessary, even, in the madness of parenting young children with another on the way. My rational mind has been looking forward to this. My person needs this time of growth. So why is the feeling of dread growing with every mile eaten up by the car? Is it that my hip is starting to give me jip? Or the third traffic jam since Tebay? What about the fact I’ve not seen my girls for a week and if I go it’ll be even longer? Is it simply because I’m pregnant and tired? Is it the fact I’ll be so remote I won’t have phone signal to talk to them? How about that I’ve asked too much of everyone to look after them in my stead? That’s my role, isn’t it? To be the Mother. To care for our offspring so that others can go about their lives uninterrupted. But by going I’m interrupting. Being selfish.
I stop. And cry. I stop longer. I talk to my husband. And the facilitator. Both urging me to go. I cry a bit more. I buy something to eat from a little farm shop and I get £1.11 change. I wonder if it means anything. Because by now I need signs because I am lost at sea with absolutely no bearings nor compass points to guide me. I sit a little longer then I decide to continue. Then I stop again. As I pull over there is a jay sitting right at the place where my car comes to rest. He flies off. Another, deeply meaningful sign this time. The Jay represent the screech and yell of the family unit. He is the hardest to see of the crow family, yet he’s sitting right there, on the kerbside where my car comes to be parked, just as I’m finding my resolve to go home. And my eldest has a poster of one on her bedroom wall. This is the sign I have needed. My emotional being knows that when nothing works anymore, and the advice of other people as well as the inner voice is so confusing, Nature Herself will tell you.
I turn for home. I turn off the satnav who insists that the M6 and all those traffic jams is the best way home. But the satnav doesn’t have a soul that needs soothing. So I drive up through the Pennines, over Settle and Ingleton, the Ribblehead Viaduct and past Annie’s house. I briefly wonder about her blisters and think to call in, but I know that being on the edge of emotions is never a good place to be when being social. She’d hug me and give me pie, I’m sure. And for the thought I am grateful.
It’s the next day now and I am thinking of the wall I couldn’t break through. Of the fears that I simply couldn’t come to terms with and conquer. Make no bones about this; this is as momentous a failure as I’ve not achieved in a very long time. I try to take comfort in the knowledge that I take myself with me, and sitting, guilt-ridden in a forest for five days wouldn’t have served anyone. It’s best to stay away and to make beautiful what I have here. Perhaps it boils down to that in the end: guilt. The carefree feeling of going and doing stuff for myself could so easily have swept me though, joyfully into this experience, in the knowledge that all would have been well, everyone would have been fine and happy. I’ve felt that before and I have done many, soul enriching things on the back of that. Yet, I didn’t feel that yesterday, and now the crying has abated and the emotions are come to rest, I still feel it now. That wasn’t my place to be. How odd that I had to pack and arrange babysitters, set off and drive for two hours before I could find the point of failure. How odd that I never once felt it in the months since I booked the retreat in the first place. How strange that it was change from a fiver and that jay that cleared my head of the swamp that was threatening to suck me down into immobility.
When one door closes, I’ve long thought that when saying no, the best way to make good this decision is to make whatever you’ve said yes to really something special and beautiful. Because of course, every no has a yes buried deep inside it. Sometimes it takes a little while to see it, sometimes it doesn’t even feel as though there’s a yes in there at all, when we can be buried deep inside the thought of a failure. But it’s there, waiting to be grasped and acted upon. For my part, today I’m going to smile and be thankful for everything that I have today, for everything that I don’t need to retreat from. It’s my job today to be very aware of just how special life is and how very, very lucky I am to have the small worries that I have that turned me aside from what could have been.