Lessons From A Blood Test

Not too long ago, I had to have a blood test. Which should be a normal five minutes in and out kind of errand. Assuming that the person drawing the blood is proficient, and my blood vessels are being co-operative. On this particular occasion, things went more or less to plan (I won’t gross you out with the details – that’s the next paragraph).

So why do I sometimes get a little nervous when I walk into the little room? Because there’s been times that it hasn’t gone well. When I haven’t eaten enough before hand, or if the practitioner is comparatively inexperienced, it can take multiple attempts, leaving me with tender bruises for a few weeks. The worst is when they touch a nerve and the pain shoots through your whole arm but you still have to keep very, very still or it just takes longer. I’ve learnt that one from experience.

But I’m not nervous because I think I can fail the blood test. Because failing the blood test isn’t a sign that you’re stupid, or lazy or any of the things that it means in school. Sometimes failing a blood test means you can correctly identify what is wrong before it actually becomes a problem. And who wouldn’t want to solve a problem as early as possible?

People, that’s who. We like our little bubbles. We like to pretend everything is alright when it may not be. We excuse, explain and justify the unacceptable in ourselves and others because “it’s just this one time” or “nobody got hurt” or “everybody’s doing it”. We don’t like to admit that while it may not be a problem for that person over there, the very same thing might be the beginning of a bigger issue for ourselves. If we were to do metaphorical blood tests, theirs would be fine, but ours would not.

It might be easy for the right now to just leave the little problem and not address it – after all, it’s just a little problem. But little problems can sometimes grow, and sometimes we don’t see how big they have really become until it is too late.

And yes, I know, this is supposed to be an encouraging blog. It still is. I’m encouraging you not to be afraid to deal with the little things. To be honest with yourself about whether the little thing is a sign of a potential future big thing, and to act appropriately. Take the blood test, so you know what you’re dealing with.

Of course I am a Leader …

Of course I’m a leader – it’s in my job title, so it must be true. I’ve worked hard to get here, you know. I’ve been leading in one form or another for what, 20 years now? I don’t have to justify myself to you. But there’s more to it than the job title.

For one thing, I read books. And I tell other people to read books. I even tell them what books to read. And maybe one day I will write a book of my own. Because when I tell people to do things, they do them. And it’s not just because I’m the boss. And it’s not just politics, or people pleasing. I’m a leader. I know when people are doing things just because that’s what’s expected of them. I just know.

Besides, isn’t that my job? As a leader I mean. I’m supposed to be telling people what’s expected of them. What to do. What to think. How to be. Who to be. And you might say that all I’m doing is creating a bunch of sycophants and yes-men, but it’s not my fault people are so keen to obey. It’s just the way that they are.

But it is much easier that way. I mean, without the difficult people. You know the ones – the messy people who won’t fit in our boxes, who ask awkward questions. Those people are nothing but troublemakers. And a leader knows how to deal with troublemakers. I know how to deal with troublemakers. I tell them they are not welcome. And we are so much better for it. By we, I mean all of us, not just me (but most especially me). We wouldn’t want the troublemakers spreading their awkward, questioning ways.

Don’t get me wrong, questions are good. But they have to be the right questions. Approved, so to speak. That’s why I like telling people what to do, what to think. Then they never think to ask their own questions. They only ask mine. I’m a leader, you see.

What about the troublemakers, you ask? So that’s what this is about. You’re one of them. You’re not really interesting in me being a leader at all. I think this interview is over.

Meowthpiece 3: Behaviour Modification (or How To Negotiate With Your Cat)

Little Cat is turning into the feline dictator. She’s got behaviour modification down to a fine art. Not me influencing her to change her behaviour, but vice versa. My cat owns me. To say different is just denial.

It started after Orange Cat left. We bought her toys because we were keeping the cat flap closed. It took her a few days to realise these were her toys, that no other cats were getting a sniff in. And then she started with the jumping around and sitting pointedly near the toys and meowing and general carry on every time I went up the stairs. Every single time. She became an intentional noisy mobile furry safety hazard.

And if it wasn’t the playing with the toys, it was a drink from a dripping tap, or sitting on my lap while I worked at the computer (I don’t mind that one so much – she’s warm and cuddly and her purrs are an excellent writing soundtrack. Except when she sticks her claws into me). If she wasn’t asleep somewhere, she would be sitting at the top of the stairs waiting to make her demands every time I wondered up there.

But don’t worry. I got my revenge.

I put pictures of her on Instagram.



If you want to see the pictures of Little Cat on Instagram, follow roxnicholl. You will also see shots of crochet, but what can I say – I’m not a one-trick pony.

Coins And Rosemary (The Stories We Can Tell)

My clothes drier had been making a dreadful racket of late.

“You need to clean the filter. And your clothes will dry faster then too.”

My friend was right. But I don’t like the bother of cleaning the filter, so I waited another day. And when I eventually cleaned the filter, I discovered four pound coins and a little 5p. All dusty and covered with wet fluff. But still worth the grand total of £4.05.

I could write a whole blog about that. About how our value is our value irrespective of what we look like, or even feel like. But that would be predictable, and maybe a little bit boring, and definitely, very safe. (I know, because we used similar lessons to teach children they were valuable no matter how they felt back in South Africa.)

But then yesterday, I bought a rosemary tree. I’m used to rosemary bushes, but this had definitely been trimmed and cajoled into a tree-resembling state. I didn’t go looking for it (I have a reputation when it comes to plants, and for good reason). I was looking for avocado pears in the supermarket, when the scent of the rosemary caught the back of my throat. I remembered the house I grew up in, and the smell of rosemary outside our front door after a thunderstorm. The sky would be blue, the light would be that strange pearly kind, you could still smell the ozone in the air, and the raindrops on the rosemary clung like fragile diamonds, hoping for one last second of life. And standing there, in the supermarket, I couldn’t stop myself from putting the rosemary in my trolley.

I could write a blog about that too – about how we build upon our younger selves, but that does not define our destiny. How even when we think we have forgotten the beautiful in life, there is a part of us that still remembers. About finding blessing in the scary places – like thunderstorms and strange countries. Or about the stories only I can tell.

See, anybody can tell a story about all coins being valuable – that’s what makes the story safe. Not everyone can tell the story of the rosemary in the supermarket echoing a thunderstorm from twenty years ago. That story is less safe. And that somehow makes the story more true – more real, more understandable, maybe even more relevant. (Or maybe that’s just me.)

We all get to choose the stories that we tell in, and through, our lives. We don’t just tell the stories of our lives – the things that have happened to us, or our responses to our environment – but we also tell stories from within us – hopes, dreams, lessons, imaginations. Stories only we can tell. There are many people who can tell you who I am, and the story of my life can be found in a thousand official documents. But there are stories only I can tell.

The question is – will I be brave enough to tell them? Will you?

Whatever is True, Noble, Right, Pure, Lovely, Admirable, Excellent Or Praiseworthy

When I was in my late teens, I stumbled upon a piece of advice. To think about the things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy. In a world where there were so many other things I could think about – how other people had things I would never have, how no matter what I did I could not crack an “A” in Creative Writing (seems ironic, that), all the upset and turmoil that accumulate in the life of a teenager – I chose to try that piece of advice out. And it has never let me down once. Not once.

And the cool thing is, as I have got older, the number of things in these categories has grown bigger. Because I can add experiences that demonstrate the true, the right, the admirable and noble and praiseworthy. I can remember friends throwing me a surprise 30th for my 29th because they knew it would take me longer than a year to build real friendships in a foreign land – noble, and excellent, and inevitably right too. Or sitting in the sun under a tree watching the kids playing, and having one of them ask “tell us a story – you tell good stories.” Or more recently, when friends have encouraged me. Or even watching Little Person determinedly finishing building a Lego set, because she finally understood how the instructions worked.

The list tells me to find the blessings in the everyday. The list tells me not to think (and by think I mean constantly return my thoughts to in a meditative kind of way) about the things that are not on the list. So people’s motives are seldom pure, right? So don’t sit there wondering why he did that thing. You’ll never know, because chances are he doesn’t fully know himself. Find the true, and noble thing. Find the thing that you can pass on to the next generation, the way noblemen pass on titles and properties. Find the lovely thing – the thing that should be loved just because it is. The admirable thing – the thing that makes you step back in wonder. Find the excellent and praiseworthy thing – the thing you can’t help getting excited about.

Sometimes it’s tricky. Sometimes the list itself, the knowing that these are the things to think about, is the excellent thing. Sometimes you have to cling on and know that those things are out there, and you will see them again, but in the meantime you’re going to concentrate on what you remember of them. But when it’s hard like that – and believe me, it can be hard – that’s when the list comes into its own. That’s when all the practice of thinking these things comes in handy. That’s when you have to remember, and be really intentional about your thinking.

Because there are some things that we think we should put on that list that aren’t actually there – beautiful, whole, happy, promises, wishes, the future. Because a thing that is true, noble, pure and right will be beautiful – no matter what it looks like. But a thing may be beautiful to look at, but toxic to your soul. And broken things are lovely, excellent and praiseworthy too. And sometimes happy things just make us sadder, which is why we should think of those things that inspire us (which is, in part, what the list describes). Promises? The future? Sometimes they can seem so distant, so intangible. But the praiseworthy thing that we know about – that we remember, that is personal to us – sometimes we can hold on tightly, and discover hope.

So whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

(And yes, that little bit of advice is from the Bible – Philippians 4:8 to be exact. But I think it’s a good piece of advice for anybody.)

Sideswiped – And Yet

Ever woken up feeling that you’ve just been punched in the stomach?  Had a day where just breathing suddenly seems so effortful? That’s me at the moment. I have been sideswiped. And now it’s half-term too.

So rather than sitting on the floor and shaking my fist at the world in anger, I’m shuffling to one side, taking stock of what’s left of me. Resting. Recovering. Choosing to apply all the lessons I have learnt. Remembering that this is not the end of me, nor the end of my purpose.

I don’t want to write out of misplaced anger, or stir up a hornet’s nest unnecessarily. I want to be wise, and gracious and merciful. To myself most of all (well, somebody has to be). I don’t want to be stupid. I may look like a trouble-maker, but that’s not my identity.

So for this next little while, I am being extra careful what I write, because my emotions are riding high, and I need to be sensible. I believe in passion. I don’t believe in letting your emotions getting the better of you.

I’m not disappearing completely – I’m just going to write occasional fluff pieces rather than anything from the heart. Because right now, my heart is too sore.

However, in the interim, if you have stories of hope, or purpose, or freedom, or anything else that you think would be suitable for this blog, that you would like me to share, please feel free to email me on roxicalthinking@gmail.com, and I’ll post them up if they meet my very vague criteria.

For now, I have lost my voice. So let me help you use yours.

Me, The Dude And Valentines Day

The date hasn’t escaped me. Little Person had me making a valentine’s card straight after breakfast – including the obligatory dinosaurs. (Did I mention that my drawing talent apparently does not extend to drawing dinosaurs?) It’s the first such card I have ever given The Dude. We keep our romantic gestures for the moments that are important to us, not to Hallmark.

Because love is not about chocolates, and cards and one day in the year (except the time I had a really bad day and The Dude walked in carrying chocolates – good call). Love is getting up early enough to make sandwiches, making the effort to cook good home-cooked meals, even when you really don’t want to. Love is emptying the dishwasher, even when the rugby is coming on. Or standing with your Little Person as she inspects all the toys. Love is a thousand decisions, made every day of the year. Love is learning how to show the person you love that you love them. Love is communication in action – a willingness to try, and grow, and face the difficulties together. A decision to build together, so that you decide together to never ever give up.

The Dude and I don’t do Valentines Day. We don’t have the options of date nights that other couples do. But we know that we need to be creative in finding our moments together, and that means we are so much more intentional. We could allow the challenges of our daily life to drive us apart, but we choose to use them as a force to drive us together. So no, we don’t do valentines.

Romance is much cheaper in March.


Meowthpiece #2: The One About The Cat Toy

It was a dark, dark day in our house. Terrible. Awful. The cat meowed pitifully, wailing at me every time I came upstairs. She nearly woke the Little Person up (which takes some doing). Persistently. Insistently. Her little feline heart was broken. Dark days, and trouble times loomed. I could sense it in the way her whiskers quivered.

We had lost the cat toy. The one that she takes great delight in chasing every night. The stick with the string and the ball with feathery bits on the end. Vanished without a trace. We searched high and low. I confess, I eventually blamed the cleaner.

Only, it wasn’t the cleaner. It was me. I had accidentally picked it up with some dirty washing and put it in the washing machine. Fortunately, I discovered it before it went in the dryer.

So what’s worse than a cat toy that’s been lost? A cat toy that’s been washed, that’s what (apart from, you know, world poverty, war, human trafficking and a million other things). How do I know?

Hackles. And a puffed up tail. And prancing around on her tiptoes. She looked ridiculous. She looked more upset than that time I took her to the vet. And she hasn’t been running around asking for her toy since.

But then, maybe that’s a good thing.  :)

Sometimes I Think I Should Just Get a Bell And An Unclean Sign And Be Done With It

I was going to make a sign for this post. Big and bold: “Epilepsy! Unclean!” and then in small type underneath “not actually unclean, but definitely inconvenient. Which may as well be the same thing.” It’s not discrimination if it’s for the greater good, you see. It’s not discrimination if you smile when you say it. It’s not.

I have lived with an epilepsy diagnosis for 14 years, and there are some things that never get easier. I take necessary poison every morning. Purple pills that fry my liver slowly so that I don’t fry my brain. I go to the GP once a year to double-check that the damage being done doesn’t outweigh the usefulness. So far we are doing okay – but I have lost two years of memory to this beast, and that haunts me. But all these things are manageable. They are part of my everyday reality. I don’t have to think about them, or react to them, or deal with them. I just have to accept them. It took me a good few years to realise that.

Not so long ago, somebody asked me what the great solution to my epilepsy was, and I told them there wasn’t one. There’s medicine. There’s lifestyle choices (I don’t go to movies or the theatre, I make sure I don’t ever get too tired or too stressed). There’s knowledge and understanding (there are certain anti-depressants I shouldn’t take – I learnt that one the hard way). There’s choice.

Epilepsy could become my entire identity, if I allowed that. But most days, I keep it firmly in its corner. I give it purple pills to chew on, and it stays there, only sometimes growling at me. I have fought long and hard to take my life back. Once, the epilepsy was all consuming, taking chunks not only out of my memory, but out of my self-confidence, my faith, my relationships, and sometimes threatening to take my life. The hardest part, though, wasn’t the controlling the seizures – although that was tricky. The hardest part was (and continues to be) the social stigma.

I am extremely intelligent, but I lost my job (understandably) and I couldn’t find another one. Who knows how many times I was overlooked purely because I let slip about the epilepsy? That’s one good thing about the UK – in general, if you put the words well-controlled in front of epilepsy, they don’t automatically take twenty points off your IQ score. I’ve gone to parties and weddings where people have made special arrangements to ensure there is a sheltered space away from all the flashy lights so that I don’t have to worry. Perhaps that lulled me into a false sense of security.

Because it doesn’t matter how long you have lived with the label, or how often you are treated as the second class citizen, or pushed to the sidelines, every time it happens, it still hurts. Like the very first time. It doesn’t get easier – you just learn to process it quicker. You learn to remember it’s a reflection of them, not a reflection of you. You learn not to make the sign that calls yourself unclean, no matter how you feel inside. That’s something that they have put on you. You don’t have to wear it.

I know that there are people that read this blog that battle their own dogs in the corner – epilepsy, depression, autistic spectrum disorders, OCD, or care for those that do. I share my story with you because right now, I am struggling, not with my condition, but with the social consequences of my condition. And as I remind myself, I want to remind you.

  • I am not my condition.
  • I am not a lesser person because of my condition.
  • I deserve to be loved, and respected and valued, irrespective of my condition.
  • I am not damaged, but I am different.
  • I am not unclean. I am different.
  • I still have worth.
  • My story still matters.
  • I still can make a difference in this world.
  • I don’t need to justify my condition. It is what it is.
  • Those who would demean mean me, do not demean me. They demean themselves.
  • Those that steal joy from my life, steal joy from themselves.
  • I am who I am, in part because of my condition. All that is beautiful in me, is that much more beautiful because it exists alongside my condition.
  • I am a survivor.
  • I am beautiful.
  • I am brave.

(I think I may need to just stick those up on my wall to remind myself. And here’s a little sign to remind you.)

This is a doodle I did for a friend of mine.

Be Brave – a doodle by R Nicholl (please ask before using this image – roxicalthinking@gmail.com; larfsandcrafts@gmail.com)

Lessons From A Bathtub

Yesterday I was running a bath for Little Person, as I do every evening. And as I do with some regularity, I got the temperature wrong. First, it was too hot. So I switched on the cold water full blast and walked out to do something, got a bit distracted, and then it was too cold. And everybody knows that once that happens (especially if the bath has already gotten quite deep because you forgot about it twice already), you have to let some of the water out. So I pulled the plug, and turned on the hot water. And sat on the toilet seat while I waited for the system to right itself.

Only, I took my phone out and got distracted reading a blog. The article was longer than I expected, but our hot water runs quite slowly upstairs so I knew it would be a while before the bath would be up to temperature again. Only thing was, I’d forgotten about the plug. By the time I realised, the entire bath had emptied and I had to start over. Worse yet, I had to tell The Dude that there would be a delay because I had accidentally emptied the bath.

Sometimes though, we can be like that. We can forget that there are thing in our lives that are, for the moment, a drain on our resources. It could be illness, it could be fears. Sometimes it can be good things. Weddings, celebrations, repairing relationships. And we carry on like before, and then wonder why we have no oomph, no water in our bath, why we have nothing left to give.

Here’s the thing. It’s your bath. It’s your plug. It’s your responsibility. If you can’t remove the drain on your resources, find ways to increase the water pressure so that the bath stays full enough. Find a way so that sometimes you can just put the plug back in. Keep an eye on it. Don’t forget about it. Because when a bath is empty, you can’t do what needs doing. And sometimes, the time it takes to fill it up again is the difference between bathing a happy but somewhat tired Little Person , and a grumpy, needy over-tired Little Person. Or equivalent (obviously).

So take care of yourself. Or there is no way you can take care of other people.