Regrets of the Dying – a Must Read

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When you’re young, you feel like you have forever, even though you know you don’t. An inherent complacency influences every decision we make (even when we are older) until we realise we don’t have forever left.

In a lot of ways, I think that those who are unfortunate enough to experience the possibility of life being cut short are blessed. They gain a sense of urgency, the elimination of the fear that hampers and holds the rest of us back as we complacently drift through life believing we have all the time in the world to fulfil our dreams and fantasies.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing – yet there are some tips that can help us appreciate the time we have more and have the courage to do the things we want to do. A lot of my friends are older than me and they tell me to enjoy myself while I am young, yet as I have spoken about before on the blog when you live on a modest income, it’s a difficult balance between enjoying yourself whilst making provisions for later in life.

Nurse Bronnie Ware began a blog documenting the trend she saw in what people told her their biggest regrets at the end of their lives were.

It’s a poignant time in which we are able to, with clarity and urgency, reflect on what we really want, when ironically it is all too late to change our circumstances.

She compiled a list of the most frequently expressed wishes, and they really do make you think. I believe it’s important to share these, especially with younger people because they almost force us to re-evaluate and realise what is really important. Take a look and as always, please share your thoughts!

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

 

  1. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

 

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

 

  1. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

 

  1. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

The above is Copyrighted Bronnie Ware from her blog, Inspiration and Chai.

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6 things we can learn from Maya Angelou

Many people had never heard of Maya Angelou until her passing earlier last year. Yet she was a woman who spoke her mind and turned the adversity she faced throughout her life into a catalogue of insightful, inspirational commentaries to encourage and bring positivity to others.

There are simply too many of her quotes that I take inspiration from to list here, but I’ve managed to shortlist just 6 to share with you today.

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‘If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.’

We are under so much pressure to conform in this life. If we stand out or are different, we are ostracised and singled out, we are ‘wrong’ somehow. But what is ‘normal’? We are all different. Plus, conventions are different no matter where you go – and everyone can ‘fit in’ – you just have to find like-minded people. What is ‘cool’ or ‘fashionable’ in one country or one era differs from one to the next – doesn’t that show that none of us are ‘wrong’? Trying to be someone else wastes everything that’s good about you; and prevents you from reaching your full potential.

‘You will face many defeats in life, but never let yourself be defeated.’

It’s easy to see one more negative thing at the end of a string of unfortunate events as the ‘last straw’. But think back now to something which at the time was equally as challenging – chances are you feel fine about it now, and possibly can even laugh about it. Part of life, and individual aspects of life, is dealing with the downs as well as the ups. Without the downs, there wouldn’t be any ups! And allowing yourself to go through them and deal with them means you can enjoy the ups even more.

‘If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.’

I often say that perspective is everything. This quote is very black and white – most of the time if we are stressed over something, chances are we can’t change it – that’s why we’re stressed. Especially if we have control issues.  

Often the worst things that happen to us are blessings (wearing a very good disguise!) and with a bit of reflection we can find something good in them. As human beings we are fighters, we rarely accept defeat. It’s this dogged determination that keeps us ploughing on. And how do we do that? We adopt a different attitude, see the positives and continue.

‘If you only have one smile in you, give it to the people you love.’

It’s easy to reserve the best side of ourselves for strangers, taking out our anger and frustration on our loved ones because they are there for us unconditionally. These people are there for you no matter what – they won’t judge you for how you treat them, but think about the effect it has on them. They deserve your kindness – and whilst of course it’s important (and sometimes imperative) to spend energy on people we dislike or who don’t deserve it, make sure you reserve at least a little bit for the best people in your life.

‘We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely acknowledge the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.’

Success doesn’t come overnight. Our society with its vacuous celebrity culture perpetuates the mistaken view that quite simply and with little talent or experience each one of us can be destined for great things. But it’s simply not true.

Each one of us has experienced our own struggle – even the ones who appear to have ‘made it’ have bad days and good days. We need to praise people for their achievements but also ask them: ‘What have you gone through to achieve this?’ Recognise that nobody is perfect, and behind every success there have often been hardships, failure and missed opportunities along the way.

In addition the more good you have and in being successful, the more you lose sight of how lucky you are and become greedy for more – that’s why gratitude is so important.

‘I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.’

Everything ‘negative’ that happens takes a little piece of us, sets us back a little bit. But often in time we replace that little piece which allows us to grow and move on. I think this is just a little reminder that we can and should learn and grow from bad experiences, rather than be reduced little by little to eventually be broken down by life.

It’s very much easier said than done – however I genuinely believe that it can be achieved with a shift in perspective.

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What’s your favourite Maya Angelou quote? (If you can pick just one!)

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Proof that anxiety is a state of mind

A friend shared this post with me the other day and I had to share it with you on the blog.

This inspiring, refreshingly candid, and fairly blunt, article written by Clare Atkinson was featured on the Guardian this week.

Having Generalised Anxiety Disorder myself, I can relate massively to the ‘previous life’ described by Clare. The irrational worry over the tiniest thing; the terrible panic attacks, feelings of acute inadequacy, the need for control over every aspect of my life.

However all that paled into insignificance with the diagnosis of terminal cancer. All the things she had wanted to do, places she had wanted to see; her best-laid plans, were now out of reach, ruined. She talks of the emotions and physical issues she had experienced having been instantly replaced by fear, anger, depression; all understandable given her recent news. With this came the realisation that she had been wasting her time and emotion on trivial things which had prevented her from doing what she truly wanted to do. And now, the crushing reality that it was too late to go back and do it all again differently.

Controversially, I’ve always said that in some ways those who face death (and come through the other side) are afforded an invaluable shaking up which changes their perspective forever. Whilst we all know what really matters (family, friends, love, food and water and a roof over our heads) as opposed to what doesn’t (material things, money, fame, looks), few of us believe that enough to change how we live our lives. To live them with some urgency; to do the things we genuinely want to do instead of simply doing what we feel is expected of us.

In the blog and in my book I talk a lot about this and how it is difficult to do. How unfortunate and horrifically sad that for most of us, like Clare, we are only given that sort of insight when it is regrettably too late.

Please read this; it will move you, and may make a difference to how you currently think or feel, especially at a time when we are busy comparing ourselves to others.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/dec/22/after-my-cancer-diagnosis-my-anxiety-disappeared-now-ill-do-anything-to-keep-this-body

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Philosophy for everyday life from Nelson Mandela

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Nelson Mandela. We all know that he is the epitome of strength and inspiration – and following his sad passing in and a subsequent film documenting his life there has been further recognition and an outpouring of praise for him from a younger generation, many of whom had no idea how instrumental and influential he was not only in changing the lives of many South Africans, but also for his infinite wisdom imparted on the world.

Whenever I feel despondent or negative I always look up his quotes, amongst others (they’ll be covered on the blog too!) This is a man of incredible strength and integrity who despite suffering the most unbelievable injustice, spending precious years of his life in prison for standing up for what he (rightly) believed in, showed no malice, spite or indignation towards his captors, enemies or towards life in general. Instead he had only forgiveness, kind words and wisdom learned from his time in prison to impart after his emancipation.

Whilst I’d never encourage comparison of experiences, this really does make me think: ‘Who am I to feel that my life is over or futile because of what has happened to me?’ We all have so much opportunity in life, yet it is often ourselves and our personal perspectives on it and what happens in it that hold us back.

Below are my favourite quotes from Nelson Mandela. They shift your perspective when you’re feeling down or hopeless – they’re filled with positivity and reason and encouragement.

Do you have any of your own that I have missed here? Please share them!

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‘Do not judge me by my successes. Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.’

This is especially poignant because each one of our lives are full of ‘failures’, large and small. Except they are not really bad things at all – they are challenges which force us to grow and change. The important thing to focus on is not the fact that you fell down, but the fact that you got back up again, and how you did so. That in turn is a success in itself – in addition to the fact that more successes will come from each of your failures.

‘May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.’

This one scares me! It’s so true. It’s very much like the old adage ‘We only regret the chances we don’t take.’ If we constantly choose based on playing it safe and being risk-averse with our lives, we miss out on all the things we really want to do but just feel too frightened to take on.

We only get one life – we have to do the things we want to do, before it’s too late.

‘Your playing small does not serve the world. Who are you not to be great?’        

We all have the potential the right to be whoever and whatever we want to be. We just have to work hard and believe in ourselves! Not only do you short-change yourself by not reaching your full potential, you may also short-change others who you could have influenced for the better with your experience and wisdom!

‘As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.’

Inspiring others by simply making your own positive life choices and having confidence in yourself is completely subconscious yet it can really help give other people the opportunity to shine. I have met several people in my life who have an incredible energy, yet they are also open and honest about their weaknesses which makes them so human and even more remarkable! Speaking candidly about what you can’t do, whilst recognising what you can do (and more importantly do well) is really inspiring to others.

‘Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.’

There were so many barriers in the way for Mandela. He didn’t come from a privileged background, yet he worked hard to become a lawyer despite being expelled from a good school at an early age for taking part in a protest. Of course after this he fought hard up against the powerful white domination movement and apartheid on his entry into politics, a dangerous and difficult struggle wrought with difficulty and anguish. He even encountered personal issues such as his divorce from his first wife.

Sat in that prison cell, year after year, unable to speak to his wife or his children, he must have felt as though his life was over. The battle had not been won – in fact everything indicated that he had lost the battle.

Yet still he found that courage and strength to continue. When he was released, despite having spent a large portion of his life in prison, he was not discouraged or disheartened and instead continued his fight for equality, becoming President of South Africa in 1994 at the age of 76.

This is because he was passionate, dedicated and determined in the extreme. Which leads nicely onto the next quote…

‘When people are determined they can overcome anything.’

I have a tattoo dedicated to my dogged determination. It has got me through every single struggle in my life. It’s absolutely true that if you want something bad enough, determination kicks in and you will achieve it no matter what. If that determination doesn’t kick in, it’s not important enough to you.

‘There is no passion to be found in playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.’

Very much like his quote on playing small, this encourages us to live the life we want, imagine, and are more than capable of.

‘As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.’

People often talk of ‘forgiveness’. Forgiveness is really difficult because it involves accepting and allowing the actions of others which have upset or injured us. We are conditioned not to let people ‘get away’ with things and to hold a grudge.

Whilst we shouldn’t forget what people have done to us, it is possible to forgive in a sense. Not for their benefit, but for yours. Holding on to that anger and resentment only serves to make you feel bad – it poisons your life going forward, not theirs. By not forgetting we can also learn from what has happened and protect ourselves in the future as we can hopefully deal with new situations using knowledge learned from the last.

Mandela realised that if he held on to all the bitterness and resentment (and he certainly had reason to feel that way) he could not move forward with his life, enjoy his freedom and continue his campaign for equality and freedom. Whilst many of us won’t experience anywhere near the level of injustice or condemnation that Mandela had to endure, we can at least apply his mentality to smaller issues of our own.

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You can’t do it all – and you certainly can’t do it all well

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There’s increasing pressure on us these days, especially women, to be proficient at everything. The areas in which we must excel in life have increased over the years as equality has been improved, and whilst this of course is a step in the right direction it means that women are expected to fulfil a number of roles with no room for failure in any of those.

The main pressures in life on women, being a good mother and wife, having a good career and being financially independent as well as looking good, all have sub-sectors which often in themselves can take up most of our time and energy.

The truth is, it’s simply impossible to be all of the things above, at least to a degree of excellence in all.

How do you prioritise and concentrate on just one thing, once you decide what it is you wish to focus on? As a younger person, it’s likely that the responsibilities you do have seem huge to you, but when you look at the lives of other women, you wonder how the hell they juggle the things you juggle, in addition to children and work and a husband (I know I do!!). You only have a certain amount of energy. Where do you want to expend it? And what do you want to achieve as a result?

For me, I’ve decided I have to take a look at what I have to do, what I feel I have to do, and what I want to do. When I did, I realised that much of the things I ‘have to do’ and subsequent tasks give myself to do are actually not things I have to do at all. They are things I feel I have to do, make myself do, for the approval of others. It’s not at all simple just cutting these out (especially if you have an anxiety disorder), but I re-evaluated my list and found there were things I could possibly subtract.

The things I actually had to do, like working, and things I wanted to do, came last on the list. Isn’t that ridiculous? No wonder I am so stressed. Sound familiar?

Prioritising isn’t easy because our brains tell little fibs and make unimportant, non-essential things seem imperative and astronomical in comparison to the things we actually need to do day to day.

I’m making a conscious effort to re-prioritise my life, to make room for the really important things that in the long run will make me happy. Try it for yourself – write everything down that you ‘have to do’ and assess just how important they all are. If you really do have to do all of those things, try and grade them in order of importance. If you struggle with that, you most certainly are not alone. It’s just a case of having a real think about what you want, and taking time to try and get your head around what you want to focus on. Focus truly is everything – you can only do one thing at a time and do it well! Then you will succeed. Let me know how you all get on!

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Finally – the government begins to look at failings in mental health services for young people…

…and it is being discussed in wider society and media!

If you are interested in the poor provision for mental health in this country, especially in younger people, you might have seen Newsnight on 5th November.

In this episode, Professor Tanya Byron and MP Charles Walker discussed new figures which show just how poor the mental health is of our younger people today, and how there simply is not enough provision for those who need help. Obviously, this means that we have a lot of people like myself entering adulthood with impacted issues which have not been properly addressed or treated. The programme spoke to several young people who felt failed by the system, as well as key figures heading up charities who aim to help youngsters who say that the problem really is getting out of control the longer this lack of provision is allowed to continue.

I’m so inspired by Charles Walker, who suffers from OCD himself, who has campaigned tirelessly for years to improve the state of mental health services in the UK. He’s struggled to be heard by MPs; of course the stigma against mental illness as opposed to physical illness is still very much a real and present hurdle for campaigners to cross.

It was also revealed that for every £1 spent in the crucial early stages of mental illness, £84 would be saved later on in life. But of course this is not about money – this is about lives.

I’m really pleased that this episode brought a spotlight upon what has previously been a hushed issue. I wrote a long letter to my MP about failings in the NHS’ Mental Health services not only for younger people such as myself but in general, yet I was sent a frankly ignorant and whimsical response which skirted round the issue rather than address it, completely dismissing the individual examples I had disclosed and refusing to take action. Finally it is being recognised that what is happening is nothing short of a crisis. Having experienced the short-fallings from a personal perspective, both with myself and with friends and relatives, I can really see how these figures add up.

What makes me so sad is the huge number of individual failings that result in deaths of young people (and older people, who were failed in their earlier years). That is the heart of this issue – many die needlessly because they did not have the access to the help they needed. Perhaps the saddest thing about this is that they die feeling as though nobody cared, and that they perhaps weren’t worth having time spent on them to help them to feel better.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have the support of my family and friends over the years – others aren’t so lucky. That’s why we really do need a service which will support and help individuals recover before their problems are impacted and worsened over time.

Have you had a bad (or good) experience on the NHS regarding a mental health issue? Please share it.

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