Another milestone today in the slow and sometimes painful journey back to being fully well and whole again. Two years ago, I had almost a year of being off work through sickness, during which I had to face up honestly to the deep damage inflicted on me by my chosen career in child protection, which (though I say it myself) I had successfully pursued with passion and dedication, until my body called time on the long-established pattern of overwork and strain. The ensuing time, in between doctors' appointments and occupational health rituals, was spent dealing with unfathomably deep exhaustion, resting, walking, weeping a great deal, and coming to terms with what felt initially like devastating personal failure. In addition, I knew more than I would ever wish to, and was haunted by, horrific details of baby murders and extreme neglect, and it took a very long time for these memories and emotions to fade to manageable proportions.
But I also took the time for meditation and calmer introspection, reviewing the past 25 years in this most challenging and never-ending field of work, and eventually accepted that I had reached a point where I had done what I could, and should allow myself to stop the self-criticism and blame. The service I left behind, with a very capable new deputy who could, despite her own anxiety, step into my vacant place and make it her own, was testament to my efforts in recent years to establish high and consistent standards that could stand firm without me. The world would not fall apart if I walked away and said it was time to look after myself for a while.
This was followed by a year of official early retirement, certainly not the path I had once envisaged for myself, during which I slowed down dramatically, walked a great deal under the trees of Jesmond Dene, started reading for pleasure again, and began to wonder what could or should fill the time that work had once so dominated. Blogging was surprisingly helpful, although I found that I couldn't write about the really personal and painful stuff, hence the bias towards trivia and domestic detail, and it held a mirror up to what I did with much of my time. And that was: not a lot. Which seemed to suit me nicely. In that not a lot of doing, there was a lot of being - with myself, with my animals, with friends, with my thoughts, and it has been remarkable in its healing effect. So, in 2009, there will be more of that, I think, and new and interesting things will creep in, I'm sure.
But today's milestone? Another healing experience, one that answers a need that goes back to my early childhood: to be surrounded by cats, those amazing, magical, comical, fascinating companions that I have so loved and enjoyed all my life. In response to this need, and to rescue poor old Kevin from the wilder demands to play inflicted on him by a determined young Lottie, who is in desperate need of a livelier playmate, we are to be joined this afternoon by Millie. Not much of a milestone, you might be thinking, but after so many years of my old boys ageing and dying off, the homing of two young cats, full of life and energy and hopefully with many years ahead of them, seems like a statement that the bleak time has passed, and that hope, life, fun and enjoyment lie ahead. 2009 - the year of the kittens - what larks!