Making choices in life

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The pond above, featured in Rye News last year, recently sprung a leak and now looks a whole lot larger with a brand new liner, but not all life’s choices are that simple – and, as I’m 80 years old, I have a part time gardener – when he is not doing drag or stand up on stage.

But some of life’s major changes, like retirement, divorce, serious illness, including becoming a carer, and bereavement, are not that straightforward or so easily dealt with, which is why East Sussex County Council (ESCC) is setting up a pioneering Life Transitions Services as part of its social care portfolio, which is seeking volunteers, with full training and ongoing support, to talk to people about being better prepared for those changes – which include finding new roles and interests.

Details of how to contact ESCC are given at the end of this article after a few tips from me on what not to do when faced with life’s changes.

Serious illness

I currently live on my own in Rye (and am sort of managing), and I seem to be on the “active” list of at least five or six departments in the Conquest Hospital covering prostate and bowel cancer, COPD (lung disease as I had asthma when I was born), erratic blood pressure, urology and deafness (too many gigs when I was a journalist in the 60s) – and I can now apparently add diabetes to the list – so I was reading diet sheets during the coronation and analysing what was suitable in my fridge-freezer.

Before that though I had had to move out of London to Devon in 2002 when I was divorced for the second time at the age of 60, and one day my adult son, who moved with me, collapsed beside me at a bus stop. That proved to be epilepsy and resulted in lots of trips to Eastbourne Hospital after he had finished university, and I had moved to Rye. But he now manages this most of the time, and he no longer lives with me ,which is sometimes a relief as I find his fits scary. He now lives in Bath near his mum after one season working at Pontins in Camber. I say no more.

Bereavement

I was nearly 50 when my mother and stepfather died within a week of each other just as I started a new career in the civil service in my late 40s (my father was killed in the second world war before I was born). I did not seek or was offered any bereavement counselling. But I had a drunken week off on a Greek island.

And divorce

I postponed my retirement until I was 65, commuting from Devon between 2002 and 2007 with the weekdays in London staying with a chaotic friend, post my divorce at the age of 60, following ten awkward years after my parents’ death when I did not find the help I needed with their death – or my marriage.

So not much planning or preparation in that lot, and neither did I anticipate my health collapsing in the last three or four years – though I had a preview a couple of years earlier when ill health, mainly asthma, forced me to step down from my first period as Rye News editor.

However my second spell as editor was not halted entirely by Covid, but by a routine test spotting prostate cancer – and that, and the cancer treatment, on top of a couple of years of reporting on Covid, forced me to step down again, before I collapsed, and a few months later, bowel cancer was spotted.

But my planning was non-existent, though I had good friends to get me to and from hospital in February and March last year with adequate supplies of books, and my hospital doctor daughter from up north came down to “supervise” the Conquest after I had major surgery. Quick keyhole surgery on my bowel had turned into a major job, and my stomach still looks ghastly so that curtails my social life.

Hitting rock bottom

However I was then back in accident and emergency last autumn with breathing and blood pressure problems, and I felt at a very low ebb and (at last) sought help from a therapist to talk through these “ups and downs”. Having someone else to talk to can be very helpful, which is why the county council is developing a service focussed on life’s transitions – such as divorce, retirement, serious illness, and care – and dealing with them.

And new interests

After retirement and other life changes, we also need new interests. I have not been “quiet” since I retired as I was active in the National Union of Journalists as a volunteer for many years helping with their charity and organising their conferences. In Devon I chaired Healthwatch, which links the community to the NHS. In Rye I have been active in St Mary’s, a town councillor for four years, and also did two spells totalling roughly four or five years as editor of Rye News, both ended by illness, before grinding now to virtually a complete halt.

But, and this is a big “but”, I was not prepared for those “life transitions”, despite the fact I had been training as a psychotherapist, a career I decided not to pursue on retirement as I was getting deaf, and my pension was better than I thought it might be. It has been a very bumpy ride, and my present therapy has been very helpful with my wellbeing and retrieving a positive point of view.

So this ESCC initiative sounds like a good idea, though as a former journalist and civil servant I can be very cynical. I have seen good ideas fail and not always because they are bad ideas. Volunteers are needed to make it work by talking to people facing “transitions” and getting conversations going and my experience of Rye and around is that people step up when needed.

Full training and ongoing support is promised and for more information contact LifeTransitions@eastsussex.gov.uk or SueDunkley@eastsussex.gov.uk or ring her on 07783-847944.

Image Credits: Tim Redfern .

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