How Not to be Piste Off by Lily Paterson-Holt
Improvise, Adapt, Overcome. Take it away Lily…
I’m a firm believer that nothing is worth worrying about. The next sentence was supposed to start with ‘Apart from maybe…’, but I couldn’t think of anything that really deserves worry. I haven’t always been so staunchly anti-worry, I was a slave to it and I worked hard to teach myself not to worry. You don’t just wake up one day with a sunny disposition, it takes years of actively changing how you think. In what might be the most ramshackle blog entry ever, I will explain how even though I was up shit creek, I could focus on the sunshine and beauty, rather than the creek itself.
I think this entry best starts with rejection. After being rejected from my favourite uni, and then my second favourite uni, I was kind of pissed, but I worked hard, got some good grades and took a gap year. It was a tough decision. I remember watching all my friends get so excited on results day about what their futures hold, seeing them do the big IKEA shops for uni and saying goodbye, and each step they took towards university was a twist of the knife. ‘Lily’s doing a gap year because she was rejected from Cambridge, oh and Durham, and she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life’ I imagined them saying. It was while I was in Peru that I realised how quickly my life was moving, and that a slower pace of life exists. At the base of the Salkantay trek in The Andes range was a family-owned shop. The owners’ little girls ran around playing with their chickens and charming the tourists, and I saw how simple and freeing life could be, and it was revelatory. I spent the summer content that I had made the right decision, safe in the knowledge that a life in Peru was as good a backup as any.
And so, dear reader, I embarked on the year of a lifetime. In early December I flew to the alps, alone, to be a chalet girl. Best. Decision. Ever. All I had to do was cook a little, clean a little, drink European beer, make friends and ski to my heart’s content! I could be as confident and funny and loud as I wanted to be, nobody there knew me. It was great, for precisely 2 weeks. My dream life ended as quickly as it began, I was racing down the piste trying to keep up with the boys when I fell. It was a big fall; I rolled a bit, slid a while and lost a ski. I sat a while to catch my breath and stood up to join my friends a few meters down where they’d stopped for me. My knee gave way and I fell again. I sat for a while longer, not admitting total defeat and stood and fell again. Nothing major, right? I thought the muscles were just in shock, or it had dislocated and would be fine in a day. I knew I was not skiing back to my flat to sleep it off, so I called mountain rescue, and my friends and I sat piste-side, laughing at my fall, eating sandwiches, and wondering who was going to do dinner service in my chalet that night.
“And then I was told that I tore my ACL”
I was taken to the med center in a blood wagon, kind of like a sleeping bag on skis, was given a blood test, an X-Ray and had a doctor squeeze my knee for a bit. It was kind of funny, everyone was overreacting; the boys had called it a day to come and wait with me at the med center, doctors and nurses were wasting their time on me when there were other people with real injuries to focus on. And then I was told that I tore my ACL and I needed reconstructive surgery if I wanted to ski again. You know in the movies where there’s a record scratch sound, the image pauses and the voiceover comes in with something cheesy like ‘and that’s when I knew I fucked up’. Here, I cried. Not because it hurt, not because of how expensive healthcare is in France, but because my experience of real life was just a taste, not the three course meal I had ordered. A week later, 4 days before Christmas, I flew home, alone, leaving behind amazing friends, a sense of freedom I’d never before had, and 2 of my favourite t-shirts that my friends still haven’t posted back to me!
On the left is me in the pink, with my friend Sam. Note the grin – Up shit creek but enjoying the view. And the middle is me in a club, with a freshly torn ACL, boogying my troubles away…
There I was, at home, again. I was lucky to find an internship at my old school, and the irony of being on a gap year, able to go wherever I want, whenever I want, but ending up back at school was not lost on me. Luckily I received an offer from Durham University, and a light at the end of the tunnel opened up. Having something to look forward to is instrumental in staying positive up shit creek. The timing of this offer was impeccable; just as my life was getting back to normal, my surgery came in to ruin it all. Of course, I am grateful that I could have it, but it was like a playground bully; I was taking the dog on long walks, I was going out with my friends at their universities and I was driving myself around, and then I was punched right in the face back to square one, but this time with gaping wounds on my knees. The first week post surgery hurt more than the injury itself, and there I was – a baby again. Wholly reliant on my mum, unable to walk and sleeping all the time. Physiotherapy is a ballache, and so is the struggle to put my socks on in the morning. Physical injury can be as emotionally painful as it is physically so. I found that I was stuck in a rut, thinking and worrying about my health, playing the worst case scenarios over and over in my head. The way I managed the negativity was through allowing myself to be upset. I had a few days here and there where I let myself scream with anger into my pillow and cry in the Sainsbury’s car park, which is actually quite a romantic image if you think about it. I find the key to not worrying is, bizarrely, to let yourself worry a little. Used responsibly, worry can help you validate the way you feel. Paired with optimism, it can help you solve the problems you face by working out solutions.
Realise, React and Remove.
Seriously though – the way not to get bogged down in the layers upon layers of shit is to realise, react and remove. Realise I won’t be back to normal for at least 9 months, react to it (cue Sainsbury’s crying), and remove yourself from it – at least it’s sunny, at least my bedsheets are soft, at least I have someone who can take care of me while I’m vulnerable, at least I will be back to normal eventually. Thoughts like these make me lighter and calmer. As I list each rebuttal to my upset, the red rage turns to gold, through the lens of perspective. I’m an advocate for emotional cheat days; days where level-headed Lily takes a nap for an hour or so while my emotions take center stage. This is ok, and I can draw the curtain on this little pantomime by realising, reacting and removing myself from it.
I then threw myself into planning to travel around Asia with my best friend. This stings a little, to be honest, as I should be setting my ‘1 month ‘til travelling’ countdown as I write this. As the global health situation became more and more grave, my plans for my gap year became more and more unlikely. Far from ‘finding myself’ on a beach in Bali, I’m losing myself in the monotony of netflix. I have now spent 6 weeks in lockdown, and I expect at least another 6 weeks to come my way. Yeah, I’m frustrated, but there is nothing I can do. It helps me to put my experience into perspective; I think I’ve got it hard? Imagine working day after day in an overcrowded hospital, at significant risk all the time. Accepting this has been tricky, but it has left me with energy I can channel into other things, like volunteering to support the NHS, arranging my brain enough to write this post, and baking banana bread for my neighbours. We’re left in what is, in essence, the departure lounge at the airport while our flight is indefinitely delayed. I don’t wish to compare my fairly cushy struggle to a national lockdown, but I’m seeing some similarities here.
“It’s ok to worry sometimes, but only if you promise to treat your worry the way it’s treating you.“
I suppose the best way to conclude this hurricane of thoughts that I have haphazardly arranged for you is by telling you that you’ve wasted your time reading this. Really, positivity is just a case of saying ‘yeah, things aren’t great, but…’. I’ll do an example for you; ‘Yeah, I’m trapped at home, people are ill and the economy has its brakes on, but my hair dries wavy in the sun, I’m closer to my family, the garden is peaceful, and for the first time ever I am well and truly at ease.’ I had a little blip last week – I overstretched my hamstring, pushing back my recovery by a little. I quickly built a dam to stop the oncoming wave of worry in its tracks, and put myself on a path to positivity, thinking about how I could have a little rest and a self-care sesh the next day. It’s ok to worry sometimes, but only if you promise to treat your worry the way it’s treating you. Break it down! Tell it why it’s wrong, and what you can do to change it. Seeing worry as something I can combat has helped me acknowledge that if I am unhappy, I have the power to change the way I feel.
Empowering herself with every power move, Lily is flourishing. Despite her unexpected gap year, she’s still on the path to positivity. Not much has changed from school. As my House Captain successor, I’ve had the privilege to know Lily’s positivity and radiance for a number of years now and cannot wait to see what she makes of her next venture. Lily will be studying Liberal Arts at Durham University.