“I feel as if I’ve found the New Year’s resolutions that will matter to all of us, in the end,” says Christie Watson.
I grew up in a family of resolution-makers. Every year the conversation would begin on Boxing Day about what we would absolutely stick to forever. My brother Tom always overcooked the concept. He had categories of resolutions, laminated sections divided into elaborate time lines and sections: family, health, friends, work.
My own resolutions were short lived: ‘run daily’ lasted three weeks, but I gave up when I couldn’t find my running trainers one morning. My annual promise to myself to ‘remove all make-up, cleanse, tone and moisturise without fail’ ended after a friend’s birthday early January, and I woke the following morning, not my usual panda-self but instead with an allergy to my friend’s make up remover and a face like a puffer fish. ‘Blast leg cellulite with ice cold water in every shower’ (how very Bridget Jones of me) resulted in a three-way injury – a burn on one leg after I turned the shower to boiling hot instead of freezing cold, a cut on the other (I was attempting to shave at the same time) and a bruised back when I ran from the shower screaming, and slipped over, cracked my spine against the toilet seat.
I decided to stop all resolutions, stop beating myself up for not being thinner, more moisturised, less panda. I would simply be enough. But then I cared for a patient, Sophie, on intensive care on New Year’s Eve one year.
I’d been a nurse for around five years by then, and had so much still to learn about nursing, and life. Sophie was a teenager, had a life limiting illness and various other diseases, and was repeatedly in and out of hospital hooked up to complicated machinery. Despite this, she was the most optimistic person I’ve ever met. She had been in hospital a few weeks and still couldn’t eat and instead had had gastrostomy feeds – large bags of sour smelling milk through a tube into her stomach, and I spent much of the night applying lip balm to her dry cracked lips and dipping a sponge into water to wet her mouth.
As we watched the sunrise together on New Year’s Day, through the dirty hospital window, I studied her face.
‘It’s so unbelievably beautiful,’ she said.
She was desperately sick and would not reach adulthood, and had had to suffer painful operations and hospital stays and yet Sophie seemed genuinely happy. She asked if I had resolutions and I shook my head. But Sophie watching the sunrise made me think about why we make resolutions in the first place. We strive to be better. I vowed to make resolutions again, but promises that I try to stick to every single year, 1 January and all other days.
Indeed, thanks to Sophie and the other patients I cared for over the years, I feel as if I’ve found the New Year’s resolutions that will matter to all of us, in the end.
1) Love nature.
Watch the sunrises, trees, lakes and seas, stars and wildlife. Try and find something every day that reminds you how big the universe is, and how insignificant most of our problems are.
2) Appreciate your body.
You will not get another one. Body positivity is a wonderful and much needed movement, but it is still focused on the idea that beauty is only about our bodies’ external appearance. When things go wrong with our health, our kidneys, or lungs, or heart, or pancreas, patients know that what bodies look like doesn’t really matter, at all. If you are disease or pain free, and can breathe and move and talk and smile, and have working organs, then your body is perfect.
3) Make friends with food and drink.
There may be a time in any of our lives when we can’t taste as well as we can now, when we will lose so much weight due to illness, when we can no longer eat. Appreciate each and every meal. Never Ever Diet. If you really need to lose weight eat a bit less, and move a lot more. It’s the only thing that works, and it’s free. Do Dry January or not, but don’t encourage others to drink if they want a dry month – there’s a reason people choose to do it. There’s also a reason you are encouraging others to drink when they choose not to: examine that.
4) Be kind.
Self-care is important but research has repeatedly told us that the only thing that makes us truly happy is doing things for other people. Buy shopping for a neighbour who can’t get out. Visit an older relative you don’t see often. Know your privilege and use it to help others who don’t have the same voice or platform. Open your eyes and ears to your communities, to others. If you are reading this, you are so lucky.
5) Talk about death.
Death is a part of life and is going to happen for all of us and we do not deal with it in our culture at all well. Go to a death café (deathcafe.com), they are springing up all over the country, and talk about death. Thinking about death can lead to appreciating life. Time flies. Florence Nightingale said: ‘Life is a splendid gift. There’s nothing small about it’. Every patient I’ve ever looked after has reminded me of that. Life is so precious, and it is gone in a flash; what we do with our days is important. Make this year a year that really counts.
6) Appreciate and make time for loved ones.
My dad died seven years ago from cancer. I’d give anything in the world to hear his voice one last time. Friends and family are really all that matters to us, in the end. Keep them close. Forgive them. Love them.
*Names and details have been changed to protect identities*
Christie Watson’s book, The Language of Kindness: A Nurse’s Story, is available on Amazon now.