'My injury's cost me friends, but the gains are worth it'

I’ve been thinking recently about confidence or, more accurately, the lack of it. I’m essentially a shy person, and a classic introvert. Over many years I’ve learned how to mask that and appear confident simply because I’ve had to. Some years ago I had to take on a lot of public speaking; talking about my books, about ageing and a range of other topics. It was part of establishing myself as writer, so I had to grit my teeth and get on with it. A few years later, I was able to pull back a bit, which reduced my anxiety, and freed up some more energy to focus on writing.

I mentioned in a recent blog, that I was grounded earlier this year by a couple of falls and resulting injuries. It was a huge shock, I felt nervous and incompetent, and my confidence crashed. My close friends and neighbours took wonderful care of me. I barely left the house, couldn’t write, or concentrate on anything, and didn’t drive for four months. In the last couple of months, I’ve been able to focus on writing again. That period of stillness has been really valuable and I’ve emerged, calmer and more peaceful than I have been for a long time.

I also managed to set some boundaries about how I manage my time. It probably sounds weirdly unsociable because it includes declining most public invitations, and lots of personal ones, and rarely going out in the evenings. Getting control of my time and what I agree to do, has helped me to win back some confidence. Sadly it’s also resulted in losing some friends who, despite my efforts to explain my reduced availability, can’t or won’t, accept this. I’ve spent much of my life accommodating others; now I’ve reversed the situation and it’s working for me. I’m sorry to have lost some people, but the gains are, frankly, well worth it.

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In other areas though, I am less confident than ever. Driving on the freeway for the first time in four months was terrifying. Everything was moving so fast, even in the pouring rain, I just had to turn off at the first exit and go home. Although I’ve slowly grown more accustomed to it I suspect that my pleasure in driving has gone forever. I am sure this is not just about being out of circulation for a while; it’s also part of getting older. In some ways, as I learn to understand who I am in my seventies, I feel stronger and more focused, in other ways I am more fragile and lacking in confidence than ever.

I won’t begin to go into all confidence challenges that result from the constant changes in the systems and processes that are now part of the ways we live our lives. I am slowly coming to terms with some. The self-scanning process in supermarkets, for example, seems designed to destroy the confidence of anyone over thirty! I am trying, honestly I am! But I frequently find myself staring intently at the screen wondering how to scan an orange or a potato! I lack confidence in much of the world around me at present and the pressure we are all under to do everything faster and more efficiently adds to that. I am certainly finding it hard to keep up.

Falling and its side effects created psychological and emotional outcomes, as well as physical ones that contribute to my waning confidence. I feel insecure and vulnerable in new ways – particularly when it comes to staying vertical! I am trying to develop a greater awareness of my body – particularly what I’m doing with my feet. I am very scared of falling again, so staircases and changes in the levels and surfaces of the ground demand greater attention than in the past. I am learning to be more vigilant about what Toby is doing, especially when we’re walking; his sudden changes of direction, urgent attention to some fascinating smell, the erratic stops and starts, really take me by surprise, and have already tripped me a couple of times.

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In an effort to improve my physical awareness, I’ve been trying new ways to exercise. I hired an exercise bike, put it in the spare bedroom and tried hard to love it. Sadly I didn’t even succeed in liking it. It was so uncomfortable and boring, and thankfully it has now gone back to the rental company, where I’m sure it will find a new home with someone who doesn’t swear at it all the time.

Instead, I am dancing and for the first time in my life, I can honestly say I am enjoying exercise. I can be feeling fragile, low spirited and grumpy but dancing to ABBA GOLD changes that in an instant. As the first notes of Dancing Queen soar through the house, my spirits soar with the music and I start moving. I’m re-discovering long forgotten muscles, learning to control my feet and regaining my balance. My heart rate is improving and somehow this is all restoring some confidence. Half an hour or twenty minutes most days feels really good, and fortunately the neighbours can’t see me!

The other big challenge in the confidence stakes is my failing memory, but that’s another story which I’ll leave until next time. Meanwhile ABBA – thank you for the music – the songs you’re singing, and thanks for lifting my spirits and helping me get back some confidence.

Liz Byrski is the author of numerous fiction and non-fiction books including The Woman Next Door,  Gang of Four and a memoir Remember Me.  Her books are available from good booksellers everywhere.

This article is published with sincere thanks to, and the kind permission of, Liz Byrski. The original and other blogs by Liz is available here.