SOMETIMES IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS

Topshop Matte Lip Bullet in Duvet Day

"I'm busy: I'm busy thinking and writing and working, and also making toast. I'm happy, in other words: the kind of happy I didn't expect to be again for a long time." This week, Ella Risbridger reports back on a week of hoping for the best

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By Ella Risbridger on

Exactly a week ago, I folded myself into a corner of the Tall Man's room, while the Tall Man was off somewhere having some kind of therapy, and decided to change my life.

I decided – and you will remember this because I wrote about it in excruciating detail – that I had been going about life all wrong: that my way of living and thinking about living had not been working for me. And so, I decided to change it: to start saying "I want" instead of "I'm afraid"; to pick hope instead of fear; to acknowledge that the two things were two sides of the same coin and that it's possible to make an active choice for the one that didn't leave me whimpering and lost.

It's been exactly a week, and with hindsight, I could have picked better weeks to start this off. Politically and socially speaking, it has been hard to be hopeful.

Two minutes after I filed my last copy, news broke of the attack on Westminster. Two hours after I file my latest copy, Article 50 will be triggered and our country will become smaller and less open and more bordered. 

I don't like borders; I don't like things shrinking. I don't like any of this. So why, for so long, did I do this to myself? Why did I make my world smaller, and more cowed, and more unhappy? 

The answer is, of course, because it was easier: it was easier to confirm my fears than to look for something else. It was easier to stay closed than make the effort to open; it was easier to hide in the dark than let sunlight show off all my dusty corners. 

It was easier to be hurt than let someone else, maybe, hurt me: to think "I know this is bad, but at least I'm getting in before they can", the way a chubby child might call herself names before the bullies do, as if in some bleak and obscure way it might be better like that. 

And you know what? It wasn't better like that. It wasn't.

I write this from my bed. The sky is grey today, and the tree outside my window at first glance looks bare and barren, and I haven't washed my hair, and if you saw this picture in another light, it might look like nothing had changed. If you didn't look closely, you might think nothing had changed. 

Everything has changed. 

I have been doing this a week, and everything – everything – is brighter. 

I am in bed because the Tall Man is somewhere being busy: I think he's in a Pilates class, or cycling in the gym, or cooking a Thai curry for his lunch. He might be writing up a recipe, or making a cup of tea. I don't know where he is, is the point. I hope that he's ok. I'm pretty sure that he's ok. 

But I am in bed, because I want to be, and I don't need to be anywhere else. 

The sheets are clean, and I am surrounded by toast crumbs and stacks of books and discount roses (Mother's Day leftovers), and scribbled-on print-outs of pieces I'm working on about roses and books and breakfast. The tree outside has tiny green buds on every branch.

My hands are covered with Sharpie scrawl ("fish sauce! INVOICES!! jam jar??") and lipstick swatches. 

Today's favourite, Topshop's 'Duvet Day', feels neatly on point. It's a "warm nude", according to the packaging, and I am nervous of it: I am worried it makes me look like I have no lips, or that I'm trying too hard to be trendy for a trend that has passed. I have no idea about trends. But I like this lipstick, I think. It's easy to apply, and I love the way it stays sharp and pointed and clear, and I love the way it makes me look rumpled and pretty and – yes – like I've just got out of bed on a lazy Saturday. It's a lazy lipstick, and a surprisingly versatile one: happy enough with a stripy jumper and blue jeans for a "just-threw-this-on-for-the-organic-farmer's-market" vibe, but equally lovely with a high lace collar and brushed out hair for a "clean-but-sultry governess ghost" evening look. 

(Don't tell me you don't want that look. Everyone wants that look.)

And I'm wearing it in bed, which seems fair enough, and my hair is a mess because I don't want to get out of bed yet, and nobody is going to pop round unexpectedly, and I'm busy: I'm busy thinking and writing and working, and also making toast. I'm happy, in other words: the kind of happy I didn't expect to be again for a long time. 

The kind of happy, too, where other people notice. I don't even have to say anything. 

John's keyworker stops me to tell me I'm looking "just SO much better", and I hadn't realised I'd been looking so terrible in the first place. I bump into his nurse in the tea room and she, too, says something similar. My therapist – in our last ever session – says, immediately, "What changed? You look different! Better!"

The only thing that changed is this: I consciously rephrased my worries, every single time they came into my head. Every single time. I have not let a single thought slip by without stopping it and interrogating it and shifting it, gear by gear, into something better. 

It has been hard work, like I said. The newspapers have been largely grim, and in any case it's hard to change the habit of a lifetime in a single week. It has taken a lot of effort and energy and work – effort and energy that I needed to have free before I could try it. 

But it has been transformative. I have time to myself again. I am cooking again. I am walking again, and going outside, and taking deep lungfuls of polluted London air and loving every speck of dirt. I am making plans again, for next week and the week after, for next month and next year and five years' time. And I am writing again, properly: fiction and recipes and commissions. I have ideas again. 

I hadn't realised that worries work like expanding foam: the more space you give them, the more space they take. 

Is this mindfulness? Is this something else? I don't know, but I like it. 

"I think of it" (I said to my therapist) "like a bath."

"Go on," said my therapist.

"It's like I've been turning on the cold tap by mistake all this time," I said. "And instead of turning off the cold tap and putting on the hot tap, I've just been getting into a cold bath when it's too late to change it and pretending that it's fine."

"Huh," said my therapist.

"But it's worse than that," I said. "I've been getting into the cold bath and alternating between pretending that it's fine, and thinking I deserved to be in the cold bath."

"OK," said my therapist.

"I've been thinking that I deserved to be in the cold bath all this time, but if I could have just gone to the trouble of switching off the cold and turning on the hot right at the beginning, I'd be in a hot bath now! It wouldn't be too late to have a nice bath!"

"Right," said my therapist.

"I'm not very good at analogies," I told my therapist, but I think she understood, anyway. 

And then I went home, and ran a hot, deep bath, and chose my lipstick, and changed the sheets, and wrote. And it was not too late for any of it.

(P.S. "The MRI results?" said the consultant, surprised. "Oh, I didn't even look. Let me see." (This, breezily.) "What we expected, really, in my opinion. Getting better. Very much getting better. Yes. Was that all you wanted?" And it was.)


ABOUT SOMETIMES IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS...

I’d never been much of a make-up person before last year, but strange things happen on the cancer ward. When my partner, the Tall Man, was suddenly diagnosed with a rare, aggressive lymphoma, I found myself reaching for a battered tube of Mac Ruby Woo – part armour, part warpaint, all crimson defiance. This is a column about lipstick, and about caring, and about cancer, but most of all it’s my lifeline and it’s proof – for me, at least – that putting on a brave face is half the fight. Read my story so far here.

@missellabell

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LIFE HONESTLY
Lipstick
Sometimes Its the Little Things
Cancer

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