A Most Difficult Jigsaw Puzzle

By Emily Mumford on August 15, 2015 in The Garden Room

The piece below was written by the remarkable Jeff Anderson – a man I met about three years ago when he came to me for treatment, and got to know better as he became a regular at my meditation group.

Jeff had a stroke a few weeks ago – completely out of the blue.  He has been sharing his experiences of recovering from the stroke via his Facebook page – and posted the piece below yesterday. I found it very moving and very cleverly expressed – and asked his permission to put it on my blog.

I spend my working life trying to offer people alternative ways to support and improve their health – often when the NHS has run out of suggestions – so his piece – for me – is not just about the experience of recovering from a stroke – it is about hope, belief, resilience, determination, doggedness – and most of all being OPEN and staying open – when people around you tell you that this is as good as it gets – and you keep the faith and try everything and anything that may, just may, be part of what you need – however daft it may initially sound… and this is my experience of Jeff – in the police force for 30 years – and yet so willing to explore new ways of approaching life – and make choices that would have led to merciless ribbing by old colleagues – never batting an eyelid – being more interested in embracing life to the full – and being open – than fitting in, not rocking the boat, being predictable, taking the safe tried and tested routes, settling for second best, compromising, giving up…

So I give you – my friend Jeff…


A Most Difficult Jigsaw Puzzle

Imagine for one minute that your body is a jigsaw puzzle, complete and sitting inside a nice protective box. Each smooth edged piece interacting with the others to make a nice colourful picture of happiness and contentment. The puzzle is exactly the same as the picture on the lid of the box. It consists of many parts all formed together to make one image.

Suddenly a big powerful storm (a stroke) blows open the box and parts of the jigsaw puzzle are blown away and lost, other bits are broken into smaller parts, some are just twisted and bent whilst other bits have some surface damage. Some pieces are just knocked out of place. Luckily the box and the picture on the box cover are undamaged so all the remaining bits can be tucked inside again and to all intents and purposes the outward sign is that the jigsaw puzzle is okay. You know it is not okay though – it is broken.

Like anyone,  you want to make the jigsaw complete again and return it to its original contented and happy state. However due to the damage you need some help. So you take the box and contents to the Jigsaw Hospital (N&N) and present it to the Jigsaw Doctor (NHS).
After three days of examination you are told the jigsaw is broken beyond complete repair and whilst bits of it can be restored it will never be the same again. There are too many missing or broken parts. The Jigsaw Doctor gives you some sellotape to patch over the broken bits and you are sent back home. Without I add, any instructions on how to use the sellotape.
A few days later another Jigsaw Doctor gives you a small container of odd jigsaw puzzle bits (tablets). He tells you there might be some useful pieces to help repair your puzzle but there is no guarantee.

You then spend some time trying to work out how to use the sellotape and doing your best with the container of bits. It is however a frustrating exercise. You know what the jigsaw puzzle looks like as there is a picture of it on the box cover. However the sellotape and oddments are not joining the remaining bits together and the picture looks a mess. You consult with Doctor Google to see if there is any information to assist. Only to discover that whatever you think or do, you are more than likely either going to spend the rest of your life as an ex-jigsaw puzzle or die.

So you contact the Jigsaw Doctors again to seek their help. In not so many words they tell you the jigsaw is irreparable and you should just make the best of what you have left. You are not happy with this and even though you ask them if it is possible to make some new jigsaw parts to replace the lost and broken ones you get told; “We have given you some sellotape and a container of bits, that is all we can do”.

For a short time you sit there in a cloud of gloom thinking about your broken, twisted and incomplete jigsaw puzzle. Then just as you are getting filled with despair along comes an opportunity to start thinking about repairing the jigsaw yourself with the help of others. You start by re-arranging the unbroken pieces of puzzle back into place. They and others then tell you about the Jigsaw Repair Shop. They can’t tell you exactly where it is nor the direction to go in but they do know it is out there. You just have to go out and find it yourself. It is the place where all broken and damaged jigsaw puzzles go to be complete again. It has all the spare parts to fix things so that the puzzle and the picture on the box cover look the same again.

As you embark on that journey you realise it will be a very difficult one as you quickly find out there are no maps or Sat Nav to guide you there. Some of the roads and paths you start to journey along go nowhere or are dead ends. Some turnings just take you around in circles. There are few signposts and most of those end up sending you in the wrong direction resulting in a long journey back again.

You begin to notice scattered at the edge of the roads are the torn up box covers of other peoples jigsaw puzzles. Thrown away because the journey is just too tough. You talk to the people who once owned these box covers and find out that to all intents and purposes they have discarded their lives. The common thread is that the road being followed is hard, unwelcoming, depressing, dark and too time consuming. These people sit holding their heads in their hands and tell you it is easier to give up hope than to follow an unknown path of difficulty. Despite this you remain optimistic and determined to carry on regardless that the odds are being stacked against you. After all at this point you are at least on a road that might lead to somewhere.

As you continue the journey you notice that beside each road are sets of steps leading up to closed doors. Each set of steps have varying degrees of difficulty to climb, but as you reach the top of each you find a key to unlock the door. Behind each door you enter a brightly lit room and find a reward; either a new bit of jigsaw puzzle, some card and crayons to make yourself a new piece or some enthusiasm to ensure you keep going.

On your journey to find the Jigsaw Repair Shop you see a little sign outside a door without any steps. It reads; ‘Jigsaw Doctor’ (NHS). You open this door and enter a dimly lit room with an atmosphere filled with doom and gloom. From behind a far off desk you are reminded that you have already been given some sellotape and a container of bits and that you should be happy and content with those. After all it is what other people in your situation are given. You are told that it is common practice to sit with your head in your hands and feel sorry for yourself. It is apparently all part of the process. After all your jigsaw puzzle has been decimated therefore you should be depressed. Not to be deterred you talk of the magic doors you have opened and about the bits of puzzle that are slowly coming together, of the new pieces and those that are getting fixed. You mention the Jigsaw Repair Shop that you are endeavouring to find.

The Jigsaw Doctor tells you to sit down and listen to their wise words. Jigsaw Doctors have apparently read all of the books about Jigsaw Repair (Stroke Recovery). They have been on many courses, studied for years and attended lectures. They have read medical papers and analysed various studies and reports and as highly qualified professionals with lots of certificates have earned the right to prescribe sellotape and containers of bits because that is the very best that can be done. Apparently according to them the Jigsaw Repair Shop is a myth that only lives in the dreams of the few. That is the few who refuse to tear up and throw away their jigsaw box covers. That is the few who according to the Jigsaw Doctors are those that won’t sit down in the Jigsaw Hospital and listen to ‘expert’ advice. That is the few who will not put their head into their hands.

In defence of the Jigsaw Doctor they are only putting into practice what they have been taught by a system (NHS) that refuses to explore outside the theoretical box. If they were just able to take a peek outside of that box they would see a galaxy of other tools and innovations available to them.

However they are institutionalised and at this moment in time cannot possibly venture into that outside world that encompasses self-help, alternative, complimentary and holistic practices. This world does not automatically mean you entering a ‘hippy styled’ world of guru worship or other strange wizardry, but try telling the Jigsaw Doctors that. If it involves anything other than sellotape or a container of bits then it is forbidden.

Anyway, back to the roads that lead toward the allegedly mythical Jigsaw Repair Shop. In addition to the various doorways there are also some helpful little signs along the way. They are messages from people who want to give you support on your journey. These messages offer encouragement and sustain energy against diminishing hope. They come in all sizes but each is as equally as helpful as the other; almost like a small oasis in the desert. Your thanks goes out to each and everyone of these people.

The elusive Jigsaw Repair Shop is out there somewhere and it will be discovered; with or without help from the Jigsaw Doctors. In the meantime running repairs are required, steps need climbing, doors need opening, messages need reading and roads need exploring and re-exploring.

The jigsaw, whilst still broken is most certainly being repaired. It will take time, patience, conviction, support and even some pain. The twisted and bent bits will be straightened out, the surface damage will be polished, the broken bits will be stuck together with some proper glue and the lost bits will either be found or replaced with bits that fit in their place.

In my opinion – if you don’t feel warmed and inspired – you haven’t got it – read it again!! : )

About the Author

Emily MumfordView all posts by Emily Mumford