A testosterone-free 24 hours
I'm on a train, going to Hertfordshire to meet my best Friend. A whole 24 hours child-free awaits me. In the car on the way to the station I had that feeling that I had left something behind, that sensation where you feel like you're split in half. Your mind is at home, ten minutes ago when you were throwing things into a bag because you'd typically left it 'til the last possible moment and you can hear your son downstairs emptying the cupboard where your favourite gravy boat is but you can't care because you have a job that needs doing and at least he's quiet...right? But your body is sat in the car at 2.45pm on the way to catch the 2.59pm train. As I sit here and write I realise, that sensation was due to the fact that I was about to go away ON MY OWN. No children. No tantrums. A testosterone-free 24 hours. A night away in a spa hotel with your best friend (particularly when the estrogen levels in your house stop at you) is the sort of things that dreams are made of. And as I sit here, opposite a lady with some rather quirky dorbings on her hand, whilst listening to the toilet door banging incessantly in the wind, waiting to see who will be the first to peel themselves away from their phone to shut it (not me. Oop, someone just did. Under 2 minutes. BOOM!) whilst diverting my nose away from the man next to me with slightly smelly breath (although someone has just sprayed Lynx Africa which instantly takes me way back to the days of snogging contests. I won't be snogging him though).
Diverting, sorry. Where was I? Oh yes... As I sit here I feel incomplete, uprooted somehow. Why do I feel slightly panicked and vulnerable?
And I realise it's because being with my family grounds me. Being in my house grounds me. Being surrounded by that unspoken kind of love that sees me on my contented 'life is tremendous and i think we are actually doing ok at this' days, and also sees me on my darkest 'i cannot guarantee that i'm going to get through this day unharmed, and if it wasn't for you and the boys i would have probably given all this up by now' days. The kind of love that sees the bits of me that no one else sees (including the wobbly bits on my hindquarters), that brings me a cup of tea in the morning, knowing that mornings are my hardest times. The kind of love that i feel holding me up by my shoulders when everything around me is crumbling, uncertain, hanging by a thread. The kind of love that assures me that even when everything feels hopeless and the tightrope feels endless there is reason to keep looking forward.
The battle ground
I said in my last post that next time I would be writing something a bit more hard hitting. I said that there are so many things I have done in the name of anxiety, and I said I would share some of these things. That was over a month ago, and this month has been a hard one, for many reasons. I often hear myself saying that every day is a battle, but a battle I'm winning. I've had days in recent months where I have been able to truthfully say to myself, after putting the boys to bed that 'today I definitely won'. Some days the battle is fierce, and some days I can look the opposition in the eye and see it for what it is; full of lies, deceit. A thief coming to embezzle, destroy. As the fire slowly diminishes and i learn to rise up i am beginning to see periods in my life for what they actually were.
My anxiety has never consistently followed a particular theme, rather 'hooked' itself onto areas of my life as and when i have walked through them. One specific area was my health after my middle son was born.
My Dad had cancer when my little firecracker was born on 4th May 2011. He had waited months for a specific surgeon to remove a tumour the size of a litre bottle of squash (his words, not mine). As i had my boy, my brave, sparkly-eyed Dad who's weight had diminished so much that it was hard to even look at him, had his operation. Two years previously my Grandma died of ovarian cancer. She was one of those Grandmas that never seemed old (she actually wasn't that old). She was trendy with an ethereal kind of beauty. To say goodbye to her, kissing her barely recognisable face as she struggled to draw in her last breaths broke my heart, and even writing about it 7 years on makes my eyes prickle with tears. And i remember sitting in hospital with my brand new baby boy, all 6lb of him, holding him to my chest, his bony little finger reaching out toward mine. As I drew him close, swaddled in his blanket, a sudden fear of illness and death engulfed me, along with an overwhelming paradox of euphoric love and crippling fear. From that day i vowed that i would do all i could to make sure i didn't die. I would do everything in my power to make sure that i saw my boys grow up.
And a period of severe health anxiety followed.
Looking for joy in the ordinary
In my last post I said that laughter has been, and still is, my best medicine. So please understand me when i write about my experiences. They were and are anything BUT funny for me, but now i am learning to see them for what they are. JUST thoughts. I can now begin to laugh through the tears.
So picture the scene...my little brother (the one with the rather serious adversity to Liver & Bacon) turned 30 two years ago. Now if you know my brother you'll understand that it is plain to see that this is 30 years of life worth celebrating. What started life as a rather soggy faced, roley poley, naive little squidgey thing who regularly bore victim to projections relating to my blatant yearning for a little sister was now 30, a commercially trained pilot (well actually, a 'Captain') with a beautiful wife and a little boy. We were all there, big smiles, my parents looking ever so slightly like they were on day release. Dining out isn't something they do much, so when they get the opportunity they scan the menu kind of like a small child would peruse a sweet shop, and as I look at them I wonder in that moment, If I stood right next to them and farted loud enough to make everyone stop eating and look over, whether they would notice. And I come to the conclusion that I actually don't think they would. They make lots of 'smacking lips' type noises and as I watch them my heart feels warm. I am exaggerating for shameless comedy value here, but I do love how my Mum and Dad find so much joy in the ordinary. I love how much happiness sitting surrounded by their family brings to them. I love how they sit and enjoy every single moment, how they savour every single mouthful, and how much they will treasure each moment for years to come.
As conversations were had, interspersed with probably a few inappropriate comments from me, I remember looking round at my siblings faces. I remember the size of my parents excited eyes, I remember my husband bracing himself for pudding with a quick trip to the lav, and I remember looking at my sisters face and thinking how pretty she was and how much I looked like the older sister. But I don't remember anything beyond that, because physically I was there, noticing moments in time, but no actual substance penetrated as mentally, the conversation around me was just noise. As I sat there, a whole myriad of thoughts and anxieties encircled not just around my mind, but around my body. As those thoughts became louder I began to feel the pounding of my heart in my legs. As the thoughts sharpened my breath shortened. As the thoughts accelerated I began to panic as cold sweat started running down my back. Was I dieing? No I wasn't. Did I have an excruciating pain somewhere? No I didn't. What I did have was a weird twitch in the side of my left hand. It felt 'funny' when I used my fork to eat a bit of chicken, like my hands weren't working properly. If I squeezed the skin on the side of my left hand and then did the same on my right, it felt like I had a great deal more muscle on the right (especially after several hours/days/weeks of doing it.) I also had a mole that if I stretched it to capacity, looked like it had a teeny tiny scab on it, that of course was not visible to anyone else. But it was there. I could see it. It was plainly clear to me that I had a dual diagnosis; MND and early stage Melanoma. I knew that because not only did all the physical sensations circling around my body tell me so (including the fact that all the blood had rushed away from my heart to my extremities, bracing itself for attack), but also, Google did. And if Google confirms all your worst fears then it must be true, right..?
So I did what every sensible recipient to such a devastating diagnoses does; I left the table, feigning a very important incoming phone call, sat on the toilet and retrieved the big ball of string and scissors sitting safely in the zip pocket of my bag for such a crucial time as this. Oh, and my sharpie pen. My sharpie pen is instrumental in this kind of experimental operation. Because I needed to check whether my thighs were measuring the same size. I clearly had quite significant muscle wastage in my hands, and since that discovery my legs now felt very peculiar when I put one foot in front of the other and I felt like I just couldn't trust them to support me anymore. MND makes your muscles waste away, right? My hands were first, maybe my legs were the next part of my body to bare victim to this terrible disease. As I wrapped the string around the circumference of my legs, carefully measuring from the top of each thigh to ensure there was an exact equal distance, ie. I was measuring exactly the same 'bit of leg', the sharpie came into play as I marked the points the string met. I then cut the string and held both pieces together to compare the lengths. I now felt my heart pounding in my head as I discovered there was a slight difference in the lengths of the string, so I had to do it again, and again, and again. Here began an obsession. An obsession that went on in private, a compulsion that triggered other compulsions. A safety, neutralising, unhelpful series of behaviours that nobody saw. I was in an utter mess, anxiety was getting hold of me again....
...And now? When you have this kind of crippling anxiety the key is to try to never look further than an inch in front of you. If i think about tomorrow, what happens?
To get through a day and be able to honestly say 'i have noticed my boys today....'
That's my tightrope.