Facing the New Year

I am fond of deadlines and boundaries. They give me a focus. I self impose them all the time, but if I don’t have to, that’s great.

New Year is a big one. It allows me to shake off the emotional detritus of the past months and draw a deep fresh clean breath as I look ahead. It allows me to let go of things and reach for the new. Fresh sheets on the emotional bed.

Yes, I could do this at any time. Sometimes I do. But having the ritual and tradition of a date embeds this practise into the very core of me, so I embrace and use it.

If you’ve read this blog, or simply know me, you’ll know it’s been a tough old time this last year or so.

In the interests of closure, I will finalise something left hanging – I’d been avoiding caffeine as I underwent some tests to check out a funky heartbeat. Luckily it’s nothing to worry about. There’s a thing called ventricular ectopic beats which are common if a little unsettling at times. Keeping an eye on caffeine intake (luckily not having to avoid it altogether!) and stress levels (hear that, 2018, you’re under doctor’s orders!) and all should be well. This is actually a useful weapon against those pesky brain goblins who often dislike me “doing nothing” as they view resting.

The death of my grandad shook me deeply, while not unexpected, it was the first family death I’d experienced for three decades, the first grandparent I’ve lost (knowingly as I don’t know my paternal grandfather) and it rippled on a number of emotional and existential levels. It also toppled the psychological box I’d been stuffing unprocessed grief into as I told myself I was coping and moving forward and out tumbled all the feelings I’d pushed aside as I tried to build up a new life. I was emotionally running before I could stand. I’ve learnt that lesson and slowed down. Back to clearing the ground before building my foundations. I don’t have to reach the sky yet. The first bricks are still waiting to be laid.

So as I look ahead to the new year, almost ironically, the first task is to let myself fully grieve for all that’s gone, all the changes that have happened and everything I’ve experienced. To allow myself to be still and rest. To breathe and just BE for a while. Part of my duties moving forward has to be taking better care of myself, not pushing myself as hard as I was. Not trying to have everything NOW. Ensuring I receive the nurture I give out; whether that’s from myself or close ones. Make the time set aside for rest and recuperation just as important as time spent building a new social life in my new town and making my work life what I need it to be.

Slowly the year will unfold around me in it’s own time. I have the confidence to know that I will get out there and experience it. The fear of isolation is just a fear and unfounded. I will explore my new home town more fully. I hope to branch out socially with new activities and reclaim the yoga and bellydancing classes that I dropped in recent months due to exhaustion. I hope to have time for my creative projects, time for meditation and mindfulness, for health and fitness. Time for friends, both old and new and those yet to be made.

Exploration and nurture seem to be my keywords for the year ahead. I like those words.

If I forget, please remind me of them. Especially the second.

wolf

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Okay, 2017…

The attitude I like to maintain towards life being a struggle is one of hope, one of tenacity. Some would say stubborn refusal to rest. I’m not going to argue with that now.

I try not to use the word “fight” because I don’t enjoy conflict or confrontation. But sometimes it is.

It’s certainly work.
And it takes it out of you.

I keep going for as long as I can. I’ve spent my time in the dark realms of depression and I will do whatever I can to avoid being there again. That’s why I work so hard. For the most part I succeed.

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But sometimes you need to sound a retreat and leave the field.

It’s not defeat. It’s a tactical withdrawal.

Heal up, mend your armour, recruit new troops and when ready, you can return.

This year has finally brought me to my knees. Too much has happened, too much has been lost, too much has changed and my energy has run out.

Time to stop.

Time to give myself permission to stop.

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So, 2017. You haven’t won. We shall call it a draw.

I shall be back.

Anniversaries

“Bear with…” as Miranda’s friend would say…

It’s a time of anniversaries.

I hope it won’t last, I hope this time, this first time, is an anomalous dip. But I’ve now come through my difficult year and have entered the anniversary stage, the “this time last year” stage and for a while, it’s going to be painful.

I won’t allow myself to wallow, but neither should I forget. Forgetting means I don’t allow myself to recognise how far I’ve come, how much I’ve built, how brave and strong I’ve been.

And, how far I’ve yet to go, how much is yet unexplored and undiscovered in this new life of mine, this new version of me.

This time last year I was only just facing up to the decisions I had finally admitted I needed to make, but the pain of making them was still too great to bear. I only prolonged it.

This time last year I had balked against the idea of needing such major surgery and was waiting on a specialist to gently tell me that was the only option I had. While the physical effects are mostly healed, even my scar is fading into celebratory silver, the odd ache and twinge is echoed in a strange emotional reaction. While I was utterly content with my decision to not have children, while I have no reason to believe I would ever have changed my mind (especially having reached my early 40s), to have that decision, that choice, removed from me… that shook me to a depth I had no idea existed.

This time last year, my entire life was limbo for months to come.

So bear with me as I move through these next months. I may be erratic in my emotions, I may cope one moment and feel overwhelmed the next. I may speak up or withdraw.

I’m still grieving for all that I lost, all that I walked away from, the choices that were taken away or never really existed.

But there’s a reason I had a phoenix inscribed on my skin this last week. The image that sits after the semi-colon, the next part of my sentence.

We will rise. And fly.

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Of bellies and dancing

I did it.

I went to the belly dancing taster.

Something I’ve been wanted to try for decades and never found the confidence. If ever there is a time for faking it till I make it, it’s now. I also figure what better way to regain core strength and confidence after my hysterectomy than with something so intrinsically and fundamentally feminine?

New town. New home. New life. But not a new me…. a more me. A deeply strongly confidently solely me.

This week was about being big and brave. Diving straight into that deep end. Finding a yoga class, starting the deep work with my counsellor, discussing a new project and this. Dancing. Belly dancing. New people. New place. Several things that alone make me anxious and here am I combining them.

Tonight was a demonstration raising money for some charity or other, then a chance to try it out.

The setting was incongruous – an old man’s fishermans club so I felt so incredibly self conscious with a fair amount of people sat round watching, but still I did it. I did make sure I was close to the stage furthest from any audience. 

I’d started talking to a woman outside while we waited to go in, someone who looked as nervous and as unsure as me. She was in a similar position – always wanted to try it and never before had the confidence. We agreed to look after each other. We sat together and chatted while waiting for things to get started, shared a bit of our life stories, found some similarities. 

What she failed to tell me was she knew several other people who were also turning up, so all of a sudden I’m introducing myself to several new people and being unexpectedly social! Everyone was friendly and included me in their social conversation without a second blink. 

The demonstration thrilled me with the rich vibrant colours and the flowing silky or chiffon fabrics, the glint and the ting of golden discs and the fuck your conventional body shapes sexiness.

Then it was our turn. 

I have fuck all core strength, not much balance (you need core strength for that it seems) and I swear I used to have some coordination and dexterity. Which arm goes with what leg again? Oh, we’re turning now. Oops, other way!

I felt awkward and exposed and vulnerable. 

But I also felt a glimmer of what it could be. 

The power. The strength. The confidence.

One of the women in the dance class (not the sea gypsies performance group who were also there and performed) approached me and started chatting. A mind blowing 62 years old (does not look nor act it, I want to be her), she was so friendly and made it easy for me to take down the details of the Tuesday night class (I’ll have to swap yoga to Thursdays…) and agree to go along. The lady I’d got chatting to outside is planning to go too. I made her promise.

I was checking what to wear, admitting I loved the outfits and the lovely dance lady gave me a coin belt. One I’ll wear to my first class.

At that point all the emotions came up to say hello and I don’t want to walk home alone too late in a city I’m still learning so I excused myself and left.

Laughter and tears mixing as I walk home.

I did it. And I can’t wait for Tuesday. 

Self Care is Sexy

So I last wrote about lists and tasks and getting things done and how important that is in my fight against the Goblins of Anxiety.

And sometimes it’s not enough…

Sometimes the most important thing to go on the list is Self-Care.

Amongst some of my dearest is the saying “Self-Care is Sexy”

Because we think that self care gets a bad deal. Plus we need reminding ourselves. We’re fine with telling others to look after themselves, but frankly a bit shit at taking our own advice.

Self-care can take many forms. From a duvet day, to seeing friends, from a decent meal, to getting away for a holiday, to a bubblebath, to a nice glass of wine or steering clear of substances for a while to appropriately prescribed medications. All dependent on what’s going on, what you will allow yourself to do and what time/energy you have available.

Self care is personal, just because someone else swears by meditation, running, the gym, crafting while watching trashy telly, doesn’t mean it will work for you. You need to experiment and be honest with yourself about the results.

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I really like that tree from – https://imaginethatyou.wordpress.com/ – while not everything on there is on my self-care list, I like the idea of having a “Self-Care Tree” like this. May have to do this!

There’s also a list somewhere along the lines of – have you eaten, have you slept, have you drunk some water, have you got some fresh air, have you washed – which can be handy when those goblins are running rambunctiously in our minds.

After a number of days of not getting enough sleep, heart palpitations and my digestive system shutting down to the point that I lost 4lbs in as many days, I phoned my doctor and after a chat about what was going on and what I was experiencing, received a prescription for a low dose sedative as a temporary measure.

I’ve been medicated a few times to varying degrees and for various lengths of time. And while I’d rather not, I have no problems with it. It’s like I’d rather not take paracetamol because I don’t want to be in pain to begin with. But if the pain is there, I’m damn well going to take the pills – and look at why I’m in pain and try and address the cause. Natch.

So self care then! Put on your own mental health oxygen mask first before helping others. Healer, heal thyself (then the rest of the D&D party if they ask nicely).

It’s not selfish, or arrogant, or lazy or indulgent to do self care. It doesn’t mean you’re failing.

I’m also not doing the “if you would only have an organic flax seed smoothie every morning and meditate for an hour then you’d not need medication” bollocks, because frankly shut up with that crap.

Whatever works. As long as it doesn’t actively harm you, or others, go for it. If there are things that absolutely must get done, get what support you need to do them. Push anything that can be pushed back by a period of time, and treat yourself.

My weekend with the NHS

I’ve hesitated in writing this because it felt indulgent.

But then I wondered if a positive NHS post was worth me and maybe others considering me being indulgent. So here are a few moments from my story of a weekend being looked after by the NHS.

I went to Worthing Hospital on Friday 21st April 2017 at Midday for a routine but pretty major surgery – a subtotal abdominal hysterectomy for one large multiple fibroids that couldn’t be treated any other way.

When my anxiety kicked in waiting for to be collected for surgery, I was able to stay in a small consulting room rather than the main waiting area, my friend was brought to me, and this made it easier for me to both allow and control my feelings.

When lying on the hospital bed clad only in surgical gown and a blanket I felt incredibly exposed as the reality of the surgery came closer with every tick of the clock. The tears came and the anaesthetic room receptionist was immediately there with tissues, she held my hand and chatted to me for as long as she was able to. Throughout my little wait in that room on that bed, she kept checking on me, including me in conversations with the medical staff who came and went. My details were checked a further few times. Each time they apologised about having to go through things so many times, but better certain than not! One of the ladies told me she was assisting on the surgery and I asked a favour. I had no idea of the reality, the size and shape, of what was being taken from me. I asked if it was possible to get any details. She said she’d try. After surgery that lady came to find me on the ward to let me know she’d weighed the thing in question and gave me it’s mass. She didn’t have to do that.

The ladies administering my anaethetic were delightfully batshit, without being unprofessional. They made me laugh. Not an easy thing considering how much I hate needles. She told me how I would feel when the anaethetic was administered and the cold tingling feeling in my right arm is the last thing I remember until I woke up two and a half hours later.

When I woke some surgery, someone sat by my bed for an hour and a half as I drifted in and out of coherence. They answered the questions I was able to form, gave me water and didn’t leave my side. She told me what the time was, and that my friends were waiting for me in the ward that I would be taken to.

During that night I was constantly checked on, medication taken, stats recorded and comfort given when the lack of sleep and the sounds of distress from a very elderly lady who wasn’t in distress (they checked many many times) got too much for me.

I was encouraged and helped by a very cheerful and friendly healthare assistance to get up, wash and dress and sit in a chair.

A nurse held bags of bodily fluids in order to take me for a walk around the ward.

I was quietly allowed to have one more visitor than was usually permitted.

They moved me to a quieter ward the second night as they knew I’d struggled the night before.

They ensured I had everything I needed and knew everything I needed to know in order to go home on the Sunday afternoon as I was desperate to start recovering in my own home. When I say “I” in this paragraph, I mean my friend…. I was incapable of organising my own two feet at this point, but they knew I was in good hands and utterly eager to go home. However, the choice to stay a further night was there and was mine.

All of this care. All of the medication – pain meds, anti clotting injections, wound dressings – that went home with me. Everything used during my stay. This was all free. I only had to focus on my healing and my recovery. There was nothing else demanding my attention, nothing else to organise, no future bills, payments or insurance to organise. I was able to have this operation despite it not being life threatening (although it was life affecting). Yes, there was a wait, but a few months for free surgery and excellent care. I think I had a lucky experience.

When I was called a couple of weeks later in a follow up call, after all the questions had been dealt with I told the nurse how happy I was with my care, how everyone I’d come into contact with had contributed to my feeling supported and looked after.

The only negative thing about my encounter was the surprise and gratitude in her voice when she thanked me for this and I wondered how often she and her colleagues heard it.

NHS, you are amazing. We need you. I hope you are given the attention and value you need to survive then thrive.

 

Recovery

As I enter into the next phase of my journey – the ‘new me’ that woke up from the general anaesthetic, minus the misbehaving 750 grams of my body, the me that has to obey a pain medication schedule or face the consequences, the me that has to find the balance between activity and rest – not too much and not too little of either – I am already learning so much after just a few days. 

1 – Don’t think you can do without meds. Get your schedule and stick to it. Know what you are taking and when you are taking it and put whatever measures you need into place to remember. You may not think you need that dose. But you will. Preemptive meds are sexy and clever.

2 – Someone who can be in charge for those first few days is utterly invaluable. I genuinely couldn’t find the words to thank Ju for her help – she got me home from hospital, worked out my meds schedule, made sure I took them, made sure I rested, hugged me (and took the piss) when I cried, and gave me the daily injections I need (even you tubing how to do them properly) – I tried to thank her, but I was crying too much from the gratitude I felt and crying is still physically painful. I think she got the point. 

3 – You are capable of more than you fear and less than you want. Listening to your body is key. Slowly and gently is key. Don’t be afraid to give things a try but for goodness sake be slow, sensible and careful! It’s easier to take longer (or try another time) that it is to recover from hurting yourself. There are so many things that can wait or be done a gentler way.

4 – You will be grateful for the strangest things. I nearly cried the first time I picked something up off the floor. That makes me SO less helpless! That said, the weight of the doors on my block of flats leading to the outside world are not something I’m able to deal with yet so I can’t go to the corner shop alone!

5 – Low days happen. And they are just as important as the days where you exceed your expectations. Sometimes there will be a reason. Sometimes there won’t. And that doesn’t matter. What matters is listening to it. Giving those emotions time and space and acceptance. Of course they aren’t as nice and fun as the achievement. But they are just as much a part of it. They often contain the most powerful lessons of love and nurturing. As an old counselling adage goes “don’t just do something, sit there!”

All our journeys are different. We all heal at different times and face different challenges. It’s not a race. 

I am already stronger than I gave myself credit for. But that includes ensuring I have enough tactical retreats to regroup and regain strength. Strength is measured differently now and I appreciate it so much more.