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. 

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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. 

Reset

I feel as if I have a reset button at the end of this week.

I’ve not planned past Friday (bar a few obvious essentials of having care and food).

I have vague thoughts of getting health and fitness back on track – motivation became subzero in the last few months. I’ll have to think about finding somewhere else to live and ponderings of rediscovering the “me”ness of me. But that’s all they are. Vague thoughts. The planning and execution of which will happen after Friday. After the big red button is pushed.

Any scifi/fantasy watchers out there will doubtless have seen a storyline involving the wrong version of a character – maybe the timeline got corrupted, maybe a transporter beam went awry, they got pulled in from a parallel universe or a spell went awry – and we as viewers know that this version is wrong, that for order to restored, for everything to be right again this character needs to be replace by the correct one – by the end of the episode the reset button will be hit and the wrong character will be replaced by the one we love. Then all is right with that world again. We know this. We expect this. We root for this.

But for the “wrong” character, all they know is they exist and they have to die. They may or may not agree with that, they may or may not know. But they stop existing.

This is the only way I can explain how I feel this week. Of course I know that I’m not going to stop existing. Surgery and general anaesthetic is scary but I don’t have a not going to wake up again fear. That’s not what this is, and I don’t mean to overdramatise things. But I do have a weird nebulous existential feeling that on Friday everything changes. I will go to sleep that afternoon. I will wake up sometime later that afternoon and everything will be different. I will be different. Irrevocably changed. There is no putting back what is taken (not that I want it anyway, it’s defective and needs to go).

The me that exists now, typing this, will not be the person who returns home at some point next week.

And as much as I have literally signed up for this. It’s an existential fear that just won’t quit.

See you on the other side…