My auntie and I have always been close, but never more so than now, thanks to the Bullshit-dictated situation in which she now finds herself. Because, much as everyone else around us understands our situations as best they can, nobody gets it – I mean, really gets it – more than she does for me, and I do for her. And so I’ve spent more time than I ordinarily might thinking about her advice. Not least yesterday morning when, following a particularly disturbing dream in an otherwise low week, I didn’t feel like giving my lovely smile to everyone. And so I didn’t. I gave in and stopped trying, as per my auntie’s advice, not necessarily because I chose to do it that way, but because my doldrums left me too exhausted to find an alternative. So instead of opening up my make-up bag and painting on a brave face, I left it zipped for the day and remained a miserable bastard instead.
It had been brewing for a week or so, if truth be told. Last Thursday marked two years to the day that I was diagnosed with The Bullshit. The week of my cancerversary is always going to be a tough’un, but I like to employ fail-safe tactics to get myself through it. Where I might otherwise see June in my diary and tear out four weeks’ worth of pages out of sheer dread, I instead fill it with exciting things – holidays, parties, Glastonbury, Wimbledon and, this year, a summer of football – so that the month becomes one to enjoy rather than fear. Except this year, of course, my fail-safe plan unravelled spectacularly when I slipped arse over tit on a marble floor in Mexico. Goodbye, month of fun. Hello, unwanted reminder of two years ago.
I haven’t been feeling down because of the broken back, as such – like I said, them’s the breaks – but more because of what the broken back brought about. Anyone who’s followed my story will know how brilliantly jump-to-the-rescue my parents are (and anyone who hasn’t would do well to read this wonderful piece) so, of course, the moment they learned of my mishap they were ready with annual leave from their respective jobs, flights to Cancun (Dad) and an empty washing basket and fully-stocked fridge (Mum). Which was wonderful. But when I landed back home after a week in a hospital whose name I still can’t pronounce, I realised I just didn’t want any of it. Worse yet – I wanted my parents gone.
I’m well aware how horribly ungrateful that sounds. Not sounds – is. It’s unforgivably unappreciative, and I hate myself for voicing it. And thus I offer not an excuse, but an explanation.
For starters, it’s selfishness. The selfishness of wanting time for just me and P: the just-us-two time we’d so looked forward to on the holiday we’d more than earned. But also, it’s frustration. The frustration of having finally got back to the post-Bullshit point of spending quality, fun time with my parents – y’know, as friend-like equals rather than as nursing parents and reliant child – only to be forced back into a situation where all of that work is undone. The issue is obviously not that I don’t want to see my parents full stop – just that I don’t want to see them under those circumstances. I’ve had enough of it.
Mostly, though, the aforementioned ungratefulness is because of the echoes of what June 2008 was like for us all. I can’t tell you how many times over the last week I’ve had to remind myself that I’ve not got cancer. Because this – this past week, with Dad doing the gardening, Mum up to her eyebrows in washing, P stroking my hair while I lie on the bed and everyone fetching me stuff and asking me how I am every ten minutes – this is what cancer feels like. In stark opposition to that is last June, when I took myself shopping for summer frocks, ate barbecued food, went to parties, spent a week in a campervan in Glastonbury with P, Tills and Si and generally did everything possible to forget about what had happened a year previous. And it worked.
But not this June. This June, all my forget-about-cancer-and-get-on-with-a-happy-life strategies are suddenly no longer there to fall back on and, inevitably – with the reminder of what it’s like to have the people around you care for you more than you can care for yourself, and the reminder of what it’s like to be killing time before another mastectomy – I reached a point where ‘pretending to the world that everything is hunky dory’ was just too much like hard work.
And so when I woke up yesterday morning after a late-night row with P and a troubling nightmare in which some kind of weird cult encouraged me to cut my wrists, and then cheered when I did (seriously – I was *this* close to calling The Priory), I hid under the duvet as my anger at The June That Never Was stormed into my brain to the sound of The Imperial March. And boy, did I underestimate the power of the dark side.
See, while occasionally giving into the blues may indeed be a necessary release, what it also does – on the rare occasions in which I allow said blues to surface – is make matters worse thanks to the guilt that comes with them. That may not be the case for everybody, but for me – with an impossibly-eager-to-help family as wonderful as mine – it doesn’t half shroud me in shame. The thing is, priceless as it is to have such a lovely family and friends around you, when things are shit you sometimes find yourself wishing that there was nobody who cared, because then at least you’d only have to deal with the shitness itself, and not the guilt that comes with inflicting that shitness on the people you love.
Which is why, in a nutshell, I do make the effort to put on a brave face the rest of the time. (Not that I always need to do it, of course. Most of the time I’m fine and dandy – it’s the low moments that I’d rather hide that I’m talking about.) Because not painting on a smile when it might be easier to do otherwise can sometimes bring about as many problems as caused it in the first place. But also because I simply hate feeling like that. I hate acting like a miserable cow. I hate being a wanker to my parents. I hate getting in a grump with my husband. I hate giving in and I hate crying to the point of hiccups and I hate making the people I love worry about me more than they already do.
But that hate, I guess, is what ultimately snaps me out of it. And makes me want to try again. My auntie was right: sometimes, I won’t feel like giving my lovely smile to everyone. Today, however, I might just want to.