‘I am, by and large,’ she says in the book, ‘boundlessly positive. I have all the joyful ebullience of an idiot.’ Hence her thirteenth-birthday diary entry didn’t recount the gravel or the playground-chase or the cries of ‘gyppo!’ and ‘boy!’, but the lovely things she’d had to eat that day, her excitement at getting a teenage ticket for the library, and how the man next door had asked whether her family would like some chairs he was throwing out. (‘We said YES!!!!’) And here’s her reason why: ‘I should put everything in, I think… but I don’t want my diary to pity me. As far as my diary will know, I had the philosophical upper hand there.’ Bingo.
It probably says a lot that it’s taken the words of a then thirteen-year-old girl to best communicate what I’m trying to say in this post, but there we have it. For I, another hopelessly cheerful woman for whom things have to be GREAT to be good, and for whom it’s not worth being seen or heard or read unless she can do so with a MASSIVE SMILE on her face, I completely understand the proclivity to edit out the shit stuff in favour of a happier story.
Take last Monday as an example – no, the example. Last Monday was Gardenbury, the garden party conceived in summer 2010 when my back-break put paid to our trip to Glastonbury. This was, therefore, the second year of the do, and it was lovely. It was lovely because the sun was out, it was lovely because many of our mates were there to share it, and it was lovely because – let’s be honest here – I throw a ruddy good party. Chiefly, though, it was lovely because I fucking well wanted it to be lovely, no matter what the weather, or the turnout, or – more importantly – the context.
This, then, is the point at which I must tell you that context: a context which is quite at odds with my above preference for writing about the shinier stuff, and a context which has my heart beating faster than I’d like, my brow creased into a stubborn frown, and my eyes involuntarily leaking tears at the prospect of revealing. A context which boils down, essentially, to this: I’m struggling.
And so, back to Monday. On Monday I was surrounded by friends, all of them seeing the me who mixes a great margarita and crafts a killer playlist and makes a superhuman effort to keep the kids entertained: in short, the me I want them to see. The me they didn’t see, however, was the one whose husband considerately ordered her to bed the moment they were alone in the flat; the one whose earlier bump on the head, when a bunch of stuff fell out of an overhead cupboard, was to become the tiny piece of plaster in the ceiling that gave way to a flooded flat upstairs; a catalyst for a sudden tidal wave of blind panic.
What followed next has been coming for a while. That said, I’m not quite sure what to blame it on. Perhaps it was in response to turning 32: the age at which I had always assumed I’d be a ‘sorted’ woman. Perhaps it was because work’s been a little quieter lately, what with the summer holidays and all. Perhaps it’s because I’ve passed the three-years-post-diagnosis mark. Perhaps it’s because P and I have, for the first time in ages, dared to think about our longer-term futures. Or perhaps it’s simply because I’ve had the space – or the inclination, or the time, or the loosening grip, or whatever the fuck – to let what’s been coming, well, come.
Ordinarily, I can handle my worries by keeping both calm and busy: I can talk myself round from panic attacks by repeating the mantra of reasonable thought that Mr Marbles taught me, and I can deal with my insomnia-inducing fear of never waking up by breathing deeply and taking a sleeping pill. But, for one reason or another, that bump on the head from some falling Tupperware (yes, Tupperware) did away with my ability to just deal, taking my concerns from a carefully managed, cleverly concealed nuisance to a full-on, in-your-face, alert-the-masses crisis, culminating in my birthday being spent in the surrounds of a stunning hotel in which I sobbed my way through the evening, convincing myself and my husband that my head-bump had, in fact, revealed another tumour… because, after all, Smiley Surgeon said himself that he’d be less concerned about a recurrence in my breasts than one elsewhere in my body: my bones, perhaps, or my lungs, or my back or, as was clearly now the case, my brain.
Or was that the culmination? Was it instead when I ended up in A&E the following day in a weepy consultation that concluded in a diagnosis of concussion? Was it when my folks caught me on the phone in a moment of tearful panic that revealed to them the frightening extent of my hitherto veiled dread, forcing my Dad into a three-hour motorway run at 11.30 on a Wednesday night to stay with me while P had to be away on the first of two work trips? Or was it this weekend when, with P away on the second trip, my family devised a not-so-secret rota of calling me every two hours to check on my mental state?
As much as I’d rather use this paragraph to make some crack about Tupperware having failed to seal in the stuff I’d hoped to keep air-tight, I fear a wiser – if not easier – thing to do is come clean about just how much this unspoken fear has been bothering me. Because, again, I don’t know why, but lately I’ve been reliving – in the most unscheduled, inconvenient, worrying way – the panic I experienced on the day after I was told the extent of my diagnosis; the panic in which I was utterly – and, yes, irrationally – convinced that I was going to die. (Ever watched the Noël episode of The West Wing? Well, that.) And, believe me, that unbearable, suffocating, all-consuming panic on that summer-solstice Saturday morning was, without question, the worst moment of my life. I’d happily take a thousand diagnoses over that moment of panic.
And so there’s your context.
The reason I hate to admit to all of that is that I thought – nay, hoped – that I – nay, we – were done with all of this. I don’t want to blog about this stuff any more. I don’t want the people I love to see me as ‘the problem one’. I don’t want to admit difficulties to folk who’ve had to put up with more than enough of my bullshit (or should that be Bullshit?) already, thank you very much. I don’t want to discuss this stuff at all – not with a therapist, not with you, not with my friends, and not with my family. I don’t want to deal with the shit that comes with it: the inevitable return to therapy, the invitation to worry about me, the head-tilts and the altered opinions and the eggshell-footprints and the bloody pity – that odious, futile, repulsive pity! I just don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to talk about it one bit. But, damn it – I have to talk about it.
So since we’re very begrudgingly talking, then, you might as well know the rest of it. You might as well know that P and I have finally dared to think ahead – and found it not exciting, but ruddy terrifying. You might as well know that we are only now accepting – as though we’ve subconsciously appreciated that it must be dealt with at some point but have been putting it off for as long as possible – that we can’t have children. You might as well know that none of the above makes it any easier for us to decide what the hell we want from our lives. You might as well know that, yes, we have considered other options. You might as well know that, no, none of them are still any likelier to happen than either of us getting a mohawk. And you might as well know that our reasons are, despite this sudden outpouring of honesty, for us alone to know.
All of this might sound angry. And if it does, that’s because I am. You see, I kind of skipped the anger part. I did it for about a day but, that aside, if anyone’s ever said ‘it’s not fair’, I’ve met it with ‘no it ain’t, but we’ve got to get the hell on with it’. And I’ll get back to that answer again. For now, though, I’m pretty bloody cross. I’m cross that I can’t, as I had wrongly assumed, store away The Bullshit in a tiny box and get on with the rest of my life. I’m cross that no bugger thought to mention how one little diagnosis wasn’t just flagging up an immediate medical problem that must be dealt with, but was in fact changing the entire course of mine and P’s futures. I’m cross that my mental breakdown was spurred into action not by whisky or sex or cocaine but fucking Tupperware. I’m cross that I’m STILL writing about this shit, and fast becoming one of those humourless, bore-the-arse-off-you bloggers that continually whines on about some medical problem or other. Most of all, though – and this might seem rather daft in light of the bigger issues at hand – I’m cross that I can’t be happy, chirpy, carefree, smiley, boundlessly positive, hopelessly cheerful, Gardenbury Lisa all the time; presenting to the world the me I want to be.
But, as two particular conversations with very dear friends who’ve been on the receiving end of my sudden outpouring of crazy appear to suggest, the world doesn’t seem to mind too much. My friends are happy just to be of service, preferring any contact at all to my usual tactic of shutting myself away when things are less than perfect. My husband and family, though clearly concerned to the point of new phone tariffs, are relieved by the return to our ‘better out than in’ policy. The only thing left, then, is me.
Step one was on Friday, when I re-referred myself to Mr Marbles in the hope of rediscovering that mantra of reasonable thought. Step two is this, using my blog to put the final nail in the coffin of my charade. Step three, however? That’s anyone’s guess. Perhaps, though, it’s working out what I might have meant by 32 being the age at which I’d be a ‘sorted’ woman. Or, indeed, forgetting all about it. Because maybe that’s the problem? Maybe I’ve spent too long figuring out how to be that woman, when I’d be better off figuring out – through the mess of cheerful uncertainty and smiling panic – how to just be me.