Monday 21 June 2010

Day old blues.

I received a long message from my mid-chemo auntie last week. ‘Because I love you I’m going to give you a little lecture,’ she said. ‘I think you’re trying too hard. I see a lot of you in me. I’ve spent a lot of time in my life putting on a brave face and pretending to the world that everything is just hunky dory. It’s tiring. There are times when you just have to give in to how you feel... So if you don’t feel like giving your lovely smile to everyone, don’t. Then tomorrow you may just want to.’

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. 


Gordon said...

I wish I could say more but the main thought that springs to mind reading this is "never a wiser word said".

Having had some battles with depression, it's that self same hate/guilt combo that I use to give myself a shake. Yes, I'll wallow for a bit, but as soon as I realise that others are looking on and are worried, then it's quite cathartic to realise that people do care and that I'm actually better off with them around, than without.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lis

It's your Lorns here - also battled the bull and have suffered depression three times in my life, once was so bad I had to *go away for a while* (cue much rocking!).

I think you are being a little hard on yourself. Firstly, anyone would be feeling low, stuck at home in the middle of summer after falling over on hols and cracking their back.... if that isn't depression inducing enough!. The way I see it though, of course you are going to feel horrid. It would be odd if you didn't. Even with the bullshit sometimes there is respite, that walk with a friend, the trip out for a coffee, however at the mo you are stuck, and so of course you are going to feel crap. Effing crap in fact. We all need time to just be, to sob it out.

After my operation I remember getting so angry with my mum. At 36 I did NOT want this to be happening, but as soon as she left me I wanted her there again.

Glad you feel like sharing that smile with us. This too shall pass my lovely.


Anonymous said...

My best mate and I have a recurring conversation about this. It's usually sparked off by some relatively minor setback (so I feel like a bit of a twat for mentioning it next to what you've had to put up with, but it's kind of relevant):

One of us: I've been moping about because of [whatever], had a proper blub last night, had a row with a bus driver because I was in such a foul mood, what a complete knobhead I am.

Other of us: Sometimes you just need to let yourself wallow though. Embrace the wallowing. [And other assorted platitudes.]

First one of us: Yeah, but I got to the point where I was getting disgusted with myself for being such an arse.

Other one: OK, maybe that's where you stop wallowing for a while. Pull yourself together woman. Think of all you have to be thankful for. [More platitudes.]

Profound, aren't we?

Basically I'm agreeing with your Auntie. You have to allow yourself to indulge in some proper misery time otherwise you'll just be in a constant state of suppressing things which really can't be good for anyone. And in the natural course of things, you get it out of your system and get your metaphorical shit together. (And if that bit doesn't come, it's probably time to talk to someone qualified...)

Anonymous said...

You do know, of course, that you wouldn't be human if you didn't feel low now and again after all that's happened to you. If it was me going through this I'd be screaming and snarling at everyone, no matter how beloved, and I'd expect them to understand and not take offence. What you've got to remember is that your fundamental disposition is positive and cheerful and that will see you through this crisis.

I absolutely understand your feelings towards your parents. That feeling of helplessness can bring you low. You will get through this, and you will enjoy life again. Everyone who loves you will come out at the other side of this as well. There will be some dark days ahead. What is happening to you is so unfunny, but you'll look back on this time and it will be like a bad dream. Gone. And you'll be well again. And the next book will be on the best seller list. Chin up girl, but only if you want to. A loud scream of anguish is also quite alright.
Love and prayers xxx

Karen said...

I can really associate with these feelings. I haven't had the 'bullshit' but I do have/recovering from a long term illness. I find the brave face is for me as much as anyone else. I save the 'blues' face for my husband and best friend (lucky them..!) as they know what to say. Ultimately, it is the brave face that makes me feel better about everything. Although, of course I have my moments. I find a good cry when I'm in that dark place lets it all out and then I can return to smiling.

You have been through so much and the fact that you are able to still come up smiling is amazing. But agree with Auntie, it's okay to have some time off! xx

Anonymous said...

This made me fill up, chin up, it is shit but hopefully good days outweigh the bad x

jane__w said...

Your auntie's right. Sometimes you just have to give in to it and wallow. It won't be for long, you're still the same you that karate chopped the Bullshit after all.

Talking of the Imperial March, are you familiar with the ukelele and tiny keyboard version? Total genius.

Anonymous said...

There's no point in a 'brave face' if it means that you're not facing reality. It's better to be like you, wallowing a bit sometimes so that when you do feel like smiling it's genuine. Hope there's loadsa smiles to come!

Anonymous said...

you're excedingly brave and v ace xxx

Feisty Blue Gecko said...

Sending all warm wishes and hoping that now horrible June is over July will bring sweeter times.

I have just finished all my heavy treatment and just returned from a long overdue visit to Scotland to be with family. (I'm a Scot but living and working in Asia and had all my treatment in Bangkok). I've just read your book and identify with so much - brilliant! Now it's back to work tomorrow - eek!

Unfortunately I can't access your blog where I am based so look forward to a long catch up once I come back for next check up. My rambings are on:

Take care
Gentle hugs from Bangkok

Paula said...

I haven't got to my first year cancerversary but can so understand how you feel.

I hated "getting back to normal" and then having to go return to the hospital for rads. I have a huge array of hats ... but it doesn't matter how much the sun shines I don't wear them.

I think many of us have days when we really do smile ... and other days ... when we just don't want to.

P xox