Sunday 4 September 2011

How to be.

I’m reading Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman at the moment. I’m only a handful of chapters in, but already it’s chimed with me in more ways than I care to admit. The book begins on her thirteenth birthday, a day she spends being chased by insult-and-gravel-hurling boys. Given that my own thirteenth birthday was spent on a plane from Florida and the only put-downs I ever had to handle as a kid were so embarrassingly ill thought-out they were the bullying equivalent of picking a fight and then hitting yourself in the face, it wasn’t so much Caitlin’s experience that I could relate to, but her subsequent recounting of the day.

‘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.


Unknown said...

Thank you for this. It expresses very well fears I have. I've only just finished chemo. I have got children, but only because my cancer hit me in later life - I am 54. The utterly changed life is for all of us with cancer. Yes, it is appalling and I applaud you for voicing what many of us think xxx

Erin Xx said...

Today I had a really lovely day out with my extended family- saw my Aunt who starts radiotherapy on Wed same day as me- she just text to say how positive I am and what an inspiration I'm being! HA!! Had to reply with the truth that she only saw the smiley side I want people to see- and she should probably know that I spent the hour long drive to her house sobbing and arguing and being a total bitch. AND I had no tissues!!
Think I might know how exhausting being Gardenbury Lisa might just be! Take it easy my love.

Kim said...

No matter what you've been through or who you are, even if you are as amazing as one Lisa Lynch ;) there are times when everything just comes out and you can't pretend you're ok. Concussion really doesn't help at all - in fact it is very common for it to completely throw you emotionally for no reason whatsoever. You're human and this is not only normal, but its perfectly ok to acknowledge the worry/panic you've been holding at bay so that everyone thinks you're alright. However rubbish things may feel right now, you're getting all the stress and exhaustion out of your head and when it runs out, things will get better.

It sounds like you and your family are doing everything right for getting over this - and in the meantime don't let yourself worry about what people think of you. They wouldn't be there if they didn't want to be, and if they want to be there for you they couldn't give a monkeys about whether you're having a good day or struggling, they still love you and think the world of you.

For all I'm saying this, I know its easier for me to spout it than for you to believe it or hold onto it. So I'll hope people keep calling, and commenting, and thinking of you (as I certainly am) until its over. Take care and be safe x

Quarkmonkey said...

Don't be 'be happy, chirpy, carefree, smiley, boundlessly positive, hopelessly cheerful, Gardenbury Lisa all the time' - that sounds knackering.

Shit is going to happen to us all (you've had a pretty meaty dose) and feeling like you won't cope is being human. It's worth saying that you're doing a pretty good job. So long as you keep being Lisa Lynch, well that's way cooler than most of us manage anyway.

Although the mohawk could be an interesting look...

Fen said...

You're a human darling, you gotta learn to go easy on yourself and accept these things will pop up. I'm glad you're booked back in to see Mr Marbles, that will do you good. We all pop the lid on our emotions and reactions and sometimes they only need to open a tiny millimetre for it all to come spilling out. There's nothing wrong with that one bit.

AnnaGoAnna said...

Wow Lisa, you really know how to hit hard!

I've read this slowly. In bite size chunks. As if peeling the lid off the blinking tupperware slowly and wishing I could just close it down instead of sniffing at the content!

Thank you for your honesty and thank you also for echoing a lot of thoughts and sentiments that I sporadically go through too and why I want to do the event in the UK so that others can also acknowledge that they're not alone in having these feelings... but also to find a way through the mire.

Think I need myself a Mr Marbles... hahaha has he got a brother? x

Suze said...

Lisa Lynch,

I know I can speak for all your closest friends when I say that we don't care if you are Gardenbury Lisa, breaking down on the phone Lisa or anywhere in between. But I don't think that's the point really. You can be whatever you want to be; if you want to be smiley on the outside when inside you are falling apart then that is how you need to be. And bloody hell, sometimes it's easier to fool yourself in to believing that's how you're feeling if it's what the rest of the world sees.

But none of us, not one, will judge you if sometimes you aren't the happy-go-lucky-soul-of-the-party Lisa that we all love. Because we love every single part of you, we love the bones of you and nothing will ever, ever change that. And pity won't be what we feel if you let us in to your worries, your fears and your worst imaginings; it will be honour and privilege that you have let us in. Because counting you - however you want to be - as one of our closest friends is something that we cherish.

We love you, Lisa. Not because you are happy, sad, angry, fun or bloody awesome at throwing a party. We love you because you are *you*. Marvellous you who is the most inspirational woman I know, and that has nothing to do with the Bullshit; because even 'before' you were a woman to be reckoned with and someone who I, for one, would love to be more like.

My one, my only, wish is that we could help you through this. To at least begin to take away some of the fear, anger and sadness. But instead we will be here to take the journey with you, if you choose.

We love you, more than you will ever know.

Suze & JB (and your biggest fans in the world.)


Helen said...

LL, I love you. I think this post has just forced me to take a step that I've been dreading. Thankyou xxx

Anonymous said...

Hello Lady Lis,

Like the other commenters, I am very much only here to say just how human you are. You don't need the pity, or the head tilts or the sorrow. You just need to let it out. And you have. And you will again. And when it comes round again, lets hope its triggered by something a little more exciting than tupperware! But on a more serious note- you're strong, beautiful, hilarious and no doubt hundreds will agree with me. You dont need to be a massive smile, or a huge teary mess. You just have to feel how you do, when you do. Because, it all helps in the long run.

Bullshit-esque things happen to great people, but the greatest of all are the ones who say 'bollocks to it'. You are one of those, but sometimes you have to let it overwhelm you.

Love from a practical stranger, and a follower of your addictive blog/tweets.

-onetheceiling, x

Wardotron said...

It's okay Lisa, I hate Tupperwear too.

Fucking Tupperwear.

Fletcher of the Day said...

Miss Lisa,

I can't truly understand the fear of re-occurrence (though I know Maarten has the same fear). But I've observed from meeting you a lucky few times, that you are well- loved, and deservedly so. You are an amazing,lovely, sensitive observer of life who has had more then your share of crap arrive in your inbox, but who has dealt with the good and the bad in the best way your know how (just like you are doing now!).

I also applaud you and your lovely Husband for making a brave decision about children. I've been down that road, and know it's not an easy choice but only you two can make it the right one. Good for you both!

Hang in there Lisa..Lots of Love and drool from Amsterdam :)


Anonymous said...

So I too had a horrifying, terrifying brush with something terrible that for the most part I thought I'd dealt with but then once a year I found myself back in time, reliving everything - not able to take a breath, crying uncontrollably etc etc. I took it for 4 years then saw an advert in the paper for a quack (sorry, therapist) who used cognitive behavioural therapy. The advert spoke to me so I called. You need to look it up but the premise is (excuse this very non scientific explanation) that your brain is this enormous filing cabinet that ordinarily you deal with things and store them away. When you have a traumatic event things don't get put away and so keep surfacing to bug you. It was an exhausting 3 to 4 hrs but I got up the next day and felt the weight of the world was gone. 2 years further down the road I still remember but not so 'in the moment' with the physical symptoms. Just thought I'd share - good luck with Dr Marbles x

LittleWittering said...

I think it is the "daring to hope" that is the hardest bit.

quarkmonkey said...

You see Mac, you think you've got problems? Ward's fucking Tupperware.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what to say except yes, so true, thank-you.

Helen said...

Lisa, grief for all you've lost does just this, ups and bites you on the bum, so to speak, it just happens that way!
But just don't stop writing as it is a way of acknowledging it and therefore partway to dealing with what cancer has thrown at you.
Enjoy working with Dr Marbles, you'll get there.....
love and a ((hug))

Grá said...

Aw chick!
In a way it was about time. You've been so so strong all this time. You'd be completely and totally abnormal if you hadn't had a moment like this. Who could possibly go through all that you've endured only to shrug their shoulders and act like everything is the same as it was? Your life changed immeasurably and you went through enormous physical and emotional stress. You're a warm, intelligent, funny and emotional human being. I love reading your writing-whether it's about the bullshit or about X Factor. I'll continue to pop in to hear what's in your head regardless. Thanks for sharing with us.
Meanwhile, I'm actually convinced Tupperware is evil. My stuff always seems to catapult itself out of the cupboard at me. Down with it, I say!
Big hugs to you, lovely...

Anonymous said...

Lisa, I don't know you but I love you too! Sometimes though you were just too good, too together, too accepting for me to feel you were for real. But you are. And it's so hard to come to terms with loss.

Your blog has helped me enormously but I've always felt a little bit inadequate because I can't measure up to you.I've cried and screamed and cursed fate. I could never accept the bullshit like you did.

So thank you. For telling us about how hard it can be. It makes me feel better. And even on a bad day you come over as a person of grace, humour and charm. You inspire me to carry on.

Freda said...

Don't be scared to be upset or less than perfect; don't be scared not to be able to laugh. It's ok. Every Blessing

Suze said...

Hi Lisa

I just saw the article in the Tesco mag, well done you for getting a book published. I wrote my story but only published it for myself. I had treatment 11 years ago and I still remember the day-after-diagnosis panic, convinced I was dying. You're still relatively close to it so I think it is still close. I still have the tendency to think every symptom is a recurrence but it bothers me less now, not so much a panic as a shrug - whatever happens, happens. You'll get there but don't be hard on yourself if you haven't sorted it yet, everyone's different, as they used to say to me when I had yet another bad reaction to the chemotherapy, do whatever you need to do. Stop thinking Start living is a useful little book by Richard Carlson, it helped me deal with some lows.
I wish you all success for your book
Suze Apple

Anonymous said...

Hello Lisa,
I've just read some of your posts.The last one made me reply.Thank you for your honest blog.Actually, truth is the only valuable thing in writing.But it is not easy to write what you really feel.
You are absolutely right about being yourself.
I think writing practice is a good way to cope with difficulties.Oh, I suppose you know that better then me.But if you want to stop it or write less, do it and don't care. Be yourself, listen to your inner voice and don't worry about what other people will think about you.
And I want to tell you something else. I also feel shame when talking openly about God because I am not a church goer and for me religion has many negative things.But I belive in the power of the universe or something like that. My effort may be big, but result in nothing. When I desire something with all my heart and with positive energy, then it looks as if someone else helps me.Think about that.
I wish you the best.
Russia, Moscow

lilianavonk said...

Ohhh, honeybunny...

Everyone who's commented already has said exactly what I planned to say (in far more coherent 'n cogent terms, too), so just allow me to observe that NO-ONE can be Gardenbury Lisa all the time; I too try to focus on the positive, especially since realizing how much it's an essential coping strategy in dealing with depression, but the bottom line is that when you put stuph away without ever dealing with it--whether it's Tupperware or immense emotional trauma--for sure will it come tumbling down and bop you on the head eventually.

And it sounds like perhaps you had a combination of things happen here--partly PTSD (cos confronting your mortality isn't simply something you deal with once and then bang, you're over it) and partly the simple stress of trying to be Gardenbury Lisa. Again, I want everyone to think that I'm fine when I'm not, too; displaying our flaws only proves how vulnerable we are, after all, and we can't have that, can we? *clutches pearls in horrified disbelief*

In your case, though, please give yourself permission to be human, which means being angry and stroppy and weepy and needy...because the people who love you are still going to love you regardless of your mood. (If their love for you is dependent on your mood, then you're better off without them in your life anyway. *gives two-finger salute as parting gift*) Be good to yourself, and don't hold yourself up to maintaining such a Gardenbury Lisa level of perfection, k?

Cos those of us who love you already think you're pretty much perfect, and the only way you have to live up to that categorization is to be yourself...which includes the unhappy, vulnerable parts of Lisa you find unsuitable for public consumption. Part of being okay is sometimes not okay, you know? Oh jeez, that sounds waaay too Californian, I know... O_O

In any case, I'm sure you've worked all this out and much more with Mr. Marbles already--who I'm sooo glad you're seeing again--and I'm sorry this comment is so late! But there ya go, my multiple paragraphs as usual are all here & accounted for. ;)

MBNAD woman said...

As usual, I've nothing useful to say that wouldn't be pathetic and patronising.
So, I'll shut up and just say what a privilige it has been to follow you through these last 3 years.
Mad x