To recover, I’m learning, you need to tread a line between being defined by trauma, and ignoring it entirely. I incline towards the latter, preferring to keep on keeping on. At a consultation with an alternate medic, my attention was yanked back to the centre, when in a Good Will Hunting style scene, she held my gaze and said “What happened to you was dreadful.” And I responded blithely “Yes, it was rather”. And then she said “It really was, Sam” and three more probings in I was a puddle on the floor. Later, though, I felt lighter, better and more energetic than I had in an age.
I think that even when you end up at a point where you can say “Yes, this happened, but here I am.” you can still end up at the bottom of the slough of despond, where I’ve resided a couple of times of late. And in fairness I’ve been very much not there a majority of the time, but who wants to read a blog about rainbows and lollipops? Quite.
I’ve thought a lot about whether to share one particular grief as I’m concerned I’ll upset some of you but hey, this isn’t a pain-free situation so here goes.
On my recent trip to Europe (that scores a 9/10 overall btw) a surprising number of people didn’t bring it up for ages, if at all. I had expected to have covered it off in initial conversations and was confounded, confused and upset when it wasn’t. Others, meantime, had an opening gambit along the lines of “What a shit year you’ve had!” It wasn’t even the people far removed who stayed silent. Meanwhile one near stranger, a distant Italian relative of JP’s, acknowledged me by way of a squeeze of the arm and a certain look. I was so grateful for this. It wasn’t as if I wanted to deliver an oratory each time I saw someone for the first time in years, but some sort of recognition of what I’ve been through would have been nice and in many cases I didn’t get it.
Those of you who are parents, imagine seeing a relative for the first time since becoming a parent and not being asked ‘how are you finding it?’ or ‘how’s the baby doing?’ Closest analogy? That.
Now I know this wasn’t done in spite or with intention to hurt. I know you can rationalise not talking about it in a way that fits the English cultural preference to maintain a stiff upper lip. I know it is not an easy conversation and I know, because many did eventually pipe up, that it takes a while to scope out the situation and gather the courage to breech it. But while it didn’t get mentioned, I felt this very real fact of my life was ignored. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. I wish wish wish it did, and that I had the luxury of pretending nothing had happened.
But the lesson overall has been that expectations can bite you on the arse. Perhaps I’ll get that into my head once and for all, eh?
Another slump came just recently. I have a series of index cards with the date on the corner and each day I’ll write a couple of sentences about the day. Here are a couple of examples:
2012: Theo is all smiles! He is gurgling too and does the odd laugh. E and I went to Saya’s birthday party which was low key and lovely.
2013: Buggy chassis broke on way back from GP. Carried Theo home and he spewed down my back. At home, girls were massively whiney. “Living the dream”.
I’ve completed this small, daily action every day for 18 months and while I may skip a day here or there, I’m disciplined about it.
17 July 2013 says “Routine mammo – my first – turned scary with instant biopsy. In shock for day.”
And then the cards go blank for the next ten days.
Seeing those blank cards, I was so clearly reminded of the horror of that time. Boarding the medical train. Feeling the dignity of good health seep away. Talking with strangers, feeling dehumanised. Tests, needles, decisions, wondering what the fuck was going on. All against the backdrop of the possibility of leaving the kids motherless – a pain that usually dares not speak its name.
This is Major Tom to ground control… I’m stepping through the door.
Nothing can match the intensity of that initial plummet into ill health, the total loss of innocence which is so transformative you become a stranger in your own land, because how can the people you love know? They can fear for you, but they’re not you.
And the one person who might have been able to help perished two decades ago and wow, that was shit wasn’t it? How about another poke around in that ol’ wound? Am I going to be another chapter, one with a fatal ending? Are the girls?
There were hours within the days at the end of July where I focused on one particular worry, and other hours where I felt like I’d been hit by a nail bomb of worries, all simultaneously causing pain and shouting for my attention.
These worries, are for the most part, a distant memory. Many have been eliminated by the drastic surgery I was able to opt for. Things are different now, as they are for everyone a year on.
A card from last week: Took girls to ballet. At a quiet point, E reported “Mum, the greenie, it’s come out look!” At another A said “But what are they trying to say?!” Not likely to be culture vultures it seems. Met the boys after for ice cream. Theo ate all mine. It’s official, we are now a five ice cream family.