A Soulful Homecoming

Crikey. Is it really May since I last posted?

I read a book a very long time ago called Stages of the Soul. It describes how we can go through different stages at times of feeling lost and the steps we take to find ourselves again. It’s a heartwarming read and shares real life stories to illustrate its various points. The author describes this journey in seven stages, from talking about ‘Lost Souls’ (Stage 1) to ‘Re-enchantment’ (Stage 7).

I became a Lost Soul in June.

As you know, I was diagnosed with breast cancer last November and have been on hormone therapy since then in an attempt to shrink the two tumours prior to surgery. All was going to plan but in one of my regular scans to keep track of progress, the radiologist saw something that “needed further investigation”.

Me (nearly throwing up): What is it?

Booby Nurse: A small nodule. It might be nothing, but we need a CT scan to get a better look.

Me: Oh bloody bugger.

The next two weeks were possibly the most fraught I have ever experienced. I was shaking when I went in to see the consultant for the results. In the end, it was nothing, but the thoughts that race through your mind are myriad. I’m usually quite a positive person but this hiccup really threw me, I don’t know why.

Stage 2 of The Stages of the Soul is called ‘Falling Through the Cracks’. I fell through in July.

It was like stumbling off the ledge of a very tall building…backwards… in super slow motion…at night…but you never hit the floor…you just keep falling and falling through the earth without ever stopping. Nobody else knows how you’re feeling, life goes on as normal, but you don’t trust your own senses and keep checking to see that your feet are firmly planted on the floor. Your grasp of reality is slightly blurred and you start to wonder if your life is one big joke at your own expense. At least that’s how it felt for me.  I started to withdraw.

Stage 3 is ‘Compassion’, and Stage 4 is ‘Tapestry .’ These are essentially about self care and reflection, giving yourself a break and not beating yourself up too much that life has taken a turn down Shitty Street. I spent about a couple of weeks at these stages, and luckily for me, part of that time was at a friend’s beautiful villa in Northern Portugal. No wifi or tv for seven days. The Scoundrels were not impressed with this violation of their Human Rights.

The Scoundrels(with more than a hint of whine in their voices.): We’re bored…

Me: Good. See if your imagination still works.

The Scoundrels: Our what?…

Me (muttering under my breath):  ffs

Me and The Hair, however, revelled in this novel space and pondered existential questions about ‘values’ and ‘authenticity’ and whether we should open the red or the white next. As ever, reading was my medicine, as well as the Vihno Verde, and I lost myself in the pages the books I had brought with me.

When we got back from our hols, it was back to the breast unit for D Day. Although the surgeon had hoped for a lumpectomy, it was decided I would need to go for a therapeutic breast lift because of the position of the tumours.  The Hair’s eyes widened slightly at the words ‘breast’ and ‘lift’. I confess I was rather jollied by this thought too, until I realised I might end up lopsided. My fears were soon allayed by my fabulous surgeon who assured me she wouldn’t leave me wonky, but we needed to be sure all the cancer was out before she did anything to the healthy boob.  There was also a small risk that there may be some surprises lurking once they opened me up which could mean a mastectomy would be necessary.

By this time is was mid August and I had reached Stage 5 ‘Attic Wisdom’. You know when you go up in the loft, or hunt around the back of a cupboard, and discover memories and things you’d completely forgotten about and each holds some kind of magic that makes you realise all will be well? That’s Attic Wisdom. The deep rooted sense that you have survived countless set backs, enjoyed many a precious moment with loved ones, and there is something ethereal about this. I have rested here, in this attic, since then. Comforting myself with the knowledge that good times and bad times come to us all, but that this too shall pass.

And so I find myself at Stage 6 in my soul’s journey, ‘Return – Coming Back to the World World You Left’.

With a date in the diary for surgery (20th September) soon to be followed by 3 weeks of radiotherapy (daily, Monday to Friday) it feels like I can see light at the end of a long and dark tunnel. I’m on the bottom rung of the loft ladder, ready to step back into the real world again.

I’m not too sure when I will reach the final stage, Stage 7 ‘Re-enchantment – Teaching Our Hearts to Sing Again”. Singing feels a long way off, but I reckon I can soon manage a quiet hum.

xx

 

 

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Here’s one I made earlier…

It’s World MS Day today. Not that anybody here has noticed. It’s also half term. The Eldest Scoundrel is off to France with school on Friday for 4 days so I’ve just had the pleasure of being his runner from fitting room to shop floor in H&M for the last hour. The Youngest Scoundrel has been on the Xbox non-stop since school broke up on Friday and I’m too tired to make him come off.

In the last couple of weeks the computer broke, the car broke and my mobile broke. Car and phone have been replaced but computer slipped down the priority list. In other words we spent all the money…

This had me thinking about taking up sewing and knitting to make all our clothes and foraging for food in an attempt to be frugal. I’m not terribly crafty but I reckon I could fashion a pair of trainers for the Youngest Scoundrel out of some washing up liquid bottles and some string.

And in the spirit of a Blue Peter makey do, here’s a post I wrote earlier for the MS Society.

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Is it wine o’clock?

 

I’ve had a bit of a week to be honest.

As well as the MacBook disaster, my car is on its last legs so I’ve spent the last three days on Auto Trader looking for a replacement.  Auto Trader is designed to make it easier to find a new or used car but the infinite combinations of searches you can do leaves you with brain ache and feeling a little bit stabby.

Should I search a radius of 15 or 35 miles? Should I go for an automatic or manual? Private seller or trade? What about mileage? Full service history? How many owners? Thankfully the deed is now done and I will be collecting my new-to-me sharabang tomorrow.  Basically, the stress lead to this the other night…IMG_3341

The Hair was NOT happy.   I’m not sure if this was because I didn’t leave him any, or that he was on his High Horse. He did his scary, frowny face and spoke to me like I was one of his academy players who had just made a terrible tackle that had caused irreparable damage to an opposition player.

The Hair: “That’s not good is it? Drinking like that on your own.”

Me: Mumbles something like, “I’m 48 I can do what I want” whilst making sure not to make eye contact.

He’s right of course.  Next time I’ll make sure to get my lovely neighbour round.

I can’t lie, I do enjoy a glass of wine or three on a regular occasion.  I find it helps me unwind, and that first sip slides down like the proverbial nectar of the gods.  The trouble comes when I think “I’ll just have one more little glass” and then I’m more than halfway through the bottle before you can say ‘messy’ and you start sending texts about what kind of tattoo you fancy for your 50th to the garage mechanic instead of your girly friend.  (Not that that has ever happened *laughs nervously*.)  I’m not proud of this fact.  I admire people who can live without booze.  I’m just not sure I want to.  (I can feel The Hair shaking his luscious locks in disappointment).

Alcohol is such an entwined part of our social and leisure time that it’s become the norm to stock up on a few bottles throughout the week and the corks are popping around the land as soon as the sun is over the yardarm.  A 2014 report in the Financial Times stated that around 7 of every 10 bottles of wine purchased in British supermarkets are bought by women, demonstrating that we are the biggest economical force within the wine industry.

In the summer months, sitting in the garden with a chilled glass of pinot makes me feel like I’m on a permanent holiday.  When the winter months hit, the fire is lit and a large glass of spicy red hits the spot.  I tell myself that we’re not frivolous spenders, and that having a nice glass of wine at the end of the day is a well deserved treat.

I go through phases where I just don’t feel like drinking, so I like to think the drink doesn’t have me.  But the drinks industry has tapped into the drinking culture of women of all ages; craft gins are everywhere, prosecco ‘nearly’ ran out a few years ago causing panic in the suburbs and ciders are available in tempting ‘female friendly’ flavours (elderflower, lime and raspberry anyone?)

What might be acceptable limits for me may be very different for you.  I’m sure we’ve all had those “I’m never drinking ever again, ever. Ever. E. V. E. R.” moments, but my resolve evaporates the second screw top comes off the Cabernet Sauvignon. Hair of the dog and all that.

I’m defiantly not going to beat myself up for getting a bit squiffy on a school night anymore, but I’m also aware that, at times, getting the balance right, I find tricky.

 

If you think your drinking is starting to become a problem, please seek help.  Alcohol can numb you from your feelings about your real world, but it really doesn’t solve anything.  Resources you might find useful:

Drink Aware

NHS

 

 

 

 

 

 

MS stands for…Mental Strength

It’s Mental Health Awareness week, a condition that so many of us with or without a chronic illness can identify with.

The Princes William and Harry (I don’t care what you think of them, I love ’em both, especially Harry) have been at the forefront of the campaign, as well as celebrities like Lady GaGa.  Their website Heads Together is a mine of helpful resources and encouragement and well worth spending some time on, whether for yourself or a loved one.

Mental illness still has a stigma, and I don’t know how we go about fixing it.  I’m so glad that people in the public eye are coming forward and talking openly about their struggles.  We seem to think if you’re famous you’ve got it sorted. The truth is very different. I’ve worked and socialised with many a well known face, and they have the same anxieties and doubts about themselves as you and I, if not more.  Is it a British thing that we just want people to pull up their bootstraps and get on with it?  I remember in my days working for British Forces TV, the number of young squaddies who would pour out their heart about things they were struggling with to the two female presenters and myself, eager for a listening ear that wouldn’t judge them.  Bloody hell, the stuff they had to face at 17 and 18 years of age, and this was on UN duties, not when we were at war.

I think we’ve all struggled with our mental health at some point, whether we realise it or not.  Or maybe that should be if we admit it or not.  I’ve had friends who have been so overwhelmed they have taken their own life, others that have lost their home and livelihood because they just couldn’t cope and felt they had no-one to turn to.  If that’s you, please, please reach out.  Look at the Heads Together website, contact The Samaritans…

Do something.

You are not alone.

I’m reading A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled, by Ruby Wax at the moment.  I was never a huge fan of her comedy, but I met her a couple of times and really warmed to her.  She was a bundle of insecure, frantic energy and that came out in her work.  Her battle with depression is well documented, but she took it one step further and studied for her Masters in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy at Oxford University.  The book is part memoir, part scientific based research and part practical mindfulness instruction. This is no woo-woo-floaty-incense-burning-waffle.  It’s a fascinating insight into how our brains work and how we can re-train them with small steps. I highly recommend it.

Having MS has been a not just a battle for my body, but a battle for my mind too. Everyday there is a constant dialogue with myself …”You’re lazy”…”You’ll never be as good as you were”…”You’re on the scrap heap now”…

For me, being out in nature is the best medicine I have found, as are The Scoundrels, without whom I’d be lost (although far more wealthy…)

It’s taken a long time, but I’ve realised I don’t have to listen to those voices in my head.  I decided I would not be bowed by my inner critic.  I face the dark days full on and don’t cower to fear.

In the words of my favourite writer, Maya Angelou… Still I Rise.

 

Houston, we have a problem…

So this has happened….

Obviously neither of The Scoundrels know anything about it…

I’m typing this on my phone and hoping to resume normal services ASAP if I can manage to revive the damn thing. Screen keeps going black and the spinning ball of death is a constant presence.

I may have to sell some of my organs to fund a new Mac…anybody want to buy a kidney?

 

 

Meh

It’s a bit late in the day this one. That’s because I’m feeling meh. I wasn’t going to post at all but then I had a mentoring session with Sian the Slavedriver and she cracked the whip and told me get my arse in gear (actually she said it much nicer than that, she’s lovely really 🙂 )

So here I am…

It all went downhill yesterday afternoon.  I was having a lovely catch up with my gorgeous Besty who had been “working” in Mexico (well, she was working hard on one day, doing her amazeballs wedding photographer thang, the rest of the time she was swanning around in her bikini flaunting herself at the Dorito Band) and I could feel the shutdown creeping up on me.  This is because I had Over Done It on the previous few days…

Saturday, The Scoundrels had hockey and football, me and The Hair squeezed in a quick shopping trip to buy some shoes between pickups, then off out to our old-hopefully-soon-to-be-new-again neighbour’s for delicious grub and too much wine. Then Sunday, up at the crack of a sparrow’s fart for the Eldest Scoundrel to be picked up for a hockey tournament in Blackpool, I should have gone back to bed, but no, I was feeling perky (probably still squiffy to be honest), so got on with chores. Then Monday school runs, dog walk, more Scoundrel taxi services in the evening followed by going out out with my antenatal group, we all met having our first child …and then Tuesday massive hike with the dog because I was still feeling perky, then quick dash to get The Hair some white Puma socks, then coffee with my Besty.

It started with struggling to remember what I’d been up to whilst Besty was away. I’m sure I did some amazing stuff but all I could do was mumble “Er…writing…a bit.”  I was dazzling company as you can imagine. I really had to concentrate on the conversation whilst also eyeing up the cushions on the long bench in the cafe to see if I could make up a bed. Thank goodness Besty had loads of properly interesting stuff to talk about, especially the bit where she was snorkelling and was ambushed by a shoal of big blue fish that came right at her face.

I should know by now, that if I do too much on one of the days I’m feeling perky I’ll pay for it later. It’s especially true now that the days are longer and Spring is in the air, allegedly. During the dark winter nights going to bed at 8pm is bliss, but during the summer months I feel like I’m missing out, especially on social invites, and I cannot sleep when it’s still broad daylight.

And so it was that I ended up with tremors and being unable to walk in a straight line and crashed in bed at 6pm last night.  I didn’t hear The Hair come in after work, and I woke up in exactly the same position I crashed in. It took half an hour to unfold myself.  Today was a day of Have To’s – the only thing I HAD to do was get the kids to and from school.  The rest, like writing this blog, walking the dog (we have a big garden so he’s been outside plenty and he senses when I’m tired and just snuggles up with me) could wait, and so it was a Duvet Day for me.

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It got me thinking about pacing and fatigue management. Everyday I have to make decisions about what the priorities are, I was going to share some insightful resources about the 4 Pillars theory and something called the 3 D’s, except…such is my brain fog that I cannot remember what they are.

I know the D’s are something like Doing, Delegating and Dropping, as in;

Do what HAS to be done

Delegate what you can, and

Drop things that really don’t need to be done

The 4 Pillars one is really good too, but to paraphrase my favourite children’s television programme from my toddler days, Tales of the Riverbank, “that’s a story for another day…”

In other words, I’ll post it next week if my brain is working properly.

My 3 Favourite Things About MS

This week is MS Awareness Week, which means I can talk all I want about the MS and you have to listen because that is the law of Awareness Weeks.

Basically my own body attacked itself at some point in the past resulting in the myelin sheath, (I always want to snigger when I see the word ‘sheath’ for some reason) which surrounds the nerves in the brain, becoming a bit tatty and buggering up the messages to the rest of my body.  Everyone with MS has different symptoms but for me it means fatigue, cognitive difficulties, pain, numbness, double vision and bladder problems to name but a few.  But it’s not all bad.  Here’s my (tongue-firmly-in-cheek) 3 favourite things about having MS.

  1. You get to spend the whole day in bed GUILT FREE!  When I was first diagnosed I went out of my way to defy this illness and pushed myself too hard, inevitably leading to burnout.  I’ve now learned the art of ‘pacing’ and if I feel my body needs a day of rest, then so be it.  Duvet days are a regular part of life for me now, but rather than spend the whole time fretting about what I SHOULD be doing I give in to it and turn off my brain for a few hours.
  2. It gets me out of the housework (and other tedious tasks). I have to be very careful how I expend my energy on any given day which means I have to prioritise tasks.  For instance, things I HAVE to do include doing the school run and taxiing The Scoundrels to various sporting clubs, walking the dog, making sure the fridge and cupboards are full at all times (woe to me if there are no snacks for The Scoundrels, they eat ALL. THE. TIME.) and writing.  These commitments mean I am pretty pooped and I have to rest in the day to be able to cope with running the kids around in the evening – leaving little time to put the hoover round.  Then there are the activities you have to weigh up against each other, eg: clean the oven or meet a friend for coffee? Well…what would you do?  Actually it’s vital to keep up social connections as it’s fundamental to good mental health.**nods head sagely**
  3. I can blame everything on the MS.  If I wake up grumpy and want to hurt people, …it’s the MS…forgot to get milk, it’s the MS…can’t remember where I put the car keys, its the MS…overslept and look like a minger, it’s the MS…drank far too much and had to be carried out of the taxi…you get my drift.  Obviously I don’t pull the MS  card all the time, that would be rude, but a girl’s got to get something out of this bloody illness…
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