Now we are Four

IMG_20131019_2222124 years ago today. I got up, went to the gym for an hour and then went shopping to Marks & Spinster with my folks, where we stopped to have a pot of tea and an apple turnover. ‘What a beautiful day’ I thought.
Little did I know that an hour or so later my heart would traumatically tear away from its root, contacting emergency services as I struggled to unlock my apartment’s door for the ambulance and my parents to get in.
2 days later I woke after 2 emergency heart operations, having lost several pints of blood and being put on ice, hallucinating about Chinese nurses and caretakers and hippopotamus and Aladdin.
The years between have been full of cancer scares, cameras up/in every orifice, depression, PTSD, the loss of 2 jobs, a mini stroke, loss of field vision, losing my driving licence because of health issues, severe anaemia, a crash with a double decker bus ……..

I began blogging a little before this. In fact, it was in anticipation of planned heart surgery. I’d been planning a holi-holiday to Peru (Macchu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, Nazca Lines – all terribly exciting) and because so much of the adventure was at high altitude, I decided to check in with my Cardiologist. I watched as her face dropped on examination, and she rushed me in for an echo-cardiogram ‘just to check’. I waited to see her for the results as the ward emptied and we were the only two Left Standing.  It wasn’t good. I had an underlying heart condition, which had worsened and required surgery within the next 5 years – she would need further tests and a referral to a surgeon in order to determine when.

The trip to Peru was cancelled – the first of many holidays I’ve had to cancel since.  I was never all that keen on Macchu Picchu if I’m being honest – I don’t really like edges, as I get a bit drawn to them and a little too intrigued about what happens if I go over the edge. In the end, my heart decided it couldn;t really wait for the NHS and so it broke early and impetuously.

In between all that, I had the small matter of my testicular cancer diagnosis the previous year before my emergency incarceration. I know – it never rains but it pours, right?I had some counselling as I was going through it all – the orchidectomy, the chemotherapy. the waiting for surgery. Which is what led me to the blogging. I found it a cheaper way to process and capture some thoughts and feelings – so, if you’re reading this, you’re kinda my cheap therapist. But I don’t know if you’re qualified or not. If you are, I’ve got a bargain. If not, just don’t go telling my secrets to people, because you’re bound by confidentiality, right?
Today I was at the gym. There were 2 crutches left by the side of my treadmill, and I saw a woman struggling to climb on to a Stepper Machine. I recognised the determination on her face, and the struggle she was experiencing.
4 years have passed. I’m not currently employed, and it’s not always easy.

Step by step ….

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Today I sewed on a button

button

Today I sewed on a button.

That may sound so inane, so simple, so easy.

Yesterday, I found it overwhelming to even think of sewing a on a button. So, for me, it’s progress.

This is not the story of me climbing Everest, or winning an Olympic medal, or even overcoming a traumatic injury. It’s just one day in which I managed to overcome so low, dark, depressed feelings. Just enough to complete what would ordinarily seem a simple and straight forward task. And even now I’m belittling an achievement, making light of it. It’s just a button, right?

Getting up was difficult. A night with little sleep, which becomes a pattern during times like these. Everything spirals, and what didn’t worry me yesterday worried me in the night. So it feels good to put on a fresh pair of clothes. A clean pair of trousers. I’m halfway in, skinny legs covered, and pulling the waist up, zipping up, and realise the button is missing. They’re active wear trousers, a special kind of stretchy material that’s all treated with insecticide and UV protection and waterproofing and all sorts of marvels. But without a button, I can’t wear them.

And that’s the day ruined. But I drag them trousers off, and find another pair. In a few minutes, I’m at least dressed, and manage to feed myself and take some pills and have a cup of tea.

The Epic Search begins. Not the Third Ring, not the Keys To Time, not the Golden Fleece. Just a sodding button. High and low – every button but. Surprising how many buttons you can find lying around when you want one particular button. The right button. Because, if it’s not the Right Button, I’ve Completely Failed.

It’s located. I sit myself down, consider this to be a Mindful Task. It will calm and self-soother me, so it can help with the dark mood. I focus on the needle I’ve pulled out, and the black thread I have chosen – it has to be the right thread or it will look STUPID.

And I try, and I try and I try to thread the needle. And I fail, and I fail, and I fail. Again, again, again. The mindfulness becomes a barrage of self criticism, and encompasses everything I haven’t achieved today, yesterday, this week, this month. I can’t even thread a needle now.

I gave up. I just couldn;t face it, and halfheartedly mention it to family in the hope that Someone Else Will Do It For Me. Rescue me, save me, from my own failure.

The morning comes, slow and inevitable and unwelcoming. The trousers remain on the floor, the button unsewn. A cup of tea, pills, some toast.

Today is another day. Another attempt. I pick up a thread, a needle, a button. And I try again. Cursing the size of the eye, cursing the state, of my eyes, licking and sucking the thread to straighten it. I try to think mindfully, to focus on process and not outcome. perhaps I will be able to thread it this time, perhaps not. I am in the process of doing it. This time, I have not given up.

Unbelievably, astonishingly, I reach the summit. I climb Everest, I find the Golden Fleece, I knock out Goliath. The thread is in, and I tie it off before it escapes. I hold the button in place, and I thread in and I thread out. In and out of the back, in and out of the front. A slow but determined rhythm develops, and I try to breathe with it. This is process. This is determination. This is The Moment for which I am grateful.

I’m wearing those trousers, and the button is still on. This is the small tale of that moment, when I dragged myself out of gloom and despair and failure.

I sewed on a button.

Finding A Voice (again)

HMV

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I was a timid little thing.The sort of child that wouldn’t really say boo to a goose. Then, at school – after being overlooked for the central casting – a guy called Patrick was forced to pull out of the school nativity play. It was ‘The Shepherd’s Story’, and he was the lead shepherd. I was asked to help the rest of the cast by reading his lines in rehearsal. I can still remember the opening lines:

I wish I’d never been married. I wish, I wish, I WISH I’d never been married.

This from an 11 year old soon-to-realise- homosexual. I began to quite like the acting thing, and so was secretly pleased when Patrick failed to recover in time for the performance. All of a sudden, the timid child had found a voice, and it felt really good.

From there, I joined a local panto group (oh yes I did!) and went on to school plays, and on to studying drama at University. In the midst of it all, I found the power in having a voice – both in projecting on stage and to a crowd, and to find the individual voice for myself as powerful, engaged and active. I studied the voice as part of the drama degree, alongside using my body, working in space and working at different levels, and it became a journey of knowing more about my interaction with other people.

In a second career, I trained as a counsellor, a psychotherapist. I helped other people tell their stories, helped them to find a voice for themselves – to name and reclaim shameful of frightening parts of themselves. As much of the work was over the telephone, I found ways to quieten and soften my voice, to put aside views and judgements which impeded the client’s telling and speaking. I became a soft spoken facilitator of feelings, a person-whisperer.

And then people had to ask me to ‘speak up’. I’d become so accustomed to soft speaking that it was a habit, that instead of performing I found myself shrinking. The quiet voice quietened my physically, artistically, emotionally and politically.

For the first time in -ooh, 20 years- I’ve been performing again. A couple of one-offs, but a journey in rediscovering the power of my voice. Feeling it resonate in my body, the power of a voice in the auditorium. Shouting, screaming, laughing, swearing. All those – words. ALOUD. Not thoughts, but spoken words.

It’s like running or swimming, rediscovering muscles unused for too long.

Today was an interview – again, the softly spoken facilitation. It returns easily, that quiet and timid part of me.

But there’s still a part of me able to shout out:

I WISH I’D NEVER BEEN MARRIED! I WISH, I WISH, I WISH I’D NEVER BEEN MARRIED!