there will be an interval



I had a letter last week. From myself. Which I had written 5 years ago. See, Time Travel is real. I am The Doctor.

I was watching an arts event, Pilots, at my local arts centre in January 2011. It was all kind of interesting and experimental, and one of the projects was by Cross Collaborations as part of their ‘Past Present Future’ project. We were invited to write a message to our future selves, to choose a button we liked from a little collection, and return it with a stamp addressed envelope to be posted 5 years hence to our future self.

As it happens, there was an interval coming up. I was bored an uninspired and had difficulty imagining myself 5 years into the future. So what I wrote was a statement of fact, what was happening in the here and now. Just a piece of information. I felt I was cheating a little and not taking the exercise seriously enough. But it didn’t have to be anything profound, or anything special. I hadn’t got any special plans for 5 years’ time.

…the will be an interval …

And completely forget about it.

I say I didn’t have plans. At least, I didn’t for five years in the future. But I was just booking a holiday for later in the year – to Peru. I’d heard so much about Machu Picchu, the Nazca Lines and the holiday included staying with a native family on tree rafts at Lake Titicaca. This holiday had all of them and plenty more besides. Some time ago I’d attended a self development workshop, where we were all asked to imagine achieving something exciting and wonderful. One very timid young girl eventually confessed to wanting to go to Machu Picchu. I brought her a brochure the next day for an adventure group I was part of (SPICE – Special Programme of Initiative, Challenge and Excitement) which happened to be advertising a trekking holiday to Machu Picchu, just to encourage her to believe in the possibilities. A year later I got a virtual postcard from her with pictures of her at Machu Picchu. She was beaming.

So I was excited, and terrified. I’d never been on for great heights, so it was also a challenge to myself – initiative, challenge, excitement. My brother, rather sensibly, suggested checking with my cardiologist as it was a high-altitude holiday. I dismissed the idea but, as the time came for the holiday, I booked an appointment.

Which is just as well. Because that’s when they found out that not only my mitral valve (which had been repaired ten years earlier) was leaking, but that there was also a problem with my aortic valve – more so, in fact. When the cardiologist delivered the news, she told me to think very carefully about the holiday to Peru, because it would be very dangerous. And then told me not to cry, as she couldn’t stand it when patients cried.

I had to cancel the holiday. Fortunately, I got all my money back on the insurance.So I didn’t get to Peru, or Machu Picchu, or Lake Titicaca. Although she had said a heart operation probably wouldn’t be necessary for 5 – 10 years, in fact I needed emergency surgery within 3 years.

There will be an interval

None of which I could know writing myself a letter to the future. As I didn’t know that I would also have testicular cancer, lose my job,or lose my driving license through an eyesight problem.

Which meant, that when I did receive a letter I’d completely forgotten about writing – in my own handwriting – I was a little confused and felt I’d suddenly stepped into an episode of Lost. And I sat and looked at the message:

There will be an interval

And I laughed. And I cried. And goosebumps ran down my spine. It all seemed so prescient, so insightful, so philosophical, naive  and so pertinent. The little message from five year ago me was like a hug from someone who really cared about me. And a phrase that meant nothing at the time – except that there was going to be an interval, a comfort break for a pee and an ice cream – put everything in perspective. An interval had almost ben a finale, the script I though would be performed had become an improvisation, and sometimes we surprise ourselves, and don;t realise the significance of what we do at any on time. And it’s not all about the big performance, the centrepiece, the main event.

There will be an interval



After close to 6 months, the time has finally arrived for a Return To Work. Not quite ‘in at the deep end’ with a sudden rush back to a busy, hectic schedule, but a phased return following an assessment with Occupational Health. Even so, the very thought of returning to the workplace is itself daunting.
What will people think of me? Will they be angry that they’ve had to do all my work while I’ve been away? I’ve had surgery, as well as cancer, and yet somewhow I also think that if I look relatively healthy when I go back, people will assume I’ve been ‘wagging it’ and skiving. And the much publicised response to the recent Channel 4 show Benefits Street shows what people think of ‘scroungers’.

But, I do want to look my best. I don’t want to look ‘ill’, or ‘weak’. I want to be a triumphant Alexis Carrington turning up for her first day in court in Dynasty. All hats and shoulder pads.

I’ve counselled many people who’ve been on long term sick, and who’ve had to face a return to work. I know that just getting through the door is an achievement. Lots of people will have panic attacks even contemplating returning, andI know of people who have had to turn back on their way into work because the reality of the situation has been too daunting. I’ve given myself only this expectation – I’ll try to get through the door. If I get there, it’s a successful return. If I don’t, I know I’m not ready … yet.

But it’s also my own expectations which are the real difficulty. Only I know how vulnerable and weak I feel. I’m the only one who’s had those conversations with myself, who’s heard this chattering monkey that accompanies me and knows me so well it can remind me of all the times I’ve ‘failed’ in life. Who knows what everyone else is thinking and saying around me, what whispers there’ll be in the canteen or in the corridors or around the water cooler.

Because, I just know that they’ll all be talking about ME, ME, ME. And that there’ll be a pile of work left over for me to do, and there’s all these chages coming in, and what if I was never really up to the job in the first place? Somehow, after 13 years,  I’ll get ‘found out’ because I’ve been off sick.

And it’s only a partial return. It’s not even proper work.

My parents have insisted on driving me in. Which is both very sweet and helpful, but also underlines my continuing dependence on them and on other people. It doesn’t help, of course, that I crashed into a bus recently. Anther sign of how I can’t even concentrate on starting up a parked car.

The morning comes. I’m up early, even thought my RTW starts late to allow me to miss the rush hour trafffic. I arrive early. Everything on the way becomes an omen, good or bad. I’ve lost count of the magpies I’ve seen and forgotten what the numbers are supposed to mean. ‘Hello, captain.’

I’ve remembered to put on my clothes. I’m not arriving in pyjamas, which I’m sure is an achievement. I remeber a story of a woman who returned to work after bringing up children for a number of years. On her first day, she went out with a manager she was trying hard to impress. She was so used to being with children and using their language, that as oson as she saw a tractor, she excitedly grabbed the arm of her manager and jumped up and down shouting and pointing ‘DIGGER!’

As I walk through the car park, everyone’s not at the window pointing and staring. Even my identity card is till working and, finally, I do actually make it through the door. People rememebr me, and politely ask how I am. Some are nice enough to say how well I’m looking. Even without the hat and shoulder pads.

That was a week ago. It wasn’t easy, andI’m not sure that it’s got easier since, to be honest. Last Friday, when I went home, I lost all sense of time and didn’t even know what day it was. I was giddy and light headed and I think it all got to me a little. One of my little ‘moments’.

Today’s been another day. And tomorrow, or the next day I go in again, will also be another day.

It’s some sense of normality, I guess. Whatever that means for me now. Everyday, I battle demons of self-doubt. Everyday I overcome most of them. Most, if not all of the time.

One thing, though, has changed with all this. Work is no longer the be-all and end-all for me. It pays bills, and it will pay for me to go on three short holidays I’ve booked (yes, even in times of austerity!) , so that I’ve got something to look forward to beyond not turning up to work in my pyjamas.

Wish you were here …