Another week has gone by since I last wrote. It has been a mixed week. I've stuck to my plan and have been out on my bike. I definitely could have done with stabilizers on the first day as I wobbled like Bambi on ice. The second outing I was a little more confident and actually enjoyed it. Unfortunately the gears would not move from the hardest one and my thighs felt like I'd gone for a sixty-mile ride not the very slow six I actually did. I have since managed to rectify that and the third outing was far more comfortable.
I've been writing two positive things from each day. Saturday I actually had several positives and had my best day in a long time. I went to Holly Hill Woodland Park. It's a historic parkland and stretches from Sarisbury Green to the River Hamble. There are lakes with islands and waterfalls and dams. We walked around for several hours chatting, laughing and really enjoying being out. I felt relaxed and calmed by my surroundings. The colours, the smell, the sound of the water, the birds. I need to appreciate more the beautiful places' nature gives us so close to home.
There are a couple of wood carvings that you can see in the pictures. (I'm no David Bailey and my pictures do not do them justice). The carvings have been done by a guy called Paul Sivell. He takes dead or condemned trees and creates these sculptures. There is something quite beautiful about it. Something that is no longer viable, dead, decaying, and he transforms them into pieces of art that can be appreciated for many years to come. I found it strangely comforting that a new life/purpose could be given to something that would otherwise rot away.
One thing I noticed about the faces on the carvings, they were all smiling. I spent quite a bit of time Sunday thinking about this. About what a smile can do and how it can make you feel. I've missed smiling and I've missed seeing smiley happy faces.
I know that for most of us there hasn't been a lot to smile about this year. Since the wearing of masks we can't see if people are smiling at us, we can no longer see if the person in the shop smiles when they give you your change or if the stranger you've held a door for smiles as they pass through. I have found that quite sad.
It's very difficult to ignore a smile. If someone smiles at you, our automatic response is to do the same. Smiling releases endorphins, natural painkillers and Serotonin. These natural chemicals reduce physical pain, relax your body and elevate your mood. Smiling is a natural drug. Smiling is good for us! 😁
I have been told by several people that what they loved about me was that I was always smiling. It's really not a difficult thing to do and even when I'm feeling down, not having a great day, seeing someone smile can make me feel better. I am making a conscious effort to smile more. Even wearing a mask, a smile reaches your eyes, it changes your voice (you can always tell if someone is smiling when you talk on the phone). If a smile can make me feel better I hope it could do the same for somebody else.
For a few days after my trip to Holly Hill I was definitely beginning to feel much better. I was sleeping and eating well. I had certainly smiled more. Monday a friend came to stay (we are in each other's support bubble so lockdown rules were followed 😁). We chatted for ages, and he did manage to get me laughing. He also gave me something I haven't had in a while. A hug. I hadn't realised until that moment how much I needed that simple human contact.
Tuesday I struggled. I tried really hard to keep busy. Work was really productive but I found myself very distracted. Tuesday evening dragged I couldn't concentrate on tv or reading and listening to music just made me worse. I love music, I love to sing (badly), I usually love how music can make me feel, remind me of places, people and things that have happened in my life. Music can take me back to that moment. Lyrics can hold so much meaning. They can inspire me. But not Tuesday!
I often think my playlist knows what day it is, taunting me, a bad joke. If there is an anniversary or something happening in my life it seems to deliberately play songs that evoke memories or seem to be related to what I'm going through, like a soundtrack to my life. And that's exactly what it did that night. I had it on shuffle and the first three songs that played transported me. It took me back to happier times, when I was excited about the future and that left me feeling incredibly sad. I didn't sleep well that night so yesterday started off rather miserably. I managed to focus on what I needed to do throughout the day but retreated to my bed when I got home, to hide away from the world.
Today is my birthday! It started out really badly as I found out my mother-in-law has breast cancer. She has known since September, had surgery last month but decided to tell me in my birthday card. This really hurt. I am of course incredibly worried about her but left feeling even more cut out of my late husband's family. I was feeling very emotional and was contemplating going back to bed, but then something happened that left me speechless, which is usually quite difficult.
I was completely and utterly bowled over by human kindness. I had set up a birthday fundraiser on Facebook for The Rowans Hospice. I hoped that I may raise a little to help them as I know charities are finding it particularly difficult this year to fundraise as normal. The Rowans Hospice is very special to me, I can never repay the debt of gratitude I have for them. I know a lot of people this year are finding it particularly tough financially and I really didn't expect to raise much. I was literally lost for words when I checked my page to see the donations. I had friends donate that I haven't seen in 30 years. Other friends had shared my page and complete strangers had donated. A school friend who has recently been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer donated and shared my page. His comment was extremely humorous although a little warped (I do appreciate warped humour).
I stared at the page and cried. I was so moved by people's generosity and my friend's sense of humour during a horrific time in his life, that I sat and took stock. I felt incredibly humble. I thought about what I have in my life.
I have two amazing children who continuously make me proud and who make my heart swell with love for them. I have a good job that even though I have only been there a short time is providing me with challenges that I thrive on. I have my own home. I have some amazing family and friends that love and care for me. I really am very fortunate. This has inspired and motivated me to get back to being me. This has helped me turn a corner. With all the misery and sadness in the world there is still so much to be grateful for.
Tonight for my lockdown birthday I am being taken out for a drive and treated to fish and chips at the beach. Thank goodness for heating in a car! Something very simple and inexpensive but much needed.
So I find it quite ironic that on my birthday, 46 years from the day I was born, I feel like I'm waking up for the first time in a long while. It's really corny but I feel like I've been in a cocoon and finally the cocoon is opening. I've been in a mire of self-pity and sadness. On a rollercoaster of emotions for several months. Concentrating too much on what I've lost and what I don't have. Those acts of human kindness and generosity. The human touch. Appreciating what nature has to offer and the realisation I have a lot to be grateful for has shown me that I do have a life ahead of me that I want to live. It's not mapped out, there is no grand plan, but it starts today!
I'm already making plans for the days and weeks ahead. Things to look forward to. When I started writing this blog I just wanted to get through the day, then the next couple of weeks. Now I'm embracing what I have and starting again to work towards what I want. I believe in fate, that everything happens for a reason, even the bad stuff.
I'm continuing with the bike and writing the positives from my day. I can feel a little spark inside of me. It's not yet a flame but it's the start. I know it will take time for me to be back to my happy self but I'm finally on the right track. Who knows what is ahead? I certainly don't but it's kind of exciting.
Thank you for taking the time out to read this. Keep well, safe and keep smiling 😁
Well it's been 10 days since I put fingers to keys and thank you if you took time out to read it.
When I wrote that first piece I was back to my lowest. I felt very despondent and alone. My thoughts were extremely dark and unhealthy. No matter what life has thrown at me I have always had my humour but even that abandoned me. Laughter is so important and I seemed to have forgotten what mine sounds like.
November always used to be such a fun month for me. Bonfire night, birthday celebrations and Christmas not far away. I was always like an excitable child at this time of year. We would have Bonfire parties with our neighbours and good friends. They were always so much fun for the children and grown ups. We would BBQ, the children would play and the adults would talk, laugh and sing badly. The guys would sort the bonfire and let off the fireworks (apparently that's a man's job along with the BBQ 🙄) - very happy times indeed!
My husband always had a thing for fire and fireworks. He wasn't a pyromaniac or an arsonist (although he was caught as a child trying to build a bonfire in his Nan's front room). Normally so chilled out, relaxed and quite reserved, he wasn't one for getting excited about Christmas or birthdays but he did love Bonfire night. So it's quite ironic that this is the day he passed away.
He became ill in February 2016. Just pain in the right side of his chest he didn't grumble or complain but he did take himself off to the doctor which was unheard of for him.
He was given an x-ray, painkillers and sent home. As the weeks went by he was getting worse, the painkillers did nothing to ease him. Back to the doctors, stronger pain killers, still they didn't help. More weeks went by, I was incredibly worried he was getting worse. One night at the beginning of April the pain was unbearable for him, his skin was grey and his lips were going blue. I called 999.
He had 12 further emergency admittances by ambulance from April until the end of May. He was initially told he had an infection and was given co-codamol. He was mis-diagnosed again in the beginning of April.
I went into fight mode. I knew this man better than anyone. He was ill and in so much pain, he was on a morphine driver and about to be discharged from hospital with no answers. I logged a formal complaint with the CEO of the hospital. (I also refused to leave the hospital until I was heard). It worked! They phoned the following day. There had been an oversight, somebody had not read his x ray correctly. An emergency same day appointment given. After numerous scans and tests we saw a Respiratory consultant who finally gave an opinion on what it could be. Cancer!
A shock but finally we were getting somewhere. He could beat this. I had 3 years previously and he was much stronger than me. We just needed to get results and get a plan of action.
Again the weeks went past, the pain couldn't be managed at home so at the beginning of May he was admitted yet again. He came home for our son's 12th birthday then back in hospital the next day. They had him on some pretty heavy pain killers, morphine and ketamine yet nothing was giving him relief. Things got so bad I moved into the hospital. A camp bed in his room was where I slept for nearly a month.
Why is it the worst memories are the ones you can recount second by second, blow by devastating blow? I can remember every detail of that day. The day we were told he had Mesothelioma (a terminal asbestos caused cancer). The day my world changed forever.
We had met 22 years earlier. I was a guarded 20 year old who had been through an extremely abusive relationship for 7 years and was in no way looking for a new one. He was gorgeous! Tall, dark, handsome and oblivious to it. He had no idea of the reaction he would get from women when he walked in a room. He had the most beautiful blue eyes and his smile could make my insides turn to jelly (really cheesy I know, but so true). We got on amazingly. We would sit talking all through the night. Laugh, joke and wind each other up in the funniest ways. Every night after work for about 3 months he would ask to take me out. Every night I said no. On December 8th 1995 that changed and we decided to give it a try.
It worked! We were just a normal couple. Happy, in love and having fun. He proposed about 9 months later. I said yes but we never set a date. We didn't need to. We loved each other. We were happy as we were. The kids came along, we owned a house, we both had good jobs. Life was good.
I loved our little family. I also looked forward to the future when the kids were grown and we could enjoy time together again. In the blink of an eye all of that was taken away. In the length of time it took for the consultant to give the diagnosis, our future vanished. I was destroyed. My strong fit gorgeous man was dying.
I don't think I've ever talked to anyone about how I felt that day. So many feelings and emotions. I felt that I had been picked up, spun round and dropped on my head. I didn't cry at first. I think I was numb with disbelief. In total denial. I was not ready to accept there was nothing they could do for him. I was not prepared to lose the man I loved, the father of my children, a man who still had so much life to live. I had never given up or quit on anything before and I certainly wasn't going to now. Fight mode kicked in again.
I didn't know what to do. All I could do was hope. Hope for a miracle, a chance, anything. The consultant mentioned a trial, yes, hope! It was being run by Guys and St Thomas hospital in London. I would have to move up there for the duration (several months) but that was ok. He was from London. All his family were there. Yes! Finally a solution. My mind was running at a million miles per hour. (I cannot even comprehend what was going through his head). Before we left the hospital that day I had already mentally packed and had it straight in my head what we were going to do. That was so much easier than trying to process the other outcome.
This was going to work! We were going to beat this!
He needed chemotherapy to slow down the disease as they wouldn't accept him on the trial if it got beyond a certain point. We just had to be patient and wait. And wait! And wait! The weeks dragged on. He was in so much pain. It had already broken 2 of his ribs. He was on so many heavy duty drugs but nothing touched that pain.
We were advised by the hospital that if we wanted to get married we needed to do it ASAP. A special licence was granted and in June we were married in his room at the hospital in our jeans and T-shirts, with our children, family and my best friend there. It was perfect! The nurses had put banners up and came in and threw confetti. The dinner ladies bought us a cake and a bottle of wine and the consultant bought us our only wedding present. A set of Mr and Mrs mugs. It didn't matter that I didn't have a dress or a party. All that mattered was us. We spent our first night as man and wife in separate beds which did make us laugh. Despite what was happening we somehow managed to keep our sense of humour although it got more warped than usual on occasion.
He was finally allowed to come home with The Rowans Hospice taking over his pain management. They were amazing. I can honestly say I would not have survived without them.
Chemo started at the beginning of July the first of 6 doses. I still don't know why it took so long to start. If only they had started it straight away.! We knew the trial was our only hope and even if accepted there was no guarantee of success. But hope kept us going. He was taken in to The Rowans for pain management. It was during the second stay he had his third round of Chemo and was sent for a CT scan. The results were devastating. He could not be accepted for the trial. They wanted to try radiotherapy to give us time but all hope had gone. After I left him at the hospice that night I cried like I have never cried before. I felt physical pain and was violently sick. I wanted to scream but the children were in bed, I couldn't wake them. Oh no! How on earth do we tell them? I have never before or since been so scared. I was sitting alone in our house. Everything looked normal but nothing was. The next morning I opened a letter. It was dated the day before the scan. He had been accepted on the trial. I tore that damn letter to tiny pieces, burnt it and never spoke of it to him.
He had radiotherapy several times. Another scan confirmed it hadn't worked and I think that was the point when he accepted what was happening to him. This strong, beautiful courageous man broke down and sobbed. Not for himself but for our children, his mum, our family and for me and all I could do was hold him. I felt utterly useless. After that he declined quickly. He went back to The Rowans and on the day of our eldest child's 18th birthday he begged the doctors to end it. He couldn't take the pain anymore. He was exhausted. With no hope he had nothing left.
They sedated him just under 2 weeks later and on Saturday 5th November 2016 just as the fireworks started the man I loved passed peacefully away.
We have just had the fourth anniversary. So why after four years has this year been so hard? My daughter said it was harder for her this year than any other due to what is happening in the world and in part I have to agree. Since last November I have had my first relationship since losing my husband, it started so well and recently ended so badly. I've been through a change in my work environment (like many others) to a complete change of job and with a few hiccups in my home, health and family, everything has snowballed. I cannot wait to see the back of 2020.
After sending my first ramblings I opened up to a friend, I held nothing back (this is still new to me, telling people how I honestly feel, not just pretending to be ok). He was shocked and saddened to know I had been feeling this way. Even when he last saw me two days before lockdown when we were drunk dancing in my kitchen he had no idea. I hid it well. I guess I am tired of hiding it now. It's exhausting pretending you are ok when you really are not. I'm a pleaser and a fixer by nature and I don't want to worry people or make them miserable with my troubles which is why I keep it in and let it fester. Although very unhealthy.
I have made a plan for the next two weeks. I am lucky enough to still be working so keeping busy isn't an issue. I am getting my daughter's old bike and this weekend I will be wobbling around the local parks and cycle tracks (I may need stabilizers, it's been about 28 years since I last rode a bike). I have lost nearly a stone in weight in the past month, not through diet, and I am determined it will stay off.
I have also started to write down everyday 2 positive things from what has happened that day and when I feel low I look at those as a reminder life is not all negative.
One of my favourite songs is November Rain. It played on the radio today whilst it was extremely miserable outside. The song holds many good memories for me, as well as being played at my husband's funeral. In many ways it's such a sad song but there are two lines, 'Cause nothin' lasts forever. Even cold November rain. I smiled as it played thinking of good times and the irony of how cold and wet it was outside. I am taking the positive from those lines. The bad times won't last forever and the weather will eventually improve.
Hello and thank you for taking the time to look at what I can only describe as my ramblings. Words straight from my head and my heart. Do they make sense? I'm not sure anything does any more.
After many years of writing my feelings, thoughts and bad poetry in books, scraps of paper and my phone (that no one has ever seen and most have been destroyed), I've decided to have a go at writing for others to read. Maybe it will help me. Maybe it will help someone else.
This is a huge step for me as I've always kept a lot of my 'true' feelings hidden from public view, possibly as I fear what others may think, fear it may hurt others feelings, but I have learnt this is detrimental to my own health and can leave me feeling very alone in a big scary world. Yet I still do it. Until today!
I'm not quite brave enough yet to put a picture up or give my name. Maybe one-day. Baby steps.
I consider myself a 'normal' woman (whatever normal is). I'm mid forties, widowed, hard-working and a mum to two amazing humans who blow me away with their courage and determination. I wish I had half of what they have. I'm nothing special. I have no talents, I am never going to change the world, I am just me!
In the past I've suffered from depression and anxiety and again I'm finding life very tough as I know many others are in what can only be described as a year like no other. Over the years I've mastered the act of hiding how I feel. I put a smiley happy mask on and the world thinks I'm OK. A confident, strong woman who's faced life's battles and come through it. If only they knew the truth!
I'm hoping that by writing this it will help me find a way through these dark times. I've had some very dark thoughts recently and I'm struggling to see a light at the end of a very long tunnel but I've been there before and survived. Surely I can do this again?
So where do I begin? Well the start is usually a good place. For the first 13 years of my life I was pretty happy. Yes I got bullied at school for being abnormally tall, wearing glasses, having freckles but who wasn't? But maybe this set my path for the 7 years that followed. I still can't answer why I allowed those 7 years to happen but I did. The only plausible reason I can find is that I was just a kid. A kid with hopes and dreams. A kid who looked at the world as a romantic with an idealized view of reality, who saw the good in everything and everyone.
I had a huge amount knocked out of me back then, both physically and emotionally but I survived. I've scars, some visible but most were hidden away. Locked up. (Not forgotten, just hidden, not thought about. Kept as a reminder. A warning). That was until recently. Now they are as raw as they were over 20 years ago. I can't see these ones. They are the ones that hurt the most. The ones that make me question myself and everyone else every day.
The kid may have grown up. Replacing a romantic idealized view of reality with a hopeful realistic optimism which in the past few months has been taken away. Today I feel empty, numb. Trying to make sense of the past year. Trying to understand what the hell has happened. So many questions. Questions I know I will never get answers for.
So what now? What does the future hold for me? I can't answer that I just need to get through today. What do I want? I want to get to a place where I can hope. Hope to live not exist. Hope to laugh not cry. Hope to move out from the dark fog that's blocked out my light. Hope that life returns to some semblance of 'normal' for all. Hope that once again I will find the courage and strength to move forward. To learn, to live, to love.