Do the thing 

A little over a year ago, with Christmas approaching and the close of a bloody rough year, I sat in a warm, tiny room across from a kind, tiny lady and cried in a way I never had before. 

The kind, tiny lady was a counsellor. One my GP had recommended, and one I just couldn’t afford. I was working from home, part time, a single parent, getting a divorce, dealing with the aftermath of all kinds of awful things I shan’t bore you with, and had been through the freedom programme, a secondary course by the same providers, and some NHS counselling that pushed me to the absolute edge because the counsellor was so terribly, terribly wrong for my needs. 

Counselling is a thing that so few people will speak about. Counselling is hard, and personal, and private. It’s something we all think we should be embarrassed about needing, or wanting, because surely going means you’re broken?

But that’s not true. I went because I didn’t want to be broken. Because I didn’t want to give power to the idea of being broken. Because being broken wasn’t an option. 

And I went, and cried, and gave the kind, tiny lady a piece of my soul – and she cried and gave back a piece of her own. 

Over a year has passed. Most weeks I have seen the kind, tiny lady. For some of them she didn’t let me pay her. For most I insisted on doing so anyway. She wanted to help me at a time I very much needed her help. I wanted to pay for that, because I refused to be dependent on anyone and I knew paying meant I had to appreciate what we had together. 

I’ve seen many counsellors through the years – my life hasn’t been peaches and cream, and I’ve battled against neurological disorders, poor health, poor choices and a string of shitty people. 

Through the NHS you sometimes get people to talk to. Most are disinterested, overworked, demotivated, and your access to them is limited.

 It doesn’t help.

 The pressure on the service means you wait months for someone, get a slither of them, and begin to see your issues for a moment before it’s snatched away and you’re abandoned to coping alone. 

Because the system is so flawed, doctors will Medicate you to help you through a rough patch, knowing that it’s – at best – a band-aid with no stick, and will do nothing but buy another week before you might be someone else’s responsibility, and the system is why so many young people and sick people and sad people and damaged people and lost people don’t make it.

I won’t lie – there’s times I almost didn’t make it. But I have two babies, and not making it wasn’t an option, and it’s not strong that I made it, it’s just that I didn’t think there was another choice, so I had to. 

But without the kind, tiny lady? No. I quite probably wouldn’t have made it. 

When I handed over some of my soul with wet tissues, tears and a sense of absolute panic, and was given a piece of someone in return. I was saved. I would say she did it. She would say I did. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

For the weeks and months that followed that day there has been a huge journey – and the person who first walked into that room became someone else, but at the same time just showed who she’d really been all along. Some weeks it’s easy, and funny, and light. Others I don’t speak for 24 hours after I walk out of the door. 

Some weeks I skip out to see friends. Others I climb into bed and sleep until I have to parent again. 

Some weeks I am happy to share where I’m at, and others I’m absolutely incandescent with rage I don’t know how to explain. 

Most of it, now, is just life. Most of it back then wasn’t, or at least shouldn’t be for most people. I was broken, and I have spent many months rebuilding myself from the scraps I’d been left with. 

And it’s hard, it’s really hard, and it sucks. But it’s also amazing.

And some weeks I think about how much I pay each week to do this thing, and what I could have bought instead. 

I could have bought a car, or a posh holiday, or a designer outfit, or some really great nights out, or a very expensive prostitute, or a panda bear on the black market.


But instead I invested in myself. 

Each week I have put that money aside, even on weeks when I didn’t really have it to spare – because it wasn’t spare.

 Some weeks I had the choice between that or buying exciting food – and I chose my mind and health over branded cereal because I know the long term benefit is worth it. That I’m worth it. And even putting that into words shows a journey I’ve been on, because the me who first met the kind, tiny lady wouldn’t have ever thought I was worth investing in. 

I began as a background character in my own life and am now a main role in the days I live through. 

Last week the kind, tiny lady set me a task. It’s one I am really struggling to do, and one I’ve put off for months, and one I don’t know how to even start, and I’m writing this blog instead of doing the thing, because it frightens me, because it is looking a bit too closely at the things that hurt the most from the very middle of that part of myself I keep packed away from the general public. 

It’s all well and good keeping parts of yourself from the world in general – but this is a part I keep from myself, and I’m someone who should really be able to connect with it. 

But it’s hard. Even all these months later, it’s hard. 

But I’ve written this now, and walking into that room was hard that first time, walking into that room has been hard many times, speaking there has been hard, meeting the eyes of the kind, tiny lady has been hard, meeting my own eyes in the mirror has been hard – Christ, breathing in and out and just taking another step has been hard. But I did it. I did it, over and over, so I can do this thing too. If I can face my demons, I can face myself, right?! 

Just do the thing. You’re worth it. I promise. 

Here’s to the ones who dream…

Obviously – to those in the know – my title today is stolen from La La Land (AKA the greatest film of all time, ever, since making films began, and if you disagree you’ll have to do so quietly, or I’ll talk at you with a long list of reasons that you’re WRONG)

The song that is strongly expected to win all the Oscars and accolades is ‘City of stars’ – but it’s not The Song. The Song is Emma Stone’s audition song. The Song is the one which talks about how important it is that the world has dreamers, the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem, with hearts that ache and the mess we make.

That ‘we’ in the song makes it burn even more closely to the little girl who lives inside me.

There are two other moments in the film that make it feel all a little bit too real, and made me feel my feelings all visibly on the outside, where people might see. One is when Seb (The Gosling) says dreamers need to grow up because it’s frightening wanting anything good, and then later Mia (Wonderful Emma) says chasing your dreams just hurts too much, over and over.

Obviously I’m paraphrasing – I’m not going to quote the lines word for word – because the important thing is the message.

We all have dreams. There are things we all want from life. And it’s hard to get to them, to achieve them, to reach our goals – but what if – like the flawed moments in these characters as we watch their story unfold – the only thing between us and our dreams is our fear of never reaching them and the hurt that goes along with the trying?

I have dreams. I have the dreams I’ve tried and failed, and I have even more of the dreams I didn’t even jump for because I was so afraid I’d miss and fall.

When I was younger I had one of those dreams (an actual in the night, sleeping one) that I think everyone has at some point – the one where you think you can fly, and jump off a cliff and magically soar above the world like a bird. Only I didn’t fly, I just jumped and plummeted, and when the moment came that I was supposed to soar, I just…fell. And when I think about shooting for my dreams, I wonder if that was prophetic, and because there’s this tiny voice saying “but what if I fail?” I can’t hear the other voices from all the people who said “but what if you don’t?” and I back away from the edge of the cliff, saying “I’ll do it, I promise, just…not today. Not right now.”

I would love to end this with a proclamation that I’ve changed, that I’ll be flying, that I’ll aim for the stars and shoot for my goals and pick some dreams to really focus on…but I won’t say that. Because then I’ll have to come back and say “I promise. No, really, I will…but maybe tomorrow…”

Because, like they said, it’s scary, and it might hurt.

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Endings with endometriosis

Eight years ago I was getting ready to move house, a couple of hundred miles from where I had been living, which was already a good few hundred of miles from ‘home’, and I was going to be in a strange place where the only person I would know was my now ex-husband. I was frightened, but excited. I was unwell, out of work, hardly able to walk, relying on crutches for anything more than very short distances, anxious, and very, very pregnant with a baby I’d been told I would never have.

With endometriosis scarring my insides, the scar tissue and constant bleeding was making my periods hideously painful, to the point that I vomited and relied on strong painkillers from a very young age, unpredictable, so heavy I was constantly anaemic, irregular enough to catch me by surprise every single time, and had been in and out of doctors surgeries and hospitals to try to find a diagnosis and some relief. What I got was poked, prodded, scanned, ignored, dismissed, poked more, told it was kidney infections, told it was in my mind, told it was ‘just how periods are’, and eventually told that I would never conceive children without medical intervention.

Less than a week after a large, Nigerian doctor who’d given me a quite brutal internal exam broke the news that I’d never get pregnant, I did just that. A miracle baby. It changed absolutely everything, and a complex blend of other ‘issues’ meant I was living in constant terror that ‘something bad will happen’ to my baby – and running away to live by the seaside seemed a sensible plan at the time, because I could hibernate with my baby. Turns out that was MENTAL, but hey, you live and learn!

Pregnancy was hideous, I was dreadful at it, my hips fell apart and I was in agony, but I treasured the tiny human inside my insides, and when birthing him annihilated me even further I didn’t care, because I had a miracle baby, and I had been so devastated by the news that there would never, ever be a baby, and the early stages of pregnancy were so dramatic that I didn’t know I even was pregnant until I was close to 11 weeks into it, and had no other reasons to explain the constant vomiting any more so agreed to do a test just so I could be checked for other medical issues.

Afterwards I was advised that I’d possibly never quite recover, and told that it was unlikely such a surprise pregnancy would happen again, and given a coil to stop the heavy bleeding that had been none-stop in the months after the birth. It didn’t help with that, or, apparently, with stopping my shredded uterus from fulfilling it’s only function again, and when my miracle baby was 14 months old I got pregnant again. This time it was even worse, even more dramatic, even more painful, I was on crutches within 7 weeks, in a wheelchair just a few months later (after pretending stubbornly that I could cope right until the moment that a midwife visited unexpectedly because I’d not made it to a group she usually saw me at, and she saw me through the window bum-shuffling across the room to answer the doorbell; she was on the phone to the consultant before I got to the door.) and I spent the last portion of the pregnancy in hospital on morphine before a C-section at 35 weeks delivered my second miracle baby, and COMPLETELY DESTROYED what was left of my uterus.

The scar tissue from that, and from the ever present endometriosis, meant a great many parts of my insides glued themselves together, leaving me with hideous health problems.

Endometriosis isn’t just ‘bad periods’. It’s so much worse than that. It’s the tissue that should be inside your uterus, that tissue that’s expelled by periods, showing up all over the place in your abdomen – in my case, the outside of my uterus, on my ovaries, my fallopian tubes, my bowels, my bladder, my abdominal walls, basically everywhere. This tissue follows the same pattern as that within the uterus – think back to your GCSE biology classes; this tissue thickens, builds upon itself, creates a nice, comfortable cushion inside the uterus, then sheds. Only, when it’s outside of the uterus, it can’t shed in the right way – so what happens is it swells, thickens, cushions, adheres even more to the things around it, fills my abdomen with this swollen tissue (ironically making me look pregnant when I can’t possibly be) bloating me painfully, then it ‘sheds’ meaning it flows around my abdomen, then finds even more places to adhere, more scar tissue grows, making more tissue that will do the same the next time around…

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I have battled since my second son was born to get more medical treatment. I battled to even get a diagnosis officially recorded for what we all knew it was. I bled so heavily I passed out more than once, was in so much pain I threw up a great many times, relied on opiate medication to reduce the pain enough for me to simply get through a day.

The condition also causes massive fatigue, an exhaustion that is so much more than needing a nap, it’s brain fog, inability to form proper sentences (fun when you’re a professional communicator…) a bone deep weariness that can’t be shaken off, and just as you’re finding your feet and feeling like a human it swoops back in and starts all over again.

The treatment I’ve battled for is a hysterectomy – a surgery that, I thought, would take away the thing that causes the problem. But I didn’t fully understand the extent of the problem, or the condition, or what that would entail. I didn’t understand that there’s no way they can remove the tissue that fills my body, the way it’s adhered to everything throughout my abdomen, the way that it’s glued everything inside me together. Last year I finally got the ‘formal diagnosis’ which can only come from exploratory surgery; endometriosis doesn’t show on scans and can only be seen by someone cutting a hole into you and taking a look.

Which is what my consultant did – and then he cut a couple more holes, and poked into those too. He fired lasers (pew, pew!) at some areas that were particularly large to remove the scar tissue, and stitched me up, and where the holes and stitches were became more glue and more attraction for the tissue to adhere to , and those scars and adhesions added the wonderful dimension of tearing to shreds every time I get a period and cramps (creating, as even more fun bonus, even MORE scarring every time! Aren’t I lucky!)

I was told that the surgery could give me five years of relief before I had more problems. I was told that some people get worse, but for the majority there is significant improvement. Remember the coil, that stops bleeding for all but just a tiny percentage? Remember that only a tiny percentage of people get pregnant without medical intervention? Remember how I tend to fall into the small minority in earlier stages of this story…? Yeah…it didn’t bring relief. In fact, since the day I had the operation I’ve been on a much higher dose of pain relief, I’ve bled even more, I’ve bloated even more, torn apart and scarred inside even more, suffered more.

 

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After my surgery the nurse showed me photographs of my endometriosis taken during the procedure – she wouldn’t let me get copies, and I was pretty annoyed – but it looked pretty much like this!

 

I was given the contraceptive implant. The doctor fitting it said “For most women it will stop periods altogether, because it stops ovulation. A very small number of women experience some spotting, and even fewer notice very little difference in their symptoms…”

And then we laughed, because it’s me. We laughed until I cried, because it was kind of the last hope. And, of course, I’m that tiny percentage. I won’t lie and say it’s made NO difference, because it has – I don’t bleed every day. Just two periods a month, which come at surprise times with no predictability, and some really exciting mood swings that make me question whether I’m losing my mind. But I can’t have it removed yet, because I have to give it at least six months to see if things settle down…it’s been four months, and things are NOT settling down, but I have to ride it out, because removing it leaves me with…well…no options. None.

I can’t have the hysterectomy I wanted. I can’t have it because my uterus is glued to everything else inside me. Because removing it might tear the things it’s glued to. Because removing it means that my bowels and bladder might be damaged more than they could be repaired, and any repairs would scar me even more and cause even more damage. Because if that happened I’d be 33 years old with a colostomy bag and a permanent catheter.

When I was younger I wanted four children. Then I was told I couldn’t have any. And then, miraculously, I got two perfect ones. I know that makes me lucky. I know how much luckier that makes me than so many others who live with this condition. I know I’m lucky that I had my kids in my mid twenties, when the damage wasn’t as severe, and that if I’d waited until now I very probably wouldn’t be able to have them.

Knowing that doesn’t make it easier, though, to know that there’s no possibility of having more, and that the not having more is out of my hands, is not a choice I’ve made, is something that’s been forced on me. Does that even make sense? If I could choose, I might not even WANT more, but because I CAN’T, it’s hard. Because this condition is so hard to live with, so painful, so draining, so exhausting, so depressing, so misunderstood, and because there are still so many people who roll their eyes and think ‘you’ve just got a period, most other women manage that without so much drama, get over it’.

And I can’t even take control of the condition itself – I can’t even push for any treatment that might help, because there IS NO TREATMENT THAT CAN HELP. There is literally nothing. There is increasing medication, there is zapping more of my insides with lasers and risking another increase in scar tissue and adhesions, there is…well, that’s it. More drugs and more risks. That’s it.

And now I have to live with this thing in my arm that makes me feel insane, periods that turn up at the most inconvenient of times, pain and bloating, IBS, a constant low dose of antibiotics to battle the UTIs that come constantly (linked to all the scarring from the condition on my bladder and damage from birth) swelling up so much I can’t wear proper clothes, hiding myself in huge baggy jumpers so people don’t keep asking if I’m pregnant, the pain and the pain and the PAIN, and the weariness that is partly the condition and partly the sadness of having it.

But hey…it’s just periods, right, and we all get those…

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For more information on Endometriosis visit https://www.endometriosis-uk.org/understanding-endometriosis and if you think you might have it, be a bit more gobby with your doctor because they can give you pain relief and support that makes it less awful. More women than you think are living with it, I have a number of friends with the condition, and a number of women in my family also have it (genetics are great) and not enough talk about it, because we get embarrassed about periods, because they’re icky.

More icky is the idea that people don’t understand the condition, or how debilitating it is, and the way that so many of us try to ‘carry on regardless’ and live in constant pain because we don’t want to make a fuss.

Screw that. Make a fuss. Make it and make it and make it some more. The more fuss we make, the more research is done, the more we can help people get better treatment in future.

When I had my surgery I was approached by a research nurse who asked if I would be willing to take part in a study into endometriosis and the long-term effects and treatment options. She said not many people had said yes, and I couldn’t understand why. I, of course, said yes – and will be communicating with them twice a year for the foreseeable future because the more information they get, the more knowledge and understanding they have of the condition, the better they can help people in future – and even if I can’t get treatment that helps any time soon, at some point there WILL be a treatment, because they’re searching for one, and it might help someone else.

This week I got a questionnaire from them, and am so glad that I’m taking part, because it’s all I can do to feel like there’s going to be an end to it one day.

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Eff my Tourette’s

Tourette’s is a condition that people never used to know anything about and now, thanks to various (often quite low-brow, shock entertainment) documentaries, there’s more awareness – but it usually means misunderstandings.

Usually people laugh at my tics. They laugh more, or politely pretend not to, when I say that I have Tourette’s, or immediately respond by swearing at me (and then laughing) because to most people, Tourette’s means uncontrolled swearing.

For the record, if I swear at you, it’s because I meant it – and I do it a lot, but it’s nothing to do with my Tourette’s, it’s just because I think you’re a dick.

Tourette’s means tics; it means not having any control over verbal or physical tics which can manifest in a wide range of ways. My own particular tics have changed many times over the years, which is generally the standard pattern, and the first I ever had that I associated with Tourette’s was a strange popping sound I made in my throat in my late teens; I was a fidgety child, never sat still, often hummed or popped my lips, and the neurologist I saw in my late twenties who finally diagnosed my Tourette’s (after I’d repeatedly twitched my head away from him trying to examine my eyes, stroked his hair because I couldn’t not do it, said “Meep Meep!” and done jazz hands so often I looked like a sad, drunken Fame dropout) said that those young signs were early indicators of the condition and not, as I’d always thought, just me being a giant pain in the arse.

Tourette’s is also much more than just tics – there are a great many associated conditions which often get diagnosed separately (I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and OCD before I got my Tourette’s diagnosis, when in fact those are part of it)

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Currently, my tics are exhausting. My Tourette’s, as with many people, has got worse over time, and if I’m anxious or stressed it’s worse – and a fun additional condition that most people who have Tourette’s have is clinical anxiety, so, yeah…it means that I’m not great at sleeping at night, and the more tired I am the worse it is, and again the condition feeds into itself to make the symptoms worse. I’m still doing jazz hands, or a painful click and point or clap that spasms my arms and hands, or slapping/punching myself in the head, or a fun combination of all of those, while announcing “beep boop!” in a very cheerful way.

Two of the worse – but funniest – examples of my tics getting in the way are often repeated as anecdotes to friends because I find with most things in my life that making light of issues makes them easier to live with. One is from a job interview shortly after I graduated from university (which had been exhausting enough in itself) the two people interviewing me knew about my Tourette’s, as I’d been working for the company for a while and was interviewing for a promotion; they had never witnessed it themselves, but had discussed it with my manager before the interview. In the middle of the meeting, sitting with cups of tea and chatting quite informally, I began to relax and that gave my tics freedom to take over and I shouted “Foot!” and whipped my tea-cup over my shoulder, dumping the contents behind me, and then slapped it back into my lap (leaving a bruise, for further discomfort!) and there was a long pause while everyone processed what had just happened – then the interview carried on as if nothing had happened, with nobody making reference to the puddle of tea on the floor or me rubbing at my bruised thigh!

Another is from another job, a number of years later, when I used to collect a colleague on my way to the office and drive him to work. Again I had told the boss that I had Tourette’s but, like many of us, I have learned to ‘hold in’ my tics when I’m around a lot of people, and it all comes out in the car when I’m alone. Despite not being alone in the car I was very ticky this particular day, and kept clapping, meeping, clicking and whistling, and was about to explain to my confused colleague what was happening when a particularly enthusiastic combination of jazz hands and a slap to the face saw me hooking a finger under the frame of my glasses and flinging them across the car into the passenger foot-well. Not great, considering I was in the outside lane of a duel carriageway doing possibly a little over the limit at the time, and I’m as blind as a bat without them.

“So, I have Tourette’s, which is why I’m twitchy, and I’m going to need you to pass those back so we don’t die in a hideous car crash” I said. Then whistled, and slapped his leg. “Sorry.”

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Back to the swearing thing; we don’t all do it. There are times I wish I did, so I could get away with calling people names to their face more often, but I don’t have that condition; it’s an additional condition that fewer than 10% of people with Tourette’s have, called coprolalia, and despite people with Tourette’s appearing on a number of documentaries now, which I always watch, I’ve yet to see any mention in them of coprolalia, or anyone who has Tourette’s being included in a documentary who doesn’t have the coprolalia – which just continues the belief everyone has that Tourette’s means saying “Fuck” a lot. I do say fuck a lot, but that’s because I’m a bit common, and nothing to do with my neurological condition.

I have a cousin with Tourette’s – he does have coprolalia too, and oddly enough the same birthday as me. That’s got nothing to do with it either. Having coprolalia also doesn’t mean you have Tourette’s, as the condition can be caused by other neurological issues.

My Tourette’s exhausts me, in part from the constant vigilance when I’m out and about so I’m not shouting “Beep boop!” at people in the street or accidentally slapping strangers with my clicking jazz hands, but also from the strain the tics take on my body when I get behind closed doors and let it all go. The ‘tell’ I have that there are tics coming is a strange shiver at the base of my skull, the kind of feeling that you get when you need to stretch then do a really good one, and there are times when I do one big tic and the feeling is satisfied, and goes away – but often the tic wasn’t ‘right’ and has to be repeated, which gets more and more painful (particularly when the tic is punching myself in the throat) – and when I say it has to be repeated I don’t mean that I’m willingly slapping myself to get rid of a feeling, but that I have absolutely no control over my body when these things are happening, over and over again, causing bruising and muscle strains and cramps.

It’s been a game to people over the years to do things that set my tics off, because they find it funny, and there are times when I don’t mind that, when it’s affectionate, when close friends or loved ones tease me about me wrinkling my nose like a rabbit, mention of which immediately makes me do it (as does anyone touching their nose or referencing their nose near me, it makes mine feel tickly) but in one previous job the manager told the whole team about this quirk, and it just never stopped, all day, every day, the people I was supposed to be senior to making me “do the nose thing” to distract me from my work all day, making my nose bleed because I was rubbing at it so much – but I couldn’t not rub at it when it was being referenced all the time.

The tics also make me lose my train of thought and, when it’s a bad day, make me woolly headed and distracted, and that’s a pain in the arse when you’re in a disciplinary meeting with a member of your staff who keeps “making you do the nose thing” when you’re trying to talk to them about their lack of respect, but you keep doing the nose thing and can’t remember where you were, and just come over unprofessional and hurt yourself.

I’ve written about my Tourette’s before – probably with the same comedy anecdotes – on other blogs and for publications, and everyone close to me knows that I have it, and those who love me can get away with laughing with me about it on the days I’m ok with it, or copying my ridiculous jazz hands and the phrases I shout out, but someone who didn’t know me well laughing would still hurt, and being mimicked by a group of teenagers at a bus stop never feels good.

But I’m writing about it again today because today it’s making me cross. Today I punched myself in the nose, which made it bleed. Today I am exhausted from looking after a poorly child and haven’t had enough sleep, and am furious that my own body is betraying me in a way that is so painful and so draining when I’m already so tired, I have bruises on my leg from slapping it, I have put my shoulder out doing click-clap-jazz hands, and my five year old son keeps slapping himself in the head to “Be like Mummy” even though he knows I don’t do it on purpose, but he doesn’t really know how else to sympathise.

Sometimes it’s fun. I wish the verbal tic that made me shout “gerbil!” had stuck around longer, and jazz hands can, at times, just make me seem fabulous – but today it’s shit. It’s totally, totally shit, and it hurts, and I’m too tired to reign it in, and I just want to lie down, but if I do that I won’t feel rested because I tic all night in my sleep too, and am currently just waking up aching all over and feeling more weary than before I went to bed.

So far I’ve not been medicated specifically for Tourette’s – I have anti-anxiety medication which helps to stop the crazy that runs away with my thoughts, and enables me to rest more, and I have had sleeping tablets when it’s been really bad before, but that’s as far as we’ve ever gone, but in recent months the Tourette’s has become more and more pronounced, and I’m beginning to think I’ll need to explore other options with my doctor, which means having to go and ‘let it all out’ in front of someone else to ‘prove’ there’s an issue when, in all the time I’ve known my GP, I’ve managed to restrain my tics in front of him, because that’s what we do.

Now that I’ve written all of this about my Tourette’s I am ticking like mad, because thinking about it or talking about it makes it so much worse, so I’m going to go and sit in the dark somewhere. If you want to know more about Tourette’s, visit Tourette’s Action who have some great resources, and if you’re making any documentaries just casually slip in there the ACTUAL NAME OF THE CONDITION YOU’RE SHOWING. Just a thought.

 

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Also, don’t buy me this; I won’t laugh. I will call you a cunt.

 

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Dirty secrets

When I was 16 I had two periods within a few months where I spent a week or so in hospital.

Both occasions I was very lucky – far more so than I realised at the time. The first was during my GCSE’s when, instead of doing my exams with my friends, I opted for the far more dramatic path of developing Meningitis and almost dying. I spent what I think was around a week in hospital in a private room, and remember very little about it other than my doctor being Italian, and my brother doing impressions of the night I was brought in when I was basically dead, which he pretended to find hilarious so he didn’t have to admit he was frightened.

(Side note; Meningitis sucks, you might not get the rash – I didn’t – check out other symptoms here and get the bloody vaccination if it’s offered, particularly if you’re off to uni, it’s not just babies, and 17 years later I still have lingering after effects – and I HAD the vaccination!)

The second time was a few months later when – in the spirit of grabbing life with both hands (and to make my shaved head and leather jacket aesthetic work), I bought a crappy old motorbike and promptly crashed it, parking it upside down on top of myself – the accident itself left me bruised but not seriously hurt, but three days later my appendix ruptured and my Mum had another late night rush to the hospital to get me treated (though initially we both thought I had period pain and was just being dramatic!)

 

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*Not my motorbike, but the one that 16 year old me would have chosen if I could, probably…

 

The first time I was in hospital, and in the weeks following, I got really into daytime TV – watching a lot of ‘This Morning’ type shows and awful documentaries that showed sad people doing sad face about sad things, or makeover shows, that kind of thing.

The second time I didn’t have my own TV, and didn’t have any money to rent one, which is what they did in hospitals then (do they still do that? Is that still how it works?!) and was on a ward with lots of lovely old dears who were, like me, post-surgery for various things, and we all had many hours of quiet time to tolerate between visiting hours. I finished the one book that had been brought in very quickly, and was B.O.R.E.D.

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The lady in the next bed had a HUGE stack of magazines, and when she realised I had nothing to entertain me she passed them over – and it was all trashy things like Take a Break, Chat and Pick Me Up – and  initially she handed them over saying “I doubt the stories are your kind of thing, but the crosswords might help you while away some time” and that’s where I started, but once I’d done those I read some of the stories, then all of the stories, then was thrilled when a lady at the far end of the room had some more so we could trade!

 

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LOOK AT ALL THE JUICY STORIES!

 

Thus began my deeply ingrained love of trash.

Trash TV  and trash magazines – generally of the ‘true life story’ flavour rather than celebrity – and this now includes made-for-TV movies on the Hallmark channel – are where I turn when I’m feeling glum, when I’m poorly, when I’m lonely, when I have PMT, when it’s Wednesday evening and my kids are with their Dad, when I want a long soak in the bath, when I can’t concentrate on a book, when I have a deadline I should be meeting, basically whenever I can make an excuse to myself to indulge.

I am teased mercilessly for this by those close to me, and try to hide my dirty habits, but however many times I pretend that I’m classy, read classic literature and have a love of opera, I still pick up a copy of Take a Break most weeks, and have long since stopped pretending it’s for the puzzles.

So there you have it – my dirty secret is out! Who’s with me? Share your dirty secrets below – whether it’s owning a collection of My Little Pony figurines or actually keeping up with the Kardashians, I know I’m not alone in my shameful habits!

 

You’re not broken.

For long periods in my life, I’ve felt broken. Broken by things that have happened to me, by the things that other people have done, and said, to me. About me. I’ve felt that I’m shattered into pieces, and don’t know how to carry on, and I’ve felt lost, and alone, and afraid.

In those times, where I’ve felt that I’m simply the dust that once made up a person, with no idea how to put myself back together, I’ve wished for someone or something to walk into my life and sweep me back together into some semblance of a whole.

I’ve sought out a fix, a solution, a magic Fairy Godmother or dashing Prince Charming, to take over and tell me, or show me, how to be whole, and to put my flyaway pieces back into a mould that can form the shape I’m supposed to be.

That sense of loss of shape has given people who didn’t deserve it the power to shape me, to tell me who I should be, how I should be, what I should be. I’ve given far too many people that power over the years, and always felt that the shape I naturally was, my inner self, was all wrong and was letting them all down.

The self I was inside never matched up to the standards they set, and I broke myself even more, snapping off the carefully glued together edges to try to fit myself to what I thought they wanted, what they thought they wanted, under the assumption that their views of me were more right and more important than the feelings and ideas I had for myself.

There are many reasons for this voice inside my head that told me I had to be other. There were many other voices from the people I surrounded myself with backing it up.

Even when I reached the point where I said “ENOUGH” and fought back against those cruel voices, I still doubted that inner voice, and still spent time seeking out the answer, some other voice that I could trust, who would shape me without taking advantage of me, and give me some guidance on the right way to be.

But there isn’t one.

There is no external body, no outer voice, no all powerful being who can give you the answers to who you are, what you are, and what you ought to be.

It’s already there, on the inside, and the answer doesn’t come from a guru, from a gathering, from a friend or a partner or a paid counsellor who can tell you how not to be broken any more, or hold your pieces together for you.

And it’s taken me a long time, and a lot of voices, and a fortune in counselling through various sources, to realise that and recognise it.

To recognise that the only voice that truly matters is the one that was there all along. The one I boxed away, stopped listening to, tried not to hear, and doubted all my life.

Among the many voices saying “no” or “you can’t” or “you’re actually no good at that” there is just one quiet voice, who never shouts, who never argues, who never hurts. It’s the smallest of the voices, and the one I’ve heard the least throughout my life.

But she’s the one who matters.

The one who says “maybe not, but how can we know for sure unless we try?”

The one who rumbles in my gut when something seems a little off, but I’ve always done it for the sake of someone else, only to be hurt by the doing.

The one who knows me, best of all.

That inner voice is the one I need to learn to listen to the most – the one I need to trust. Because despite the many years of being ignored, questioned, battled and shut down, that voice is the only one who has never guided me wrong.

If that voice wants it, it’s the right thing. If that voice doubts it, I’ll get hurt. If that voice questions it, I need to look at why.

And  the idea that someone or something external needs to enter my life to give it meaning and paste together the dust I became when I fell apart doesn’t exist. All that exists is the knowledge that, really, deep down, I was never broken anyway. I might have shrunk, I might have hurt and been afraid, I might have doubted – but I never broke, because every day, no matter what, no matter how hurt or how afraid, I got up and did the day anyway. Sometimes just the bare basic necessities, but I did it. It might have taken time to get there, but I always protected myself in the end. It might have been hard and I might have been lost on the way, but I always found the path.

That voice has always been there, and no matter how small, that me has always been whole – and the only thing that broke was my ability to see it.

The only thing that has ever truly been broken by everything I’ve lived through is my ability to hear that tiny voice, and act on the things it says.

Even very recently I was still hoping for “a real grown up” to tell me what I need to do, and how to do it. But I sat in my little home this evening and I realised that I’m already doing it, every single day, and more successfully than I give myself credit for. And rather than thinking of all the things I’m not achieving, and the things I failed at, I looked at what I have done, am doing, and can do, and I realised that I’ve never been broken, and the only thing getting in the way of me achieving even more and reaching the goals I dream of for my life is me; the only block in my path is the blinkers I wear, and the way my inner self puts her fingers in her ears and shouts “lalalalala I CAN’T HEAR YOU” when that other tiny voice tells me what it is I need to hear.

Sometimes that little voice is critical – but when it is, it’s just because I need it to be.

Sometimes that little voice wants to celebrate, and I shut it down, as if being proud of myself is somehow shameful – but that shame doesn’t come from my own voices, it comes from all those others – and there’s a reason the people they echo aren’t here in my life right now.

I’m not broken. I never was. And the only shape I should be, when I’m building my true self, is the one that was there all along.

So that’s what I’m doing. This little voice, and me. Because we’re ok.

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What are you reading?

For Christmas one of the gifts I got for the man who puts up with me was a book club. I chose a book to begin the year, and made a leaflet to go with it, explaining the ‘rules’ of our exclusive book club; we’ll take turns through the year to choose one book a month, and read it at the same time, and talk about it, talk about what we liked and didn’t, try new genres that we don’t ordinarily read, try out new authors, expand beyond the ‘reading rut’ we both found ourselves in.

Reading is something that I’ve always taken enormous pleasure in. Until I started talking about, and sharing, books with him I had let reading slide out of my life. I hadn’t realised how little I’d been reading, and how much I’d been missing it, until we were talking about favourite books one day. He’ll never forgive me for making him read ‘A prayer for Owen Meany’ – a John Irving book that I maintain is truly excellent, but which he absolutely detested – and the debates we had about it sparked the idea for the book club, because we laughed so much and got into such heated conversations, and it reignited my passion for reading.

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In the last few months of my marriage, and once it had ended, I wasn’t reading at all; this is very unusual for me, someone who often has half a dozen books on the go at the same time, depending on what room I’m in, and who used to drive teachers, parents, friends and bosses mad because I’d drift off mid-conversation or task and be found reading somewhere when I shouldn’t be. (A trait I see in my own children, particularly Jellybean who, at seven, has to have torches and books removed from his bed an hour after bedtime most evenings!) and though life had settled down I struggled to get my reading mojo back.

But that Owen Meany conversation was the beginning of a rejuvenation, and since then I’ve found myself back in the swing of obsessively devouring books a handful at a time – aided by the man who puts up with me getting me a Kindle Paperwhite for my birthday – which I still think was more a gift for him than for me, because I can read in bed without the lamp on and he can go to sleep like a normal human while I “just finish one more paragraph/page/chapter…” – I almost always fall asleep reading and now the Kindle will just quietly turn itself off, and there’s no lamp blaring all night disturbing anyone’s beauty sleep!

So the world’s most exclusive book club was born – and I had first choice. The book I picked for January was way outside my usual go-to genres of fantasy or historical fiction, and I opted for Gregg Hurwitz’s thriller, Orphan X – and couldn’t put it down.

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The first in what’s going to be a series, Warner Bros. are looking to buy the movie rights and are looking to cast Bradley Cooper as ‘Orphan X’ Even Smoak, aka ‘the nowhere man’ – and I can see why they’re so keen. Smoak is a very humane assassin, trained since childhood, who gets caught up in a series of ever more dangerous attempts on the life of his latest client, and on himself, breaking down his barriers and encroaching on the secret identity he’s built, leaving him wondering who he can and can’t trust. There are twists and turns, drama and heartache, real emotion on a level you wouldn’t ordinarily see in a character who is trained as a ruthless killing machine, and it’s a story with a lot of depth and excitement.

The next book in the series is out at the end of this month, and we’ve already discussed whether it should be February’s book club choice – but I thought that would make it too easy for him to choose so vetoed it simply to make his life more complicated! I’m nice like that…

But I have another five months of this year to choose book club books for – and a lot of time between them to cram with anything else I can get my grubby hands on to – so I’m looking for recommendations for the books you love most, the books you’ve read most recently, the authors you can’t wait to hear more from, and anything else you want to wave at other people, yelling “read this, read this, read this!”

Comment below with your top recommendations – and get a copy of Orphan X as soon as you can, trust me!