Friday, 9 March 2012


Friday, 9 March 2012

I really must discipline myself (no, I don't mean self-flagellation, in case your minds were working overtime...); I really must discipline myself to update this blog more regularly. If I don't do this, I forget what I've been doing and how I've felt and when I do get around to blogging, it's a veritable torrent of words. I've decided to set myself a challenge - I am going to blog every day for a week, to get myself into the habit of doing it and in the hope that it will become part of my daily routine.

So, since I last posted, what have I been up to? Quite a lot, actually <hasty consultation of calendar to remind myself>....I've been picking up some of the activities and interests I have distanced myself from over the last year. Now that I feel so much better and have more energy, I think it's time I started returning to things like volunteering for my professional institute and getting more involved in church and community activities. It's good practice for the return to the workplace (not that this is looking likely anytime soon, as there doesn't seem to be much work around in the public sector - I wonder why this might be? ;-/).

Over the past few weeks, I've been up to my institute HQ in London twice, to different meetings. It feels good to pick up these interests again, but interestingly I have noticed that I am developing more challenging behaviours - questioning things a lot more and trying to bring more realism to my view of what's going on. I wonder if this is a function of being ill - am I subconsciously thinking that I haven't got time, or inclination, to pussyfoot around things? I don't know, but it's quite an unexpected development. I'm also more challenging of other things, like bad manners, -isms, etc - that's not to say I tolerated these things before but I wasn't always in the habit of saying something out loud (probably this reflects badly on me and my cowardice), whereas now I feel much more gung-ho about things.

Of course, going to meetings in London means travelling on public transport. I still find it difficult and still anticipate that I am going to get stared at - not so much on the train from our local station into London, but on the underground and on the streets. I do need to be careful about this, because what I suspect happens is that I give off signals of being self-conscious and nervous and that will often attract attention because it's more obvious that I feel I have something to be nervous about. I need to remember that London is a great big melting-pot and that most commuters are very used to people who look/dress/sound a bit different and I am nothing that special to them! I went up to London on Monday and Tuesday of this week and, while neither of these trips meant a whole day in London, by the end of Tuesday afternoon I felt exhausted. I think this was partly because the worrying and nervousness about travelling make me tired and partly because, on both days, I was seeing people who hadn't seen me since before my surgery and who were interested in what had happened, so I was replaying some of the darkest and most difficult memories. I absolutely understand their interest in me, and deeply appreciate that they want to know what happened and how I am, but I need to remember that this will wear me out. At least talking about what's happened doesn't make me upset, which it used to. This is probably partly because of the distance in time since it all started and also because, finally, I do believe I am in remission, so it feels like a new phase for me.

I've done quite a bit of socialising - with former colleagues from Tower Hamlets, with friends locally and with our neighbours, whose daughter (the doctor who stepped into the role of personal physician when my wound got infected!) was visiting with her very cute and eminently cuddle-able baby boy. I'm able to eat normally, have one glass of fizzy (lasting about three hours) and stay reasonably alert until about 11 pm, so at least I can feel that I am behaving less like a hermit!

I've also been doing a fair amount of exercise - Pilates, Zumba, aerobics, cardio-boxing (hilarious) and gym, with a bit of outdoor running thrown in too. I know I won't be running that much of the London Marathon, but I am working on being able to run bits of it and to build up the stamina to get round. I am less worried about the stamina now I have got several weeks of regular cv exercise under my belt. The Pilates is interesting, as the first class I went to left me feeling kind of "meh", but the second class somehow just clicked for me and I realised how beneficial a different kind of exercise might be for me.

My life sounds really boring, doesn't it? In reality, it feels anything but - it's a real novelty for me, after the past 9 months of feeling, for the most part, absolutely dreadful, both physically and mentally, to be feeling energetic, positive, healthy and interested in things that aren't connected with cancer or facial palsy. For so long, my outlook has been more of an inlook - I couldn't see outside what was happening to me and couldn't look outwards at the wider world around me. It's incredibly refreshing to be able to take part in community activities (like our Fairtrade Big Brew this afternoon - banana cake cooling on the kitchen counter as I type!) and to meet up with friends somewhere other than in my house. I can feel 'safe' in other places now.

I still have bad moments - had one the other day, when I just felt really despondent by my face and almost on the verge of disgusted at how rubbish I look. Sometimes I hate the thought that my poor family has to look at this lopsided face all the time - at least I only see it when I look in the mirror. My family and friends reassure me that it's not nearly as bad as I think it is, but I know what I think of it when I see it in the mirror. No amount of clever hair-styling or accessorising will disguise it. On good days, I can brazen it out. On bad days, I feel as if I am the most conspicuous thing in the world and that everyone must be looking at me and wondering what on earth has happened to make me look like this. That makes me more upset than the oncology side, to be honest, largely because the cancer seems to be more distant, in the past, whereas my face is very much here, now and into the future.

And then I think - isn't it better to have a lopsided face than to have my old face but a very limited life? Well, yes, of course it is. My rational mind tells me that. It's this irrational mind that chips away at me from time to time. It undermines my self-confidence in so many areas: driving, walking into busy places, public transport - just ordinary, everyday social situations become daunting opportunites for feeling socially inadequate.  I still do these things, but sometimes, if  I'm having a bad day, it's exhausting. I am lucky that usually I have good days, rather than bad, and sometimes I even find myself talking to people for the first time and not even thinking that I need to explain my appearance to them - that's good, because it means that I am feeling more comfortable, more accepting of what I look like.
I'm just tired of being tired, tired of feeling different (and not in a good way) and so weary at the thought of months or years before my face returns to anything remotely approaching symmetrical.  That's the time I need to go for a run or to do some exercise to make these demons go away. Thank goodness it works!
I shall end this post on a positive note - I've had a lovely day today, baking, drinking tea with friends, talking to people that I think might become friends, arranging to go for a walk on Monday - I even fulfilled my role as Amy's PA, taking my little list of chores with me into Oxted and ticking every single one off! Why do I even need to think about going back to work? Looking after her is a full-time job in itself :-)





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