life/work/social

“A good innings” and other trite shite

Macmillan stars

I found out recently that my dad has terminal lung cancer.

It took a while to diagnose – 10 or so months, as they were treating his shortness of breath as anything BUT lung cancer (How. The. Fuck?!). His chest had gradually filled up with fluid (2 litres! Imagine a 2-litre bottle of pop in your chest cavity!) which we thought was just a severe infection – after initially worrying that it was serious, but then he had two chest x-rays that were, apparently, “clear”. Plus, maybe a bit of heart trouble, easily managed by a medication overhaul. So we thought. We really had no idea. We found out it was bad when my dad mentioned it, dropped it casually into conversation, after they’d let him out of hospital (they didn’t actually tell him, it was in his discharge letter – the word “malignancy”. Yep, that’s how he – we – found out he was dying). He could have been updating us about the latest West Brom score, so casually did he drop the C-bomb. The word “malignancy” didn’t even register at first. I remember turning to my sister and whispering, “What does he mean – does he mean cancer??”. White-faced. Realising from her expression that yep, it was, in fact, cancer. And then feeling like I’d been one-inch-punched by Bruce Lee, shock popping my ears and making me feel like I was drowning, actually drowning. I still do; I’m constantly trying to stem a tsunami that just wants to kill me.

My mum died of leukaemia so I have previous experience of nursing and losing someone I love to this disease. As you’d imagine, it was heartbreaking and harrowing. But this time it’s different.

If you’ve read my tattoo post you’ll know how I feel about my dad. That my dad is everything to me. I loved my mother, but I adore him. I am utterly my father’s daughter.

This quietly wonderful man has done everything in his power to make mine and my five siblings’ lives as brilliant as they could be; we were poor as dirt but he willingly sacrificed everything for us (I remember counting the concentric rings in the holes in his battered shoes, and the cardboard he put inside them to keep his feet dry). My dad is unconditional love personified.

Now it’s time to do something for him; to help him go in the most pain and distress-free way possible. But oh, I’m scared. Knocking on 50, I feel like a frightened child at the thought of him dying. I’m scared I won’t cope; with him leaving me, with my life without him. Yes, he’s 84 and he’s had a long life (something denied to many, many people). He’s got to go sometime. But loss is loss; I don’t give a shit how old he is.

For once in my sorry life, it’s not about me; it’s about him. It’s my duty and my honour to help him pass. But I am bereft already; grieving (pre-grieving??) that he is leaving me, that I am losing him a little more every day. He is an old photograph, once bright with 1970’s nicotine hues (and matching handle-bar moustache – oh yeah!) but now fading to grey, fainter and paler with every precious day that passes.

When I was leaving my dad’s house, I noticed some green wrapping paper from Macmillan Cancer Support on the sideboard. It had little Christmas trees with the Macmillan logo all over it and for a split second I jumped, I genuinely thought one of the nurses had left it for him: “For Your Last Christmas…”. Er, I know I have to come to terms with him going, but that was a bit full on, even for me. They hadn’t, of course – it was a mailer that had come through the post.

A coincidence, if a rather macabre one. Oh, how we laughed. Actually, I did. A warped sense of humour is one of the many things my dad has given me, for which I am truly grateful. (No idea where I got my potty mouth from, though – my dad wouldn’t even say “bugger”, while I swear like a twatting navvy with Tourettes.)

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Childless by design: why don’t I have a maternal bone in my body?

I’m a younger child in a family of six kids. I’m all the things you’d expect from someone born last (-ish, I have a little bro. It’s complicated). I’m a bit of a show off on the quiet, I’m funny (haha!), cheeky, like my own way, a bit wild, a bit unreliable, a bit unpredictable. I’m fiercely loyal and passionate, and probably quite a handful.

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Getting ink: why your middle ages is the best time ever to get a tattoo

I am a total daddy’s girl. My dad is the most quietly wonderful person that ever lived. I adore him.

roses

I love him so much I got a tattoo.

It’s a big one, on my right shoulder, of a rose from my dad’s garden. Some people love it, some hate it. Most couldn’t give a monkey’s. My dad thinks I’m an idiot. But then he thinks that anyway (not really, he just has no idea where I came from). He is mostly bemused. He is 84 and can’t understand why a woman would want a tattoo. Anyone other than a old-school sailor, to be honest.

tat

Freshly dug…

I love it. I’ve had it for three years now and it’s as fresh and bright and gorgeous as the day I got it (four and a half hours of non-stop writhing pain – my tattooist was an artistic genius, but a brutal one; he liked to dig DEEEEP).

I waited until I found the perfect artist, but also ’til my mum was dead, before I finally booked my appointment – I’m not daft, she would have gone crazy nuts (I can feel her angry disappointment from here, from the grave). When my dad first saw my tat he was pretty horrified, he said, “Why would you do that? What about when you’re older?!”. He is such a modest and unassuming man and just couldn’t comprehend that I would want to declare my love for him in as obvious and permanent way as this, writ large on my shoulder for the world to see. But that’s the point. I laughed and said, “Dad – I AM older!”.

“Actually, yeah you are. Fair point”, he said.

But it’s true, I AM older. Although I look like someone in my early 40s (so I’m told), I’m nearly 50 (though I act a lot younger – yeah, I’m immature). Even writing that is so bizarre that it boggles my brain. Really fucks with it. But if it means that I get to have a tattoo and not give a crap, then fine. I’m inked. I’m older. Cheers, dad.

Sleepless in Sheffield #2

It was my birthday last week. I am now 49. I feel 89.

insomnia

Up to last Sunday night, I hadn’t slept for six months. Well, of course I’d slept (or I’d be dead), but I hadn’t slept well. Not at all.

Because my nervous system – sent completely whacko by the drop in female hormones – had apparently  gone into free fall, flooding my system with adrenaline and cortisol. Yup, that’s ADRENALINE AND CORTISOL, the fight-or-flight hormones that your body usually releases at times of stress or DANGER and which – rightly – send your blood pumping and your heart racing, so you’re ready to react quickly to, say, a saber-toothed tiger chasing you, or a runaway train heading your way. It’s not really for sleeping, unless your usual place of rest is on the edge of a cliff or inside a bear’s cave.

Fluctuating cortisol levels cause hot flushes – plus panic attacks, anxiety etc. My hot flushes had become more and more intense; making me feel like I’m going to faint and puke at the same time. Also, making my heart race and giving me scary palpitations (and sending my previously healthy blood pressure soaring). The sauna-level heat is almost secondary (I actually steam car windows up) – it’s the sickening feeling like YOU’RE GONNA DIE bit that really got to me. Yeah, that’s a nice feeling.

And, sleeping with cortisol whizzing around your body? “Whiz” is about right: not a chance in hell. I wake up half an hour after I’ve gone to sleep, then every hour, virtually on the hour. Horrific. I was a serious and chronic insomniac for many years and I was terrified I was going back to the bad time.

Being proactive and trying to manage my irksome insomnolence, I took off the week leading up to my birthday in order to bank some sleep (to at least attempt to enjoy my birthday celebrations), and also to do some writing. I did neither. Instead, I sat around like a stoned, tearful zombie incapable of any real thought apart from the vacant notion that this menopause will be the death of me.

Eight weeks before, I was three months into the hot flushes/insomnia/brain fudge and – wanting to embrace my menopause naturally and accept it as part of my journey as a woman (!) – I decided to manage my menopause symptoms with 1. some herbs and plants and 2. a fanny magnet. Yup, you heard right. The herbs didn’t do much (though they turned my wee a nice radioactive yellow) so I figured I had nothing to lose by trying out the fanny magnet (otherwise known as Lady Care). Quite frankly, the idea that a magnet can re-balance your body’s nervous system sounded like crazy talk, but I was willing to try anything by this point. It My good friend Jennifer Denys bequeathed me hers (after a good scrub, obviously) – it hadn’t worked for her, but we had high – desperate – hopes for me. So, did it work? Well, something did stir after I first stuffed it down my knickers, but it didn’t last, sadly. The story of my life.

So. Fast forward to the week before my birthday and I’m sat in my new doctor’s office, a teary wobbly puddle of off-the-scale tired/wiredness and practically begging him for HRT. Bollocks to embracing my menopause naturally – GIVE ME THE FREAKIN’ DRUGS.

My new doc came good and, thankfully agreeing that my high blood pressure would see me off far sooner than any other associated hormonal health risks, hit me up. Whoop! It took four more tortuous days to kick in but deep, blessed, WONDERFUL sleep finally came – fittingly – on Sunday, the day of rest. Praise be. And welcome back sore tits, crippling stomach cramps and “stuck pig”-level bleeding – I may feel like someone’s removing my hitherto withered womb via my fanjita with a crochet hook but MY GOD, how glad am I to see you.

taking-drugs-legitimate-medical-reasons-happy-birthday-ecards-someecards

I’ve been wondering why nature got this so bloody wrong. Why do so many women have to suffer so terribly as their poor bewildered bodies go into a blind panic at the ending of fertility, and often never come out? And then it hit me: we were never supposed to live past menopause. Of course. D’oh. It’s only relatively recently (in the evolutionary scheme of things) that our average lifespan has gone past 40 years. There was no need to design us with a physiological, post-hormonal coping mechanism. So, there is no fall-back plan, no “what do we do after?”, no plan B. Just hot, sleepless, brain-melting misery. Or drugs. And I know I can’t have them forever, but for now I’m taking the drugs – I’ll deal with my particular after if and when it comes.

Happy birthday to me. Welcome back, me.

My Communication Fatigue: Why I just can’t be bothered… (…to even finish this sentence.)

I am unwell. Out of sorts. Under the weather. 

ill

I’m suffering from an illness so socially severe, that I risk losing good friends and upsetting the people in my life that matter most to me. It’s serious and it’s a bit embarrassing; Dr Christian would have me on the couch by now, legs akimbo, knees tucked behind my ears. The situation’s grave – desperate, even. And here are the dreadful symptoms (that is if I can bring myself to reveal them, such is the social stigma attached):

Emails go unanswered. Facebook messages get lost in the machine. And texts can take days to ping back to the recipient. Days. I regularly lie and say I never received anything.

But now I’m coming clean. I have a serious problem, and it’s that I’m in the advanced stages of CFS: or Communication Fatigue Syndrome as it’s known in certain circles (ok, just mine).

computer says no

My condition began to show its listless face a couple of years ago. Email, Facebook, twitter and texting – not to mention actual talking – were all getting a bit much for me. I worked in a busy, lively, open-plan office, and my job meant I was constantly talking to colleagues and suppliers; on the phone, on email and in meetings. I was communicating all day long, often using different media simultaneously.

So I really resented having to go home and carry on where I’d left off. Pretty much. Keeping in touch socially had started to feel like just another tedious administration task, and, as I’d never been that keen on (or good at!) admin, I’d ignore stuff until it became urgent. Never a good strategy. Friends got annoyed with me and I’d feel guilty and like a really bad person. And I don’t like feeling like a bad person (naughty’s ok – hell, yeah!) which meant that I’d have to do a damage limitation communication to get myself out of trouble – i.e., more bloody admin. Gah.

It was really getting to me. I felt like a stressed air traffic controller; friends and family stacked up like impatient 747s queuing in the sky above.  My life had turned into a tedious cycle of stress/guilt/admin that, quite frankly, I could well do without.

freedom

So I decided to take it back.

I figure if it’s my prerogative when to answer my phone (it is) then it’s also up to me when I reply to any other form of communication. I don’t react instantly and feel the need to treat messages as urgent (unless they actually are!). I generally take my own good time replying, and it feels great. Of course, this doesn’t work for everyone and there are some people in my life who struggle with my tardy transmissions. But – special exceptions aside – I’m not giving in. They just have to lump it. And on the whole it works fine – I even have a couple of friends who have taken my laid-back line. We treat non-urgent messages like little postcards: casual mini letters with an enquiry here, a comment there, and it really doesn’t matter if either of us takes days to answer. We know we will eventually.

It works beautifully; no stress, no guilt, everyone’s happy. Give it a try – what’s the worst that could happen..? The people who love you will accept it (with a little training) – and as for the ones who don’t…