Counting the days

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The other day, my youngest said that she felt she was waiting for something and I wondered: Lockdown or something else?

We moved house in September back to the street we used to live in before we bought our lovely flat which, alas, got far too small during lockdown1.0, even though I kept furiously flinging out furniture until everyone objected to the minimalist look.

Last time we were new to this old street, my girls were babies and I was going through cancer treatment and I distinctly remember that feeling my girl is talking about, the feeling of waiting for something, especially as I was counting the days between rounds of chemotherapy and instead of having a big birthday bash for my 40th birthday, I had chemotherapy instead and got to throw up all night for all the wrong reasons.

This time, I am feeling like a big fat failure that we haven’t just lived in one street our whole married life in a sensible family home ya-de-ya. Why do I feel that? Because that’s what you are supposed to do. It is what my in-laws have done and my parents did, even though my mother hated the fact she paid rent for a council house she would never own and which she still refused to buy when they changed the rules. I forget that me and the hubby have lived through some awful stuff and didn’t live in a sensible family home for so many reasons, including the one that we couldn’t afford one as I had already bought a home for my parents to make my mother happy, and I get into that woulda-coulda-shoulda done it all differently and I am fighting a losing battle in my mind. I cannot change the past.

I asked my youngest what it was she was waiting for. She said she didn’t know: Are you waiting for the end of lockdown? To go back to school? To meet up with your friends? She said that although she misses school and friends, she is not specifically waiting for those things to begin again, she is just waiting. She is already wise enough to knows that whilst she cannot change the present, she doesn’t have to fight it.

Tomorrow, it will be 10 years to the day that I waved my baby girls goodbye and put on a brave face as I walked to the lift to go down to surgery, which was a total accident as the husband and I agreed we didn’t need them seeing me in a surgical robe and took them away beforehand, only to bump into them half an hour later. The poor things already knew that a surgical robe isn’t just dressing up, given the amount of surgery one of them had already had, but UCLH doesn’t have that many lifts up and down the tower so I pretended to look like I didn’t have a care in the world as I wandered into the lift and waved them goodbye until the doors shut.

Normally, I don’t think about that day as an anniversary or anything, unless I have a hospital appointment, especially now, as I got discharged two years ago which prompted my eldest to ask: Whose going to feel your boobs now? And I said: Oh there’ll always be someone. Don’t you worry about that, love, in a way that made her blush. She is charming when she blushes, actually, both of them are charming all the time, even when they are annoying (such as when they keep saying bakewell tart continually in my face – don’t ask), and especially when they blush.

This year though, here I am thinking about my journey through cancer and and wondering if it is because I have heard of someone being diagnosed with cancer and I got upset, or because we are in lockdown. Or, is it because we have moved back to this street? If we had stayed on this street, or not come back at all, would the memories be as vivid as they are right now? Or would something else have triggered it?

Do we ever really move on?

Mindfulness guru John Kabat-Zinn says: Wherever we go, there we are. We take ourselves with us wherever we go.

Waiting for surgery

The above picture is me marked up for surgery and whilst it’s all a bit vague, as I stare at the picture, time drops away and I can hardly believe it has been 10 years. I still have that top and that cardigan. Simultaneously though, I wonder how it could possibly be only 10 years ago as it feels much longer, both the top and cardigan have holes in, and everyone asked me why I didn’t fling those out instead of the furniture. I guess, I either go with the emotions, or the thoughts. The emotions are still familiar as even now when I hear about someone else’s cancer it crushes me as if it was my own. With the thoughts, I am in my head about it and it feels far away and puts me in mind of the famous novel opening:

The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.

P J Hartley’s The Go-Between

The building where I had my chemotherapy treatment has since been demolished, and I got to watch them build a new one when I used to walk past on my way to Birkbeck when I went back to lecturing and hanging out with students as a first step to remember who I used to be, before.

Along with lecturing, I took up Bikram yoga, and I tell you there are not many other activities that can top the way I feel when I bend over lots of times in a hot room in a pair of wonder woman pants.

Chasing more joy, last October, I started Scott Schwenk’s Abundant Joy meditation course with the intention of doing at least 40 days (this morning I ticked off Day 135) and in January, I started a 30 day Bikram challenge at home, (this morning I did Day 41).

I have no intention of stopping either any day soon, I keep on keeping on, counting the days and wondering why and perhaps it is because I have a promise of what lies within:

All true power lies within. All true love lies within, no one gives it to us.

Scott Schwenk

I began both with the hope of being somewhere else by the end of them. But where exactly? After all, I arrived at the end but just kept on going, where to I just don’t know, yet, perhaps I never will. On the mat in meditation or in a yoga pose, I am there with myself. I take myself with me whether it’s back to the past or right into the future, or indeed back to the future, the one I felt I might have missed, but probably didn’t.

And I think of the Lakota people in North and South Dakota, USA, who continued to use events and experience as a reference point to measure time, long after clocks were invented because it makes perfect sense to me. Time can be fluid depending on whether we look into our hearts and the way we felt during different experiences, or at the material bit of our lives which are made up of buildings and landmarks, calendars and clocks.

I asked my eldest if she feels like she too is waiting for something, like her sister does. My eldest said not really, she misses her friends, but not school. She said unlockdown is more stressful and I totally understand that too as there is a daily schedule of calendars and clocks that she has no choice but to stick to in a world of buildings and landmarks.

Today though, I think of those people managing chronic illnesses who have quite rightly pointed out that everyday is lockdown for them and they are not often given the opportunity to experience the buildings and landmarks, calendars and clocks. I feel for them as I too have experienced that. The isolation crushed me. Not a single member of my family made the trip down south to see me but made such an almighty fuss when my chemo-brain forgot to send one birthday card. How could you have forgotten? I was told that I didn’t get any phone calls to wish me a happy 40th birthday as no one wanted to disturb me.

My mother often told me to try harder, do more, basically be not me, as you could cause a row in an empty house. In September, I tested her theory and stood in this house by myself just after we got the keys before we moved in. There was no row, just peace and love. And, that is what I am looking for on the mat and off the mat in my life. That’s why I keep going, counting the days, I practice showing up for myself, so that I can do it for others and I recognise it when others do it for me. Sometimes I find peace and love on the mat and it feels like magic and then on other days no amount of bending, sweating or breathing can call it up, which is when I need others to light the fire for me until I can do again for myself and anyone else who needs a warm.

My eldest is a bit like me and likes to think about things for a few days until she is ready to give an answer, so came back to me with more answers and said that if anything she feels like she is waiting for herself to do something. Such as? I asked to which she said: Reach out, speak to more people. She wasn’t sure why, she just felt like she should.

I told her to follow her heart, because if there is one thing ten more trips around the sun have taught me, nothing good starts with a should. I really don’t have any more wisdom than that. I might never have and I am okay with that. Today and everyday, I am just grateful that I am still breathing and I live with such magic people who bring me peace and love. I am also filled with immense gratitude for all those people at the NHS who showed up and saved my life and didn’t need me to be not me. Thank you.

I think one day, when lockdown is over, and life takes on a new and different normal, as that is one thing I know for sure, life never returns to how it was, we never go back. We may appreciate these days if only in the way we appreciate the morning sunlight after a long dark night of the soul. Until, then we just have to remember to breathe deeper and love harder.

And, on the days when I cannot remember how, I will just keep counting the days, my blessings, and my breaths.


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