22. The Guilt Game

At 2am last night I took a moment to ponder this latest role of mine. Once upon a time I would be unlocking the front door about now, my ears still ringing with music and my heart still skipping with joys of the night just passed. But tonight I am clutching Freddie with one arm whilst frantically Googling ‘infant insomnia’ with the other. My right foot is waving manically in front of the nightlight to create shadows that might just entertain him for a minute whilst my left foot thumps blindly at Ewan the Dream Sheep to kick-start his sheepish beat. I’ve been ‘shhing’ and rocking with limbs flailing for two hours now, like a possessed one-man-band, and I’m thirsty but my glass is out of reach – that’s ok, I think, I’ll just drink next week. Everything is fine. Freddie is fine. I am fine. This is Motherhood.

This is motherhood and it is more than fine – it is beautiful and bewildering. For the most part it’s joyful and for moments it can be devastating. It’s almost always exhausting and exhilarating and sometimes, it’s just a bit boring. It’s tiptoeing like a ninja at nap time, and singing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ 52 times. It’s poo up to your elbows and wee in your eye. It’s hilarious and hapless and a thousand kisses before lunch. It is a bubbling hotpot of love. ‘Oh look, he’s just blown a raspberry!’ Love in abundance. ‘Oh wow, he grabbed the brown bear!’ Love beyond compare. ‘Incredible, he rolled over! Our boy rolled over!’ Love X Infinity2. Our home is now home to an orgy of lashings of love because we’re just so damn pleased with who we created. I had three hours sleep last night but who cares?! Let’s all sing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ again! Hooray!

But alongside the warmth of lovely Love comes its mean spirited cousin, Guilt. Guilt seeps into the generous open pores that Love has created and breeds bile under the surface, like acne. Yes, guilt is like acne on a Disney princess. And right now, an abundance of guilt plagues me in a way I’ve never known before, despite my Catholic school training.

I feel guilty for co-sleeping and subsequent sleepless nights. For failing to set a routine, setting a routine and failing at said routine. Guilty for longing to go to Sainsbury’s on my own, and losing myself in the condiments isle to buy more time. Guilty for air pollution. Guilty for not knowing the real words to any nursery rhyme and having to wing it in Baby Sensory class. Guilty for not signing up to more classes. Guilty for Freddie’s boob addiction, bottle phobia and that second glass of wine. Guilty for putting on Peppa Pig so I can go to the loo. Guilty for the donut crumbs on his head. Guilty for counting down the minutes until bed then scooping him up too readily when he stirs. Guilty for the sirens that wake him. Guilty that Saint Luke gets up with Freddie at 6am and guilty for resenting Saint Luke who sleeps through the night. Guilty there’s only a few months left until I’m back at work and guilty for uttering the words ‘child’ and ‘minder’. Guilty Freddie has a cough. Guilty for dressing in the morning, pretending I can’t see the faint splatter of sick on my jeans. Guilty for not brushing my hair. Guilty for not being as glam as the ‘Mum’s Who Can’ on Instagram. Guilty he’s too hot or too cold, he’s bored or overstimulated. Guilty I haven’t made the most of my maternity leave and written a book. Guilty I haven’t had time to make the bed. Guilty I forgot to ask Saint Luke how his day was. Guilty for daydreaming about the holiday we’ll be able to take in eighteen years once Freddie’s left home. And guilty for never ever wanting him to grow older, grow up and away from me. Guilty for writing that bit before about it being a little bit boring. Guilty for never wanting to sing ‘The Wheels on the Bloody Bus’ ever EVER again. Guilty for not feeling guilty enough!

And breath.

I don’t suppose I’m the only parent who’s dabbled in the guilt game and maybe that’s not a bad thing? Perhaps we’re guilty just because we care? Because we’re learning and we’re trying our very best and maybe if we stopped feeling guilty then we’ve stopped interrogating what is and isn’t best for our babes? So if you see me traipsing naked down Clapham High Street, thrashing whips across my back, shouting ‘shame, shame, shame’- it’s probably because I forgot Freddie’s hat. And that’s ok! I’m not sleeping at night anyway.

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I’m guilty as a girl can be.

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20. Warrior Women and Elton John.

You know that scene in Jurassic Park when the camera zooms in on a cup of water vibrating in anticipation? Well, at the very end of my pregnancy, my life is very much like a perpetually trembling cup of water. Similar to the T-Rex’s imminent arrival, my baby’s entrance is fast approaching, which is both terrifying and awe inspiring. The scene playing out on repeat in my head may involve fewer pre-historic teeth, but believe me, it’s just as petrifying.

Nobody ever talks about being petrified pre-labour, as though being scared goes against Mother Nature’s intentions for us. I appreciate that childbirth is the most natural endeavour in the world (blah blah blah), but I find it comes naturally to me to order fries with my burger, not concede to mind bending pain. 40 weeks into my pregnancy, I realise I’ve forgotten to become a yogic hypnobirthing guru, exercise my pelvic floor or batch cook healthy frozen meals. I don’t know how to assemble the pram and I thought perineums were flowers? I’m simply not prepared! What on earth have I been doing these last nine months (aside from eating crisps and Googling ‘funny baby faces’)?! I’m not ready and I’m shit scared. There, I said it. (Cue Jurassic Park theme tune – zoom in on cup of shaking water.)

But regardless of your aptitude to Google, can we ever fortify ourselves for life changing events? This last month has taught me that we can never truly emotionally prepare for what life throws at us. Some surprises (like the one that’s kicking my ribs right now) bring soaring joy and wonder, and some bring enough heartache to knock you from your feet.

On the 9th August, we lost a wonderful friend to her almighty battle with cancer. Almighty because like the bravest of warriors she warded off the c-bomb with wit and aplomb, refusing to let illness define her. She was brave whilst never bragging of her strength; she was strong whilst never seeking sympathy or praise; she was a fighter and for a while I thought she might just be invincible. Lucy Booth lived her life to the fullest, overflowing with laughter and love. When I was in the midst of Lupus haze, she’d text me to remind me to sip drinks rather than gulp, and keep a generous store of ginger biscuits. She text me to reassure me that resting doesn’t mean giving up, and it’s ok to admit you’re not infallible. She text me just to tell me that she was thinking of me, and all the while she was enduring the hardest struggle herself. She was someone rather wonderful, an inspiration, and I feel blessed to have known her. The last time we met, we went shopping for baby clothes – life can be so shockingly cruel.

Two days later, we lost another brave woman from our lives – Saint Luke’s dear Nana passed away following a sudden and short illness. The day before her funeral he found a collection of letters she’d written to the loved ones she was leaving behind. The letters detailed practical advice, such as ‘buy a cheap coffin and make sure the priest doesn’t waffle on’, as well as reminders to ‘look after each other, love each other and never hold grudges.’ Nana Beryl also wanted to remind everyone that she hadn’t always been ‘a crabby old woman’ as she describes her wartime childhood steeped in nostalgia, simplicity and charm; a time when she knew nothing of the life that she was yet to lead. And without that spirited woman, who reflected ‘we didn’t have much but we were happy’, there would be no baby growing inside me now – a great grandchild she was but moments away from meeting. Yes, life can be so shockingly cruel.

So I really oughtn’t be petrified of labour because such a blessing is nothing less than magnificent, just as Elton John imparted when he crooned about the circle of life! We all enter the world and somehow, someway, we make our place in it. If we’re very lucky we’ll have made an impact before we leave, just like Nana and Lucy.

I’m ready. I’ll uncross my legs, take off my tights and look forward to meeting our new recruit. You only get to enter into this world just the once my darling baby, so you may as well arrive with a big bang (like the dinos.) Ok. Let’s do this.

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Me, Lucy Booth and Betty

Read Lucy’s blog for a lifetimes worth of inspiration!

19. Mother Lush

A funny thing happens when you give birth, quite a few ‘funny’ things I should imagine, but one thing above all others, scares me the most. I’ll get over the pain, I’ll brush off the blood and gloss over the grisly details of labour, but I will be undeniably changed the moment I am re-labelled a ‘mother’. Mother; a title so recognisable, so powerful and so all encompassing for those who wear it. Am I woman enough to don such a title? Can’t I be a demi-mum instead? Or a mother-in-training? Surely I’m not worthy of the same title as my own materfamilias. I can’t possibly be Mum, because my Mum’s taken that crown and wears it better than I could ever hope to.

It’s true, I’ve known her all my life, but Mother Lush surprises me every day with her undeniable brilliance. I lay naked on her chest the day we met, alongside the pulmonary embolism that left her gasping for breath. Heroically, she looks fondly on this time we had together, cocooned in white sheets and hospital bleeps. Just the two of us. Mother and daughter, forming a bond as fierce as fire.

Growing up, I believed Mum to be the font of all knowledge. Why have I got freckles? ‘They’re fairy kisses.’ Why won’t Jamie Emsel love me? ‘Because he’s obviously very silly.’ How do you spell queue – the kind you stand in? ‘Cue.’ Somehow Mum’s know everything, even when they don’t.

And as life would have it, we’ve both grown older. My hair has dulled and my forehead creases. Mum’s hands have bent in peculiar ways to mark years of transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. She’s grown older, but has managed not to grow up with the resilient spark and spring of Peter Pan. Her limitless energy and lust for life is fuelled entirely by love for her family.

I can confidently say that I’ve never encountered anyone more awe-inspiring, although admittedly I’ve never met Beyonce or the Dalai Lama. (In fact, the Dalai Lama could probably learn a thing or two from my mum, like how to freestyle a victoria sponge without a recipe).

Awe inspiring, because mum displays levels of selflessness unfathomable to someone like me who has never before been responsible for keeping someone else alive. Awesome, because when I moaned about tidying my room, she never once reminded me that her internal organs rearranged themselves so she could carry me. Inventive, because she’s created text-speak such as ‘C U SN, PTS’ (call you soon, popping to Sainsbury’s.) Devoted, because when her brood arrives home, she’s never happier than dancing amidst the chaos we bring. Hilarious, because she sings along with no idea of the words, and really doesn’t care. Devoted, because she’d drop anything (but a chocolate) at any time or hour to be there if we needed her. Formidable, because her love for her family is endless, and she asks for absolutely nothing in return. And for all these reasons, plus a trillion more, I need my Mum now as much as I did the day I was born.

I apologise for this saccharin post, particularly since I’m aware that not everyone is lucky enough to have a role model quite like mine. If it’s not Mum then I hope there’s someone else that can help you on your way. I promise that I’m as grateful as I am lucky to be able to learn from the best and in two months time, I’ll be giving it a good go. I’ll be taking the lead from my Mum who is every bit the Mum I hope to be. How I can begin to say thank you for that?

For a start, thank you for carrying me in your tum for 9 months mum, I owe you one. X

 

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Happy Birthday mumma x

18. The importance of being unexceptional.

Does anyone aspire to be average? Nobody hopes for a mediocre meal or a moderately good night out. When your friend goes on holiday, you don’t wish them a fond farewell and a fair to middling time. When you jump on a rollercoaster, you won’t find anyone screaming for it to ‘Be Mooore Ordinaaaaary!’ But this week, I’ve found myself applauding unexceptionality* (*not a real word, but it should be.) According to the docs, my pregnancy is distinctly unremarkable, run of the mill, every day, average. They’ve pulled me out of the ‘high risk’ club and into the dime a dozens. Hallebloodylujah!

Aside from a few very minor appearances, Lucian Lupus is sulking in the wings as something adorably average has stolen the show. I’d argue that there’s no better performance than that of my own tummy jerking and jilting into peculiar shapes, as my baby pirouettes, kicks and flicks. I want to stop strangers in the street and demand they watch. I grab my friend’s hands and force them to feel. Films are paused, conversation is stopped and dinner burns whilst Saint Luke and I stare endlessly at my tummy as our offspring weaves and schemes inside me. Seriously, someone needs to make a reality show about my tummy, because as bonkers as this might sound, there’s a human being growing inside it! It’s got eyelashes and taste buds and fingers! TEN of them!

But as enthused as I am, strangers don’t like to be stopped, friends are unmoved to touch, and Saint Luke is hungry and wants to know what happens at the end of Peaky Blinders. In truth, there’s nothing at all remarkable about my ever so average pregnancy (although I’d argue that it would make a better reality programme than any of the Kardashians.) Ladies get pregnant and babies are born -that’s exactly how the evolution of the human race works you see. And life goes on.

But what if it doesn’t? What if it can’t? What if this beautiful baby that is growing and moving and delicately developing wasn’t in such an ordinary body, in such an ordinary world? This week I read about a pregnant refugee who slit her wrists after failing to stop her makeshift home in Calais from being demolished. Not just a refugee, but a woman – a woman like me with a baby like mine who knows nothing of the world and how cruel it can be… for now.

And as I sit in the comfort of my corner sofa, I wonder what was going through her mind as masked men in riot gear arrived to tear down the only shelter she had – did she feel her baby kick inside her? As they propelled tear gas into the squalid surroundings she called home – did her baby weave and scheme? As the crowd of activists barricaded behind the police, screamed for them to stop – did her baby pirouette and stretch? As her husband who stood beside her was beaten with batons, was her baby dancing inside her even then? With no dignity or hope left, was it the life inside her that led her to want to end her own? Her beloved baby, under stretched skin, kicking and dancing, weaving and scheming – no different from my own.

I feel sick with the injustice of it. I feel angered by reports of ‘migrants’ whose label has stripped them of humanity. I feel overwhelmed with gratitude that I didn’t have to hide for three months in a lorry to find a ‘safer’ home for my unborn. I feel guilt for the Mamas and Papas catalogue that lives under my bed, whilst there are women living without running water and babies below their hearts.

So forgive me if I stare at my tummy a little longer. Forgive me for pausing the TV to seek silence that allows me to savour my baby’s every move. I have got so much to be thankful for, the list is endless. But every day that I wake up cocooned in my pregnancy pillow, I’ll be sure to cherish the fact my decidedly average baby is able to grow within its decidedly average world (and that I wasn’t born a Kardashian).

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17. Did Stalin’s mum eat cake?

Last week was one of landmarks. We had our twenty-week scan and I turned, older. What a wonderful birthday present to have a tour of our baby’s organs! Like fascinated tourists we watched agog as our sonographer guided us on a bewilderingly detailed journey. ‘Here you can see the baby’s stomach, here’s the liver and on your right you’ll catch a glimpse of your baby’s spine. And if you just follow me, I’ll take you to the baby’s brain. Keep up. Photographs and novelty hats will be available in the gift shop.’ What looked crystal clear to our escort looked like a vortex of ever changing shapes to me, until we encountered the face and there upon it, a little up turned button nose that bought a lump so quickly to my throat. Saint Luke and I squeezed hands – he had spotted it too, and it was just perfect.

So I ate cake for two this birthday, at breakfast time. Officially ‘eating for two’ is not allowed in The Rulebook, which is made up of a small library of baby books stipulating precisely what I must do to be a ‘good mother’. It’s really rather overwhelming. What if that book is out of date? What if the authoress is a sadist? What if I don’t want to be a ‘yummy mummy’? What happens if I take the wrong piece of advice or god-forbid I find my own way?! Does that make me a bad mother? And let’s face it, a bad mother is the worse kind of bad human being. Did Gengis Khan have an inept mother? Did Hitler’s mum eat brie? Donald Trump’s mother almost definitely slept on her back. Oh god, why did I eat that second piece of cake?! Shame on me!

And so, it is my solemn responsibility to the future of humankind to read all the advice I can garner and increase my Rulebook knowledge of Do’s and Don’ts. Mostly Don’ts.

Don’t sleep on your back or on your right hand side. Don’t eat the delicious cheese. Don’t forget to make a birth plan. Don’t make a birth plan because you’ll only have to abandon it. Don’t do too much. Don’t do too little. Don’t spend too much money on maternity clothes. Don’t pretend you didn’t just eat that piece of sushi. Don’t lose your place on the NCT course. Don’t panic about the agonising, excruciating, mind blowing pain of labour. Don’t panic!

Much like Beyonce’s private jet, I appear to be harbouring a diva. My ever-changing vessel no longer belongs to me, or at least I’m no longer centre stage of this rig. And to add another layer of complexity, I’ve got Lucian Lupus lingering in the wings, like the curse that waits to crash Cinderella’s party. And so the list of Don’ts gets longer. Don’t forget to take your pills. Don’t stay up late because you’ll suffer the next day. Don’t ease your aches in a hot bath. Don’t do pregnancy yoga because your body isn’t strong enough. Don’t panic about the return of crippling Lupus symptoms bought on by the ‘trauma’ of childbirth. Don’t panic that the doctor used the word ‘trauma’, perhaps he said chicken korma? Yes I’ll have mine mild, thanks. But whatever you do, don’t panic!

But I am panicking. And you know what, it really doesn’t suit me! It’s a most unrecognisable feeling. I didn’t panic when I forgot to bring a calculator to my maths GCSE – not when I fell asleep off stage during a performance of Twelfth Night and was late for my soliloquy. I didn’t even panic when I got lost up a mountain in the Yorkshire Dales during a snowstorm wearing a summer dress and a denim jacket. I just don’t panic, so what on earth has got into me?!

Someone clever once said, ‘panicking is like a rocking chair – it gives you something to do but gets you nowhere’. I feel much the same about The Rulebook – it’s giving me something to read at night as I exercise my pelvic floor, but it’s getting me nowhere! (and I’d much prefer to be watching Master Chef.)

So excuse me as I lay my baby books to rest for a while. I appreciate all their pearls of wisdom, I really do and I don’t profess to know it all, or any of it in fact – you see, I’ve never danced at this disco before. But for the sake of my sanity and as a birthday present to myself, I’m taking Fleetwood Mac’s advice above all others, and I’m going my own way. Admittedly that thought petrifies me, but I’m hoping that once I see that little upturned button nose, I’ll know just what to do.

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I’ll have my cake and I’ll eat it, twice.

16. A surprising Spring story…

My dearests, I apologise for my tardy blog post. I promise I didn’t forget about you, I just needed to wait for the right time – I needed to find the right words. You see, something quite wonderful has happened.

Let me set the scene. (Forgive me if this reads like an episode of Game of Thrones.) Two tiny ovaries were sleeping. Without command they slept for six months, protecting their owner’s body from itself, until one day, one ovary (the left one, which was by far the bravest) woke up. The weather outside was bitterly cold, but inside the ovary was warm and happy; it beamed with brawn. And as chance would have it, at the very same time an army of tens of millions were venturing on a hunting trip. They fought their way through dangerous obstacle courses that claimed many lives; some lost track and took the wrong path, some got caught in the treacherous terrain, some simple gave up the fight. Of the one hundred that remained, only one had strength, stamina and luck on its side and so it was crowned the winner. This was just the beginning of the champion’s fearless adventure…

Five tests, four months, three scans later, here I am today, harbouring one tiny miracle – a baby. Our baby!

My body has betrayed me in many ways since last summer and this is by far its most wickedly wonderful trick. For now, Lucian Lupus has retreated into the recesses, petrified of my ferocious womanly wiles. How could such a duplicitous villain possibly enter into battle with a body that’s preparing a new life? How could it stand in the way of a mother giving her unborn all the goodness it needs to thrive? BACK OFF LUCIAN LUPUS, I’M MAKING A HUMAN BEING IN HERE! And in the very act of doing so, I feel superhuman… I feel quite magical in fact.

In the first four months of pregnancy that are characteristically plagued by sickness and fatigue, my body has danced a merry jig! I feel better than I have in months! When my Super Doc reflected on my super test results, he mused ‘you’ll just have to keep getting pregnant’, at which point Saint Luke fainted into my arms.

My darling baby, I can’t quite believe I’ve got to wait until September to meet you! I’ve got so much to tell you, and so much to thank you for. You’ve already changed my life in many marvellous ways. I need to tell you that you came in the darkest of days when I was struggling to find any light. I want to thank you for casting the brightest of sunshine to warm my beaten body. I want to thank you for my re-born love of chips and revived repulsion for spice; for the excuse to buy new underwear and ask for seconds (twice.) I need to tell you that your Dad will be a rock that you can always depend on, and I’ll be fantastic at organising themed birthday parties. I want to thank you for allowing me to bring joy to so many people we have told about you; I wish you could see the look on their faces and sparkle in their eyes. I want you to appreciate the support you’ve bought from surprising places; you are so incredibly loved by a chorus of people who haven’t even met you yet. I want to thank you for putting my every ache and pain into perspective and for making me feel more empowered to fight than I’ve ever felt before. I want to tell you that I’m still a little bit scared and sometimes I can’t sleep at night because chocolate cake doesn’t count as 1 of my 5 a day (not even 5 slices). My brave little one, I want to thank you for standing up to my archenemy when you were only the size of a kiwi fruit and for putting the skip back in my step. Gosh you really are incredible. I’ve got so much to thank you for my darling, and I’ll spend the rest of my life making sure you know how much I love you (which doesn’t mean you don’t have to tidy your room.)

Even in my most inspired / medicated creative moments, I couldn’t have written a plot twist quite like this. Like the most fantastical stories, mine has come with a spectacular change in fortune. Except unlike Game of Thrones, this story is true. And it’s our story Luke; our baby is the story of me and you. To be continued…

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Wind swept and blown away.

15. You won’t find me sober in a sailor’s hat.

I am officially on the mend, and for the first time in seven months I find myself stepping into life as it was, except the landscape has changed and the terrain is trickier. As I joyfully attempt to navigate myself back to normality, I’m surprised by the greatest hurdle I’ve had to cross – a raging torrent of booze.

Once upon a time I heroically struggled to find two days in the week that I wasn’t drinking, with a diary precariously packed to the rafters. I’d be at your birthday, bar mitzvah or bun-fight with bells on, always with a drink in hand. And why? Simply because I just love a Really Good Time. For me, alcohol has never been medicinal; it’s not a crutch to lean upon or a faithful friend. I’ve never been one to drown any sorrows and I’m certainly not an introvert looking for truth serum to coax me from my shell. The simple truth is that I enjoy the heightened emotions that come with a tipple or two, which is nothing but a good thing when you’re in an excellent mood 98% of time.

White wine gives my wild side a wild side. Life is louder, the crowd congenial, everything is funnier and I can dance like Britney. No really. Just. Like. Britney. And I never knew my legs could bend like this, and listen to my hilarious story and have I ever told you that I love you? Because I really really do, and let’s start a limbo! I LOVE this song. Everyone come back to mine for a party!

The following morning hits, and I awake in a sailor’s hat but can’t entirely remember how I came to be wearing it. Like a pro, I equip myself with an emergency lifejacket of carbs to keep me afloat. By midday my heavy head begins to clear. By 7pm post-work whistles are wet to toast the day that’s done, and conversation free falls from discussions to debates, to heartfelt outpourings with strangers who feel like your very best friend. Life is louder, the crowd congenial, everything is funnier and I can dance like Britney. No really! Let’s start a limbo! I LOVE this song. Everyone come back to mine for a party! Etc Etc.

Not for a moment do I regret my collection of anecdotes and hangovers, surprise receipts and monotonous repeats. I drink with a reckless abandon because I’m FUN, and FUN people are never the responsible driver. FUN people are never clock watching in the corner. FUN people never call time at the bar. FUN people never say never. GOONIES NEVER SAY DIE! Until now…

The cocktail of drugs I’m on leave little room for cocktails with umbrellas and cherries. For seven months the safety of my sofa has shielded me from the social grenade that is abstinence, but with my health restoring it’s time to step back into the throng, and step back sober. I’m treading nervously into unchartered territories of Sunday pub lunches without red wine; dinners with friends and mocktails; boozy client lunches with no booze?!?! Having annually failed Dry Jan, I’ve been shocked by the ease of my ride on the wagon. Restraint is painless when you’ve no choice in the matter. But I’m also astounded at how incredibly different dry-life feels. Immeasurably different. Unrecognisable in fact.

Life is calmer. The pace is slower and somehow more considered. I’m sharper at work, brighter even. I lose fewer weekends to hangovers, phones to taxis and secrets to strangers. I’m storm free and I’m in control. The peaks and troughs are less extreme. The ride is mild; it doesn’t make me whoop with joy, or throw up. I leave before conversations get loud and make less sense. I wake up fog-free. Dialogue is more sincere, and insincere chat less bearable. I’ve learnt to listen, really listen and I no longer forget.

But I’m acutely aware of the piety that is projected onto people that exhibit such self-control; I’m aware because I don’t get invited to as many lunches. I’m self conscious of the label that’s attached to restraint, and find myself proclaiming how much I miss the good stuff, and that I can’t wait to get stuck in as soon as I’m able. But that’s a lie – I just don’t want people to think I’m boring. And here’s the secret – perhaps I am a little less fun and a little more boring, and I really don’t mind.

Since Lucian Lupus knocked on my door, my priorities have changed. I’m no longer seeking out the next deliciously debauched adventure; I’m simply happy to feel well and able to enjoy life again. I’m fulfilled without dancing a limbo. I’m satisfied without hangover carbs. I’m content just being me. I’m still fun loving, I just won’t be waking up in a daze and a sailors hat, not for a while.

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Behind a bar I wasn’t supposed to be behind.

14. I’m storing up the good stuff…

This past week has been a most excellent week. For the first time in a very long time I feel like I belong to the body I’m in. I don’t hear myself groan as I walk up stairs or wince as I sit. Tiredness doesn’t creep up and knock me out unreasonably at reasonable hours. My counterfeit smile has been replaced with the real deal because at long last, I can see my reflection and recognise it as my own. I’m back.

Lucian Lupus has taken leave. Perhaps he’ll return with a vengeance just to spite my mood, but when he does, if he does… I’ll be ready for him. I’m going to bottle this favourable feeling and use it as a tonic to fight his mighty malaise. I’m bottling this feeling for some rainy day PMA.

The words below are a potent rescue remedy, to be used in cases of emergency. (Penalties for improper use apply.)

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Look lively Lush, and don’t for a moment dwell on what’s wrong with the world. What possible good can come of focusing on your own ill-feeling and all the answers you don’t have. Look past the time you got ripped off, left out, or made to feel small; that time you were called up first or not recalled at all. Don’t eat food that isn’t completely delicious, just because someone somewhere told you that it’s good for your third intestine. Forget about the texts you shouldn’t have seen, that email you wish you’d sent and the time your heart was shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. Listen to your gut before you listen to advice from strangers, because your gut knows you better than they do. Call mum because she probably knows more than your gut. Don’t lust after snazzy expensive things you can’t afford– they won’t make your cheeks hurt from smiling, no matter how snazzy. Stop wishing it hadn’t happened to you, or could happen for you, or wondering why it happened for them instead. Don’t long to turn back a clock that’s impossible to turn because your life didn’t quite go as your sixteen-year-old self had planned. Your sixteen year old self wasn’t as wise as you are now. Enjoy the plot twists. Eat donuts even though they probably want to kill you, because there’s no joy quite like jam dripping from your chin. Eat fruit too. Don’t turn a blind eye to sights you’d rather not see; be mindful of the bigger picture you’re in. Be kind. Wear comfortable shoes and red lipstick. Be thankful for the friends that love you even when you’ve got nothing funny to say, and forget about the ones who have so easily forgotten you. Listen to Taylor Swift and shake it out. Worship at the alter of Saint Luke who is the slowest cook in London, but will always deliver a wonderful meal in two to three hours (AND wash up.) Laugh at the impeccable timing of a punctured tyre in the rain. Laugh a lot. Smile at people because more often than not, they will smile back and it feels good when they do. Enjoy the warmth of your electric blanket, that’s warmer still because it was an unexpected gift. Steer clear of strangers on Instagram who only ever look tanned, ironed and dead behind the eyes; they may have a beach house in Miami but they have no idea how good the view of London is from the 88 bus. Relish in the bits of your body that are behaving as they should and use them wisely. Use your brain most of all; challenge yourself to use it some more (and when you’re tired, watch videos of the Honey Badger on You Tube). Read words that inspire you and watch Ted Talks about things you don’t understand. Understand that life can be cruel, but no amount of melancholic musings can stop that, or help at all. When your mood turns sour, it’s time to count your blessings and make sure you count them twice. You are responsible for your own happiness and you are capable of finding it, even in uncomfortable shoes and situations. You really don’t have far to look.

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I’m off to see The Super Doc next week – if he doesn’t tell me that my medication is working, I’ll eat my hat, and his.

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The bright side.

13. Red Lipstick: my weapon of mass deception

Over the last couple of months my friends may have noticed my penchant for red lipstick. Whether it’s accompanying a black silk shirt or tracksuit bottoms, I really don’t care – the lipstick stays on and it’s always ruby red.

I slap it on after a sleepless night. I reapply after puking at the bus stop (my fellow commuters wondering how I’d come to be so drunk at 9am). I sport it because my body is feeling fragile but my lips say I’m fearless (and probably French).

Sometimes I misjudge the boundaries and find it creeping towards my nostrils, and sometimes I forget it’s on and Saint Luke looks like he’s been mauled by an angry mob (or gob). It seeps deeply and defiantly into the ravines of my lips, an Armageddon survivor like a chic cockroach. It’s often out of place, it’s always high maintenance, but I’m committed to the cause because every time I go red, someone will say ‘you look well’. Lush – 1, Lucian Lupus – 0.

And much like a pantomime dame, I do look really rather jolly. Thankfully I’ve managed to forgo the common Lupus rash across the face (a la Seal) marking my days with disease. Instead, Lucian Lupus stays hidden – a devious, duplicitous villain, cloaked in my clothes, skin and bones.

I wonder if life would be easier if I wore what I’m truly feeling like a badge? I’d have one on my back that reads ‘Slow moving human – body hurts.’ I’d have one on my shoes that says ‘please tie me – tricky to bend down.’ I’d especially like one in bold across my chest, ‘temporarily out of order. Maintenance aware.’ On some days I’d like to swaddle myself in Hazard Tape, warning onlookers of perilous obstructions ahead after only two hours sleep.

I don’t want these signifiers to provoke pity, but perhaps a little understanding of what I’m masking. I’ll never be the bore that responds to a courtesy ‘how are you?’ with a list of ailments – no one wants to hang around that person! But sometimes I’d like my auto-reply, ‘I’m really well thanks!’ to come with a few caveats. Namely, ‘I’m normally much more fun. I’d like to say something humorous now but I’m too tired. Of course I’d have a glass of wine if my medication would allow it. I’ve got lots I want to say, but I’m distracted by the aches. I think you’re really funny but it hurts to laugh. I hate to leave early; I’m usually the last girl standing. This isn’t really who I am. This isn’t who I want to be. Please bear with me.’

But it’s not appropriate to whisper in people’s ears and what would it achieve if I did? Would people treat me differently if I came adorned with warning signs? Would people don their kid gloves and feel removed with misunderstanding? That would surely be the worst of the Lucian Lupus curses. The very last thing I need is sympathy to reinforce any self-indulgent pity. On the contrary, I need to be reminded to fix up, look sharp and get on with it.

On goes the war paint, on it goes, taunting Lucian Lupus like a flash of a matador’s red cape. On goes the signage that says I’m bold, brave and far from feeble. On goes the mark of glamour and joie de vivre, on it goes, masking whatever it is I’m trying to hide. So when people ask ‘how are you?’ I’ll leave my red lips to do the talking, without having to say a word.

*****

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Pucker up, it’s show time.

12. Miles Davis and the Mexicans

My weekend began with a text to Saint Luke; ‘I’m 79% sure I’m having a heart attack’. I wasn’t, a chainsaw had just taken residence in my chest. I crawled into bed and was surprised when a family of Mexican neighbours arrived to wish me well. I was grateful that they’d come, all eight of them, but as they sat awkwardly on my bed I felt terribly self-conscious and the small talk was dwindling. I shouted to Saint Luke for back up, concerned that no one had offered these poor Mexicans a drink! But he wasn’t there and neither were the Mexicans, so I fell back into a fevered sleep.

Saint Luke mused on the ‘best-laid plans’ for our weekend that were promptly cast aside, whilst I wrestled with the aches in my body, the chainsaw in my chest and the Mexicans on my bed. My dad gently suggested, ‘perhaps you’ve overdone it this week?’ If overdoing it means racking up copious lines of kale and raving (reading) until 8pm, then YES I’d overdone it. ¡Ándale! ¡Ándale! ¡Arriba! ¡Arriba! Somebody stop me!

And so it came to pass that I should learn another solemn lesson; I simply can’t make plans, no matter how modest, not even best-laid ones. I spent Saturday sulking in bed, wondering if there’s anything more pathetic than crying over a lost trip to the supermarket. I used to be fun. I used to be a contender! The most frustrating thing is not being able to predict when I’ll be visited by Lucian Lupus, or Mexicans, because there seems to be no warning, not even a courtesy call. How rude!*

Last week I was thrilled to have accomplished five days of work with relatively manageable pain, as long as I kept my inner tempo tuned to soft jazz. This is no easy feat for a girl who opposes the sedentary beat she has to keep**. You see, because I’m upbeat and excitable by nature, I often forget myself at work when we win a new job, or someone tells a hilarious joke or reveals a most wonderful sandwich, only for my body to be thrown back down by a chainsaw. My natural and forced rhythms are constantly at odds; it’s like an experimental jazz battle in there (with brief interludes from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.) So perhaps I should have predicted the fall out at the end of last week, which left me surrounded by Mexicans and in a lot of pain, just like Miles Davis***. And maybe my dad was right (he tends to be) and I did too much. And maybe I brought it on myself. Damn that natural funky rhythm of mine!

But where does that leave me? I don’t want to slow down the up-tempo beat that makes me, me. I don’t want to walk instead of run, smirk instead of smile, titter instead of laugh with my head thrown back. I don’t want to dampen my spark any more than I’ve already had to, because I’m in danger of fizzling out entirely. I can barely recognise myself beneath all the cotton wool, and I’m finding it hard to breath.

Before my laboured beat makes me feel downbeat, I must remember that this departure from myself is Only Temporary. Lupus Troopers, when the music changes, so must the dance my friends. Hang up your sequined trousers, but don’t abandon the idea of ever wearing them again. Leave your best-laid plans at the door and collect them on the way out of this mess. Sit back, relax, turn your electric blanket up to 11, and tune in to soft jazz. Lay down that boogie and play that funky music, until your pills kick in. (And please don’t stress if you’re unexpectedly visited by Mexicans; perhaps they’re listening to the music too).

***

* I’m not suggesting all Mexicans are rude – just hallucinated ones.    

 ** This sentence is also a poem. You’re welcome.        

*** Replace ‘Mexicans’ with ‘New Yorkers’ and ‘pain’ with ‘trumpets’. Now that’s Miles Davis.

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In days of yore, when the sparkly trousers were in action.