Health, Home, Humour, Lifestyle, Mental Health

Roundabouts.

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Sometimes I think I’m in control of my life. I look at my impressive selection of Tupperware. I regularly buy courgettes. I think about insurance from time to time. And often I feel in control of my life when I’m driving, even if it’s just to the local swimming pool. I feel content, have a purpose. To be honest, I probably enjoy any mode of transport that isn’t the tube, but cars are the best. I can play music out loud, fill the passenger seat with snacks, feel the sun on my right arm and hope I get a lopsided tan.

It must be something to do with the fact I’ve made life decisions that mean I lack stability and a sense of direction in a general way. Sometimes, genuinely, I feel like I’m more likely to win an international snooker championship than ever actually write for a living. Sometimes I’m okay with that. Sometimes I feel happy in the decision I’ve made to chase a seemingly impossible dream and never pay off my student loan. And then other times, I pretend I’m fine and then I have a breakdown at a roundabout for no apparent reason, in the vehicle that’s supposed to represent me at my most sane (a Daihatsu Charade), and realise it’s all got a bit too much.

Recently I lost the plot at a roundabout and realised I’m not superwoman. And I learned that the biggest risk behind being in denial is finding yourself crying in a farm shop car park on the phone to your dad on a Saturday morning. I should have realised, by the level of anxiety the thought of filling my car up at the petrol station on the motorway was causing me, that I wasn’t in a good frame of mind. I should have known, from the fact I woke up, wondered why Ed hadn’t texted me from Scotland to say good night, assumed he’d died and started planning his funeral, that perhaps I wasn’t in the most balanced of moods. Nevertheless, I persisted, and it didn’t go so well.

Of course I’m no longer at the roundabout now, because I drove home, made a cup of tea and called it a day, but I am at a roundabout, permanently it feels, going round in circles, and I don’t know which way to go. I’ve talked before about coming out the other side of a battle with anxiety, dosed up on therapy and ready to rock the universe. And to a degree this is true – most of the time I’m much better than I was before. But right now, it’s not as good as it could be. Part of me wonders if it’s ironic, a twist of fate at work, because in a moment of ambition I signed up for a half marathon to fundraise for Mind UK, and since deciding to try and run 21 kilometres through the city of London in the name of the country’s biggest mental health charity my anxiety has gone through the roof.

One of the most frustrating triggers is a sense of restlessness, boredom or loneliness. It makes me feel like a failure, it makes me panic, it makes me cry. It’s why I don’t spend much time alone in my house. I see plays. I do classes. I run around the park. I see friends. I fill my time with work. But this is complicated because another trigger is exhaustion, doing too much and high levels of stress, and so I often find myself trying to find a balance between doing too much and doing too little. I suppose this is the reason why I seem to have developed a perpetual fear of making decisions and a rather debilitating sense of potential regret or guilt. I’m constantly over-thinking what I should and shouldn’t do, with my day, with my job, with my life.

I’ve become slightly allergic to people asking me ‘How I am’ and ‘How things are going.’ Something bottles up inside me. Genuinely, I have no words, and this is a scary thing for someone who enjoys words. Succulent. Discombobulated. Refrigerator. I feel like I have nothing to say – or that if I did start to actually try and describe how I feel it would be extremely inappropriate in the theatre green room, or during a smear test. But that’s why I have a blog – to open a lid on things unspoken. The other day on Twitter I saw the description for the 19th century equivalent of “meh”; “flobly-mobly,” which means somewhere between well and not-well, and in need of sunshine.

I am extremely flobly-mobly right now.

I really hoped that I could start referring to ‘my anxiety’ as just ‘anxiety’ – something separate from myself, like ‘crunchy nut cornflakes’ and ‘nuclear war’ but I can’t, because it’s a part of me, like my ability to play on words, and my hair. And just like my hair, sometimes my brain behaves, and sometimes it gets a bit frazzled. My anxiety means I spend a lot of time thinking about cancer. It means stomach butterflies. IBS. Chewing the inside of my mouth every day. Not picking up the phone to unknown numbers. Thinking about getting home before I’ve even gone out. Fearing decision making. Intrusive thoughts. Thinking about cancer some more. Restless nights. Palpitations. Distraction. Procrastination. Dread.

However…

My anxiety makes me a caring person. Empathetic. Forward-thinking. Organised. A good party planner (even if once everyone arrives and has a great time I go upstairs to bed). Without anxiety I doubt I’d have acquired my sense of humour. My cynicism. To be honest, I doubt I’d have such good Tupperware, because I’d probably just chill out about routine and money and just buy lunch out more often. My anxiety makes me hungry – for success, for fulfilment, for crème eggs when I’m feeling really low. My anxiety makes me me – a Wednesday’s child, a good friend, a funny person, a writer.

It’s 6.50am. I set my alarm to go on a morning run.* I’m trying to break through this distaste I have for running first thing in the morning. I once had a terrible experience involving a Park run and hay fever and it put me off. But most half marathons seem to be at the crack of dawn, so I need to somehow get through it. I’m in bed, having a cup of tea, waking up, writing, and then I’ll leave the house. It’s sunny outside. This week, I’m doing me. I’m doing the things that make me happy, and giving myself a pat on the back for just getting through it. Often I fall into the trap of thinking anxiety is a weakness, a failure, a system breakdown of sorts. What I forget when I’m panicking, and remember when I’m calm, is that it makes you strong. It’s not easy getting up and going to work on an average day, let alone when your brain has spent all night telling you you probably have HIV. Sometimes it’s really hard just to get on the damn train.

I am lucky. I live in a world where we are beginning to talk about mental health openly. The sun is shining outside. I have a support system. Freak shakes exist. This is a reminder to myself that I need to get back to operating on a scale of gratefulness, love and joy, and not a scale of fear, pressure and guilt. I’m running this damn half marathon whether I like it or not, and I’m running it for brains, and health, and honesty. So you can expect some more from me on this topic. I’ve shut it off for a while, because sometimes it’s quite nice to think you’re chill all the time and crack on like a normal person. But the door’s wide open again. Because I’m hardly normal. I have two pet sharks. And normal is boring.

*I wrote this blog post yesterday and forgot to post it. I’m not going on a run this morning. I have an 8.30am hospital appointment for a colposcopy. The third year in a row that my smear test has come back abnormal (told you I wasn’t normal.) Don’t want to sound like a preacher’s daughter, but go get your vaginas looked at, mates. It’s not the most fun I have on an annual basis but I’d rather this than, you know, my vagina falling out or something. Book. Your. Smears.

 

 

 

Graduates, Health, Home, Humour, Lifestyle, London, Mental Health, Storytelling

A Smear Test Story (Because I’m Worth It)

Since all I do is write about being 25 and IMO the most significant thing that happens to you when you turn 25, if you have a vagina, is getting your cervix scraped, it makes sense to me to document my first experience just because. For anyone lucky enough to have never seen a speculum, remember at school when you put two Pringles in your mouth to make a duck’s beak. It’s basically the lengthier, less tasty and less hilarious medical equivalent of that. 

I know, I know, I too have been wondering why something as sexy as a speculum isn’t used more regularly in porn. 

You guys probably all know that I think I’ve got cancer at the best of times, so there’s never an ideal time to get swabbed for malignant cells. Low on the list though, is a Friday morning at the end of a long week, when you need a wee. 

I began writing this in the waiting room of my doctors surgery. State of mind: trying to make myself as aroused as possible so it hurts less (only half joking). But I’m surrounded by old people, a blood pressure machine and a woman breastfeeding. There’s not a lot of scope at the NHS. It’s got to be said, I know you’re short of funding but a Brad Pitt cardboard cut out wouldn’t go amiss. 

So I’m having all the bad thoughts obviously. Is it like giving birth and will I need stitches after? What if I’m not actually flexible enough to fit in the stirrups? (Actually though – if it makes me more flexible please get me in there now.) Where does the voice that calls out the names actually come from? Just think of The Secret, Emma. Healthy cells, healthy cells, healthy cells. Normal cervix, normal cervix, normal cervix. 

Forty minutes later (clearly my nurse likes to play hard to get) I’m inside. (She’s not…yet). We’re talking. Like a first date (at least what they tell me) where you know there will ultimately be penetration but you go in for a bit of small talk anyway. I’m on the bed. We’ve got onto the subject of arts funding. What can I say? I take my work to bed with me. 

This is 100% worse than losing my virginity. As I spread my legs it occurs to me again that there’s still no Brad Pitt cut-out and this is the least enthusiastic I have ever been. What if my zest for life never returns? What if it’s sealed up in the pot of my hopefully benign cells and gone forever?

This nurse is so nice but seriously, stop asking me about work while you’re inside me. Hasn’t anyone told you it’s wrong to mix work and vaginal probing? Oh wait…your work is vaginal probing. On a positive note it turns out the best possible way to perfect mindfulness is a smear test. It’s apparently the one time I am completely in the moment.

It’s not peaceful. It’s not relaxing. I might be a bit sick. 

Now it’s over. I do feel fine really, maybe like 19% violated, but no more panicked and astray than normal. I may have told the nurse I loved her for treating me nicely giving her in all honesty not that inaccurate an insight into what I was like when I was single. (Ed, my hostage boyfriend, worries this bit makes me look a bit fragile. Thoughts on a postcard?) 

As I walk to the bus stop some builders yell at me from some scaffolding. Clearly I’m giving off some sexy post-swab vibes. Turns out getting swabbed gives you the courage to yell back at men in fluorescent jackets who catcall. My only regret is not telling them I’ve just had my cervix scraped, just to put them off for life, but I am still secretly pleased they called me ‘that blonde’ and not ‘that ginger.’  

I’m a bit devastated that they didn’t use the stirrups. Now I’ll never be a gymnast. I was also kinda hoping for a free Lucozade and Club bar after, like when you give blood. Next time I’ll try to bleed more. 

All in all, now I’ve had a cup of tea and feel like my pelvis definitely isn’t permanently damaged, I’m pretty content with how it went. On a scale of 1-10 on the ‘Is it worth it to know you’re cancer free?’ scale it’s definitely an 11. Realistically, as a growing woman, it’s not the worst thing that our vaginas are going to go through in life and the desire to live a long and happy life and to experience everything the world might throw at my cervix is the reason I’m gonna get my smear test every year. Cancer can piss off.  

Ironically when I arrived at Victoria station en route to work, cervix intact, the entire building was being evacuated. The words ‘exploded’ were being thrown around lightly and all I could think amidst the chaos was if my ‘lucky reason’ for not being on the tube at the time of a terrorist attack is because I was having a smear test that is bloody terrible because I’ll be indebted to a speculum for the rest of my life. 

A smear test and bomb scare in the same day guys = not the one.  

Turning 25 is scary. Living in London is scary. Cancer is scary. Smear tests are scary. But you just do it, you know? Croissants were of course invented as a post-scrape reward and coming through on the other side of all that fear and vagina-displaying you feel pretty good about yourself. I’m grateful to be swabbed because it’s vital. I’m grateful the security threat was just an unexploded WW2 bomb and no one died. Plus I got quoted in The Metro, hi bucket list. I’m happy I can spend the rest of my weekend with my head down and my legs shut having checked off one major item on the to-do list for age 25. Because I’m worth it.  

Girls, if you haven’t spread your legs yet, go get swabbed and tell me about it after. X