Learning to feel better and live beyond
In my last blog post, I spoke about the final week of our holiday in France being a time to reflect and make changes. I've decided to document this part of my healing journey because I need to have something tangible to look back at. Writing my blog feels very cathartic and gives me huge emotional relief. Through my honest and heartfelt words, others may also share this benefit, taking some value in this strange reality I've found myself living.
During the early days of diagnosis, I will admit, I felt utterly confused and overwhelmed by the volume of information I was bombarded with. Loving messages, snippets of information and healing recommendations to help me fight the unwelcome imposter in my body came flooding in.
Even though they were mind-boggling, I felt so appreciative of every single message I received. To reduce the confusion I was experiencing, I followed my gut instincts and did what my Oncologist suggested alongside my research.
I've spent the last 10 months recovering from the shock of the diagnosis, firstly getting through chemo and then when I finally came through that fog, I got social. Post-treatment, I wanted to find a way to enjoy life and forget for a moment that I was living with cancer. I did this by spending time with my children. Planning fun things with friends and family. Going to tonnes of gigs, sparkling my way around Glastonbury and just living my life. I guess I was trying to forget and keep the dopamine flowing.
From the outside looking in, it may have seemed strange to see someone with my diagnosis grinning from ear to ear, out partying and drinking cocktails. For me, though, this was a time of release. I wasn't ready to face my reality; I wanted to have fun and feel carefree while I was well enough to do so. I came under fire and criticism during that time. Still, I forgave myself, knowing it was temporary and that I was choosing to celebrate life.
A time to reflect and heal
I reflected on these choices during the last week of our holiday whilst we were alone as a family. I'd broken my phone at Disneyland, and consequently, all external influences went silent. Whatsapp was down, no Instagram or Facebook; it was quiet, strange and a little unnerving. I noticed that I'd pick up my phone and distract myself whenever I had uncomfortable thoughts or started to face my cancer reality. This worked, of course, but it's an unhelpful behaviour pattern I now realise I need to address. The body keeps the score, and burying your feelings and emotions damages you, which can lead to poor health and disease.
I'm now starting to research this, and it came as a massive realisation that I've got to work on myself in order to live longer and heal.
Like everyone, I've faced a fair bit of trauma in my life, and I've become an expert in switching off my emotions. It makes me profoundly uncomfortable to feel someone's pity. I avoid conflict and can't bear upsetting others or making someone feel sad. I also get fatigued repeatedly, talking about myself and what I'm going through. I've always wanted to be a happy, positive person that brings joy to the table. On the few occasions I've lost my temper, I've also been told that I was crazy or acting like a psychopath. Luckily I don't have those people in my life anymore. Still, I am left with the hangover of that and the self-limiting beliefs I've built into my everyday internal voice. A voice filled with so many self-destructive put-downs going round and round in my head. I don't think I am alone in this. Perhaps I am showing the worst side of myself by sharing this, but sometimes being vulnerable is a positive. If we are honest, we all have built-in stories that we hide from, and use social media to cover them up as best we can. We take them on from the most minor comments people make, which ends up who we become.
I was recently size-shamed; the person thought I was asleep, but I wasn't. The outcome of this comment, which I think was said in jest but shared in front of my family, was over a week of rumination about how my legs are too big and I'm not slim enough. I realise now this is utterly ridiculous; I am a size 8/10. I should love my body. My legs have carried me through over forty years of life, including two marathons, multiple pregnancies and now life-saving hospital appointments. I should be in awe of my body and celebrate it. I should definitely not berate myself for having athletic legs. I now realise that when you suppress your emotions it causes you damage which can, in some instances, turn into disease.
I'd never point the finger at anything or anyone, but I've found it fascinating to learn recently that disease in the lungs can be a representation of buried grief.
Making the necessary changes
So my steps to try to turn that around started on the 20th of August. I started The Magic by Rhonda Byrne and will practice this for the next 28 days.
I've also removed alcohol and sugar from my diet to give me the best possible chance. There are mixed reports about the benefits of this. Still, some studies say that alcohol and sugar increase the chances of cancer metastasising, so I thought it was worth trying.
I started listening to the audiobook The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober, in which the author Catherine Gray talks about her struggles with alcohol. Her experience was quite extreme, but perhaps not actually that far from the reality of a random wild drunken night we've probably all experienced at some time. I have to say I did find it hard to relate, but there were many parts that I thought, gosh, that's how easy it is to fall into a drinking spiral. We all know how we can feel by the end of December after a long month of festivities and an 'it's Christmas' attitude where all self-control goes out the window.
I got about halfway through the book but felt it wasn't quite where I was. I rarely drink during the week, and I certainly don't crave alcohol every day. I notice the more you drink, the more you want, even if it's just the odd glass. Alcohol masks all sorts of feelings; boredom, frustration, and sadness, but the emotional and physical hangovers are never worth the short-lived happiness you get whilst drinking.
What I found resonated with me was episode #277 of Dr Rangun Chatergee's Live well, Live Longer podcast titled, Is it time for a tactical break from alcohol?. The guest speaker is Andy Ramage of One Year No Beer. Andy talked about being a middle-road drinker; that's probably what I identify with the most. I resonated with everything in this podcast. I would recommend it to anyone who has wondered about taking a tactical break from alcohol, wants to feel better and make more out of each day. I am now at the point of editing this blog three weeks in, and I'm enjoying the break. I'm doing it for health reasons, both physically and mentally. I don't want to become a preachy non-drinker. I've always worried I'd be classed as boring if I didn't drink. This podcast covers all of that, and I found it really insightful. In any case, I'd much rather be alive and boring than dead because of my indulgence.
This decision came after our holiday in France. I didn't drink at all during the last week of our holiday, but during the first week, I indulged and felt pretty ropey most mornings. I don't want to dull my life down, and alcohol makes me tired and feel not quite as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the mornings. I also can't help but think of the damaging effects on my brain and body. I want to be the most present mum I can be, and having a fluffy head the next day with three lively boys isn't all that fun.
Another book I've just devoured is Bigger Than Us by Fearne Cotton. I love Fearne. I can relate as we are the same age; she has a blended family and thinks about the bigger picture. I drew a comparison to her witty stories of meditating as a teenager. I resonated with so much in this book. It made me realise that the daydreaming I'd been conditioned to let go of as a child was actually me manifesting my dreams. I was told by teachers and the people around me to stop dreaming and to focus on my studies. I was told I wasn't academic and would have to work hard to amount to anything. Going to school in the 90s was tough. I remember clearly going to a careers officer at secondary school and being told a good career path for me was to be a lollipop lady. What the hell! Anyway, that's another story. After reading this book I feel inspired to live a life of more purpose and connection with nature. Fearne's words and research have given me the tools and practices to help me implement this in my daily life. I am thankful to Fearne for writing this book, as it helped me look at the bigger picture, which is essential right now. Thank you, Fearne. x
I'm now listening to Heal Your Life by the incredible late, Louise Hay while I go out and do my daily run. There is something mesmerising about Louise Hay's voice; she is so gentle, calming and wise. It is so very soothing running in the elements and nature, listening and learning about how to be kind to yourself, talk to and heal the inner child. I used to think this kind of thing was OTT, but now I am actually tuning into how I talk to myself, I realise I've got an internal voice which spans a lifetime of self-criticism and self-berating.
Waking up to a new world
One of the biggest realisations over the last few weeks is how addicted I have become to social media. I believed it was the only way I could become successful in my business, and my head was constantly filled with it. I was spending hours looking at what other people were doing. I felt lost at times. The whole fake it till you make it thing doesn't sit well with me, so I generally used it to spread positivity and scroll. This only made the internal criticism louder. I felt like everyone was competing to prove they had the best life. I am unsure how long I will be away from social media as I've identified that it's not a safe space for me at this current time in my life. Instead, I will look inward to my family and spend my energy making real-life connections in person, talking to friends on the phone rather than streams of Whatsapp messages. That said, I've made some fantastic friends through social media, and perhaps if I do go back to it, I will have to be mindful of the time I spend on it and also the accounts I follow.
To distract myself from my addiction, I now reach for a book, a kindle or write. I will continue sharing the books I've read with you all. There are quite a few...
As I write, I am preparing to leave the house to head to Derriford Hospital. I had a telephone consultation with the neurology oncology team to confirm they gave me the green light to have Stereotactic Radiotherapy.
I've had the MRI to determine the plan for this targeted treatment and have had my mask fitted in readiness for the first session. The face shield is made from a white mesh and would not look out of place as a Halloween costume. I bloody love Halloween; in fact I love any excuse for a celebration, happiness and spreading fun, especially for the children. I never understand why people get angry about celebrations. I want my children to have unforgettable fun-filled, joyous memories of these times.
Once my mask is ready, they will crack on with zapping the unwelcome Mets in my brain. Three of them are being targeted in this treatment and I have high hopes. There can be some memory loss, headaches, and nausea due to swelling, but I've gotten used to that over the last few weeks as the irritation from the Mets has worsened. I can't help but wonder whether they will zap something that could make me Einstein (one can only hope), or perhaps it will erase all childhood and ancestral trauma memories. I'm joking, but it does help to reframe the thoughts I have around this and not look at it negatively, as this is not a bad thing despite it being a huge ordeal to go through. I feel so bloody lucky to have the service of the NHS and treatment like this available to me.
I'm going to leave you today with something that really moved me.
Since I've stepped away from social media in the last few weeks, it has enabled me to look more within and place value on things that can't be bought.
We are more than what we have, where we are or what we own. The number of followers we have on Instagram doesn't define us, the houses we live in or the car we drive don't make us more special than anyone else, and our experiences don't make us greater or more important than others. The jobs we hold are great, but life is about real connection with family, friends and nature.
My learning so far is something that I'll always now be studying as it's so easy to lose ourselves in the small stuff.
Life is too short to spend your time trying to be perfect, the richest, the most successful. Or trying to have the biggest and best life; it is so much deeper than that. Your success is not measured by what you have, it is about love, kindness and how you treat yourself, others and the planet. The planet will always be here, as will your ancestors.
I opened this blog with a poem from the book Inward by Yung Peublo. I'm closing it with another, which has made me think about life, how we interact, and what we hold as our purpose. It touched me to the core and made me think there is so much more to life than we might realise.
Love to you all,