Monday, 15 June 2009

Carry on Doc

We have just managed to get around to signing on with our local surgery, and this morning was my first doctor's appointment. It was not with the lady who is to be my usual doctor, but with a locum. As you can imagine, over the years I have collected some choice anecdotes about the 'pull yourself together' school of medicine, so I never hope for much when meeting a new quack. This one had a mobile which kept going off during our consultation, which does not auger well for a start, though I have had worse - the GP who kept asking me for advice on how to work his computer during my consultations with him for one. This one seemed very nice. He diagnosed several 'itis-es', then started questioning me off the cuff about my ME, as if it was the wrong diagnosis. Who made the diagnosis? Had I had any blood tests? What were my symptoms?

Now, this is a good one. Ask any ME patient, and they will tell you that in the midst of a relapse they can hardly remember their name, let alone a comprehensive list of all the myriad symptoms they suffer. Usually, if I expect to be questioned on this, I make sure Pat is with me, as his memory is better than mine and he has a far better idea of what I am capable of than I do. Unfortunately, he wasn't available, and I had to go on my own. If I'd only known... but never mind. In such cases, I always end up coming away with a sense of frustration and spend the next week thinking up all the useful things I should have said. (Hindsight is a regular companion of the ME patient.)

If this locum had had access to my medical records, which of course had not yet come through from our old practice, he would have had a better chance of understanding my case. If he'd had time to read them, which seems unlikely seeing as it is such a huge practice. He certainly did not understand that this was my first visit, and he was supposed to be taking a detailed medical history as a matter of course. And, how could I, sitting there like a startled rabbit in a car's headlights, explain my situation to him in ten minutes?

The problem with the way the medical establishment sees disease, and mine in particular, is as a series of isolated 'itis-es' that are stuck together with glue. They are scientists who are trained to break problems down. It seems they struggle to conceive of the human body is a complex system of systems, a complex, holistic ecosystem of interdependencies. ME is a collapse of that interdependent system. It is a whole bunch of things that break down. Hence the long list of symptoms. And if you treat only one thing, you fail to understand the knock-on effect it has on other systems. You fail to understand the collapse of the whole.

You can observe the failings of this method in pretty much every British person over seventy. They have tablets for their arthritis, which have the side effect of upsetting their stomach, so they have tablets to control that. These knock out their blood pressure or make them depressed, so they have more tablets for those problems. Maybe they have trouble sleeping so they have more tablets for that. Which creates ever more side effects, and so on and so on. When I see how many medications my mother-in-law is on, for instance, though she has very poor health, I can't help feeling that the medicine is half the problem. She practically rattles! I certainly know from my own experience that taking a painkiller will upset my guts, which upsets my eating, my teeth, my sleeping, and which requires me to take something else, and on and on in ever decreasing circles.

Hello? It doesn't take a genius to work this out!

Human beings are such complex creatures and there are so many factors that need to be considered in a diagnosis. What a person is eating, whether they are drinking enough water, how much stress they are under, whether they are exposed to certain agricultural or industrial chemicals, how they have been effected by past medical treatments which may have caused more damage than they healed, and so on - all of these factors need to be considered and more. So how can you tell me that a complete stranger without any medical history of me can tell me that I only have ME if I have been diagnosed as such by a consultant?

Now I face a new series of tests and medical corridors and strangers prodding and poking me and diagnosing me without looking into my face like I am human being instead of a monkey. Oh, joy. I just love the medical establishment. Almost as much as I love the Tory party....

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Politics (Sorry I couldn't resist)

I've said before that I don't normally make political statements, especially since it's sometimes got me into trouble, but the current climate is worrying me a lot.

Thursday was polling day. We always vote. I feel very strongly that many thousands died so that I could participate in a democracy, and I don't intend to let them down. But this time round, for the first time, I felt I could understand the people who said they had decided not to vote, not because they were apathetic but because they couldn't see any difference between the parties. They are all as bad as each other, they said. Pat and I went off to vote after a great deal of thought, and a complete nightmare trying to find our polling cards ( that's another story which will make another blog post on its own!). I stood there in the voting booth and looked at the acres-long ballot paper, and thought, 'hell, what do I do?'

Let me tell you that I am a dyed-in-the-wool Labour voter. I voted for Neil Kinnock's Labour in 1992, absolutely certain that we would get in. I even had my photo taken with my polling card on the doorstep as I went out to vote (above), utterly certain that my world was going to change. The disappointment was bitter.

For local elections I vote Liberal, simply because I think they are the best party at local level. They listen to local people and they have moral integrity. I would vote for them in a national election if they had any chance of getting in, but with our crap, first-past-the-post system, they haven't a chance of making a difference, especially since I always seem to have lived in staunch Tory areas.

I voted for Tony Blair, even though I though I had concerns about some of his policies, but I figured at least he had a heart. I still think that he did what he really believed in, what he thought was best for the country, despite the Iraq war.

But now we are facing a new Tory government. I remember what it was like the last time round. I remember the heartlessness of Mrs Thatcher, the sheer cruelty of her regime. I remember the horrors of the miners strike, and the misery her years in power left carved in the hearts of many British citizens. It has taken a long time to exorcise those ghosts, and frankly many still remain. While I agree that the Unions needed reining in, and I didn't agree with Arthur Scargill one bit, she still created a society of callousness, and I dread its return. The thought of Cameron, no matter how 'caring' he pretends to be, getting in, is a horror to me.

I remember the day Maggie Thatcher was elected, how I sat at my desk at school and wept. Somehow, even at 9 years old, I sensed what was coming. All I can do now is hope that the dark shadow of fear creeping up on me each time I watch another Gordon Brown disaster on the news is just an old reflex, and not a harbinger of divisions and and heartlessness to come....


I decided today that since I was feeling so dreadful, too dreadful to do anything much, I would indulge myself and spend the afternoon painting. Lately I have been experimenting with colour mixing in different media, trying out techniques with acrylics, watercolours, oil pastels and watercolour pencils. I found I was very rusty, which depressed me greatly. But then its 23 years since my art 'A' level - I don't know what I was expecting, but since I wasn't Van Gogh to start with, its been slow progress. Today I produced the picture above, of Leepe Beach, on the tip of the New Forest. Its a view I saw almost daily until I was in my twenties, so I drew it from memory. It's the first thing I have produced that I am really proud of, that really lives up to my expectations of myself. I may hate it tomorrow, but today I feel proud of it, proud enough to think its worth sharing. I may even frame it and hang it on the wall. Maybe very small and monotone or very limited palette is the way for me to go. In any case, it's a huge step, and I intend to celebrate, so I am playing Tom Jones music and wishing I could boogie!

Thursday, 4 June 2009

The Garnet Dress

Yesterday I went girlie shopping with my gorgeous niece, Amelia. (Actually, it should be pointed out that I have two gorgeous nieces, Amelia and Phoebe, living nearby, as well as several others. They are all gorgeous). It was an unplanned trip, spur of the moment. Suffice it so say that I had been feeling fat, frumpy and forty for several weeks and I decided that I needed to break out of the rut with some advice from a kind but fashionable third party to stand between me and my inner critic. So off we went to town, with the brief to try on lots of clothes, regardless of price, to explore styles and colours and shapes, to challenge what I would normally choose for myself, i.e. the same old stuff.

I tried on this dress. Anything from Coast is usually a winner for me, its all so fabulous, but this was something else. Normally I would never dream of wearing anything with ruffles, especially around the neck. Too flouncy. Makes my boobs look enormous, and they are big enough already. Makes me look like Barbara Windsor. Etc. You know the routine.

This dress was different. Have you ever had the experience of putting something on and realising it makes you look exactly the way you'd always dreamed and hoped you might look in the best of all possible worlds? That's what this dress did for me. In that changing room, I experienced a kind of Annunciation - a 'This is who you really are' moment. It was, to quote Big, 'unbe-fucking-lieveable'.

There is a school of thought in psychology called Gestalt. It is very complicated and I don't understand most of it, but one of the ideas it posits is that we have inside us everything we need, that we are already whole, all we have to do is to get our 'stuff' out of the way, and access that wholeness. My counsellor always reminds me that I keep on about how everything will be better when I have more money/better clothes/the right haircut/get well/publish my novel/come to terms with my childhood/etc etc etc. You know the drill. Everything will always be alright when I am something else than I am right now.

The dress showed me what my counsellor was trying to say. It is a message from the Universe that says, 'you are already all those things you want to be. And you are beautiful.'

All I have to do is try to shout down my inner critic and hold onto that thought.

If you are wondering about the title of this post, it refers to a spell from a fascinating book, 'Embracing the Moon, a Witch's Guide to Ritual Spellcraft and Shadow Work' by Yasmine Galenorn. It uses the visualisation of a gown made of garnets to make one feel beautiful, and therefore to enhance self-esteem. It's a lovely idea. Next time you are feeling fat and frumpy, imagine yourself in a sparkling gown made of precious gems and see how you feel. Or maybe you will be lucky enough to find your garnet gown hanging on a hanger in House of Fraser, and, even if, like me, you can't afford it to buy it, you may have the wonderful realisation that what you are right now is enough.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Time Passes. Listen. Time passes....

I live in an intensely beautiful place. Here in the country, the passing of the seasons is far more marked than in the towns, or even in the semi-rural suburbia of our last home. Every day we see wildlife that many people will see only once or twice in their entire lifetimes. Yesterday, a pair of herons taking flight in the meadow by the river. The day before, a pair of hares loping across the lane. The day before that, a kestrel hunting in the margins of the field beside the copse. An enormous hornet flew down our chimney only last week. (I'll spare you the photos we took of it. Suffice it to say it was jolly big.) We caught it under a pint glass and set it free in the garden. Outside my study window, by the pond, the ducklings and goslings are growing apace. But why does all this make me so sad?

It's not that I am ungrateful for all the beauty around me. It's just that I am clinging onto it, afraid to lose the moment.

May is turning out to be my favourite month of the year these days. I used to think it was October, or September, but now I love the lush frenzy of everything coming into leaf and bloom. (Despite the hayfever!) But it is already June. Somehow, I blinked and missed all that beauty. My eyes just couldn't take it all in. One minute the daffs were coming out, now I find the lilacs and laburnum are almost over. Where did the spring go?

It is not that I don't love this season, but every year it becomes more demanding. It makes me feel desperate because it is all over so quickly. All this beauty is generated, and yet it so quickly dies. And more: I am becoming ever more aware that there are only a limited number of these marvellously fecund moments that I will ever see. My life is finite, just as is that of the tulip or the cornflower.

This probably seems rather over-dramatic to you. Perhaps it is. I can expect another forty years of life, if national averages and family health patterns are anything to go by. Why panic now?

Perhaps it is just that as we get older, we cling onto life ever more tenaciously. We want to get the most out of every juicy moment. We become more aware that life can so easily be taken away. My religion tells me to celebrate these life cycles, to rejoice in Mother Nature clearing her decks for the next generation. I'm not sure that's so easy when yours is the generation that is getting swept away.

The other day I watched a programme about Alzheimers sufferers. The superintendent of a very progressive care home commented that all patients were aware of was the present moment. Their memories have been wiped and they have no capacity to imagine
the future. They live entirely in the now. And it struck me that they have achieved by disease what Buddhists spend lifetimes of meditation mastering, the relief of mindfulness. Of being entirely present. Now. I am coming up against this idea continually at the moment, as if the Universe is rubbing my nose in it. It has generated lots of thoughts about Creativity, which I will share on another occasion. But I wonder if the idea of mindfulness is the solution to taking the sadness out of spring. A wa y to accept that I can never cling onto every single flower, that I can never see them all. And to be at peace with that.