Saturday, 25 July 2015

Turning twenty-two / Birthday Anxiety.

It is my 22nd birthday one week from today. Saturday 1st of August. 
For the past week or so, when I've finally been forced to contemplate my birthday, I've been trapped in a state of pressured panic mixed and mashed up with weirdly specific sadness.
Birthday Anxiety. It's a thing. I've realised this recently, but that's not to say I haven't felt it over the years.

For instance, when I threw together my chilled out festival/hippy-themed party in my back garden to celebrate my 18th and found myself guzzling down on cheap pink wine before everyone arrived as my parents put up the gazebo, due to my fear that the party would fall flat, which could have meant my friends would disown me and that the total ten of a fella I'd invited would never let me see beneath his tight Hollister polo shirt...
Or maybe when I bravely hosted an actual house party-type event one year prior to that and worried so much about my dress, the party room, my boyfriend at the time not socialising with my friends, my friends not being on board my boyfriend... 
No wait, the best example would be when I decided I wanted a trip to the legendary Bluewater shopping centre for my birthday; I counted down the days, I made all of the lists, I planned my outfit -- then when we were all strapped into the car and a matter of minutes away from the turn off to the shopping universe that is Bluewater, it suddenly dawned on me that I really truly hate shopping. 

I'm not sure when the anxiety first sprouted within me; when I was younger, a carefree curly-haired little kid, I loved my birthdays. I loved everything in the world screeching to a halt especially for me just one day a year (when in fact given the type of tyke I was, I'm pretty confident that most days had to be all about me). When I grew up and started wearing my deadly serious and very chic navy blue school uniform instead of the bright and cheery red I'd worn just down the road, I realised that my birthday being August 1st really did suck all the balls. I was the youngest in my year group! Everyone was ahead of me! For some reason being fifteen was so much more grown-up than fourteen, for starters. Then everyone was obsessed with hitting sixteen and being officially and legally able to get laid, and then of course came seventeen with the provisional licence and personalised number plate attached to it -- that really hurt, when everyone was driving to and from college and I had to get two trains there and back, plus just the general freedom and coolness of having access to a car and blasting the latest jams while putting your foot down on the dual carriageway... Finally, eighteen. I was luckier than most people my age in that I had friends who took pity on me and lent me their licences and passports if I ever wanted to tag along on a night out in wild old Eastbourne. (Plus these friends who did the lending were mostly happily coupled-up and so had no need to go out drinking, they'd be staying in all weekend ordering takeaways and watching vampire fantasy series with their other halves) (those boring suckers). Still, I yearned to not have to borrow ID or sneak into Spoons through the back gate. I had my shiny pink licence, which was most coveted the year before, and yet it was useless to me.
I always envied those lucky girls born in September - their intelligence was a year above everyone else, their breasts appeared before term had even begun, and they got to do everything sooner. 
Anyway, hitting nineteen was a massive relief. Finally! An age that has no advantages to it, if anything it's more exciting than being eighteen, as suddenly eighteen seems so young... Nineteen was a comfy fit, and I happily basked in its boringness. Then twenty, too, actually. Ah, but then I foolishly thought twenty-one was only a big deal in America - nope! People party hard when they turn twenty-one, and they're showered with pricey permanent presents (I got my lovely purple laptop, tie-dye Vans and all of the jewellery I could ever want, ever). So I suppose twenty-one is the last age you reach where it matters a whole lot. Other than the milestones, e.g. thirty, forty, and beyond. 
So I'm happy to be turning twenty-two. And not just because there's a top notch song to encapsulate this age. No, I just don't feel like a fun fresh twenty-one-year-old any more. The number twenty-two works for me. It even looks cute. 22. Two twos, side by side, like ducks swimming upstream on a sunny day, no doubt in the River Itchen cackling at the Winchester student population downing pints in pub gardens and neglecting their deadlines due to the sun coming out. *sighs*
Last year I actually arranged a casual little birthday shindig in my beloved Winchester. I'd been worrying about what to do to celebrate my birthday with my friends, as I seem to every year and, yes, am doing a lot this year.
Last year it was nice and simple, a series of drinking sessions at the local pubs which boasted the best gardens, then a dinner at the second best Italian restaurant in town which was open to all those drinking with me at the pubs, then a classy end to the night in Spoons. It was rather relaxed and perfectly lovely, in fact the only thing I stressed over (besides introducing friends from different circles to one another as I inexplicably would stumble over their names, despite knowing some of them for three years) was calling drinks at one pub short as I had the table at the Italian booked for a certain time. What a pleasant crisis! 

A dear friend has pointed out that I can do that this year -- rather than inviting uni friends who are now based all around Hampshire or London, or even the Midlands, to little old Battle which is so far South it practically kisses the sea and gets tipsy with France, I can simply visit them in their little corners or large expanses of the country and celebrate when I'm there! How ingenious. So that's what I'll do. Less pressure that way. I'd hate to invite uni friends all the way down here, for them to then feel obliged to make an appearance in the sleepy South only to have to trek back soon after and splash out roughly £50 on a train ticket. Not to mention bringing a present and/or card! No, no way. It all seems too much to ask, and even if some of these faraway friends did genuinely want to come down this way, I'd be too stressed trying to ensure they had the most magical time and effectively got their ticket money back in joy and wondrous new experiences... It could be a messy and strained experience for all involved. Let's instead meet up somewhere more central or convenient for you, guys, and it can be at any time rather than just around this one day... I think what I'm saying is let's see one another soon. Like, in the next couple of months maybe. That sounds good.

Finally, presents. I'm also anxious about presents. I'm not trying to be coy and modest here. I've been told I'm not materialistic, which I suppose is a nice compliment in this day and age, however that's not what this is down to. I do worry that I've been enough of a nuisance to family and friends recently, so I can't help but feel that my birthday will be just another cry for attention and expense. 
Also, let's hover over that word expense. I am especially upset and worried about spending money these days. It could be partially because I have very little of it, being off work and what not, but it's also the feeling that nothing is worth money at present. I'm content with my big bed, my bookshelves and my laptop, that's me sorted thanks. In fact the only time I'll let myself spend money is when it's going on someone else; birthday gifts for friends, drinks for colleagues, even today I paid the fee for my Grandad's parking. 
For some reason though, yesterday I awoke with the most intense inner urge to go to Hastings (just that alone is shocking enough), get myself (and my sister, perhaps) a decent cuppa or two and then browse in Waterstones for books. I desperately wanted to treat myself to coffee and books. Those are my only vices, it seems. I'll waver over and eventually decide against that cute summer dress or the 79p single download, but I'll spend my millions (which I will earn someday) on a rich beverage and a new release novel. This whole waking up with the desire to buy something, not even something in particular just something under an umbrella, was a breakthrough. 
Anyway, I also hate costing people money, which brings us back to birthday presents. I'll say just this now: The only presents I really require are a cuddle and company. 

I've written about it before, but no matter how anxious and upsetting the run-up to a birthday is, on the day it's always... Just nice. Waking up in the morning and immediately feeling content and comfortable, getting on with your day and even when your only plans are sitting on the sofa watching daytime TV or driving out to the supermarket for extra hummus, you feel the happy sparkles settling on your shoulders and are safely in the realm of your protective birthday bubble. I'm not anxious about that part, at all.

**Apparently I've written a few of the same type things about my birthday before. Oops. Posts can be found here. Please be kind to me okay, I was younger when I wrote them...**

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The latest hit.

Now I won't lie, I considered also posting this sour and somewhat uncouth tweet as my Facebook status, too. Then I realised that it would receive either zero attention because people may be too scared to cross me while I'm in this supposedly foul mood dealing with this latest bout of shitty news -- or an influx of warm messages of love and sympathy. And I didn't want either.

I hate having to constantly give bad news. I'm aware that it's not what others want to hear, and surely after my stream of it for the past year or so, they'll have run out of ways to console me and words to use to keep me going. Mostly though, it's about disappointing and upsetting those close to me - and due to social media and word of mouth, those who aren't so close to me, too.
Also, I never want to disappoint people who marvel at how positive I am. The people who reach out to me in the street and say 'you're amazing!', or complete strangers who say my story has inspired them, or those who share the links to previous posts (the ones that read much more pleasantly and give more of a gung-ho message than this one) for all their friends to read. 

It's all a series of hits, I've realised. This series could just be the first op, the second op, now this treatment. Three big definitive smacks. Looking closer, there's much more. There's a whole boxing match worth of hits. 
Last year, I have several months of unexplained unusual things happening to my body and state of mind -- that was one. I get a series of treatments and tests in hospital, nothing can be found -- that was two. I finally see a neurologist, who as an afterthought puts me in for a brain MRI, one month later I have the MRI and they clock this growth lodged firmly in my cerebellum and close to my brain stem -- that was three. I have to have this huge 9.5 hour-long operation just over a week after diagnosis -- that was four. My recovery takes forever; I have to almost re-teach my body to get up and move, my face is swollen from steroids and my mind, not my brain, is in a fragile state -- that was five. I get my life back together as best I can, I find a job I love beyond belief and even make new friends, then find only a couple of symptoms are recurring -- that was six. I go back to hospital and get checked out, then it is decided that I need a second operation -- that was seven. I then have a recovery process that really proves you can be in indescribable murderous pain and yet still be awake and able to speak, not to mention one side of my head is inflated hideously with excess brain fluid that has gathered between skull and skin because they had to cut through scar tissue and put in an artificial covering over the bone that was cut out and replaced during surgery -- that was a hefty eight. I finally get home, after being readmitted for observation as I was in such pain, and then I get my histology results which are good, my tumour is still low grade -- now I'd call that a misfire, or maybe a punch back at my attacker. I am then referred to a specialist who deals with young adults living with misbehaving low grade tumours, and he tells me that now... I need to have six weeks of daily radiotherapy treatment. This was my KO moment. Right now, I cannot punch back nor can I take any more hits. 

The whole way through the appointment with this foppish specialist fellow, as he sat uncomfortably close to me and habitually peered at me over his indie glasses in a most disconcerting manner, I was working so hard keeping my feelings buried and my minor meltdown delayed. I kept feeling my eyes filling and lips twisting, but I held everything in and kept as subdued as possible, only replying to his inquisitive 'yah?'s with a nod or maybe the occasional 'mm-hmm'. He even looked at me at one point and said, patronisingly of course, 'you going to cry, are you?' I suppressed the urge to slap him, and replied with a deceivingly patient-sounding 'No, I'm taking all of what you're saying in and will react to it all later, thank you. Carry on.'
The only time I risked speaking after that -- and let my voice betray me by wobbling and pitching upwards -- was when I said 'so... When can I go back to work?'

They have to wait for my head swelling to go down before they start this treatment, and are giving that three to four weeks, which means it will most likely kick off at the end of July. I'm hoping that my birthday on August 1st can be slotted in before, though. It would be nice to turn twenty two and not be lying on my back having my head buzzed. 

I'm so upset and feel immeasurably guilty about the whole six-week ordeal. This means a friend or most likely parent will have to drive me to hospital in Sutton on every weekday for six weeks -- that's a 1.5/2 hour journey there and back, just for a 10-20 minute zap session. It'll take out so much time in every day, and not just for me! If it were just me that would be fine, but when someone else has to make that adjustment to their days and carry me around... 
I'm also properly aggrieved because this means I can't go back to work any time soon. On our way to the hospital on June 30th (the most balls day) I'd been excitedly and hopefully clucking to my parents: 'I think I can go back to work soon! I feel okay again... Maybe end of this July!' There was a happy vision coming clear at the end of this unhappy road; it sounded like acoustic pop accompanying the clatter of plates and the whoosh of a steam wand, and it smelled of coffee... Alas, it was not meant to be. I've not suffered enough, it seems.
Luckily my colleagues/besties have been so lovely about the whole thing. Lovely in that they didn't kick off or get properly upset when I told them! The manager even shrugged and said 'no problem, you know you can come back whenever!' I plan on visiting them all way too often over the next few weeks before this nightmare begins, and only taking the minimum time to recover after the radio-nonsense is over. 

I'll lose hair. I'm alright with this actually, as I expected to lose hair when I had my first op, my entire head of hair in fact, but I was fortunate in that my neurosurgeon only shaved a strip where he had to slice. My hair in that spot had grown back nicely, all fluffy and optimistic, jutting out proudly when I tied my hair up. Then when my second op came around, it was shaved yet again and even more was taken away this time. Anyway, radiotherapy will take hair in patches apparently; obviously the area where the zapping will be focused, but perhaps in other random spots too. Here's my positive spin on this one: I finally can get that psychedelic-coloured pixie crop I've wanted since I was twelve, and I can rock any one of a dozen head scarves each day if necessary! 

The worst part is that in my mind, I'm expecting to finish this next round of treatment and I'll recover wonderfully -- only to be called up again after a while and informed that I need something else done to me which will take several more months and put me in even more of a sickly state afterwards. 

Here's the thing, my dear friends. I don't think anybody understands how truly unrelentingly empty and horrendous my life is these days. 
Actually, I wouldn't want them to. If anyone knew what I experience and feel 24 hours a day, their hearts may break, their brains would overload with mixed emotions and then of course the amount of sympathy they'd feel would overpower and slowly suffocate them. 
I've lost a lot. I forget how much sometimes, then I get the odd reminder. I kid you not, this evening I scrolled through my beloved Instagram and saw three images displaying my biggest losses in fast succession of one another; one of my favourite colleagues sitting outside a local pub drinking happily having just finished a shift, one of a friend's view of Winchester cathedral in the sunshine, and one of a newly revamped bedroom belonging to another friend who has recently moved in with a group of her nearest and dearest in the big smoke. So that's my job and my colleagues, my second home and happy place that I was dragged suddenly away from, and just the mere idea of living independently. Three things that meant so much to me, all snatched away and undoubtedly unaware of how much I miss them all. Right now I am sitting in my childhood bedroom, looking around dejectedly at all the memories stuck on noticeboards, and frantically trying to see the happy, bright future somewhere in the distance when I have all those things back. 

I'm sorry. I'll stop talking about myself now. I'll let you all get on.

I know someday everything will have worked out and my life will be so completely on track it'll be like I'm actually driving a train on a track at 90mph and the engineers or whoever will be sprinting ahead and scrabbling trying to lay the track before me as I go... Just today, nowadays, it's very hard to see beyond the hospital waiting room. 
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