Dear Diary ~ Life without Dexter (six weeks on)

Dear Diary ~ Life without Dexter (six weeks on)

It’s been a little over six weeks since my throat was cut, leaving me with a seriously impressive scar that looks like I got bottled in a bar fight, and the parathyroid tumour removed. Dexter (as I named it) had been creating total havoc with my body and mind, and despite being technically benign, the effects were anything but. Given time, Dexter was going to shorten my life by a considerable chunk, probably by something like a stroke, or heart attack or possibly by breast cancer, all conditions that hyperparathyroidism can often lead to. I’m going to be very vigilant for a long time to come because I have no idea how long it takes for those health risks to be reduced now the tumour is gone.
Dexter was about the size of an olive, which doesn’t sound big until you realise than normally a parathyroid gland is slightly smaller than a grain of rice. The last months before the op, I could feel it by pressing through the skin and muscle of my throat and if I lay on my back, I would wake coughing.
The first couple of days, I felt a considerable change, which was ruined by the onset of a roaring urinary track infection that left me washed out and unwell for a lot longer than you’d imagine. I also had tingling in the hands, initially feared to be the results of a calcium crash. It took me a while to figure out the tingling was the feeling coming back into my hands. I’d not realised by increased clumsiness (and terrible handwriting) was the result of nerves being messed up by random excess calcium, so I had lost sensation and dexterity in my hands. Hand to eye co-ordination was also shot to bits. That’s coming back too.
Other things:
Bone pain: It had become so bad I’d been on slow release patches of strong medication. Every few minutes, a pain not unlike the one you get if you bash your elbow, would shoot through the core of bones, mainly arms and legs, but sometimes other places like hands, wrists and even skull. That has now stopped. It stopped within a day or so of the operation; hard to be sure as I was doped up.
Muscle weakness: again, like the sensation in my hands, something I’d not really taken on board. A year of regular gym going had resulted in NO extra muscle, muscle tone or any improvement at all, which had made me despondent and miserable. Now, I am starting to regain muscle mass, slowly, and slightly painfully. I can only thank my work, hard but unrewarded at the time, that meant I slowed the muscle degeneration enough that I’d not lost all strength.
Thirst: I had a permanently dry mouth and a need to drink, partly because my kidneys had been affected and had become hyperactive. Now, normal levels of thirst prevail. In the past, it was physically painful to be thirsty, becoming distressed if I needed water and was unable to access any.
Kidneys: less over-active but there’s a problem still going on. I see the consultant later this month; I suspect that my body is doing its best to get rid of any residue of calcium build up and I think it’s possible there may be a significant amount of gravel and sludge in my kidneys that is causing UTIs as it passes. I’m going to follow this up because it’s getting to be a problem. I had one heavy duty course of antibiotics and the subsequent UTIs have been less severe and dealt with using traditional methods. But they keep on coming.
Sleep: better but not good still.
Depression: different now. I am back with my base-line melancholy, and not with the paralysing, blank, dull misery Dexter gave me. I’m a lot less irritable and a good deal more mellow; my hair trigger temper seems to have gone.
Memory and cognition: massively improved. I’m rarely stuck for a word. I used to find I could start a sentence and by the time I was half way through speaking it, I’d be struggling to remember what I was going to say. The short term memory storage issue seems to be almost gone; I’m retaining things so much better. I think I’m also getting my French back; the long delay between brain and mouth seems to have shortened and I will be able to test that next month and see if I have improved fluency of understanding, speaking and vocabulary. Too soon to see if my German is coming back. I’m having to try and refresh my memory of where things are by (for example) scanning bookshelves to see and remember where books are. I used to have a near photographic memory.
Pain: muscle pain much reduced, but as my body recovers, I’m getting a lot of stiffness after exercise that is quite uncomfortable. Headaches are getting less frequent, too.
But this is where I need to also say that the pain in my left side/flank is getting worse. This has never been fully investigated, and was initially put down as possible kidney stones. Yet an ultrasound didn’t reveal any stones (though stones of smaller size may not show up, so gravel won’t have been spotted unless it had reached a certain size). The consultant also suggested broken ribs as a result of bone loss, yet my bone density proved to be fine. The pain is consistently getting worse, especially at night, and there’s a constant sense of pressure. I’m seeing the consultant in a fortnight or so and I am determined not to be fobbed off about this. It doesn’t seem to be diminishing and since it’s been there over a year, there’s something wrong.

Me and my Shadow ~ living with the unseen

Me and my Shadow ~ living with the unseen

I’ve been pussyfooting around doing any real shadow work because I’m really not sure where to start. All the reading I’ve done suggests that there is no one path to integrating the shadow, but rather many. There is no one size fits all method, no programme to follow. So instead I’ve been exploring metaphors and bits and pieces of myself and getting a slow view of what lies beneath.

The thing about shadows, real or metaphysical, is that they’re not visible until there’s a very bright light. Diffuse light produces no shadows, generally. And we’ve had very little sunshine for a long while so I can’t remember when I last saw my actual shadow. But shining a bright light into the soul is pretty uncomfortable so I’ve resisted doing that on purpose.

Those who are sceptical about the effects of the shadow on a person would perhaps be asking, well, if you can’t see or notice the shadow much, then it can’t really be having much effect, can it?

Good question.

I’m going to reply to that with something from my own life that has emerged in the last week. Some months ago I went to our GP with various symptoms that were causing me a great deal of pain and problems. Because my medical records are peppered with depression and anxiety, his instant response was to ascribe these symptoms to that. I refused to accept this and eventually he agreed to refer me to a specialist. By the time the appointment came round, I was very nervous and worried. I made up my mind that should I not receive respect and empathy, this would be the last time I would agree to see a medical practitioner outside of emergencies.

Someone somewhere was listening to my pain. It turns out I have a congenital condition that has been present my whole life, causing a whole raft of issues, but in recent years, the damage to my body is showing up more and more. There is permanent damage already. I’m being referred for more tests and also for more help, in terms of various gadgets and gizmos that may help to prevent further damage and that will hopefully make life more comfortable. I’ll have to learn to readjust the way I do certain things, and instead of being stoical, actually saying no to the things that will increase the damage.

This has been present since birth. Some has been visible but has only been seen as “That’s a bit odd!” and over my lifetime, NOT knowing it was there has meant I’ve not known to avoid certain activities. That unacknowledged condition has meant that damage in small and large increments has gone on and on. Some of it is visible now, but another person can’t see the pain or the internal damage that underlies it.

I suspect the Shadow is like this. Present in every human, it remains unseen, working away inside, and the damage it can do while it remains unrecognised is unimaginable. But bring it out where it can be seen, shine a spotlight on it, examine and explore it, and who knows? The Shadow may prove to be helpful and not harmful, as long as you know it’s there and work with it, not against it. 

A rough night

You know how you feel when you wake up after a night on the tiles and getting home at 3am and crawling into bed and watching the room spin slowly out of control till you pass out?

That’s me, today, without the fun of the night on the tiles.

I went to bed at a sensible time, and found I couldn’t get to sleep. I might have dozed for an hour or so before waking with a heaviness in my chest and a pain all down my left arm. It got worse and I decided to get up and see if I could do something about it. I did what I usually do, and turned on the computer and googled various symptoms and came to no firm conclusion about what was wrong. I get chest pains from time to time when I am very stressed and anxious and have had my heart checked out. I’m relatively low risk for heart disease: age, gender, being a non smoker, non drinker, taker of regular exercise, healthy diet all in my favour. Only thing not in my favour is being a bit overweight. I did the mental maths and thought on balance it was almost certainly a form of panic attack, and maybe muscle strain.

So I surfed and wrote and flipped onto Facebook and found a friend up at 2am and chatted for a while. I wrote some more, I made hot milk with honey and when I was sure I wasn’t going to suddenly die in my sleep, I went back to bed at about 4am.

I had a cup of tea with my husband when he got up at 7am and went back to sleep for a while until the cat woke me up, followed shortly by husband with a tray of coffee and an apple turnover. I feel a bit fragile this morning but hopefully it’s going to pass.

What’s worrying me is not my heart, but my nerves. How did I let myself get into such a stupid state that I convinced myself I might have been having a heart attack? Surely the best explanation for my pain was having played tennis against a much younger opponent at work yesterday, and having acquitted myself quite well(ie I didn’t lose!) must surely have over used certain muscles without realising it?

I can see I am going to have to give myself a pretty stern talking-to….

Stress Soother

So many remedies to deal with anxiety and stress have ingredients in that are totally unsuitable for those who are suffering also from depression. Many herbal remedies for anxiety and for sleep problems contain both valerian and hops, which are superb remedies but are not helpful if you are also depressed. In fact they can both increase depression as they both act on the central nervous system to slow it down.

It’s partly down to the fact that there is a perception that people with stress need to CALM DOWN. Well, this is true but it doesn’t mean they need to be put to sleep or made dopey.

As a teenager suffering from both stress, anxiety and depression I was prescribed some pretty heavy duty medicines which did nothing for any of the conditions I was afflicted by but simply made me very, very sleepy indeed. After falling asleep in class I got sent home from school a few times. I then spent the next few days sleeping off the medication and was back at school, still stressed, still depressed and with no further help available.

I’ve had various anti-depressants since and have the same reaction with certain ones that are designed to calm you down- I sleep. For days, sometimes. It’s a long way from an ideal solution and I did find the SSRIs rather helpful.

Day-to-day stress is another issue. I’ve worked my way through a lot of remedies, but these days I tend to read labels carefull. If I spot certain items on a list then I don’t buy. I have found my own ways of dealing with the anxiety and stress I get overwhelmed by, and Badger Stress Soother is a part of my armoury.

In its base of beeswax and extra virgin olive oil, it also contains a veritable garden of essential oils that are well known to deal with stress, anxiety and depression all at the same time. Oils of tangerine, lavender, rosemary, cedarwood, spearmint, chamomile and even damask rose give this useful balm its de-stressing properties without knocking you out, over-exciting you or making you feel miserable(but calm). It has a pleasant fragrance, not either flowery or fruity but a mixture of the two and is as suitable for a man as it is for a woman. It can be used as a lipbalm too, which is why I carry it around in a little tin and is also useful smeared around the nostrils as a preventative for hayfever(you can buy a balm somewhere else that also does this. Apparently the pollen is attracted to the balm because it gives off ions of some sort that act like a magnet; this hayfever balm is a LOT more expensive than Badger and if you use a Badger, you kill two bird, so to speak with one stone!)

Badger Stress Soother won’t make your troubles go away; that’s far too much to ask. But it might help you cope a little better with them and the bonus is it’s good for the skin.

Check it out at . They have a lot of lovely, honest products and the art work on the tins is very cute too. They don’t cost the earth and they might help. They’ve helped me, certainly.

The Power of Orange Knickers

I promised I would write this post, and now here it is.

The Power of Orange Knickers is a song title by Tori Amos, a singer songwriter whose work has been the soundtrack to a great deal of my writing over the years. Her lyrics are strange but oddly inspiring; phrases resonate in my mind and create images and stories and moods. The lyrics to this song are pretty much incomprehensible when you try and analyse them, which is the case with many of her songs. It’s the single phrase(both musical and literal) that gets my mind working.

The power of orange knickers is about what makes us feel good, the things, often secret, that give us confidence in who we are. Wearing nice undies is one thing that works for many women(and maybe men!) but there are so many things, not just physical, material things that can underpin our lives: our spiritual practices, dreams, hopes, and so on all give that secret support to our lives, especially when challenged by difficulty.

My physical “orange knickers” (though I swear I do NOT have a pair in that colour, honest!) include perfume among many things. Perfume(by which I mean both the stuff one sprays on, and incense and so on) lifts the mood in ways that are hard to quantify. I lost the impulse to suicide once, years ago, as a direct result of using Neroli oil. Yes, it IS that powerful. And now I think of it, it’s a connection too; Neroli oil is the essential oil distilled from ORANGE blossoms. In colour therapy orange is the most uplifting colour there is, the colour of sunshine on the orange groves, warming and comforting. The colour we choose for our clothing(outer and under) can have a dramatic effect on our moods and those of people around us. Obviously when worn under clothes, the effect is purely personal, but the feeling of confidence and cheerfulness is something that can infect those around us. Think how a random smile can spread around a room: I have played the smile game when out on assignments, smiling cheerfully at strangers and knowing when they smile back that as they go on, for one short moment, they felt a tiny bit more cheerful. The simple act of smiling, of using those muscles in the face, actually causes the body to release endorphins that ease pain and increase well-being.

So what are your Orange Knickers?         

Sleepless in a hospital bed

Before anyone panics, I wrote this about 3 and a half years ago when my emergency rescue by air ambulance landed me in Derby Royal Infirmary and no one knew for a while what the matter was. It turned out to be an unusual form of appendicitis. I did indeed write it while sleepless in a hospital bed

I’m posting this for someone I hope might pop over here; he’ll know who he is and he’ll know when he reads the line about Occam’s razor!

Sleepless in a hospital bed
My world has shrunk:
Bordered by weakness,
Walled with pain,
Curtained by wakefulness.
My world has shrunk
To this one bed,
This room, this ward;
My leash, an IV drip.
I'm anchored not by hope
But by stubborness,
A sheer bloody-mindedness
That stops me escaping in sleep.
Determined to live
Each uncomfortable second
Each awkward moment,
Each pang of pain or fear
Holds me tight as arms.
I'm safe, I know;
My fears are fools
With louder voices
Than my common sense
Whispering of Occam's razor
And going home well again.
But the whispers are drowned
By the night noises of the ward:
The crying in the next room
Of a confused distressed old person
Going apparently unanswered;
The bleeps and clicks
Made by machines
Surrounding us-
And the traffic slowing
But never stopping.
I watch the curtains
Billow softly around me
In the night wind
Blowing warm from heaters
And finally let myself
Begin to drift
Into the safe painless

Harbour of sleep

A poor fit

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and musing, while running round like a bluetailed fly.

I’ve spent my life as the proverbial square peg being hammered into a round hole; so much so that I feel I have actually lost my real shape and have become an amorphous blob that squidges and squeezes and stretches to fit whatever space is available. I also feel this is reflected too in my struggles not to turn into the Fat Lady at the Fair.

OK, you could say I’m flexible or adaptible. Or that I am multi-talented and able to turn my hand to anything. All of which are true enough.

What I am getting at is the constant erosion of my perception of who I am and where I fit in this life. I’m many things, obviously. A teacher, a healer, a mother, a wife, a writer, a poet, a ….well, fill in whatever label you feel might fit me from what you’ve seen and read here. But beyond all those things, who and what am I?

My current profession is a poor fit, to be honest. Don’t get me wrong, I am a good teacher, a very good one if I set aside false modesty. I’m a bloody good guide and courier. But to do these things, something essential to my soul is shunted to that inner “backroom” like an old carpet bag waiting for collection at the end of the day. I don’t pretend to be anything, or anyone. But a huge section of the real, the essential ME is missing.

I constantly have to monitor what I say among people, constantly simplify my language, my choice of topic. Some of that might be put down to being among folks whose first language isn’t mine, but even so, you’d think I’d be able to speak my thoughts in the staff room. I thought so too, until someone had a go at me last year.

Life for me is the Bed of Procrustes. You may remember the story of the Greek chappy who made his overnight guests sleep in a bed that supposedly fit everyone perfectly. Well, if the guest’s head was over the head end of the bed, Procrustes whopped it off with a sword. Ditto the feet. If someone was too short, he mashed them and bashed them out until they did. He met his end at the business end of Theseus’ sword, but his legend lives on.

I simply don’t fit.

As far as I know, I don’t fit anywhere. Apart from the fact that the interview I went to last week was almost certainly pointless because they’d already earmarked their internal candidate, I would not have been appointed because I would have been too good for the job. I know too much; I’ve read too much. I’d have made the others feel very uncomfortable. And I hate that. I don’t feel superior to anyone, and yet, it seems as if people perceive that I must.

I’m too big for Procrustes’ bed.

So what goes, then, my head or my feet?

Or should I be a modern day Theseus and in some strange esoteric way beat the bully and free myself?

Answers on a postcard…

No, really. Any ideas of how to beat this metaphor and ease my own reality would be gratefully read. I’m increasingly uncomfortable.

A letter to my gynaecologist

I wrote the following letter about three years ago after the fruitless attempt to treat the endometriosis. In it, I explained in detail my thoughts and feelings. When I next saw my gynaecologist, we had a very good and open and frankly more human and real discussion. He expressed substantial admiration for my ability to articulate my feelings so clearly and accurately, and even entertainingly, about very complex issues. Suddenly we were on even ground and a real respect had been established between us. After this, I chose to have chemical intervention, which proved to be intensely disruptive and it’s value limited by the fact that I could only endure it for three of the six months that were suggested.

We moved from this health authority to our current location four months after this letter was sent. It sits in my file still(I spotted my letter head last time my file was open) and I have no evidence it has ever been read again.     


Thank you for your skills yesterday. Whatever the anaesthetic was this time, I don’t feel anywhere near as bleary and confused as I have done in the past. I had a brief discussion with your registrar (whose name escapes me but who charmed me with her Dublin accent) about what next. I was unable (due to post-operative wooziness) to be sufficiently articulate at the time, and time itself was too limited to explain some of my reactions in a way that wouldn’t be confused and emotional. Therefore I am taking the time now while my brain is a little less fuddled to write my thoughts. It’s much easier doing it this way; face-to-face, I would find it daunting trying to explain concepts that probably belong more in a philosophical debating arena than in a consultant’s office. Please bear with me if you can.


Having seen the photograph of my uterus and ovaries, I can see clearly how much more extensive and aggressive the endometriosis has become; frankly it looks a horrible mess in there. My optimistic feeling that there would be just a few small patches easily dealt with using a laser has simply not been borne out. I suspect there are other active patches elsewhere in my body that couldn’t be seen yesterday. As far as I understand it, I have three options:


1) Radical surgery (i.e. a complete hysterectomy)

2) Chemical intervention (to induce a temporary menopause)

3) Do nothing and suffer!


One of the reasons I am writing to you now is to try and glean as much information about each of these options so that when I attend your clinic on the 18th of August I come as fully prepared to make a decision as I can. Therefore I wish to ask some questions about each of these options now and try also to explain my thinking on each of these subjects.


1) Radical surgery. A hysterectomy would mean in essence an early menopause. I assume this would also involve the removal of one or both ovaries, given the gunged-up and stuck-down nature of both ovaries. When we discussed this before you blithely mentioned HRT and I tried to explain my objections and didn’t get terribly far before I gave up feeling too upset to persist. This is where it starts to get complicated. Since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, and probably going further back to the time of the Commonwealth (the one under Cromwell) there has been a steady decline in the richness of symbolic life, both public and private. If you read accounts of Tudor weddings, you will notice at once a great deal more LIFE amid the bawdy revels. A modern wedding pays more homage to the great gods Commerce and Materialism than it does to the very human attributes of love, sex and fertility. The ritual life of this culture has become diluted almost to nothing and we lose the deep human connections and integration of life in all its fullness; rites of passage that were once celebrated with gusto are pale shadows of what they once were. Christenings are polite social affairs, mere excuses for a family party (believe me, we get a lot of baptism families though our doors who know nothing and care less for the deeper reasons for baptisms!) and not the rite of passage they once were, that acknowledged the darker side of life that meant both mother and child might easily have died in childbirth. While I wouldn’t go back to the past with its horrors, I think the modern birthing chamber with all its high tech equipment and experts at hand, has lost something of the deep human wisdom that we should still be able to access without losing the very welcome safety of modern medicine. All our former rites of passage have either vanished or have become pale shadows of themselves and none more so than the menopause. You may blame the media but the icons held up for our admiration are the young, the slim and the impossibly beautiful; women are exhorted to spend enormous sums of money that most can’t really afford on skin creams that claim to wipe away age. As a society we are scared stupid  (and I use the word advisedly) by ageing. Women fear the menopause like never before. They fear that if they cease to be taut and unwrinkled they will cease to be desirable. But life is a journey not a destination and I can map out my life (and all its riches) by the scars and marks on my body and by the lines on my face. The spiritual journey of ageing that begins at the menopause is not one I wish to bypass. I’d like to be able to complain about hot flushes and sagging boobs like most women do and share that journey with other women; I’d like to explore what lessons my changing body has for me. If yesterday you had discovered something more sinister in my body, then I would have no hesitation in saying yes to surgery. While there is no more important rite of passage than death, I’d rather avoid it a while yet!


2) Chemical intervention. I think you mentioned an injection of some sort. I’d need to know how long I would be taking this for, what side effects would there be and what sort of results I can expect. I don’t want to be taking pills etc forever when I might not need to. There is a history in my family of early menopause. Also, and slightly off the subject, when I was first treated for depression about fifteen years ago I was told that the Prozac I was given was a temporary measure to stabilise me until I was able to begin psycho-therapy of some sort. As a result of moving house and health authorities I was finally able over ten years later to come off the tablets, only to be told I was no longer ill enough to merit the expense of therapy! While this is not quite the same as the treatment you are proposing, I do not wish to take medication longer than is necessary. In the case of my depression, I was well enough to tackle some of the causes of my illness only a year or two down the line, but due to moving areas had gone right to the bottom of the waiting list; this occurred time after time until I was told that since I was no longer critically ill, there were no resources for helping me further other than continuing with medication. At this point I realised I was on my own and my recovery since then has been due to factors other than medical ones.


 This brings me to another point of concern about either surgery or chemical intervention. For thousands of years men and women have attributed both personal power and creativity to their reproductive organs. I tried to explain this to you in clinic but failed miserably. I do not believe that the possession of a womb alone makes me a woman; I do not assign my femininity to this organ. But there is a psychic (as Jung would put it) link between a physical organ and the metaphysical attributes of that organ; the belief of thousands of generations of people see to it that this link persists even in modern sceptical peoples. We are all inheritors of this wisdom whether we know it or not; witness the number of women who would have happily said good riddance to their wombs, who find their libido and their sense of self declines after menopause or hysterectomy. Even when this is a temporary thing, it’s still important to note that primitive impulses and emotions still affect the modern person. One of the things that has most profoundly influenced my uneasy truce with depression has been my creative life and it is something I treasure in ways I am not sure anyone else will understand. While I am not a world famous author, my work is vital to me, and anything that might undermine or destroy that inner dialogue that fuels my writing, is unwelcome. I’ve suffered enough Dark Nights to know I do not want to be tipped needlessly into another one by anything I can avoid. Both the physical effects and the non-physical or psychical effects                    of either chemical menopause or surgical menopause might have such an effect. To lose the rich inner life I have used to great effect in both poetry and novels would be the equivalent of a lobotomy. I hope this explains in some measure my reactions to either course of action. This does not mean I am refusing either; I just need to know quite what is involved and what my reactions (at least the physical ones) are likely to be so that I can weigh up what I might gain and what I might lose. Ideally, I lose nothing but the pain.


3) Do nothing and suffer! I suffer already, with pain three weeks out of four, one week being almost agony. What concerns me most, having seen that photo, is what damage this horrible stuff is having on the areas of the body it adheres to. I could see scar tissue, I could see it beginning a stranglehold around one fallopian tube and I even got appendicitis! What else might it do? I’m talking worst-case scenario here. Does it ever just burn out and stop, or only at the menopause? How far can it travel and how much damage could it do? And yes: can it ultimately kill me? If I had second sight and knew that my menopause would kick off in two years, seven months and six days time, then I would grit my teeth and endure for that bit longer. But I have no means of knowing that and I could carry on till I’m sixty like one of my aunts. While I would like to think I have the power to endure pain I have no means of ending, I am sure you would agree I would be stupid to want to endure pain that I could stop; I do not seek martyrdom. But I am caught in a situation that has no easy answers and while this final option is in many ways the least attractive, it does have the merit of being familiar. I am not unusual in fearing change. I suspect that one of the reasons why rites of passage have always been so crucial to the emotional lives of people is that they validate change by publicly recognising that it is happening; we need to know that what is happening to us is right, is acceptable and is part of the process. They dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s; they tell us and those around us that this or that is now reality. They give us safe ground on which to stand.


 I hope that this letter helps you to understand that I am wrestling with issues that are for me profound and important, vital even. I don’t expect you to comment on my exploration of these issues but even if you don’t agree with a word I have said, I hope that I have conveyed at least in part how important these issues are to me and therefore why my reactions have been so strong and seemingly illogical. I also hope that you will be able to give me as much clear information on the three options so that I can make my decision based on facts as well as emotions and spiritual and philosophical theorizing.


Once again, thank you for your skills yesterday and also for wading through what seems to have become a dissertation.