Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Of Boobs and Boots

Last week was rather weird and scary, but it did show me how much my mental health has improved.

Last November I talked to my doctor about wanting to be a bit more proactive about my health, now that I have my Type 2 diabetes under reasonable control. He recommended a few things, and as a result, a few weeks ago I had my first ever mammogram at the age of 65. Why had I never had one? In the past, I had rationalised my decision not to have mammograms because of various scientific and not-so-scientific reasons, but in reality I kind of liked the idea of being dead. Once I had children, I knew I could not commit suicide, because of the awful effects such a thing brings to children - I have known such people. But the thought of dying of a disease that would not cause anyone to blame me or themselves appealed.

However, over the last few years my mental health has improved to the point where I no longer wish to die unnecessarily early - I want to live! I wasn't really worried about breast cancer, as I have low risk factors for that particular cancer, but still, do as the doctor suggests, right?

On Monday last week I went out to Karapiro to catch up with my friend Raewyn, who was up with her daughter and the rest of the Nelson College team for the Maardi rowing regatta. Halfway through the afternoon I received a phone call from the breast clinic at the hospital, saying that something had showed up and I needed to make an appointment within the next two weeks for further mammograms and a possible biopsy. Raewyn and her nurse friend, Louise, reassured me that there was a very small chance that it was 'something', as had the nurse who called, but still......

I felt scared and angry. Scared because, as I said, these days I actually want to live, and I haven't had enough time of wanting to live yet. Angry because it seems like it should have happened before. Angry because I feel that I have worked so very hard over the last few years to restore my mental health, and then just over a year ago having to start working incredibly hard to bring diabetes under control. To have the possibility of breast cancer thrown at me now seemed so unfair, and I felt very angry.

But I hung on to the idea that it may be nothing nasty. I hung on to coping strategies I had learned in my search for mental health. Breathe..... focus on what is happening right now..... focus on exactly what I am feeling in my body...... be present in the present.....

I hadn't told anyone, other than Raewyn, who was right next to me when I got the call, but on Wednesday night I ended up telling Mac, when I realised I had to give an explanation for being increasingly irritable... well, okay, bitchy. He wanted to come with me, but I knew that, not only did he have things he needed to be doing at work, but also, that if I had a shoulder to lean on, I'd lean, and I'd end up losing it: I really wanted to hold myself together. On Thursday I talked with my counsellor, which was really grounding - he's great.

On Friday morning I arrived at the hospital and found a bunch of very caring, gentle people. The procedures are not gentle though. This second round of mammograms hurt as they tried to get clearer pictures. Then I waited. And waited. I was told I needed a needle  biopsy: years earlier I'd had a needle biopsy on a lump in my neck, so hadn't been worried about this part until they told me it would involve five needles! And that if they didn't get what they needed, they would try a second round! They gave me preemptive paracetamol, and said I wouldn't be able to lift anything for 48 hours.

So back I went for more picture taking - not quite as painful, but more difficult as they told me not to move at all, as these pictures would be used to guide the needle placement. The doctor came in and the talking went on forever. My leg started to cramp, but I couldn't move it, and lost concentration so couldn't follow what they were saying.

And then..... no, the doctor didn't want to biopsy the area found by the first mammogram which was , apparently, obviously fine. Instead, she was looking at another area that had showed up on the second. However, the third round of mammograms showed the area just too small to biopsy, too small to even pick up on a standard mammogram. Probably just more of the calcification caused by normal aging, that I already have quite a bit of. I was dismissed to be recalled for another look in 6 - 12 months. Until then, I'm not thinking about it. I'm 99.99999% sure I'm okay.

I'm really amazed at how well I managed during that week, although I did stay up late every night until I was too tired to stay awake. It's confirmed for me that I am indeed healing from decades of depression and anxiety. I've learned I'm much tougher than I thought.

And then I spent Friday afternoon with Raewyn again. Watching her amazing daughter row. Drinking coffee. Buying boots........... Life is good.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

WOMAD Without Simon

In this moment
white vapour trails
make fine brush-strokes
across an airmail paper sky

In this moment
a bright skirt made of silk ties
a green silk Trade Aid scarf
patched with butterflies

In this moment
a Brazilian songstress
Austrian electro-swing
ska, reggae, rap, blues

In this moment
dancers on the grass
outrageously coloured hair
wildly crazy garments twirling

In this moment
a small breeze stirs
shaking sunlight through leaves
lighting up orange karaka fruit

In this moment
the smells of Hungarian fried bread
cider in womad glasses
wine, beer, and marijuana

In this moment
an artist marvels at the southern stars
so different from his familiar sky
and then the glorious moon

In this moment
I pretend you are here too
dancing in front of another stage
getting up to some impulsive silliness
that as usual you will soon appear
at my side, with a hug
and a glimpse of your sweet smile

In this moment
I try to exist
in this moment

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Mokau: A Place Between Worlds

On Thursday night, on the way to WOMAD, we spent a night at the small seaside village of Mokau.

  It is one of my most beloved places, but I have only just realised why.
When I first went to high school it was to my local country school, but it was small and only catered for students in Forms 3 to 5 (Years 9 - 11), so I had to spend my final two years at boarding school.
Recently I have read several mentions of people who have had a 'gap year' between school and university - what a wonderful example of white privilege, but that's another issue. I have always felt uncomfortable about the idea of taking a year 'out' to have fun between school / childhood and 'settling down'. However, I realised the other day that, for me, my two years at boarding school were, in a way, gap years for me.
I was away from home and family for two years, albeit with long bus trips home for holidays and mid-term breaks. I went from a small country school of 150 co-ed students to a huge (for those times) school of 1100 girls, and a boarding hostel as big as my whole previous school. It was a huge transition time. As well as the challenges inherent in that situation, I was also challenged to read and think far more widely - by circumstances, teachers, and other students. I went through the trauma of losing faith in the religion I had grown up not really questioning more than than details, and became suicidally depressed for the first time. I learned that I wasn't the only person my age to think about philosophical issues, and miracle of miracles, there were even males who thought - well, one at least.
I met my first Jewish friend. I learned of the existence of homosexuality. I learned about living with and adapting to strangers. I learned that there was a wider world than the one I had grown up in.
Every school holiday and mid-term break I traveled home from boarding school and back again. Each journey was broken at Mokau. The buses from both Girls' High and Boys' High would stop for 15 minutes. A gap, a transition, a time to make the adjustments needed to live in the other world.
Those two years, though hard in some ways, were a transition time for me - from childhood on the farm and the small country village nearby, to adulthood.
Decades later we started the annual journey to WOMAD, and every journey includes a break at Mokau. The last three times we have stayed there over night. Once again Mokau has become a transition time: a transition from 'real' life to festival life. WOMAD has become only place other than home that, over the years, I have learned to feel at home - and Mokau is the place where I get that overwhelming sense of heading home - whichever direction I'm traveling.

One day I hope to reach a point where I simply feel at home wherever I am.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Going Places Alone

Recently someone in a group I belong to, asked the question: Do you go many places by yourself? How about concerts?

It hit me like a slap in the face.

Because I go hardly anywhere by myself. I haven't stayed away overnight without someone I know since 1994, when I went to Thames on a five day 'Writing in Primary Schools' workshop. A few weeks ago I went to a movie, Hidden Figures. I went to it by myself, while Mac was away up north visiting his sister. I went by myself. To see a movie. By myself. For the First. Time. Ever.

I miss many musical gigs because I won't - can't? - go by myself, and Mac often doesn't want to go, or is too tired; he works so hard. What would people think of me if I went alone? But what if they didn't notice me at all?

I don't dance because I won't - can't? - dance in front of anyone not even Mac. It's even a rare occasion that I dance home alone. I did do a little bit of ballroom dancing a few years ago, and ceroc, when Jeffrey was learning, and loved it, but although I did persuade Mac to go for a few lessons, he didn't enjoy it, so no more. When I was little, my mother told me I was too clumsy to warrant dancing lessons: her lesson was one I learned well. So no dancing. What would people think of me if I danced alone? But what if they didn't notice me at all?

I sometimes have lunch alone in a café in Hamilton when I'm there for the day. I used to buy something at a bakery and eat in my car, but since becoming both gluten-free and diabetic as well as vegetarian, that doesn't work for me. I hate eating alone. I alternate between feeling like everyone is noticing me and thinking what a pathetic old woman I am, unable to find a friend to lunch with, and feeling like I'm completely invisible to the degree that someone might even come at sit at the table because they can't see me.

I don't swim alone because I it isn't safe. That's what I say. But really, I am so self conscious, it is a struggle to walk down the beach with my husband or a son. Once I was unhealthily skinny, and made very aware of the fact. Then I had four children and grew fat, and was also made aware of that. What would people think of me, alone on the beach? What if they didn't notice me at all?

I don't like looking at books in the library in case I am judged for my choices. Or, they might not see me at all. Clothes shopping is hell: alone I cannot see myself. With someone else, well, someone else is looking at me and judging.

And that is how I have lived my life. In fear of being seen by all, and in fear of not being seen at all: alone either way.

This last year has been a year of change. I'm realizing that I'm the only one who really cares. I'm the only one who's interested. Well, maybe Mac. Everyone else is pretty much involved in their own lives. I've been learning a lot about who I am this past year, and realizing I need to live who I am and forget about what other people may think, or not think.

So, 'Do you go many places by yourself?' In four and a half weeks, I'm heading off for 19 days alone. I'll spend a few nights with family and friends, and visit others, but mostly I'll be alone. I have absolutely no idea how I'll cope. I may come home the same or deeply changed. It's scary, but I'm finally ready to try.

Thursday, March 9, 2017


swathes of wild sunchokes
rioting beside rivers
joyfully dancing

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

One Year Later

A year ago, I discovered, after waking up one morning to find my vision had suddenly and severely deteriorated, that I had developed Type 2 diabetes.

I've been through many life changing experiences in my 65 years, but this one has been bigger than most. Being a pig-headed and contrary woman, I was determined to fight it. I left the doctor's office without much idea of what to do, with a booklet that told me little that was helpful in the way of dietary advice useful for a gluten-free vegetarian. I have, of necessity, found my own way to deal with eating: the first step was cutting out sugar of all kinds. The next was searching the internet, reading on the computer, and then on Kindle because my vision was too bad to read a book: on screens, words can be made bigger.

I settled on following, broadly, Michael Mosley's book, The 8 Week Blood Sugar Diet. First the food and exercise components.

My diet is now not quite as strict as at the beginning, in that I often eat 2 portions of fruit a day now instead of just one, and I have slightly bigger helpings than when I was trying to limit myself to 800 calories a day. I eat vegetables, though never potatoes, and never more than one small serving of other root vegetables per day. I eat eggs and cheese. I have a protein shake made with milk kefir and / or yogurt each morning, and a little homemade buckwheat cereal with a small portion of fruit. I eat nuts and seeds, and a little grain-free bread - a loaf lasts me two weeks. I eat legumes, despite their carbs, because they are also protein.

I also started walking: 2 - 3 times a day to start with, but now usually only once a day, sometimes not at all as in, no deliberate fast walking.

The strict regime I started with enabled me to lose another 20kg on top of the 5 kg I lost prior to diagnosis. I have gone from the top end of the 'overweight' category (though I never quite hit the obese category) down to the lower middle end of the 'normal' category.

My blood sugar fluctuated quite a bit to start with, and I had to be very careful to eat  very little and to exercise every day. We went on holiday for two weeks and sitting in the car proved very detrimental to those blood sugar levels. Now the levels are much more stable: I don't get down as far, nor as high, as in those early days. It will be interesting to see how driving affects them when I go away a year later, this April. As well as testing my levels two or three times a day, I also have a blood test every three months, which measures my average blood glucose over the previous 4 - 6 weeks At diagnosis, mine was 98 which is 'extremely high'. At my latest test it was 31, one point down from three month's ago: the normal for non-diabetics is under 40. If I had not had the previous tests, I would not now be diagnosed as diabetic.

The following are some of the benefits of finding out I have diabetes, and of removing sugar from my diet, and considerably reducing my consumption of other carbohydrates.

  • weight loss
  • improved fitness - I can wield a chainsaw again for the first time in 3 years.
  • the disappearance of the 'heat' rash I'd had on and off for a few years - and it disappeared as soon as I stopped eating sugar, before I lost most of the weight
  • the headaches I'd had increasingly, disappeared. I noticed in December when I cracked my head on the watertank stand - the resulting headache made me realise I hadn't had one for months.
  • the mental fuzziness that had worried me for a several years, and which had cleared somewhat when I had stopped eating gluten, disappeared. Alzheimer's might not happen for a while longer.
  • the athletes foot that always troubled me in winter disappeared.
  • For the first time in decades, I have been able to find swimming togs that fit me - the bigger sizes assume that you have broad shoulders, so for years I spent my time in the water constantly hitching up my togs, and sometimes, embarrassingly, not quite soon enough. And for the first time in decades I have lain on the beach sunbathing.
  • the hot flushes which have plagued me for since the onset of menopause, and which remained long after I was post menopausal, reduced in both frequency and intensity as soon as I cut out sugar.
  • I'm enjoying clothes: I've bought a few, altered a lot, thrown away huge bags full, and have bought a proper dressmaker's dummy to replace the customized paper tape one Mac made for me. Not only was it totally the wrong shape, but now I felt I deserved the real thing.
  • I have found out which friends are worth keeping, and which ones proved not to be worth keeping. The former were people who asked how I was at least occasionally, who listened, who still cared, who still spent time with me. The latter included those who distanced themselves, avoided me, judged me for my so-called self-inflicted condition and found me wanting, and those who continually try to get me to eat and drink: 'just one or two won't hurt you.' Apparently some people can't cope with conversing with me unless I am poisoning myself at the same time. 
  • I have a greater appreciation of life.

In Michael Mosely's book there is a third strand, beyond the diet and exercise stands: the mind. He recommends meditation, mindfulness in particular. I have tried meditation off and on since 1969, and always felt uncomfortable. Actually, it scared me shitless: I would find myself falling into oblivion, losing my Self. However, I was committed to following this man's suggestion, so I enrolled in a night class. I didn't enjoy it. The same old problem arose, and this time my body took over and saved me by constantly, and pretty much instantly falling asleep every time. However, I really liked the guy who taught it and at the end, it emerged that he was also a counselor, and so I started going to him on a weekly basis. He has helped me immensely - previous attempts to get help for my mental health issues have had very limited benefit, but this time, with someone that really gets me, I have finally reached a point where I feel I am becoming the person I am meant to be. I'm putting depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, and childhood issue behind me. And I'm finding I'm now able to meditate sometimes.

Thanks to diabetes, I've finally got to grips with life. I'm ready for new adventures. They might not be what most people would think of as adventures, but that's what they will be for me.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Sculptures at Gibbs Farm

What a lovely day! A few months ago, after two years of trying, I finally got four tickets to visit this awesome place. It is free to visit but you have to book a place.

We had to get up a bit earlier than I'm accustomed to , needing to leave at 7.15am, but the morning was a very beautiful one.
 It was a lovely day, with just enough cloud to be interesting, and to keep us from being too hot. We were joined by friends from down the road, Paulina and Neil.
lan Gibb's 'Farm' is an amazing setting for oversize sculptures. 
 The 'farm' is mowed by pretty serious mowers, rather than grazed.

 Although there are a few animals, they are not, in the main, farm animals as we think of them.  Buffalo, emu, deer, alpaca, oxen, coloured sheep and goats.....

This giraffe is a sculpture though.

This, one of my two favourites, Horizons by Neil Dawson, is amazing. I thought that when I saw it,  it would look real, but no. In real life, even up close, it still looks like someone drew in on the landscape. Totally fucked with my head, and I kept blinking, trying to clear my vision. Wonderful.

 My other favourite was Anish Kapoor's Dismemberment

And here with Len Lye's Wind Wand in the background.

Paulina and I missed this one because, so Mac says, we were too busy talking. Meh - just makes for a good excuse to go back another time.
Some of the others, and some views of the land: photos really can't give much idea of the scale of these art works.

Richard Serra's Te Tuhirangi Contour is pretty impressive. It's about tracing the contour of the land, and 'collects the volume of the land', but to me it was a wall, but even though it's ends were free, it still seemed to have been effective, because we saw no Mexicans. Which was, perhaps, a shame.

 All in all, great art, great company, great day. I'll be back.