Notes From The Cotswolds – It’s Been A Funny Old Year by Penny Parkes
A year ago this week, I broke my head…
Only days earlier, I remember wishing for a break, a few days to gather my thoughts after a long and busy summer. I guess the Universe had a different notion of a mini-break to mine, as I can promise you that the Neuro Ward was no cosy boutique hotel!
But, now, a year later and slowly rebuilding my stamina and my social life, I can’t help feeling that some of the lessons I’ve learned will always stay with me.
As an author, the skill to find the perfect word or phrase is so intrinsic to your life that it’s almost a part of who you are – until it’s gone. In the early days, I spent months alternately annoying and amusing my family as I obliviously blurted out random malapropisms; penguins for pencils, and whizzy-wagon for ambulance. Oh yes, I’m sure it was very reassuring for my editorial team! Thankfully the book was already finished and it’s been a fabulous team effort making sure copy edits and proofs were polished and ready to go. Even now though, words become slippery and elusive when I’m tired and the frustration this brings can be overwhelming.
Likewise, a vivid imagination – a vital tool of my trade – suddenly became my own worst enemy. In the dark of 3am on a ward filled with distressed dementia patients, there were no dark avenues that my imagination did not explore that long week. My usual game of ‘What If’ no longer a comfort, indeed many hours in MRI scanners gives any imagination fodder and fuel. But would I be without it? There were days, weeks even, when I wondered whether it would be a good trade – my imagination for my health – but now I’m grateful there was no biblical bargain to be made. For better or worse, in sickness and in health, my fruitful cortexes are friends not foe.
And speaking of friends – well, as anyone will tell you, there’s nothing like a life-changing drama to filter out the fair-weather variety. ‘Aren’t you better yet?’ is always so uplifting to hear! And yes, in our busy, time-pressed lives, I can see all too clearly that, for some, my sloth-like pace and sofa-bound coffee dates were hardly a night on the town. But they were all I had to offer, and thankfully, there were those I hold nearest and dearest who shared them with me. And strangely enough, I don’t feel particularly compelled to use what little stamina I’ve gradually built with those who were all too happy to step back when I so desperately needed friends to step up.
I’ll consign to memory the hideousness of being in a wheelchair in a crowd, as harried parents turned blind eyes to their children climbing across my lap in their haste. I’ll focus instead on the unbelievable privilege of independence that I’ve had so many years to enjoy. And to enjoy once more, albeit in baby steps. My daughter accompanied me on a recent trip to S&S HQ in London and her gentle, considerate support has made me prouder than any mother could be. This last year has been an advanced education for both my children in empathy and consideration – no, it’s not ballet or cricket, but I’ll wager it will serve them in good stead for the rest of their lives. A silver lining and one of many.
All in all, and misquoting Arkwright, it’s been a funny old year. There have been moments of joy and elation, laughter and achievements, even if on a different scale. One might perhaps say on a more fundamental level. For shadowing every day and night has been excruciating pain, violent tinnitus and a weakness that I still find hard to comprehend. But a slow recovery means slow skills and simple pleasures – no screens for months meant I sought out my grandmother’s knitting needles. And now I am a convert – for there is nothing like the meditative rhythm of those needles to soothe my brain and allow my inner thoughts to find a comfortable place to explore. Books, savoured slowly, rather than gobbled. Friendships strengthened through adversity and solidarity. Mealtimes with bowls on our laps and easy conversations. The Ginger Ninja sleeping on our bed to soften long, pain-filled nights. Stories of days out and days at school shared lovingly and generously. For living vicariously is a skill to be honed and enjoyed – there aren’t enough days to live every life, after all.
But if there’s one thing I wish I could shout from the rooftops though, it is this: don’t buy into the myth. When life throws up barriers, it’s all too easy to believe that, if we just tried a little bit harder, wanted it a little bit more – if we pushed on through, that we’d get better. This fallacy has become so ingrained in our culture, it’s hard to quiet those voices in our heads. For the first three months, I listened. I made myself worse and I delayed my recovery. I bought into the myth, determined not to be seen as weak, but to battle on. Until stopping was my only option. Only then did my recovery truly begin.
It’s something I think about almost every day. How often in our lives, so crammed with commitments and technology, do we stop and listen to ourselves? Or find flow in the simplest of tasks? For, as anyone who has lived with Post Concussion Syndrome will tell you, the healing begins, the joy of living evolves, when the crusading finally stops.
#IntracranialHypotension #PostConcussionSyndrome #LowPressureHeadaches #Tinnitus #SlowRecovery