Dear Leg,

Dear Leg,

You’re hurting me. I know many parts of my body hurt me, but recently you’ve been doing it better at it than the others, more so even than Right Leg, Back or Head. And if the pain wasn’t enough on its own, it and therefore you make me limp sometimes. Like this morning for example. Limping even though I am a fit and (relatively) healthy 26 year old woman. That attracts attention, and even pitying glances, from absolute strangers. I don’t like that. It upsets me. If I’m going to attract attention from passers-by I want it to be because I am happy, confident, smiling, polite, friendly. I don’t mind being sad – it’s natural – but I don’t want to be pitied. It, and therefore you, also make me feel like a fraud, because in five minutes or five hours or tomorrow, I won’t be limping. There are so many people more worthy of pity and absolutely any ensuing empathy. I know I also probably attract at best some incredulity and at worst ridicule; despite your best efforts I’m still wearing heeled boots today. But I can’t really blame my choice of inappropriate footwear on you, even if I wanted to.

I resent you. I resent you for so many reasons. I resent the pain. I resent that even though I exercise, and make extra effort to eat what you supposedly need to recover and cool down and stretch, you still choose to hurt me. I eat within the stupidly small timeframe you give me to do so; it takes me longer than that to shower and dry my hair, meaning I’m often found awkwardly with struggling to get my damp body back into my underwear with a recovery bar clamped between my teeth, or trying to dry my hair with already aching arms and my mouth full. I resent that even though I stretch, and my flexibility is good, you choose to spite me there too. Because while if I don’t do it you hurt more than you have any right to, if I overdo it even slightly, I can’t feel bits of you sometimes for weeks. It’s a very fine line you’re making me tread. I also resent that even when I can’t feel you properly because you’ve gone numb in places, about the only thing I can still feel is the undercurrent of pain flowing up the pathways of my nerves. Nerves that I’m learning to identify by tracing the route pain takes up and down my limbs.

I resent that you make me tired. Yes, this is in conjunction with the rest of Body, but in hurting me worst you are currently therefore you are the most culpable of the despicable lot of you. Even than Face, who has also developed a knack of making me feel stupid (how many people have you heard complain of ‘face ache’?) I resent that even when I let you rest up to, sometimes even more than, ten hours a night, or sit inside on a beautiful bank holiday Monday afternoon so that you can be propped up with no weight on you, you pick and choose whether to feel better depending on whether it suits you. I resent that if I don’t sleep enough, I lose the resilience I’ve learned and still work on and strived to achieve and still strive to improve. And I resent, so very much, that you sometimes you use pain to deny me the sleep I need to cope with that pain you’re so cruelly inflicting.

I resent that you made me sit down all night at my friend’s hen party a few years ago, when I should have been up dancing with her, celebrating how much she was loved by everyone present, her upcoming marriage to her lovely fiancee, their future lives together, and in short celebrating life. I won’t be modest; I know I was an excellent bag-watcher and provided a port in the storm of fun whenever someone needed a five minute breather. But you should have let me dance, even just for a little bit. I even wore flats all weekend, just for you. But you still chose to spite me.

I resent that in the last two years you’ve scuppered me repeatedly, at times so much I’ve had to be helped out of my car into the house in phases, pausing for moments to recover and regather my wits in the garage, then the tack room, then the kitchen before making it to my bed. That you caused me to have to be carried upstairs like an invalid because I couldn’t stand, helped into a bath like a patient in the hope that the heat would ease the torment. You’ve hurt me so much I’ve bitten pillows and screamed into mattresses. I got my own back a few times by digging my fingernails into you, once so hard you bled. But let’s face it; I’m losing out there too. You inflict pain on me; I feel it. I inflict pain on you; I still feel it. It’s a two headed coin when I’ve called tails.

And if I’m shallowly honest, I resent that you force me to go through all of this, and still you cling on to those bloody stretch marks, and hold on to scars like a miser. And of course the hair you grow just has to be dark and noticeable, making regular shaving a necessity. You have dry skin that seems to drink any moisturiser I give you in huge gulps. You are just that bit too long for a Topshop long-leg length and yet also that bit too short for Long Tall Sally trousers – two pairs of which I’ve taken to be shortened, just to try and get trousers that fit me. Being more accommodating would be no fun for you, would it? To be fair, I’d accept all this without a grumble if you’d knock off the whole inflicting pain bit you’ve become so accomplished at, but given that you won’t stop that bit, can you really not drop even just the orange peel patches? Have you not heard of compromise?

But, even as I write this letter to you, while I’m sure that my resentment will cause rifts and barriers between us for many years to come and that you will continue your very best efforts to make life difficult for me, you should know that I still love you. I don’t think – though I’m always not certain – that you do it on purpose. In fact, I am actually proud of you. After all, you are one of just two who carry me around all day long, often in stilettos because though I know they make life harder for you, they make me feel good and smart and the turquoise ones especially are fun.

Last year you proved to me just how much you can do, when I agreed to go on a 5k run with a friend on the proviso that she let me walk whenever we needed to. And you didn’t need to. Not after three kilometres when we got to the viaduct, or after five or even eight kilometres, as we ran through fields and down to the reservoir, over stiles and up hills to breath-taking views, through muddy fields of cows. You got stronger, and faster, and carried me on a hilly 10k race around Petworth Park. Your endurance improved and you carried me, smiling can you believe, over the finish line of the 2014 New Forest 10mile run. And just three weeks ago, you carried me 13miles around the beautiful town of Hastings, making the extra effort to take me across the route to high five small children cheering everyone on from the side lines with their little hands held up on outstretched arms. You kept going while Chest decided to stab me with every breath like it did two summers ago, making me hold my breath for as long as I could before silently screaming through a single inhalation, pain white hot in my chest. Deprived of oxygen when you needed it most, after over two hours and 12miles into the run, you still kept going. And you sped up towards the finish line. Do you realise just how incredible that is?

I choose to make you my friend. I will continue to try and make you stronger, and balance the tightrope of post-exercise non-numbness-inducing stretching, and juggle protein bars and hair driers simultaneously in the gym changing room. I will keep smiling on days you make me hobble around the office, in the hope that people notice the smile instead of or at least before the limp, and as a result I might resent you that fraction less. Being really honest, I’m going to keep wearing stilettos, but I will make sure I stretch Calf of an evening as well as that of your twin Right Leg, even if I haven’t been to the gym. That way you won’t suffer unnecessarily in the way you make me suffer (two headed coin, remember?) And if you’re really, really hurting me I’ll give in and wear the ugly-but-comfy shoes with mattress soles, just in case it softens you up a little. I will try not to mark you with my fingernails when you hurt me. I will try to rest you when I think you need it, even if you don’t hurt me less as a result. I will try to keep sleeping, to let you rest and recover and repair, and I will use everything from chamomile tea and lavender oil to medication to help me sleep through whatever levels of pain you choose to play with at night, so you can rest and recover and repair even if you don’t choose to give me the night off. You won’t play ball; it won’t be quid pro quo, and I accept that. But nonetheless I’m going to keep looking after you, stretching you, moisturising and shaving you, trying to accept the orange peel bits of you as best I can, even if you keep hurting me. I’ll try to forgive you when my trousers are that bit too short or drag on the floor slightly, and try to remember that you keep me up on Feet all day, even if you hurt me while doing so. And in return, I hope you will keep me on Feet for as long as you can, and pain or no pain; that you don’t give up. Together, we’ll keep going and keep running and keep looking good in turquoise stilettos and we will keep living. Not only that but we will enjoying it in spite of the pain.

Yours, always,

Emily

Memento from Hastings Half 2015

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Strong Enough.

Walking around London yesterday, the city seemed almost exotic. It shouldn’t;
I grew up here. Admittedly in the suburban outskirts, but I’m no stranger to the city. Yesterday however, with my stilettos safely stowed in my borrowed handbag, I wandered the streets after an interview in Holborn. I met a friend for a celebratory debrief of the alcoholic variety, and then had the afternoon to myself. Claire Balding would have been proud of me as I rambled from Bank to Covent Garden and eventually, hours later, to Victoria, seeing the city entirely through the rose tinted glasses of a child or a lens of a tourist’s camera. I wandered past the Gin Palace (“Gin doesn’t ask silly questions… Gin understands.”) and through the gardens of St Paul’s Cathedral. I saw mounted police (turns our horses exist in central London – who’d have thunk it?) and ate cake in the base of Gherkin. Despite only last week complaining about the crowded, dirty streets in the capital, yesterday I was captivated. The juxtaposition of shiny new Shards and Walkie Talkies of glass with history illustrated in aged stone; suits with creases ironed in by dry cleaners strutting past me, and the dirty back alleys and filthy, graffiti-emblazoned abandoned shop fronts; and people upon people upon people.
Not literally – though I did walk past Coco de Mer on my travels – but as you walk along, everyone you pass is different, a person in their own right, and they have a story of their own, are fighting battles of their own. And some still have the energy to grin back at me when I dare to break the unwritten rule of Commuters, and smile.

I have lost count of the number of times I’ve said in the past few months and years,

“I’m not strong enough.”

Strong enough for what I’m not even sure. Opening up to friends and colleagues about my Depression[i] recently has shown me very clearly that I’m not alone. And I’ve been amazed and honoured just how many people have confided in me about the experiences and battles that they and their loved ones have fought, and are often still fighting, with Depression. I capitalise it because as much as I dislike, hate, loathe it, I have come to respect it. Someone very dear to me once said to me that he knew that there were powers far greater than he out there, simply because things can influence and control him against his will. For me, Depression is one of those things. It saps my identity from inside me and replaces it with a bitter fog. It managed this for weeks on end earlier this year, binding me to my room and my bed with closed curtains, darkness and too many tears. In the past, I have cried literal puddles on bathroom floors, and been unable to leave the house or even my bedroom. While I have thankfully never actually been suicidal, I remember many years ago wishing I had never been born. I have felt overwhelmed by the entire world, getting up in the morning seeming as daunting as climbing Everest. Through all of this, I have come to respect Depression.
Giving it a little room to breathe helps, not least to prevent it getting out of control. Respecting its power over me makes me appreciate and be grateful for every win I manage to achieve, no matter how small. The ability to smile at strangers in the street, amid the cacophony of smells, sounds and stresses London has to offer, is one of those little triumphs. And the person who returns my smile may have just won a battle of their own, as significant or more so even than mine.

While burdened by my Depression, both pre- and post-diagnosis, I have travelled to the other side of the world, trekked through Costa Rican rainforests, dirt-biked around volcanoes and snorkelled with sharks. I have bungee-jumped and learned to safely use a machete. I have achieved a first class degree in a complex subject. I have crossed the spectrum of employment from the Oxfordshire gun trade to dealing with the country’s largest grocery accounts, giving insight on a product that two years ago I knew next to nothing about. Now I have a merit in my advanced Wines & Spirits qualification.

Yet all the while I have continued to say,

“I’m not strong enough.”

I have learned to shoot both clays and game, and bought my first gun. I’ve baked countless cakes, some rosette-winning, and learned the best secret ever about improving any and all pasta dishes ten-fold. I have learned a little bit of Krav Maga and intend to learn more. I argued last year for a promotion and pay rise, and was given more than I asked for and got to choose my own job title. I have written – this blog for starters – and I have read. I have co-founded a literary society to share my love of books with others and widen my literary horizons – and maybe theirs too.

“I’m not strong enough.”

I have toured Burgundy, visiting countless wineries, from one functioning almost entirely by gravity to one built underground, in caves beneath the vineyards. I tasted hundreds of wines, and learned even more than I ate (if you’ve ever been to Burgundy you’ll know what a feat that is. If you haven’t, you like wine and cheese and are not a vegetarian or on a diet then I highly recommend it.) I have run, for more than five minutes at a time. In fact, I have run 5k. I also have run 10k (and a hilly one at that.) And I have run 10miles, with the horse brass on my bedroom wall to prove it.

“I’m not strong enough.”

I have started doing more resistance at the gym, have actually managed a press up (on my fists to boot) and can now pull up over three times what I could when I started. I have lost over a stone over all, including putting on 2kg of muscle. I am quite literally physically stronger than I was this time last year, achieved as much through will-power as physical exertion.

And still; “I’m not strong enough.”

It is only since facing looming redundancy that I have realised my mistake. It’s amazing what writing CVs, cover letters and completing endless job applications reminds you of. Suddenly you are forced it list not your failures, but your successes. I am not weak. I am strong. And the fact that I have achieved everything listed above while facing dramas, demons and traumas with my family; while coming to terms with own genetic medical diagnosis and the accompanying pain and haunting spectre of a degenerative but otherwise unknown future; and while all the time shackled to Depression; well, that just makes me all the stronger.

Sometimes he takes charge and pulls me back down into the gloom. But not for long. However heavy my bitter fog, the sun will rise tomorrow whether I like it or not. A day will always be twenty-four hours and the minutes will always tick past sixty seconds at a time. The fog will pass. I will continue to fight, and I will continue to achieve, to win, to conquer, to succeed. I Am Strong Enough. I will count my wins and learn from my failures, and I will give myself and my Depression the recognition we deserve, being lenient and forgiving and all the while determined. In doing this, I will hold my Depression by the hand and we’ll walk side by side, rather than dragging him by the chain around my ankle, or him dragging me. It makes for a much easier journey.

So if I, or anyone for that matter, smiles at you on the streets of London, or any city, town, hamlet, anywhere, please try to achieve a small triumph of your own and smile back. You never know what smile has cost them.

 

strangersmile

 

[i] In my head, my Depression has an identity: a Glum. A Glum is a creature made up by a friend who wrote a good old fashioned letter to me years and years ago. In fact, he wrote a few letters, and they were generally illustrated. Really rather lovely. While the letter is, I think, in a dusty box, in a cardboard box, in my parents’ attic, I still remember his illustration, and will never forget that “a Glum is small and round and fat and carries a small glumming bat.” This is now how I personify my Depression, as a Glum, and when I’m having a bad time it’s because he’s threatening or worse, beating me with his glumming bat. But on good days, he just sits there on a rock quietly, not getting up to any mischief.

I’m not mad, I promise.