Ch – ch – ch – changes…

There has been some rather serious talk on here in the past couple of weeks, what with trust, honesty and then the impromptu prompt which led to a discussion on mental health and cancer.  And then more discussion on mental health and cancer.  So I have decided that I should punctuate this with a bit of a change.  (And I do mean punctuate – these topics are too important to move away from).

Change is the Big Word on everyone’s lips in this neck of the woods at the moment. It is all around us and causing a great deal of interest and curiosity. I have suddenly become highly popular (purely by virtue of being here just now) and I am constantly being asked whether I think there is change underway.  It is incredible to be here and enormously encouraging.  I am fascinated and optimistic.

And while all of that change is going on, there is a different change in the air.  That of the change of season.  The hot, dry season becomes more and more hot and less dry as the humidity increases and monsoonal clouds gather a few days away.  The greatest barometer of that change is, in my view, to be seen in the riot of colour which erupts in Yangon during this pre-monsoonal season.

I completely missed it 2 years ago, living in a radiation bunker and hiding away with my shiny, bald head. So when I woke up to the spectacular colour fest all around me last year, I was totally taken aback and spent the weeks gasping at and admiring the incredibly bright colours everywhere.

The colour seems to start with the jacaranda, and a variety of purple blooms take over the city.

Then the yellows, oranges and reds of Padauk, flame and other trees, with all manner of coloured blooms appear, contrasting vividly against the green foliage.  The flame tree looks as if it has no foliage at all and stands out dramatically.

While travelling with a colleague yesterday, she pointed out the orangey yellow blossoms of the Padauk tree.  These blossoms stay for less than a day, and fall on the ground making a yellow carpet within hours of blossoming. The trees were bulging with blossom and it was hard to imagine that it would all be gone within a few hours.

My colleague the told me that thirty – forty years ago the Padauk flowered only once, at the Thingyan festival time.  Now it seems to flower after a heavy rainstorm, the trees are forced into blossoming perhaps half a dozen times before the season passes.

And the season will pass, the trees will gradually lose their poster paintbox colours as the rainy season reaches us and washes the colours away. Monsoon is imminent.  It should enter the southern border and sweep northwards in our direction.  We will again become used to the sounds of frogs and their loud croaking as they call out across the muddy grasses.  The crickets will create a chorus of chittering anc chirruping. We hear the distant rumble of thunder and the characteristic whispering of the bamboo as the winds bring each fresh rainstorm.  And the unmistakable and incredibly restful sound of the monsoon rains pouring in torrents, rhythmically drumming on the paths and roofs.  There is something both peaceful and invigorating about the rains cascading.

Oh yes.  Change is in the air indeed and we are in a wonderful space, surrounded by colour as the air cools and the life-giving rains sweep in.

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Keeping the conversation going

When I bent down to pick up the gauntlet which Marie had sent in my direction late on Wednesday evening, I had no idea that the resultant post and re-post would attract nearly so much attention.  Being part of the challenge brought a real sense of kinship.  What particularly astonished me was the strength and immediacy with which a host of posts appeared around mental health in connection with a cancer diagnosis.  And the message came across loud and clear!  Once cancer is introduced to our mind, it plays havoc with it. Yet, we feel that we should hide these troubles, such is the stigma of mental ill health.  Judging by the speed at which posts and re-posts appeared, this was not a new unfamiliar topic, but something very much at the forefront of our cancer experience.  And particularly at the forefront of our continued cancer experience long beyond diagnosis.

I was particularly surprised, that when I re-posted my earlier discussion about Captain Paranoia, to see that it generated even more comments than the original.  In fact there were almost double the number of comments.  This is clearly a discussion which must be kept alive and kicking.

So here I am with a short sequel, keeping the conversation going, and adding in a couple of extra spoonfuls of pepper to the mix.  Firstly, I am posting a marvellous poem from Sarah of Breast Cancer Lottery which she wrote in response to the post about Captain P.

Mr Paranoia

Hello Mr P so we meet again,
I hear the seconds ticking I must be insane,
Midnight as come calling and I am awake,
How much more Mr P must I take,
You shed doubt in a tired mind,
My reasoning you will grind,
I know my doubts will be nothing,
Mr P why are you bothering?
I hate your whispers of doubt,
If you were a person I’d knock you out,
The damage you do with your negativity,
Can even stump my creativity,
Why Mr P? Why are you here?
Why do you create so much fear?
I want to sleep move forward from this pain,
But instead I’m sat awake again and again,
Dawns chorus has begun,
Mr P look what you have done,
At least the birds are happy,
Now I will be left feeling crappy.

And secondly, I am sharing for a second time, the post I wrote earlier about Capt P and his relationship with Dr Google.

A sinister business partnership?  Or a conspiracy?

As I settle back into the swing of things, I know that not far on the horizon is my next round of checks.  For now though, I am still in an upbeat frame of mind following my break and the appointments are far enough ahead not to feel imminent.  So that means that Captain Paranoia is also on a bit of a break.  Although he may not be lurking on my shoulder at the moment, I know he is causing his mischief in many other lives.

With this slight distance I am feeling more rational than can happen at other times regarding the future.  A clear indicator is a glimpse at my web browsing history.  It is immediately obvious that I have not consulted Dr Google for a while.  In fact, not since Dr W laughed at the wirple, back in early July.

This is when I spot a rather interesting connection.  There appears to be some kind of business relationship between Dr Google and Captain P.  A rather sinister one at that.  And they both appear to benefit and feed on each other in this arrangement.

Does it sound familiar?  At the first sign of an ache or pain, appearance of a strange shape or bumpy area, development of a rash or spot, Capt P appears and starts whispering (or shouting) that Houston, we have a problem.  And what do we do?  Too often we run straight to Dr Google who is waiting, grinning malevolently in his 24/7 online consulting room with far too much information, much of it ill organised and not necessarily current.  He overwhelms us with graphic images and what appears to be terrifying confirmation of our worst fears.  Our minds freeze with another round of fears and worries.

We eventually log off.  Sleep is elusive, as the information from Dr Google churns around in our minds.  Capt P takes over another shift and cranks up his efforts to maintain a wearing and ongoing onslaught on our thoughts.

In this welcome space of clarity which I find myself in just now, it is abundantly clear that if Dr Google’s online Diagnostic Service was unavailable, then Capt P would not have such a great hold over us.  Similarly, if Capt P could be kept at bay, we would not be so compelled to consult Dr Google.  The challenge is then how to try and break this cast iron partnership and weaken the power which they wield over us.

In my view, having this knowledge is in itself power.

This week’s Twitter discussion focused on Post Treatment depression and there was a very lively and open sharing of the emotional fragility we have following a cancer diagnosis.  My own view is that while depression is very much a reality for many people post diagnosis, I feel that one thing we all have in common is what I would call a post diagnosis “frame of mind”.  This reflects the fact that we live life differently after diagnosis and we are generally very vulnerable to fear and anxiety.  We are far more prone to worry about our future.  The checks and regular monitoring are massively reassuring – but only if they show nothing worrisome.

This frame of mind is a fertile ground for the sinister partnership of Dr G and the Captain.

We do have tools at our disposal to stand up to the evil duo however.  In particular, we have each other in the online breast cancer community.  We understand each other and respect the harrowing worries that we encounter.  Many a time have I had my hand held across the divide.  We also have a number of reliable sources of internet information and we should ensure that we do not consult Dr Google indiscriminately.  We should turn up at the virtual waiting rooms where we know our consultation will be fair and credible, such as the Breast Cancer sites and not that terrifying Google images search engine!

So what do we have then?  We have an evil duo who are in all likelihood working in cahoots – Dr Google and Captain Paranoia.  They are supported by an arsenal of information and detail which we cannot begin to interpret without a very smart medical head.  To counteract this we have a wide reaching and sensitive community who “get it”, and understand our fears and anxieties.  We also have our “real life” Doctors – our oncologists and our surgeons for example.  They not only know their stuff, they know us, and mostly can guide us through the minefield of distressing and baffling details dropped in front of us.  We usually only see them at our checks and they are subjected to the collection of questions which we have been saving up in anticipation of our reunion with them.  Often we are waylaid by unexpected blood results of other questions and realise in the days following our appointment that we still have unanswered questions.  And Capt P just loves to latch on to these questions and twist them around in our minds.  He refers us directly to Dr Google……..

We need to try and break this cycle, fed by the Capt P and Dr G alliance.  I know that is far easier said than done.  Dr Google is far too accessible and Capt P ensures that his visitations are as distant as possible from our real life support.  We must therefore make a concerted effort to resist Dr Google.  Capt P will then be weakened in his efforts to derail our thinking.  We have helpful guidelines, such as the 2 week rule (if a pain, ache or suspicious bump lasts for 2 weeks it needs to be taken to a Doctor).  We have our online support.  Oh, did I already mention that?  I guess that out of the sinister partnership, Capt P could possibly be credited with having a modicum of use.  He keeps us alert.  It is critical for us to be aware of our bodies and any changes that could be significant.  But to go any further than that sees him as a trouble maker who needs to be kept in his place.

I hope that this exposure of this intimidating duo can prompt us to do one thing.  To enable us to take firm control of our situations and enable us to strike a balance of being vigilant, sensitive and proactive without being obsessive.

Knowledge is indeed power.  So listen here Dr Google and Captain P – you guys are  RUMBLED!!!

* * * * *

 

We must keep this conversation going…….

Blogging for Mental Health

It is rather late here in Yangon on a Wednesday evening. I am sitting under the fan, the air damp and humid as I am catching up with the rest of the world online.

I pour yet another glass of chilled water from the fridge, squeeze a sliver of lime into it, as I have done since chemo distorted my tastebuds and I found this was the only way I could suffer the dishwater taste. It is a habit I have kept up since then.

I check the twitter feed just one last time before sleeping, and see that there is an “interaction”. Always curious, I click on the icon and see a tweet from Marie of Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer.

Will you join me for #mhblogday?

She asks?

I follow the link and find out about the “Blogging for Mental Health” Challenge.

It may be late here, but this is something I have a view and feelings on. I especially have a view because I believe that there is so much focus on the physical side when we have a cancer diagnosis. Everyone knows that the disease is dangerous, and that the treatments cause all manner of difficult side effects. Everyone expects someone with cancer to look ill and haggard. But the emotional and psychological impact of a cancer diagnosis hits us with the force of a physical blow. We all remember the moment we heard the life changing words. We are caught up in a whirlwind which sweeps us up and we hurtle through treatment. But alongside the physical demands of trying to banish the cancer invader, there is a more sinister and pernicious effect which I have found grows and thrives in the troubled mind that a cancer diagnosis brings.

As the hour is late and the connection painfully slow, I prefer to paste below an earlier discussion about Captain Paranoia. (The links are not working tonight, I can always edit later…) This post sets out the troubled frame of mind which cancer has brought me, and the challenge to emotional and mental well being.

The tone of my post may be light, but the topic itself is not. My fears are real and all I ask is that they are respected and validated.

Thank you, Marie, for prompting late evening thoughts and for highlighting the serious question of mental health.

Captain Paranoia (posted June 2011)

He’s back! I woke up in the night this week and there he was, on my pillow, sitting cross-legged, feeding snippets of paranoia into my mind through my ears!
I felt my stomach clenching, as the fears rose to the surface. I am always quick to feed a worry and Captain P knows this. He was in his element, planting a snippet of suspicion in my mind and watching it gather speed and make me jump.

I overdid the treadmill in the gym a little the other day and have a pain in my heel. I also bumped my shoulder against a van’s wing mirror a few days earlier and have a tender spot on my shoulder. Add to that the combination of dark, scary, night time hours and voila – there is Capt P whispering “bone mets” in my ear.

I know that this is his peak season. I am only 2 weeks away from the next round of checks so this is the most difficult time mentally. I have already heard those “you have cancer” words once. I know it can happen and I know I am at risk.

So who is this Capt Paranoia who is part of this post diagnosis life? Does he warrant a whole posting devoted to him? Yes, I believe he does, so that we can combine forces to send him packing when he tries to come visiting.

I am not able to take the credit for creating Capt Paranoia. I borrowed him from a friend, and have seen him discussed on some of the discussion pages of Breast Cancer Care. I have developed him in my mind though, into a kind of anti-hero. In my mind. he has appalling dress sense, with an orange polyester sweatshirt with “The Captain” on its chest, and bright blue leggings and matching cloak, both of which clash terribly with his sweat shirt. And of course, he has the obligatory underwear over his leggings and his untidy hair smoothed back with Bryl Cream. Not the kind of guy you really want to find sitting on your pillow!

This personification (as insulting as possible) helps me to compartmentalise the fear and try and put it in its place. In a corner. Preferably the “Naughty Corner”
I have been developing ways of minimising Captain Paranoia’s activities. My favourite is to play memory games in the middle of the night when I cannot sleep and worry comes my way. Perhaps they are senility games. I save up little puzzles, especially little exercises of trying to remember certain things from my past which I can’t quite bring to mind. For example, the surname of a colleague from 20 years ago, the name of the band who sang a particular song in the 70s, features of a town I have visited many years ago……… I love this kind of puzzles and they are not new to me. When I find that some detail is evading me, I love to ponder and puzzle over it until finally I retrieve it from the very dusty shelves in my memory bank. Occasionally a detail may elude me for weeks, as was the case a couple of years ago. I had been trying to remember the surname of a colleague I had worked with in the 80s and search as I might I just could not remember it. Incredibly, when I was back in Scotland several weeks later, I bumped into him in Glasgow’s very busy Queen Street Station on the only day that I passed through Glasgow! Happily I was able to solve that puzzle with his assistance because I have a feeling that it was not going to come back to me ever without some help. I recently had another puzzle which kept me going for ages. There was a tune which I just could not identify, and try as I might to hum it and retrieve the lyrics for a clue, I could not get more than a few disjointed and unclear words. This one lasted for months and was finally solved when I was last in Thailand. I don’t have a mobile phone here, but I do in Thailand and when trying to change the ring tone, I suddenly realised that the evasive tune was the ring tone on my previous phone! No wonder I could not find the lyrics.

Happily when you get to my age, there are plenty of little details like this that you can’t quite retrieve. So there is plenty of material for me to use in the dark hours when Capt Paranoia is trying to elbow his way into my head. That is why I was lying awake in the early hours this morning, mumbling tunelessly that old number “tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree”, amazed that I seemed to remember all the lyrics (a dangerous confession I know) and trying to remember who on earth sang it! It defeated Captain P and I eventually dozed off again with the lyrics going round and round in my head, trying to pin down the name of the band which was responsible for making it so popular so many years ago.

I have realised that this is a good strategy which I can use against Capt P from now on. I will make sure I have a stock of these puzzles. Luckily that is not a problem thanks to chemobrain’s support in fuddling the memory chips. And I will make a conscious effort to search and solve these in a way of distracting my mind from the mean stuff that he is providing. This is a tactic which I think will help in what is going to be a long relationship and tussle between myself and Capt P. I know that this will be a protracted connection thanks to this ever present fear that the cancer beast will launch a comeback. I also know that it won’t always work.

This is not the same as denial, and vigilance is critical. I know that I have to remain proactive and seriously check anything which is worrying as opposed to worrying about something which is easily explainable, or quickly disappears.

The thing is though, I have to be right EVERY time. Capt Paranoia only needs to be right once. And that is his trump card. That is why he is able to keep reasserting his presence on my pillow.

On the positive side? Going over and over “Tie a yellow ribbon” in my head kept producing a cryptic repetition of “Dawn”. Unconvinced, I googled the song in the light of day and guess what? (I am sure you know this already). We have to thank Tony Orlando and Dawn for bringing us this classic. Now while I am sorry that Tony was far from surfacing in my mind, I was quite delighted that Dawn made itself appear in my mind before the dawn itself did. Now is that a victory against senility, memory loss and Captain Paranoia? I think it just might be!

Doctorates in online gobsmackery

My fascination in the whole matter of internet and online social relationships continues to build and is a consistent theme which runs through my blog.  It was warming and affirming to see that my thoughts on trust really struck a chord too.  And I loved the quip from my online mentor (newly appointed 😉 ) and guru  Marie of Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer which suggested that a PhD in internet friendships and their complexity.  What a dream that would be to follow.  Can you imagine the amazing field research that would involve?  Reading all the blogs from my new-found friends and then arranging to meet as many as I could.  A study proposal is forming far too easily in my mind!

But all of that is fantasy.  Well for now it is…..  But I was keen to revisit briefly the them of trust and reflect on the many comments which came in.  What I found particularly interesting is that although the topic is potentially controversial (or so I had thought),  there was clear consensus around our online community.  That does not mean that it is not a complex and sensitive topic but this did reaffirm for me the very essence which was in my original discussion.  That of the strength and overwhelming sincerity in our community. The post and discussion brought out fairly consistent points.

  • We would rather trust and enjoy the many wonderful friendships and connections that we gain, albeit running the risk of being taken in, than miss out on a new friendship.
  • However, trusting is not easy and having been betrayed in a variety of ways, it can take time to allow ourselves to trust, especially where there are not the signs and corroborating back up which we are used to in our face to face or traditional interactions.
  • We are not equipped for the complexities and dimensions of social relationships which the internet brings.  But we are learning quickly and developing those skills!
  • Where trust is broken or we are deceived, there is a whole swathe of online support and back up to help us through.
  • We would far rather be the one who is at risk of being deceived than the one who deceives for whatever reason or motivation is behind their actions

This I am sure will continue to fascinate me and warm the cockles of my heart as time wears on and our community and interactions develop.

However, I wanted to highlight another gem which came out of the comments.  In the midst of our discussion about trust, there was a comment from my respected bloggess friend which included the word “gobsmacked”.  One of my favourite expressions.  A few comments further down one very wise and wonderful bloggess noted that she was hearing this word twice in one day and never encountered it before.  Now there are (dare I say rather boring?) definitions in the various online dictionaries for gobsmacked, such as:

Gobsmacked: adjective (British informal)

Definition:  utterly astonished; astounded: 1980s: from gob + smack, with reference to being shocked by a blow to the mouth, or to clapping a hand to one’s mouth in astonishment

I prefer this World Wide Words definition:

Gobsmacked combines the northern English and Scottish slang term gob, mouth, with the verb smack. It suggests the speaker is utterly astonished or astounded. It’s much stronger than just being surprised; it’s used for something that leaves you speechless, or otherwise stops you dead in your tracks. It suggests that something is as surprising as being suddenly hit in the face.

The gecko definition which came to being in my response is consistent with the detail on the above reference.

I know it is used a lot in the UK (especially in the north east of England and in Scotland particularly) and is a colloquialism for being totally astounded or shocked, kind of stunned into silence. The beautifully eloquent term “gob” is a crass word for “mouth” – “shut yer gob” is a particularly delightful expression to request someone to be quiet! I think that “gobsmacked” conveys the sense of being so taken aback and shocked at something that it feels like a physical blow.

Interesting enough, I clearly remember a message from a friend on hearing my diagnosis, which, thanks to technology (deep bow), I could call up.  He said:

….I’m gobsmacked about what you’re going through. I can’t believe it. But Scottish lasses are more than resilient, so I know you’ll sort this out nae bother. What are the next steps?

To which I replied:

sorry to smack your gob!! i know – it was totally unexpected, but i am in the best of places. Looks like we will be in Bangkok for a wee while for treatment, but early pathology is fairly optimistic…

So indeed there is a documented relationship between gobsmacking and cancer!  And my interpretation of gobsmacked as a bonus!
However, on top of my love of language and expression there is something which I love even more.  And that is prompted by my commenter referring to her lack of familiarity with “gobsmacked” by saying  “shows how little I know”.  Now she is one of the wisest and most eloquent bloggesses  I have been fortunate to connect with.  And she is enormously unassuming in the most humbling way. No, this is not about how little we know, but rather, how much there is still to learn no matter who we re or where we are in our lives and in the world.  And that was in the remainder of my comment reply.
Working in the field that I do, I have a kind of “mantra” which I try to live by as well as relentlessly reminding those around me – “you learn something new every day”. I love the fact that today’s learning is about “gobsmacked”!
We do learn something new every day, as long as we are open to it.  And we never know who our “teacher” might be – I often learn things from my 6 year old neighbour.  I am especially delighted to be part of a discussion in which an octogenarian embraces something new and looks for ways to adopt this.  How refreshing and humbling.
I continue to be gobsmacked at the great deal ofnew learning, as well as heartwarming and inspiring activity continually within this online circle, and a great deal of learning.  Now I think I will head off to look into doctorate opportunities at the University of the InterWeb 😉

In trust we blog

When I first entered this strange new place known as “life after hearing the you have cancer words”, I realise that I had expectations of how life would be playing out from then on.  I vaguely expected that I would go through the treatment, share the emotional turmoil with family, friends and colleagues and then resume some kind of life as it had been “before”.  Needless to say, it hasn’t quite turned out like that.  The basics were there, but life changed beyond recognition.  And life has never been the same since, for better and for not so better.

There has been one dimension of the cancer experience which has been totally unexpected.  And that dimension is the rich, supportive environment I stumbled upon online, particularly through blogging.  I could never have imagined the number of people I have connected with, and particularly the depth of many of those friendships. Now, this is not something new to my posts.  I have previously (and often) discussed how emotionally involved I have become with friends I have connected with online. I have described how taken aback at the level of distress when one of our number is taken. The raw grief of loss, and the unexpected tears on learning that someone you have never “met” has been taken simply crashes through the boundaries we are accustomed to. I have previously, and more than once talked about how much that has surprised me.  I have been moved beyond any imaginable expectations when one of my online friends was dealing with the toughest of times.  So this is not a new topic in my mind, but I continue to be astounded at the warmth and genuine friendship which has developed with friends online and value this more than I can express in words.  Utterly heart-warming.

In the past few weeks, however, I have been nudged to revisit some of these thoughts. I was shocked when reading a post from Nancy where she shared her shock when she learned that another blogger had taken her posts and copied them almost word for word.  This made me reflect on how much we expose ourselves online and lay ourselves open emotionally.  Just because what we write is completely genuine, we take it that all other similar blogs are similarly true.  We generally accept what we read by fellow bloggers and bloggesses at face value in such areas as cancer blogging.  Yet the internet is an unpoliced medium and as far as I am aware, there are no checks to ensure that what is written is true if that is what is implied or stated.

And then, this week I was I was catching up on Chez’s blog when I was stopped in my tracks wen I read her post about “Annie”.  Chez and Anne had connected online, guest posted on each other’s blogs and after some time “Annie” abruptly broke contact.   Given her secondary diagnosis, Chez feared the worst and thanks to social media and perseverance was able to get in touch with one of her friends.  She was shocked beyond belief to discover that “Annie” had in fact fabricated her diagnosis and whole blog.

The point which I come back to again and again in this is the extent to which we trust.  Nancy trusted her readers yet one chose to lift her words, and use them as her own.  Chez trusted that “Annie” was being honest.  Yet we find that this virtual layer of our friendships has the potential to be deceptive.

Essentially, we are trusting strangers, unknown entities, and opening our hearts and minds.  We share our fears, our hopes and intricate details of what we go through in the cancer experience.  Some of this is highly personal, but the supportive environment and strength of friendship reassures us and we feel able to trust.  And then our world is rocked when something we trusted and believed turns out to be smoke and mirrors.  That reflection in the mirror is of the complicated and inter-connected online lives and relationships we develop.  And how much trust we place on the basis of the information in front of us, often because we share so much of our own personal self online.  Something like this knocks that trust.

However, this has to be put in balance with the depth and number of genuine friendships and individuals in our online community.  A good number of bloggers have posted accounts of real-life 3D meet-ups.  The variety of social media we use also means that we have a kind of triangulation which must make it more difficult, but in no way impossible, to be duplicitous.  Perhaps we have a sense of additional false security because we are after all living with our breast cancer diagnoses. But many of the signals that protect us in the “real” world are not there in the virtual world.  We are far more vulnerable and exposed than we realise, and perhaps the very depth of genuine friendship we find online further lulls us into that sense of security.

The whole issue of trust was one which was very much on my mind a few weeks ago when I was making plans to met Terri in “real life”, my first chance to meet another breast cancer bloggess.  I remember thinking that on the rational side, travelling to another city half a day away in another country, was somewhat risky.  Was I being naïve in trusting that Terri was who she said she was?  We had only known each other online.  We read on and commented on each other’s blogs, had connected on Facebook, had emailed a number of times and I felt a true connection and shared values.  But we had not actually spoken.  I remember thinking quite clearly that in terms of a methodically calculated risk analysis, this would have to be considered rash and high risk.

However, although these “rational” questions went through my mind as I booked time off work and tickets, I did not seriously for a moment believe that Terri would be anyone other than who I had met online.  I was sure she would be exactly who she said she was online.  And of course she was!

After reading Chez’s revelation, it did make me stop and reflect on how trusting I am about what I read and how I connect online.  I without doubt take what my blogging friends write at face value and would not think to doubt that some blogs could be invention.  And how should I apply that to my own blog?  Let’s be honest here – my own tales must seem rather far fetched and I do not readily share personal information to corroborate my experience.  I think I have only ever posted one photo of myself and my name appears only in comments.  How credible is my blog?  A Scottish woman, living and working in one of the most enigmatic countries in the world, diagnosed with breast cancer, treated in Thailand, experiencing so much in all corners of Asia……..  Is this for real? If I were reading this myself, would I believe it?  I am not sure that I would!  But here I am, on a sticky pre-monsoonal Saturday morning in Yangon tapping away my thoughts while the fan is whirring overhead, a cheeky mynah bird calling out in a tree in the garden and a street hawker calling out “brooms for sale” as he passes by our hedge, along our lane. Yep, I am real– (pinches self) though in my PJs but don’t tell 😉

I find that when it comes to online trust, it is similar to online loss.  These new dimensions to relationships and interactions do not have rules or protocols.  We do not have the signs and signals we are used to which enable us to process and evaluate online dynamics. And in many cases we find we are not equipped to deal with the depth of emotion we experience in something which may have been experienced entirely in the virtual world.  Witness the incredible #bcsm discussions as one demonstration of online support and emotional connection in its discussions and debates. It is a new and strange territory, and one in which we find a wealth of unexpected characteristics.

The online world may be a fertile environment for duplicity without consequence.  More than ever we need to be aware of that while developing friendships and connections in the blogosphere. In this complex issue of trust in this new and evolving space, on one hand I know I should be wise in developing friendships.  However, I would rather risk and trust than not.  Otherwise I could well miss out on the wonderful connections and friendships that have been brought to me purely thanks to the online world. And I can’t imagine  a world without you!

Under my nose

When I was in Phnom Penh recently, I discovered in the guidebook that there was a cafe called the “Lazy Gecko Cafe”.  I looked it up on the map and saw that it was quite far from where I was staying and also from most of the areas I would be visiting.  However, the pull to seek out this lazy gecko was strong and on my final day, I decided to hunt it down and sink a coffee or two.

I tried to memorise the map so that I would be able to follow roughly where to go, wrote the address down on a scrap of paper and flagged down a tuk tuk to take me there.  I explained the name of the street and off we headed.  In the right direction too, according to my pre-departure map study.  I love travelling in tuk tuks.  I feel safe, and part of the surroundings as they are open.  And much more comfortable than being inside a car.

I sat back and enjoyed the jaunt through the streets, along the riverside, through the bustling market area and past grand colonial buildings.  We veered down side streets, a left here and a right there and finally along a little lane where the Lazy Gecko was located.

Except it wasn’t.  My tuk tuk driver asked around and was told that it had moved.  They gave him the new address and I tried to work out roughly where it was.  Back in the direction where we had come from, unsurprisingly and not far from where I had set off!

Back we headed, weaving through the streets again, past the main temple, the markets and the Palace.  Near the riverfront, we veered into a network of criss-crossing streets and before long we drew up at the Lazy Gecko Café!

I was quite delighted and settled into browsing in the shop and taking some photos before I settled down with a refreshing glass of lemon soda.

I was curious about where I was though, and from my seat near the pavement, I tried to figure out which direction the river, and therefore my hotel, lay.  I pored over my map and realised that it must actually be rather close but having weaved so much through the streets I had completely lost my orientation.  So I asked the waiter which direction led to the river.  He pointed to my left.  I leaned over and peered through the trees on the roadside trying to get my bearings.  I almost blushed with embarrassment when I realised that the building just across the road was none other than my hotel!   I had taken a wonderful scenic tour of Phnom Penh only to find that what I had been searching for was right under my nose all along!

And isn’t that just like the thing?  So often in life we spend time and energy searching for things that are much closer than we realise.  In this case, though I have to say that not knowing this at the outset took me on a wonderful detour and gentle escapade, which in itself was highly enjoyable, before delivering me where I wanted to be. Right back where I had started!