Life is too short NOT to have funky toenails!

I visited Paris for a long weekend a long time ago, probably approaching twenty odd years or so ago.  Clutching my copy of “Pauper’s Paris” I craned my neck over the crowds to see the Mona Lisa, gasped at the traffic on the Champs Elysées from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, tip-toed around the echoey Nôtre Dame Cathedral, bought a twee little cut-out of my silhouette fashioned in seconds by a Sacré Coeur artist and sipped café noir from the terasse of the Café de Deux Magots. Classic Paris experiences.  But of course, no visit to Paris is valid unless you see the Eiffel Tower and I was eagerly looking forward to the spectacular view of the city from its heights.  I knew that the stairs would be a climb, but the lift seemed too speedy and exposed and I naturally opted for the low tech and cheaper option.

buildings-eiffel-tower-paris

By the time I reached two or three twists in the iron stairway it was clear something was not right.  My head was looking forward to the views, but other parts of my body were not cooperating.  I was shaking, my heart was pounding and my legs were unable to hold me.  Worst of all was a bizarre and severe dizziness.  I looked upwards through the iron steps and an overwhelming wave of dizziness and nausea paralysed me.  I was escorted down the steps slowly and gently to gradually regain my equilibrium on terra firma. It took some time for the shaking to subside and even a look upwards towards the top of the Tower would bring an instant return of the dreadful dizziness.

Eiffel Tower steps

And that is how I learned I have a touch of vertigo! I know now what sets me off, and that aeroplanes are fine, steep mountainsides manageable if I look at the landward side and that if I am up high and I can see through to the ground below me (for example through the slats in an iron stairway or bridge) then I am in trouble.

Being offered a job in Nepal in 2000 was enormously exciting, but there was one Big Elephant in the Room.  Nepal has hills, nay mountains and not just any old mountains.  The Himalayas.  I knew that my job would take me to remote parts of the country, often on foot.  And that would invariably involve crossing narrow ravines, which would involve breath-taking, vertigo-inducing suspension bridges.

Kalibridge

In my five years plus in Nepal I crossed more suspension bridges than I could count, and every single one was a challenge.  It was well known that I dreaded journeys which involved these bridges, but there was not an alternative if I wanted to do my work.  I gradually developed a technique which got me over the bridges  even if every single one prompted the same trepidation. I knew that it helped to have someone walk directly in front of me, taking up most of my immediate field of vision.  I would focus on the back of that person and not let my eyes see either steepness and drop on either side, nor the ground underneath my feet.  I needed to trick my eyes and get myself across the bridge without the involuntary prompt that I knew would launch into a full scale vertigo attack.suspensionbridgenepal

So recent thoughts on seeking balance, and the image of a tightrope was in fact one very pertinent. A few days later, in the weekly #bcsm Twitter discussion, the topic of balance arose and I was immediately struck by one Tweet which quoted a saying that “life is a narrow bridge” and the trick is not to be afraid.

“Life is a very narrow bridge. The important thing is not to be afraid” Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav.

This instantly resonated, especially in the space which I am in at the moment.  Life is indeed a narrow bridge, and is sometimes pretty precarious.  At the moment I am balancing so many different things across the spectrum of personal, health, well being and professional.  How can I find that spot on the narrow bridge where I feel that I am taking enough well-being time without the pressures of tasks intruding into the healing space?  How do I deal with all of the things which are piling up for me to carry on my shoulders as I walk along my narrow bridge? How do I keep my eye on the road ahead and avoid slipping down the steep slopes around me?

I am do not mind admitting that I am afraid or anxious. In two weeks time I will be drawn onto the game-show conveyor belt of the Big Checks moving from blood draws to mammo and on to X-ray.  Next stop probably ultrasound. Then through the doors of Dr W2 and my score will be given to me.  Will I qualify for a bonus round?  CT  Scan? Bone Scan?  MRI? Or will I be allowed to step off the belt and slope away to tally the totals and take stock?  Who knows.  Of course I am afraid.

It is difficult to take time to relax and build my resilience ahead of these checks while all around me is so incredibly busy. Seeking balance continues to be prominent in my mind.  My head is full of such an assortment of competing callings. I am trying to carpe the diem and not to drown precious days in the mundane and the manic.  Kirsty reminded me last week to “take time to sniff the orchids”. Indeed, so much is gained from a pause to breathe in simple goodness.

Which takes me back to the narrow bridge I am on.  I know that I can’t not be afraid.  However, I also know that there are techniques and tricks, which I can muster to minimise fear and distract me, in the same way as I get myself across the suspension bridges in Nepal.

The toenail trick is one such. Although my toenails eloped with Taxotere for a bit, they are back if a bit ridged and ugly.  Prime material for a bit of bling!

When I developed my wish bucket, toenail art was one of the easier wishes to pick out and realise.  The first toenail art I had, I loved.  Delicate cherry blossom-like art on my toenails, painstakingly created by a skilled young nail artist.  (Now would that not be a great job to have?) funky toenail art

That was the first of many varied toenail art experiences, all of which I have loved perhaps with the exception of the one which should have featured starfish, but more resembled the stars and stripes! I have nothing against the US flag of course, but it would not necessarily be my first choice to sport on my toenails!

Having funky toenails is a very easy indulgence to fulfil and one which brings a disproportionate amount of simple pleasure.  The toenail trick guarantees distraction and has resulted in an unexpected amount of attention.  Perhaps I am a bit too old for this kind of toenail trivia but I do not care.  Toenail art is one of the best tricks in the book to bring things into perspective and bring stillness to calm the vertigo induced by the current dizzying busyness and pre-checks anxiety.

Life is too short not to have funky toenails!

Life is too short not to have funky toenails!

After all, is life not far too short, not to have funky toenails?

Advertisements

A break?

These past few months have been tough ones,  physically, emotionally and whatever-elsely.  Any leave I have taken has been related to either medical or family matters and so I have been approaching this break with some anticipation, if not desperation!  The plan was a cunning one.  Given that Friday and Monday were both Public Holidays here, I decided to finish up on the Thursday evening and then take a few days as a buffer before the hankered after healing trip to Malaysia…..  In those six days between finishing work I would relax in Yangon, take time to prepare for my break and take care of a few tasks which I have not quite managed to work through.  You know the ones, the not-urgent-so-they-get-put-to-the-side tasks.  This included tasks which although not quite urgent are still important – setting up a scholarship in memory of my father for the Tall Ships Youth Trust, overdue and unanswered correspondence, medical reimbursement claims, a heap of boring-yet-important paperwork tasks.  It also included planning and dreaming time (the “focus” part of my three words for the year) and regrouping in terms of creative and personal priorities for the year.  It included catching up with friends and having lazy lunches and coffees in Yangon’s nicest spots. Great plans for a few days pre-holiday break.

So I was not expecting the assault which was waiting in the wings for me  As I tidied and wrapped up priorities and essentials around me on Thursday I was aware that I had the occasional sneezle.  Now my sneezles, I like to think are rather dainty, little soprano “aaa-teeeesh” sneezles.  The type that can break windows and crystal glasses.  The ones which were appearing on Thursday however, were deep Pavarotti-like “HHHAAAAAA-TRUUMPH” thunder claps, so unlike my own that I could have been convinced that I had been taken over by a dozen tenors with hay fever.  It did not happen too frequently though for me to give it much attention, and I handed over my work tasks, worries, tidied my papers into a single “welcome back in two weeks” bundle and spent a pleasant Thursday evening with a friend.  I still had the occasional sneezle, but nothing really of note and although feeling very tired, reached home later with no inkling of the impending ambush.

I had probably only been asleep around an hour when I realised that something was brewing.  My nose was becoming really stuffy and there was a familiar discomfort on breathing which heralded some kind of upper respiratory cough/cold ahead. By the time morning arrived I was in some sort of meltdown.  Some very nasty virus had clearly taken quite a hold. My body was already fighting the abscess, which had required a change in antibiotics, and I knew I was run down and tired.  The perfect welcome committee for what would normally be a tedious, run of the mill infection.  It was frightening just how quickly and how low this knocked me down. I completely lost four days, four whole days to feverish dreams, painful coughing, streaming eyes and nose and debilitating weakness.  Half of my face (or so it feels) has been taken over by an angry cold sore the size of a Pacific island.  I can’t even remember the last time I had one of these wretched cold sores.  I don’t believe I have been laid quite so low since the chemo days.  Indeed, the last time I lost so many days was during a bout of pneumonia when my white cell count lowered enough to let that across the threshold.  But even in those days, I was able to get myself dressed and out to the Doctor for twice daily intravenous antibiotic infusions.

I am not sure where these past four days disappeared to, but they did evaporate and finally today, I have felt well enough to raise my head, dress and even tiptoe gently out of the house.

One of the delights of living in Myanmar is that there are so many ways of pampering yourself which are affordable and easily accessible.  At the end of our lane there is a small spa or beauty parlour, I’m not sure how I would term it.  However, it classifies itself, it is a haven for tired and flagging souls.  I decided that my first venture back into the outside world would be for one of those luxurious hair washes which are so much part of life here.

It is not far to walk, but probably just the right kind of distance.  Near enough to cope with wobbly legs, but far enough to at least feel as if I am stretching those muscles just a little.  With the abscess and then this lurgey, it has been nearly two weeks since I have been able to swim or cycle so gentle exercise is sorely needed.

I turned up on the doorstep of the spa, and requested a tea tree oil hair wash as the scent is reminiscent of eucalyptus and so soothes those airways beautifully.  Quite why it also smells like a giant “after eight” mint I am not sure, but it does and I tend to imagine I am wallowing in one of these mega treats! teatreeoilforgood.comThe visit was rounded off with a tentative acknowledgement of my forthcoming trip – holiday toenails.  This week I seriously doubted whether I would actually be well enough to travel and whether it would be wise.  Feeling confident enough to have my toenails done is the most significant, yet seemingly trivial, signal that I finally feel well and confident enough.

holiday toes

And if I feel well enough, confident and have holiday toes?  Then I had better start packing sometime soon……..