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.
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.
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.
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.
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?)
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.