Thursday, July 18, 2013

Redefining normal, and Ferdinand's new job

Okay, I am over the whining.

It's time to stop wishing everything was the same as it used to be. It's time to stop moaning about it till I bore everybody to tears, including myself. Everything is NOT the same, and won't be.

When I put on my Aunt Annie hat, I know that my complaints and my tears and my anger have been absolutely understandable- a part of the grief process that I had to go through- but they haven't changed a thing. The picture before me is still exactly the same.

And if I don't like looking at it the way it is, then maybe it just needs a new frame. That much I can change.


Hammering together a new frame for my circumstances is, of course, a work in progress. I don't kid myself that I'm never again going to curse the day the Freeloader came and stole my peace of mind, my energy, my pretty and symmetrical appearance and my ability to do so many things that I'd always taken for granted.

Of course I will. (Probably tomorrow.)

But honestly, you can't keep on wailing about something that can't be changed without doing yourself further damage. You can't keep on looking on something that's in your face every single day as a negative- not without becoming negative yourself.

So an honest look in the figurative mirror is called for here, because not everything BC (you need to ask? Before cancer, of course) was really so rosy.

Was it?

Tell the truth, Candy.

And if I'm honest with myself- scathingly, brutally so- there are some ways in which my life will be better after this experience.


I mean, let's take Ferdinand. Yes, he's still around, my little fishy friend. He's got a new job to do these days, and he's doing it really well; there'll be no flushing him down the loo, or releasing him into the handbasin. Ferdi is an important part of this new frame I'm making.

An aside, before I tell you how Ferdi is making my life better. This came to me while I was riding the bike this morning, and I don't want to lose it to the impermeable mists of chemo brain- so here it is.


Why a perfectly rational person invented a talking fish in her stomach during chemotherapy (and still believes in him)

I'm sure some of you think I'm completely loopy, talking about a stomach-dwelling, ailing fish- a complete figment of my imagination- as though he really exists.

Well, too bad if you do. Ferdinand the Fermenting Fish- or, if you must, the concept of Ferdinand the Fermenting Fish- helped me stay sane during chemo like nothing else could.

Does that make me nuts? (Do I look like I care?)

Ferdi. They think we're nuts. Shall we explain?

If I put Ferdinand (or the concept of Ferdinand) on the couch and psychoanalyse him, he smiles serenely back at me and dissembles at once.

You're better at taking care of others than you are at taking care of yourself, he explains. Waving a fin at me, in the absence of a reproachful finger.

So that's where I came in. If you could reframe the whole horror of chemo and convince yourself that you were looking after ME while the poison was screwing up your insides, it was easier to cope with being needy and hard to please and bloody uncomfortable all the time. 

Guilty as charged, Ferdi. It was much easier to look after a poor, dull-scaled, half-dead goldfish in my stomach- or, if you will, in my mind- than to acknowledge that I was being poisoned. Being poisoned is terrifying.

Looking after a sick animal? Easy as. I've always been a frustrated vet.

All hail the power of imagination, which is still part of my picture.


And so, to Ferdinand's new job.

I haven't quite got over the whole chemo-screws-up-your-tastebuds thing yet. And strangely, the things that kept Ferdi happy while I was in the middle of being poisoned are often the very things that now make him unhappy.

Anything frankly sweet gives me an immediate injection of aluminium into my mouth. Cake or sweet biscuits? Flavoured milk? Fruit Tingles? Sorry. No can do. Ferdinand says no.

And the sweet things I used to pig out on BC- ice cream, and a thousand varieties of chocolate? Ferdi says no to those, too. The aftertaste simply isn't worth it. The enjoyment is gone.

(He accepts Lindt 70% Cocoa, mind you. It's not so sweet and satisfies us both as an indulgence. And he tolerates a little Tia Maria in his milk, as long as it's just the one.)

Then there's my savoury tooth. Oh, he lets me eat anything I want that's savoury- no problem at all! But when Ferdi says enough, I stop.

This is the woman who used to serve herself as much for dinner as she served her rake-thin, hyperactive partner (the one who works outside All Day and doesn't even own a computer, let alone allow himself to sit in front of one all day).

This is the woman who could never resist a second helping of something delicious, and maybe a third.

This is the woman who, faced with a choice of two delicious options, chose to have both regardless of her actual appetite.

I mean, I had been so out of touch with my actual appetite for so long BC that I constantly confused wanting food with needing food. Food was the answer to everything negative- boredom, sadness, indecision, feeling unloved or lonely, lack of self-esteem- you name it, food stuffed it back in its box. I knew I was doing it, but it had become such a habit that it was well nigh impossible to stop.

But Ferdi doesn't let me do that. He has elected himself Guardian of the Precious Stomach; now that he's comfy again, he's damned if he's going to let me pollute his tank. I find myself doing things that I've never done in my life before, like refusing a sweet biscuit because Ferdi knows it'll make my mouth taste like shit, or (heaven help me!) even throwing away half of the second sushi roll I'd bought for lunch yesterday, because Ferdi said yes, it was very nice, but he'd had enough now.

Unheard of.

See, Ferdi wasn't around when all the bad seeds were sown around my eating habits. He wasn't there when I was a child, when sweet foods were so often a reward and over-indulgence was modelled every day. He wasn't there when I was first hitting puberty, and a rude and insensitive adult told me over and over that I was too fat and should have a breast reduction. And so on. There are many reasons why I've been overweight for most of my life, and they all gained traction inside my head thanks to some outside, negative event.

But Ferdinand is not the least bit influenced by my past; he's not even interested in it. Ferdi lives completely in the now. And now, he doesn't want to feel sick. He doesn't want a nasty taste hanging around. He doesn't want to feel bloated again.

Bless his shiny little scales. I may yet get down to a healthier body size without feeling deprived in any way.


Another part of this new frame is a different way of looking at my need to exercise. For a while I've been banging my head against the wall of my slightly addictive and very perfectionist nature; refusing to miss a day on the Wii, but resenting the imposition on my time at some level too. Constantly trying to beat my last high score, and thinking how stupid that was at some level too. Being scared to take a day off, in case I never got back on again because my record wasn't perfect any more.

This time real life intervened, helped along by an awareness of someone else's needs, and saved me from myself. Promising to let the neighbours' dogs out a few times a day, while they worked unusually long hours, helped me out with that one. I realised that walking over there and back was exercise. Cycling over there and back was exercise. Walking with the dogs once I got there was exercise.

I know, I know. All of that is obvious, really, unless like me you have that tendency to try, always, to compete against yourself. But I saw the light. Nailing myself to the Wii for an hour every morning wasn't the only way to keep myself healthy, and the sky wasn't going to fall if I sometimes missed a morning on their godforsaken daily chart, because who the hell cares? The Wii is wonderfully useful, but the stupid chart is just wallpaper around my addiction to perfection.

So part of the new frame is counting everything physical as exercise. Yes, I still get on the Wii most mornings, because the step class is like dancing to warm up (I love dancing) and the hula hooping is boring but it's good for my lymph drainage (yes, I asked Miss Sunshine) and the boxing is fun as well as aerobically strenuous (without being too much for my lymph-challenged arm).

But then I go for a ride on the pushbike, up and down the road with the birds singing and the trees rustling around me, to make up the rest of the hour I need to do to help keep the Freeloader at bay. Or I count what I'm doing around the farm if it's reasonably active, or I count going over and letting the dogs out and walking around with them.

Exercise doesn't have to be a prison. It was me who put the bars up. I need to lighten up and let myself have a life, and that's just a matter of the way I look at things.


Mr Lincoln. The best-smelling rose in the world.
And while we're talking about having a life, that's quite enough sitting at the computer for today. I need to go prune the roses- months late, but better late than never.

And that, in my redefined normal, counts as both having a life and exercise.

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