Have ‘a year’

2016 is ending, which many will be delighted about. There’s a weird thing that we all do where on one day out of 365, we look back at the previous 365 days and judge ourselves. Lots of people are posting achievements, happy moments, sad moments, words of wisdom, and hopes, dreams, and goals for the next 365 days.

I read somewhere that:

‘it’s okay if the only thing you did today was breathe’.

I would like to extend that to this year.

It’s okay if this year you ‘just survived’. It’s okay if you didn’t achieve your goals or complete all of your plans. It’s okay if you didn’t graduate, if you didn’t change the world, if you didn’t get the promotion you wanted or finish a race you wanted to run. You have still achieved something this year – you have smiled, laughed, and loved. You have brightened someone’s day, made someone smile, and made a difference in the lives of those around you.

If this year you have been in hospital, had a family member in hospital, received a new diagnosis, lived with an old diagnosis, taken medication, had an operation, had tests done, or put up with a mind or body which seem less than impressed with being alive, then I’m proud of you.

If you have had a baby, got a new job, graduated, moved house, passed an exam, received a promotion, got married, got engaged, learned to drive or raised money for charity, then I’m proud of you.

If you have taken a picture of a sunset, felt the wind in your hair, cuddled a puppy, taken the bins out, watched TV, read a book, hugged, text a friend… done anything at all that involves being alive, then I’m proud of you because at the times it can feel like there is hatred stirring all over the world and things can feel very bleak, and if you can continue to enjoy and appreciate the little things, and remain kind in the face of all of that, then you’re doing well.

I hope that 2017 is kind to you all. I hope that it brings you the things that you want. I hope that it provides you with family times and time with friends. I hope that you receive love and laughter and that you treat yourself with all of the kindness and compassion you deserve. I’m not going to tell people to have ‘a good year’, because I think that can feel out of reach a lot of the time. Instead I’m going to say have ‘a year’.

You Can’t Change The World, But You Can Change Your World

This morning I woke up to the news that Trump is president of the US.

Now, I don’t really understand politics, especially American politics, and I must admit I haven’t followed the election very closely, but from my limited understanding, I believe that this is quite a Bad Thing (unless you’re a white, straight, able-bodied, middle-class, non-muslim, non-immigrant man).

It saddens me that there is so much hatred in the world. Such an unwillingness to accept others who are a little different to us. Trump is a strange man by all accounts. He comes out with some, quite frankly, bizarre statements, and seems to close his eyes, spin in a circle, point at a random group of people, and decide that they’re the group he’s going to hate on that particular day.

But what saddens me more than anything Trump says (because let’s be honest, whatever he’s saying we can still laugh a little because he looks kind of like an angry carrot with a fluffy gerbil plonked on top), is the fact that there are a substantial number of people who agree with him. I’m not actually convinced that Trump believes in everything he says, I think he just comes out with ludicrous statements to try and shock people (sort of like Katie Hopkins). I think that towards the end of the election, his team were playing a game of ‘what’s the most stupid thing we can come out with that people will still go for’. So it’s not Trump that scares, confuses and saddens me, as much as the huge number of people who believe, what are in my opinion, racist, sexist, homophobic policies.

I can’t change the election, and neither can you. I can’t change much in this world, to be honest, I don’t hold that power. I can’t fix countries, stop wars, or cure diseases. I’m just one little person attempting to work, study, eat, sleep, and not crash my bike.

I can’t change the world, we can’t change the world, but we can change our worlds.

We can treat people with dignity and respect. We can hold our judgements on people and try and understand where they’re coming from (yes, including Trump and his supporters). We can love deeply, use social media responsibly, and try to show compassion in all that we do. We can do our best to remain kind, caring, and humble in our day to day lives. We can open our arms to those in danger of persecution, take five minutes to talk to someone who’s hurting, ask those around us if they are okay, and genuinely want to hear an honest answer.

We can’t control the world, but we can control our response to it. If you’re angry about the politics of this world – that’s okay! But use that anger to do something. Channel it into something productive and positive. Don’t just sit on social media complaining about it because that won’t achieve anything.

It’s Horrible Feeling Ill, and Worse When You Can’t Even Text Your Mum.

This weekend, I haven’t been all that well. This isn’t unheard of or anything – throughout Mum’s illness, I had a couple of periods where I fell ill. Whether it be a standard bug going round, leaving me bedbound and anti-food for a few days, an exciting late-night A&E trip with an asthma attack, or something else, I’ve become somewhat of an expert at developing odd symptoms over the past couple of years.

Whenever I was ill, I either told Mum afterwards (in the case of something short like an asthma attack), or told her but refused to let her visit. Mum’s immune system was often compromised over the course of her illness; aggressive chemotherapy does that to a person. I made sure never to do anything which could put her at risk of catching something. And even if I was ill with something that wasn’t contagious, I didn’t want to put her through the stress of seeing me ill.

This was so hard. All you want when you’re feeling rubbish is for your Mum to give you a hug and remind you there are better days ahead. To hold you together when it feels like things are falling apart… to stroke your hair, or bring you a drink, and remind you that it won’t last forever.

So keeping Mum away wasn’t ideal, but I would text her to update her on how I was doing. She was generally pretty unsympathetic, actually, unless I actually felt like I was dying (I think it’s probably a symptom of being a palliative medicine consultant). Maybe unsympathetic isn’t the right word, maybe matter-of-fact would be closer to the mark… but she would always reply, usually with kind words, happy thoughts, and often something to make me smile or laugh.

This weekend I’ve pretty much been restricted to my bed with headachey, dizzy, blergh-ness. I’ve felt pretty low in myself; I hate not being able to get out of the house, or even being able to get up and do stuff. I’ve been too exhausted to even go downstairs the majority of the time. Having wifi in bed has been a bit of a lifesaver to be honest because at least I’ve had a bit of contact with the outside world.

On Friday night I started crying because I felt so rubbish and all I wanted was Mum. I’m really lucky to have some amazing women in my life who frequently fill in as ‘stand-in Mum’ when a situation calls for it. But I think being ill is one of those times where you just want your ‘real’ Mum and no-one can fill that role, however amazing they may be and however much they might want to or try to.

I’ve stopped talking about Mum as much generally. I don’t think people want to keep hearing about it, and after a time you run out of things to say or words to explain what you’re going through. There are only so many times you can say ‘I’m hurting and it’s crap’, before even I get bored of hearing myself say it. I’m running out of words and losing the ability to express how I’m feeling, because more often than not I simply don’t know.

I know, though, that when I’m ill, all I want is Mum, and the only thing that sucks more than her not being there in person, is not even having her at the end of the phone.

Featured: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/naomibarrow/feeling-ill-when-you-cant-text-your-mum_b_9241860.html

Thinking Out Loud

Pretty much all summer long I’ve been itching to move back to university; I’ve complained about the mess in the house, the lack of independence, the lack of cashpoint within fifteen minutes of the house… pretty much everything. I’ve made a home for myself in York, and the house where I grew up doesn’t feel like home anymore.

Somebody asked me last week if each time I said goodbye to my Mum I thought about whether or not it would be our last. The very quick answer to that question would be ‘no’. When Mum was first diagnosed, I did for a while, but not anymore. Can you imagine living like that for 18 months?! You’d drive yourself insane. Furthermore, any time I say goodbye to anyone it could be the last time I see them. Accidents happen all the time and we never know what life might decide to spring upon us. (It’s morbid, I know, but still true).

I think I’m struggling to accept Mum’s declining health, and I’ve got to the stage where I’m just running away from it. If I’m not at home, then Mum’s health stays where I last left it. If I’m not seeing her every day, her disease is halted in time. Without seeing her condition change, I can pretend that it doesn’t.

When I’m at home, I can blame the loneliness and isolation I often feel on living in a tiny village and not being able to drive, which limits opportunities to meet with friends. But back at uni, I’m confronted with the truth that the lonely ache I feel is for the Mum that I grew up with, and that pit in my stomach only grows if I think about the number of friends I’ve lost since Mum became more ill.

I long to be able to walk through the door and see Mum chatting away whilst unloading the dishwasher, or cleaning up after baking a cake. I have dreams where I’m walking around Tesco with her. I wish that I could go clothes shopping with her, and walk around various shops all day arguing about socks, or something equally ridiculous, and having ‘lunch’ at a coffee shop (it feels like cheating to say hot chocolate and a piece of cake count as lunch, but it was our thing, so who cares?). But I can’t do or see these things anymore, and I never will again.

After a busy morning on my first day back at uni, I sat down for a moment, and I cried. Rather than the stupid, sniffly, ‘I’m not really crying’ crying, though, I let myself go and just cried properly. Mum might not be dead, but I’m grieving right now and I’ve been grieving for a long time – grieving for the life and the Mum I once knew. The boundless energy and busy nature of Mum as I knew her when I was growing up could not be more different to the shadow of her that sits, sleeps and watches TV for most of the day nowadays.

The night before I left for uni this week, I said goodbye to Mum. She hugged me, but she is so weak and small now that it wasn’t like the hugs I’ve grown up with. I knew her arms were around me, but I barely felt it. The following morning I said goodbye again, and we had a perfectly ‘normal’ conversation, but she was still in bed (to be fair, it was half eight on a Saturday morning, but healthy Mum would have been up and about an hour or two before then).

These days I’ve gotten pretty good at fielding responses to Mum’s illness – I diplomatically answer everyone around me and aim to be positive and busy the majority of the time. When someone tells me that Mum’s illness isn’t fair, I shrug my shoulders and respond that life’s not fair. But I am angry. This disease is taking her life and our future with her and I can’t understand why it chose her. This cancer is not just taking her life, but it is affecting our family in ways that I’d never have imagined.

Anger is an important part of grief, but it’s not an emotion I find easy to cope with, especially when a lot of my anger these days is actually directed at cancer itself. I feel like this anger is useless, and won’t get me anywhere. I could let it sit and fester in me, but that would just destroy me. I have to turn it into something useful. So I channel it into the positive things I do everyday: I keep volunteering, keep campaigning, and keep trying to make the world a better place.

Featured: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/naomibarrow/terminal-cancer_b_8149226.html

Just Be.

feet One of my jobs involves looking after two lovely young boys. They’re Star Wars, mad, fantastic at Lego and have an incredible amount of energy. They’re loving, have huge imaginations and do impressive impressions of minions.

Every single day, they teach me something new whether that be facts about planets and dinosaurs, intricate Ninjago plotlines or important life skills such as how to have patience!

On Tuesday, I was sat in the garden with them. We’d been in the park all morning and had then come home to have a picnic outside. We were sat out on the grass, in the sun, eating lunch, as you do – and I began to feel stressed. Physically stressed. There was absolutely no reason to feel this way. Yes, one of the boys often takes twice as long to eat as most snails probably do, but that in itself is not a stressful situation (unless you need to get somewhere quickly and you’re waiting for him to finish).

It occurred to be that there is very rarely a moment in my life where I stop. For most of my life, I constantly have to be somewhere, do something and it usually has to happen now (if not before). Some of this is when I have a lecture to go to and I’ve overslept, but often it’s a need I impose on myself because I feel that I can always do more and try harder. And that is probably why I felt stressed. It’s almost my bodies’ natural reaction that if I’m not doing anything for 5 minutes or longer then I’m wasting time and I must getbusyquickly or everythingwillfallapartargh!

I don’t think this is an ideal way to live. Yes, I like being busy and yes, I like getting involved with lots of different things. But there is something about stopping, looking at the world around you and noticing things. Noticing how the sun feels on your skin, that there are three bees in that flowerbed, that the air is beginning to smell like spring. Just appreciating where you are in that moment and feeling content.

Some might call it mindfulness, others might refer to it as meditation. Some do it through yoga or pilates, others will go for a bike ride. But I feel like it’s important to stop every once in a while, take in your surroundings, and just be.