Someone asked me recently whether we have settled into our new home and area. I found I didn’t really know what to say so said a lot of “um”s and “mmmmm”s because it’s such a difficult question to answer. Have we settled in? Before our recent bereavement, I would have said yes. We knew where to go for what, had dates in our diaries for local auctions and had started to know the locals. Then, of course, having dared to relax into a light spot of complacency, Dad, bless him, snuffed it and our world became new, confusing and extremely demanding, a likely parallel to how Mum feels.
At present, Mum is having respite at a local care home which seems to tick all the boxes. It doesn’t smell of wee and cabbage, staff address the residents by their first name and there are some nice cuddles going on. Tempers of staff are amazingly reigned in when the grumpy Mrs H slams the plate of potted meat sandwiches on the table saying loudly that she’s not going to eat these. She agrees she would like sardines on toast which they produce without accidentally dropping it on her head and she then sits there for 5 minutes mashing the fish into the toast until it’s a right mess. “I can’t eat this muck” she shouts and patiently, oh, so patiently, a carer comes to check what she would like for her tea. Toast is agreed, made and delivered. No jam. Apparently it’s the work of the devil. There is a cat on the first floor that day and she aims the end of her stick at it repeatedly. Luckily it is faster and smarter. On Valentine’s Day the staff put on a pantomime for the residents. We arrive as it has just finished and I see a sign saying ‘Fawlty Towers’ over the servery hatch. There is a lot of noise with women crying and some keening, just making primeval noises. Mum sees us and rushes over saying “This is my son and he’s come to take me home”. She has some white powder over her trousers which we later find out is flour and she accidentally got in the way when it was being thrown. She is profoundly disturbed by the pantomime as are many of the residents and I suspect it won’t be happening again. But the staff give their all in trying to entertain them and to make it a good, comfortable place to be with activities, rather than just a group of old people sitting around a tv set (whether it’s on or off). So Mum is settled as she can be.
During the first few weeks when she lived with us, I found myself not only physically exhausted but not even thinking about cancer. It was all about wee, obsessions about combs and handkerchiefs, how to put a cup down on a table the right way, buying her a whole new wardrobe as she came to us like Orphan Annie with clothes of varying sizes, very few of them fitting and many of them having seen better days. We talked endlessly about food she might like and if I disappeared to my office, there was a little voice calling “Shelley” as she wanted company 24/7. It’s all so understandable. Losing a husband of 70 years, being moved from one part of the country to another, having no friends or relatives nearby. One thing she hasn’t worried about is money, fortunately.
But this shift away from cancer was very strange. It’s like my heart can only hold so much pain at a time. I knew in the back of my mind that I was over-tired (a lovely phrase which I have never understood until I experienced it) and that my pain had increased but the most pressing issues were not getting into arguments with Mum, no matter what she said or how she contradicted me. Once she was in bed, it was like a dam bursting and all I could do was crawl into bed and with sleep coming instantaneously. The sort of sleep Mr Mason has so often enjoyed – head hitting the pillow and into the Land of Nod he tumbles. Now Mum is in respite, I feel I am still catching up on rest and easily sleeping for 12 hours a night but my mind is all over the place. Like at the beginning of primary cancer, I don’t know where I am again. I’ve found myself noticing a tightness in my chest and abdomen, the sort that predicts a fit of screaming to release tension. I’d be ace at that generic wailing music so many dramas use these days. It can be used for science fiction, films about the Far East, historical fiction. It’s one of our family sayings “Here is the generic wailing music again” and “Fresh start”, mostly used in soap operas. Every week someone has a fresh start. Maybe that’s what I’m missing.
But I’m digressing. I’m feeling stuck again. A few months ago I knew roughly where I was going, even though some of it wasn’t pleasant, but now, I don’t know where I am, let alone where I’m going. So the cancer feelings are creeping back in again and I don’t know what to do with them. I feel I can’t go through the deep distress again. Apart from anything else, I don’t want to go through it. I want to get back on the track I was on; the one where I was beginning to settle down, relax, take up hobbies and appreciate what I have and what’s around me. Now I feel grumpy, tired and out of sorts. I don’t want to eat; I’m genuinely not hungry or interested in food. Poor Mr Mason suggests meal after meal and none appeal. In the end, I usually go with what he wants, simply because it seems the fairest thing to do. For someone with a whole bookcase full of cookery books and an interest in all sorts of food, it feels like another cruel punishment I have to endure – and one Mr Mason endures, too. The only benefit is that I am losing weight slowly and gradually. And as for writing, something I love doing, it holds no interest and seems like another chore, especially when my eyes can barely focus on the screen as they are so tired.
It’s common for women after breast cancer to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I suspect this is it, yet again, brought on by another stressful event. It’s hard to haul yourself out of the big black hole time after time when energy is sapped and overwhelming tirednes is the first thing I experience every morning when I wake. So I suppose I’m not settled yet as I’m struggling again to attain an equilibrium which is tolerable. It will come but it’s taking a bloody long time.