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The Girl with the Daffodil Tattoo

A Welsh girl let loose in a wild world

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anxiety

Don’t give up giving up

I bought my first pack of cigarrettes when I was 13, when I bought my first bag of weed. “If I feel myself getting addicted, I’ll stop”, I said, with the hubris of youth. 12 years later, and I was still chained to nicotine, trapped in the idea that it was easier to continue smoking than to stop.

Out of 3 siblings, I am the only smoker. My father and his sister were chain smokers, and Dad always said: “Never ever start smoking”. When he realised I smoked, he tried to give me money to stop, but ofcourse that enabled my partying, and I continued smoking like a chimney.

The day my mother told me her cancer had come back(May 9th, 2014), I immediately started smoking again, trying desperately to handle the stress. I smoked more than ever, until I felt physical nausea, which made me lie down, until I felt better, so I could have another cigarrette.

My Mum always said “five a day”. Five cigarrettes a day won’t do you any harm. You have to die of something, don’t you?

She smoked until the final weeks of her life. “I feel so stupid now”, she told me, bedbound and morphined up. “I’ve brought all this on myself. I wish I had never smoked”. I tried to comfort her. I told her how addictive nicotine is, and how it wasn’t her fault. How no one blamed her.

I will never forget my mother’s black eyes twisting in pain in the last months of her life, and how she never, ever complained. Despite the pain, despite the degradation of her symptoms, all she wanted was one day more, one minute more, one breath more.

I would give anything to have one more argument with her. If she hadn’t smoked, would we have had another precious day together?

Mum,

I love you and I miss you and I think about you every day. It’s been 12 months since my last cigarrette, 8 months since your death, and I wish that it would bring you back to me.

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Strength

A friend just lost their grandma to a long term illness, and they’ve said to me “How have you been so strong through all this? I don’t know what I would do if this was my Mum, and not my grandparent! Christ.”

For me, when it comes to psychological pain, it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing, measuring, even competing. Just because one person’s pain has a “worse” cause, doesn’t mean it’s more or less pain. Pain is pain. If someone has a big cut on their arm and someone else has a cut on their leg, it hurts. End of.

I told my friend that I use a thin veneer to hide the pain of losing my mother from the general public, but that’s not strictly true. Sometimes I don’t feel sad, and other times I suddenly do, and it’s hard to predict when I will feel a spasm of grief or not. I kind of do feel like, on a psychological level, I’ve broken a bone, and it’s very painful at times, but I have to remember it will heal. No matter how bad I feel, no matter how much I feel like I’m trapped in the bottom of a deep well, I won’t feel like this forever.

The truth is, Mum would want me to stop making so much of a fuss about her passing away. She would say “Shhh. Stop crying darlinks, you’re not dead. How about some eggs dippings?”.

So, I plod along, putting one foot after the other, hoping that these deep, dark, scary feelings will pass. And they do.

I’ve learned that nothing is ever as bad as you imagine it to be, and that when the time comes, you will find the strength inside yourself that you never knew you had, and do what needs to be done.

Anxiety dissipates, and gratitude: Saturday 15th November

One positive of the situation is that my anxiety levels have reduced dramatically since the syringe driver was installed. I used to feel like a taught string on a bow, vibrating with tension, and sometimes there would be a vice on my chest (when I spoke Spanish with people I didn’t know, or when I was driving). Both were activities in which I had had traumatic experiences and got a little nervous, but that on top of my baseline stress was almost intolerable.

An image would run through my mind, like the other car at the cross roads not stopping at the red light, or someone being really aggressive and rude to me for being foreign (both experiences that were real memories) and then my body would produce adrenalin and I would start to sweat as the vice would close and I would struggle to breathe. It was a waking nightmare.

Now I feel weirdly calm doing those things. It’s almost like some unconscious part of my mind is like: What’s the worst that can happen? Answer: It’s already happened.

Mum dreaded being in bed, asking people for help, strangers doing things for her. Now that she is on so  much morphine, she doesn’t really seem to mind about anything at all. She’s not in pain (which was something I had dreaded) and she lies serenely with her little air bed humming away beneath her. She tells us she feels like a little bird in a nest, and she dutifully opens her mouth for water and juice, saying “That’s lovely that. That’s really nice. I’m so glad you’re here”.

I’m glad that I’m here too. This has been the hardest week of my life, the hardest year. We were lucky that we got to spend time together when Mum was well, and that I can be here now. We are lucky to get to say goodbye.

Back in Bilbao: August 2014

I came back to Bilbao to spend time with my boyfriend. His parents had planned on spending a week with us, and I didn’t want to miss seeing them. They are fun, and very kind.

Unfortunately, my brain felt like someone had put it in a blender, which was quite inconvenient for speaking foreign languages, cracking a smile, or standing up and walking around like someone who wasn’t a depressed zombie. His parents understood, and I made a huge effort while they were staying with us. I didn’t cry all the time, lying in bed, thinking of chucking myself out the window. I think I managed to achieve about 40% normality.

Yoann wanted me to meet his best friend, a Basque guy who is living in London for a bit, but was back visiting. We went and met him and “the gang”, the tight knit group of school friends called a “cuadrilla” that the Basque Country is famous for.

They tried to make conversation with me and be friendly, and it was the first time I had spoken about Mum’s illness in Spanish. Instead of saying “I’m so sorry your mum is sick”, they kept on saying “How is your mum?”, which took me aback. I didn’t really have a socially appropriate response ready, and I felt like the question was twisting the knife. If this had been in English I would have said quietly “dying”, and changed the subject. I felt deeply uncomfortable mingling and making small talk while my mum struggled to eat.

I’ve felt like a puppet whose had it’s strings cut, off and on, for a while now. Keeping busy has kept me going for a time but now I can’t do much for Mum I feel like throwing myself out the window. This isn’t too bad when I’m in her house, as she lives alone in a bungalow, but in Bilbao we live on the fourth floor and I feel like people are looking at me and thinking “What is wrong with this güiri?”, and I want to reply and say “Everything”.

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