Wednesday 4 May 2011 I decided to go to work, for the first time in three months. I fancied a change of scene, I fancied some fresh air, conversation and a taste of my old life. What I got was a bit of a shock. My energy levels have vanished and I realise I’m living in a bubble which is specifically designed to get me better again.
I was intending to go to work and just help out with small tasks, nothing major, and I certainly wasn’t going to do a full day.
I woke up at 6am and spent an hour getting ready. This consisted of dressing and putting some make up on, and then waiting to see if I needed the toilet before leaving, because I cannot be out and about and need the toilet. It just can’t be allowed to happen. I caught the train which turned out to be the slow train, but I was sat in the carriage that has a toilet. Brilliant. If anything goes wrong at least there is a toilet. What I wasn’t banking on though was delays at Clapham Junction. Suddenly it felt like it was going to take a lifetime to get to Waterloo. I was panicking internally. Freaking out about getting to work, lack of toilet being nearby, the crowds, people looking at me and my lack of hair and then the worst thought, what if I can’t get home?!
I made my way down to the tube platform to get on the Northern line. The platform was rammed with people and they were glancing at me as I walked past. All I kept thinking was how much I hurt, and how much I needed to sit down. Also, so far I didn’t need the toilet and I was hoping I could make it to the office. I eventually made it onto the tube, rammed into someone’s armpit and stood for the entire tube journey. People carried on looking. The tourists read their maps, the commuters read their books. I watched the clock and the seats. I needed a seat. But no, turns out a bald head won’t get you a seat.
I made it to work, where i was greeted with “what on earth are you doing here woman?! you’re ill!” I wasn’t allowed to do any work, so I mostly caught up on emails and had a few chats with colleagues. Around 10am I was feeling tired and was beginning to regret the journey in. I was tired and sore. I hadn’t eaten so that I didn’t have to worry about going to the toilet. I still didn’t want to eat because I had the journey home still. So I focused on keeping awake and carrying on as “normal” until lunch time. During this time I spoke to a few colleagues, and discussed my illness. I’m open about my illness, I always have been. I’d rather people ask questions than be totally ignorant. One day they might have to deal with something similar. Although I hope not.
I eventually escaped for lunch with Carol. We had a proper catch up and discussed things properly, with no interruptions. We ate food and watched the world go by, and mentioned how a lottery win would really make up for some of the crap. That reminds me, I must buy a ticket.
During lunch I mentioned to Carol how tired I was feeling and she told me I had over done things and that I should think about going home soon after lunch. The more I thought about it, the more I realised I should probably listen to her and go home. We went back to the office, where I packed up and got ready to leave. Before I left a colleague asked me a question which was probably meant to just be to make conversation but instead it sort of broke me a bit. He asked “So when you back?” I replied that it wouldn’t be until after the operation and after I’m recovered. “So when’s the op?” but all I heard is “Haven’t you been off long enough now?” and I sort of froze. Suddenly I felt like everyone was judging me. I felt like a fraud somehow. I’ve been off three months; it wasn’t my choice.
I sat down and spoke to Carol. I said I’d phone her later, and before I left I asked her to check my head scarf looked ok. For the first time since shaving my head I felt vulnerable. I needed to cover my head. I needed to be out of view. I was in the middle of central London. I left the office, head down, not wanting to catch anyone’s eye. I walked as quickly as I could and tried holding back the tears.
Before I could go home I had to drop some books off at the university library as they were overdue. I entered the building and put my ID card up to the scanner. It denied me access. Then I remembered I was technically not a student there anymore. I left the books and walked back to the tube. I was now completely deflated. The tube journey back to Waterloo was miserable. Usually this journey was me coming back from uni in the evening, brain full of new info, thoughts of the funny things that had happened and thoughts about work that was due. Now nothing. Just all a memory. My old life.
The train journey home was quick and painless. I bought sweets and a magazine for the journey. I didn’t read or eat. I just closed my eyes. I needed to be home.
When I got home, I saw my mum and all I wanted to do was cry. It was 3pm and I was exhausted. I went to bed where I curled up, feet throbbing, legs aching and mind full of thoughts. I cried for hours. I didn’t want to ever leave my bed. That night I couldn’t sleep because my body throbbed with pain. I felt broken. For the first time I felt like I was fighting something. I stayed in bed for the next two days, where I continued to throb and hurt. I cried a lot, too. Something I try not to do.
It’s been nearly a week since I went through the above. I’ve come out the other side and feel slightly more positive at the moment. I see now that I pushed myself. I wanted my old life, a taste of it. I wanted to feel normal again. I see now that I can’t have that for a while. I need time and energy to fight this thing inside me. I’ll also need all the energy I have to recover from the operation. I’ll go back to work one day, and before I know it I’ll be standing at Waterloo waiting for my train and I won’t even think about how far away the toilet is. But for now, that’s a long way off.
On reflection, life up until diagnosis was one thing. This period is treatment and recovery time. Once I’m told I’m ok, it’s a second chance. Maybe I’ll learn from the old life and what I’ve gone through and aim to enjoy every minute of it. Because you never know what’s around the corner.