Looking back..

tattoo-blanket

It’s a grey rainy day, and I’m snuggled on the sofa with the dogs, and a hot cup of tea (Chamomile with spiced apple), watching the raindrops racing each other down the long window panes of the patio doors. The garden is enjoying a drenching, and the lawn is getting ready to make paws muddy. It’s a relaxing afternoon, my back is sore, partly due to someone driving into the back of my stationary car recently, but partly because it often will be, so I am indulging in horizontal therapy (lying on the sofa). Platon is curled up under my knees, and Leo has dug himself a trench in the cushions by my shoulder, on the fabulously wide sofa. Meanwhile Princess Poppy has the other matching fabulous sofa completely to her Diva self, where she stretches out and sighs, nonchalantly. I am in a reflective mood, partly due to the weather but also because today is the first anniversary of my life-changing surgery.

A year ago today, I was enduring the most terrifying moments, as I was prepared for emergency spinal surgery. After spending a night on a trolley in A&E (Accident & Emergency, or ER for my US friends), where I had been instructed not to move for fear of serious permanent damage, an MRI had confirmed my predicament, and doctors were rushing to get me into theatre. I had unwittingly sneaked a cereal bar for breakfast, and this delayed my suitability for general anaesthesia, buying me time to absorb the dreadful news and risks involved. I lay in my hospital bed feeling nauseas, and unable to focus properly on my surroundings, as adrenalin coursed through my veins, and my pounding heart drowned all other sounds to merely background din. I did at some point feel as if I was observing myself, as if this experience was happening to my body, but that I was watching somehow detached; I’m guessing the mind’s way of coping with such trauma. A surreal point in time, that will forever differentiate the before and after, a gut wrenchingly fearful realisation that my life was about to change, and that I had travelled past the point of any control at all, and the raging terror of what I would wake up to.

I had developed ‘Cauda Equina’ where a prolapsed disc was impinging on the nerve root, for the whole lower body. Termed ‘Cauda Equina’ which is Latin for horse’s tail, because it describes the appearance of the nerves that after travelling neatly in the spinal cord emerge to fan out down each leg, and affect the bowel, bladder and reproductive organs. I now know that the symptoms of ‘saddle numbness’, and changes to my toilet function, (feeling I had a full bladder, but passing little urine, and very urgent bowel movements) are red flags that my GP had wrongly ignored. On the advice of an osteopath, whom I had sought treatment for my intensely painful back, with radiating pain in my right leg (incorrectly assumed as simply sciatica), I had been admitted to hospital the evening before. He had instantly recognised the red flags, along with being horrified at my prior MRI results, and admitted that attempting to treat me could be very dangerous for me, not to mention professional suicide for him. I am so very grateful that I had been recommended to such a competent practitioner, and that because of him, I didn’t wait any longer for the medical attention I needed.

My doctors explained that the impingement on my nerves could worsen, possibly hurling me into paraplegia, or less severe walking abnormalities (from drop-foot to requiring a walking frame), incontinence, and loss of sensory feeling in my lower body. They then asked me to sign consent for the surgery required to prevent this horror, that by it’s nature of shaving the bone away from the nerves, also presented the same risks, along with the added hazard of blindness due to being operated on face down. Don’t ask me how this risk is possible, I did ask the doctors, but was too petrified to digest their answer. I remember checking photos on my phone, of the things I really wanted to see again (my three darling dogs, the turquoise Greek sea, golden Californian sunsets), and feeling so utterly helpless. I’m sure the risk is a very small one, but the threat of blindness tipped me into a tailspin of panic, of an already terrifying spiral.

Then the time came for the sides of my bed to be raised and secured, so that they could wheel me to theatre. I had a lovely care assistant that accompanied me, a beautiful Somalian girl whose cheerful countenance and compassion had managed to break through my fearfulness. She told me how much she loved her job, which was blindingly obvious as she sang and joked around the ward, and that only 3 weeks earlier she had left her post as a check-out girl at Asda (a supermarket chain). My Dad had joined in with her jokes, suggesting I needed a pound coin to take my trolley (bed) to the top floor of the hospital, where the theatres are situated. I was simultaneously grateful for his humour, and exasperated that he wasn’t taking my fear seriously; on reflection I know that he steadfastly refused to believe in the possibility of an impending problem, he didn’t do stress, unless it was completely unavoidable. As far as my Dad was concerned, I was in the hands of experts, and worrying simply wouldn’t change a thing.

I remember the tears rolling into my ears, as I lay flat on my back in my gurney as we took the lift, looking up at the kind nurse, a gentleman in scrubs, and my mother, whom I had insisted accompany me; like a child of 4 or 5 yrs rather than a woman of 45 years, still in a state of disbelief that this was actually happening. As we approached the daunting swing doors to the anaesthesia suite, the Somalian girl declared she was unable to proceed from here, and asked if she could say a prayer over me, to which I agreed gratefully. She then asked if a Muslim prayer in her own language would be OK, and I was so touched by her hesitancy, assuring her I’d appreciate absolutely anything, seriously anything. And as I was wheeled away, her kind words followed me.. ‘Inshallah’ is all I remember.

When I woke in the recovery room, I experienced blind panic, still groggy from the GA, in extreme pain, and dosed up on morphine; I couldn’t see clearly just a blurry movement of shapes initially. I remember screaming, as much as my lungs could manage, and sobbing uncontrollably, gasping for breath, and pleading for nurses to hold my hand, feeling so desolate and lost in a world I didn’t understand. This was the first panic attack of many, which haunted my nights in the next weeks, and continued with less frequency, but debilitating and embarrassingly in the following year. Apparently PTSD is not uncommon following spinal surgery, and the forums for Cauda Equina Syndrome reflect this clearly. I was eventually calmed and returned to the ward, when my vision returned, and reassured that I hadn’t lost my sight. I said goodnight to my parents who had been waiting, and giving in to the residual GA and morphine, fell into a deliciously deeply drugged sleep.

I was woken abruptly as frantic screaming pierced my consciousness; I thought the woman in the next bay was being murdered. I remember being perplexed at the nurses sitting quietly at their station, and then assumed she must be under-going some horrendously painful medical treatment. The screams shattered my fragile state, and carried on relentlessly till morning, when I noticed the woman in the bed next to me was whispering secrets to a teddy bear, and the woman opposite became aggressive, accusing a nurse of trying to kill her. I then discovered I had been placed in the only available spare bed, on a ‘dementia with trauma’ ward, full of mainly elderly patients with broken hips apparently, and one girl closer to my age with a bleached blonde pixie crop, also flat on her back in the corner.

Once properly awake, I was delighted to discover I could wiggle my toes, and notice the feeling of the sheets tucked around my feet, this induced a euphoria that overshadowed any pain I was most definitely suffering. I lay motionless, afraid to disturb my surgeon’s work, but flooded with relief; I had made it through surgery, could see, and the feeling in my feet didn’t make the possibility of walking too bleak. Actually, I am very, very, lucky; my outcomes are so much better than many of my fellow CES (Cauda Equina Syndrome) sufferers. The blonde girl was wheeled away to another location before I had a chance to talk to her; my heart sank as the only possibility of any sane conversation disappeared down a corridor. (We have since made contact, and found out we have a lot more in common than the same surgeon. She was my first lifeline of advice and support from a fellow sufferer when I eventually left hospital, and we remain in touch.) I lay there alone with my thoughts, still trying to piece together what had happened, how I had got through the fear prior to surgery, and what I might face in my recovery. My injury had occurred slowly, a number of small events that caused the disc to slip a bit further each time, over several months; and had been largely dismissed by everyone, including my GP. If this reaches one person who experiences something similar (your chances are slim, 2 in a million), I’d encourage them to demand the medical attention the red flags warrant, recovery is largely dependent on the severity and duration of nerve compression, ideally surgery is advised within 24 hours of onset, I had been struggling for several weeks.

The dementia element of my ward was extremely stressful to deal with, listening to women screaming at nurses trying to help them, repeatedly calling out the same questions, and whispering to their teddies. As I struggled with my own feelings of vulnerability, I could only imagine how frightening it must be for those with even less understanding, and a fainter grasp on reality. Then I realised that I needed the toilet, and couldn’t imagine how this would be possible, but my fears were unfounded when I was initially given a bedpan, and failing to christen it was allowed to be maneuvered by nurses onto a Kermode, which was irrelevant, because I still couldn’t pass anything. Meanwhile a kind health care assistant noticed my rising levels of anxiety, I must have been quite distressed, because I had a panic attack as they finally moved me to an orthopedic ward, minus the dementia element, where the most noticeable mental health problem was me. I gulped air as I struggled to breathe, my gown was soaked with sweat, my heart pounded in my ears, and I couldn’t stop sobbing. I am fairly sure they gave me something to calm me, and do remember being hooked to a morphine pump, before falling again into another drugged deep sleep. When I woke again, it was to the smiling, caring faces of the women in beds opposite. Jean and Maureen welcomed me to Ridge ward, both kindly supportive and encouraging, and I was so grateful to have moved there.

The next day, having been unable to pass urine and fitted with a catheter, my surgeon sent me for another MRI. I was wheeled through the maze of hospital corridors, counting the lights on the ceiling, and watching the assortment of busy people walking around me. Being lifted from my bed onto the hard trolley for the MRI, post surgery, was one of the most physically painful moments in my memory. I felt sick, and couldn’t bear to be shoved inside the tube they slide you into, as panic welled in my chest and crept up my throat, until I was crying hysterically. The medical staff were amazingly patient and understanding, turning me around so I could enter the scan feet first, and talking to me soothingly through the headphones, reassuring me they were working as fast as possible, so they could return me to the comfort of my bed on the ward. Although they expertly rolled me onto sliding boards, and across the plinth back to the gurney, it was the feeling of fragility, as much as the physical pain that I found so distressing. I am tall, with a slim build, but have always felt strong and quite robust, suddenly I was afraid that any wrong move could break me, and hurl me back to the risks I faced pre-surgery. This feeling prevailed long after leaving the hospital, where I found myself nervous on car journeys (having been advised not to sit for long), and afraid of children playing (incase they knocked me), I flatly refused to go into a supermarket in case someone knocked me with their trolley, and I avoided heavily populated areas generally.

The results of my second MRI suggested my bladder nerves were still implicated in compression, and my surgeon decided that it would be prudent to take me back to theatre to ‘tidy them up’. He explained that he would cut the same incision through flesh and muscle; to clean up any debris ensuring nerves were clean and free. I didn’t have time to worry much about the second surgery, once it was decided they all moved very quickly, this time unhampered by food in my stomach, as I hadn’t been able to face eating. By this time I was resigned to the lack of control I had over my situation, and having survived the first surgery, had built trust in my surgeon and his team. As I was wheeled again to theatre, I noticed my face was dry this time, maybe it felt too surreal to get upset, or maybe I was emotionally exhausted, or perhaps I was even getting braver, though I’m not entirely convinced about that bit. I remember being disappointed that I had a different anaesthetist attending to me, but he was friendly and joked as he sent me to sleep. When I woke again, I was in unbelievable pain, my body was throbbing, and the only way I could cope was to shut down, mercifully I was drugged enough to sleep, and with the bonus of nobody screaming murder on my new ward, this time to wake me.

The week or so that followed was a mixture of highs and lows, my first few steps were victorious, but still an inability to go to the toilet gave me nightmares about life with catheters. I had fantastic ward mates, we were a group of six women of varying ages and backgrounds, who formed a supportive cushion against our individual traumas. We checked in on each other, alerted nurses for each other when we saw someone struggling, and talked about the things that motivated our recoveries; so they all knew about my dogs and the Greek island waiting for me. By coincidence, one lady was the mother of a girl I went to school with, who now also lives in Greece, so we shared stories of my school days, and I took photos to send her daughter, after getting in touch again via the power of Facebook and thanks to hospital wifi. Eventually my bladder started working (hoorayyy!!), and I could manage the stairs, albeit very slowly, so passed the test for discharge, and to clear a bed for someone in need and waiting.

It was quite daunting leaving the safety of the hospital that had become so familiar, that I found the rhythms of medicine rounds and nurses change over comforting. It was also the beginning of a long journey of recovery, but a year later, I can look back and remain incredibly grateful. I am so thankful for everyone who sent well wishes, for competent surgeons, gentle physiotherapists, and caring, compassionate nurses, for friendships made from our hospital beds, to the thoughtful, kind visitors, for the cheerful tea lady, for friends and my Mum for looking after my dogs, for everyone that was part of my hospital experience. My gratitude extends to everyone that cared, supported, loved, encouraged, and commiserated with me on my journey, it really is in adversity that we learn who our friends really are. And of course I am grateful to be one of the lucky CES patients, who can walk unaided, can go to the toilet, and has an invisible injury. I am still wary of doing further damage; suffer with soreness, and coming to terms with limitations due to reduced strength and ability to withstand impact. I am so grateful I can walk that it would be churlish to miss skiing or horse-riding, but I still find it hard sometimes that I can’t run, even a few paces, or hike steep pathways down to favourite Greek beaches, without struggling. However, the road to recovery is not over, and as I continue to build strength, hopefully these things will be within reach.

Meanwhile, I lie here on the sofa, feeling the weight and warmth of my dogs on my legs is such a blessing. Leo has moved and lies with his chin on my thigh, watching me type one handed with my laptop in the crook of my arm. Poppy has deserted her couch, and lays on the floor beside me, looking up adoringly at Platonas, my rock, whom remains steadfastly supporting my knees, and my heart always. It’s now dark outside, and the rain gently tapping on the roof of our converted barn, echoes in the rafters, a scented candle flickers on the dresser, and I wiggle my toes to a year ago, and all that has happened in between.

Please take care of your back, and if you ever recognise any red flag symptoms for Cauda Equina, please insist you are seen by a neurosurgeon immediately! For more information, this is a very useful video: http://www.spine-health.com/video/cauda-equina-syndrome-video

Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo credit: Britlively, Dior Homme SS14 photographer: Filep Motwary, Flo …Nooo, I don’t have a tattoo, but I do have an awesome little scar, that’s testament to my journey! Words by me, Hayley Darby ©2017}

Back again..

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Photo via Pinterest

It’s a quiet wintry afternoon; I watch the sky bleed as the sun starts to set, with hues of orange and pink flaring beyond the silhouetted stark, bare, tree branches. A few geese ruffle their feathers and squawk half heartedly, and Platon, who’s snuggled against me, raises his head to check whether or not he needs to bark at them; and deciding not to, lowers his chin to rest on my leg again. He searches my face, as his expressive eyebrows bop about inquisitively; and I ruffle his voluptuous jowls, before stroking his velvety ears reassuringly. He sighs and we settle back into companionable silence; apart from the muttering geese, at the end of the garden.

We moved here a week ago, to a tastefully converted barn, on a working farm. It’s a temporary home, a stop gap in-between selling a property in London, our summer home in Greece, and an unknown future. It’s a haven for recuperation, a little time out from the normal stresses of life following an emergency surgery and a shock to the system. It’s my treat to myself as I digest and process a life-changing experience, and a peaceful place to heal and rehabilitate.

At the start of the year, after struggling with niggling back issues, I unexpectedly underwent emergency spinal surgery. I had a herniated disc that was impinging on the nerve root for the whole lower body, called ‘Cauda Equina” as it resembles a horse’s tail. If you google ‘cauda equina syndrome’, you’ll see how dangerous and scary it is; all I knew was that the risks of my condition were immense (loss of lower body feeling & function), and that I had been naively ‘soldiering on’, (since my GP hadn’t been too alarmed at what I now know are classic ‘red flag’ symptoms), walking my dogs and lifting heavy cases. I am incredibly lucky that I didn’t do more damage. Eventually, I was fortunate that a well-informed osteopath sent me straight to A&E (Emergency room), and I was soon signing consent forms that acknowledged terrifying risks, before swiftly being whisked to theatre for intricate neurosurgery. It should be noted, that I have always had a fear of hospitals, and have been terrified of General anaesthesia, but the emotional roller coaster I rode in this instance elevated me to a surreal state, a strange mixture of denial and resignation, that fear was neatly sidelined to a manageable degree. An experience almost as if watching myself in this situation, disbelieving it was really happening, a bad dream I couldn’t wake up from; yet coupled with an acceptance that nothing I could do could change the course I was hurtling along. I guess at some point, I mentally handed over responsibility for my future mobility to my medical team and God, the Universe, a higher power; whatever you want to call it, the name is irrelevant, in times like this you find ‘something/someone’ to have internal conversations with.

I am incredibly blessed, my surgeons were skilled and my nurses compassionate, and after several successful operations I am able to walk unaided. I have some numbness and a little nerve damage, but these are small, manageable issues compared to the potential difficulties I could otherwise face. I have found an online community, a support group of CES patients, and am aware of how fortunate I am to be one of the lucky ones. I’m also aware of how brave so many people are, quietly battling such a debilitating, and often invisible condition, that spinal injuries present. I’ve come through the initial trauma, feeling extremely grateful, yet also suffered anxiety associated with the fragility and vulnerability. I think that previously being relatively fit and fiercely independent, I have found the contrasting lack of mobility and reliance on others, particularly frightening, and understanding the risks, worry that every twinge could be dreadfully damaging. However, I am having physiotherapy, and each day is a step forward, and I’m gaining strength and confidence with each one.

My best medicine has been my darling dogs, their caring cuddles and unwavering affection have been comforting and heart-warming. It’s very difficult to feel sorry for yourself when you feel such love and loyalty. They are also very motivating, I can’t wait to walk them, or even be able to drive them to the paddock to watch them run. I have however been very fortunate to have some wonderful help looking after them, and am very grateful for everyone who has taken care of them. It’s in times of crisis we really find out who our friends are, and I have been very blessed with lots of love and support too.

As I write, I hear footsteps on the gravel outside, and Platon’s ears prick up in anticipation, as KG, my friend and current carer, returns from a walk with Leo (my other dog). Once he is sure, Platon launches himself off my daybed, and stands expectantly at the door, his tail wagging forcefully, like a metronome; until he can contain himself no longer and jumps up, bracing himself with his paws on the door as he peeks out the window. This means that the peace
I needed to write is about to cease, since my boys, thrilled to be reunited after a whole heart-breaking hour, will play exuberantly and require my attention.

I just wanted to pop in here, and let you know what’s been happening, by way of introduction to my current situation, as suddenly I find myself with time, and lots of material for writing again. I feel as if I have missed chatting with old friends and have lots to catch up on; the arrival of Leo into our lives will be a chapter, as well as our journeying between London & Greece. There are stories to share about my injury and the beacons of light that shone in the darkest moments, the caring compassionate nurses, the bravery of fellow patients on my ward, and realisations about life’s unexpected twists and turns that may actually have been necessary in guiding us to where we are meant to be. Meanwhile, two young and lively dogs are calling me with their playful antics, so I hope you are all well and I’ll write again soon, I promise! Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo ~Via pinterest, sadly uncredited, words ~by me, Hayley Darby ©2016}

Spring awakening

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Good morning everyone! Today I woke early, something my heart is struggling with, dragged me from the sweet oblivion of dark nothingness and peaceful silence, wrestling me to the surface of consciousness. Despite the early hour (6.30am-ish) a pale light softly diffused around the edge of the blind, a small consolation that spring is slowly stretching out the days in preparation for summer, and the promise of such shone brightly in the distance, a spark of hope beckoning towards the future. I lay for a while in the present, wondering how I got here; stuck in some kind of holding pattern whilst I try to figure out which direction will lead me to wherever I’m meant to be; which is indeed the start of another interesting question whose answer currently eludes me.

I made an attempt to escape back to sweet sleep, swimming against the tide, towards the depths; but the questions I tried to avoid gave chase, until I surrendered eventually and headed them off by checking my phone for the time and other important information. I am reminded of my own advice to keep a clock or watch by the bed, but to keep the phone at a distance and save emails and texts for a reasonable time after waking. Advice, I realised a moment too late, to which I had somehow stopped adhering, so once the wheels of my mind were well and truly whirring, I got up for coffee and to embrace the morning.

It was a cool grey start to the day here in London, after two prior consecutive, blue-sky mornings that were a very convincing start to spring; the opaque, over-cast light was rather disappointing. I wrapped up tightly in a warm robe and descended the stairs to the kitchen, where the cool wooden floor greeted my toes with an icy reminder that Spring is indeed rather shy about her beauty early in the season. Turning to my beloved coffee machine for consolation, I sighed and inhaled the rich, comforting aroma and smiled appreciatively for the little things. I noticed the bunch of daffodils on the window sill have started to open, slowly unfurling their petals and stretching their trumpets, so I raised my arms and arched my back, then armed with my latte retreated back to my white fluffy cloud of a bed, snuggling back under the duvet to contemplate the day ahead.

Today’s weather may not be the crisp, fragrant example for which I was hoping, but it is definitely spring and a fresh start awaiting. The sky may be cloudy and grey, but I am reassured that there is a patient blueness above. I cannot see from a distance, but I know that the trees are adorned with tight little buds at each of their distal branches. A host of golden daffodils adorn the banks of The Heath by Kenwood house, inspiring all those who wander lonely as a cloud, despite the company they walk with. And in the undergrowth of the skeletal woods, tiny yellow Celandine flowers are smattered haphazardly as nature proudly asserts her intention. I found myself on an unfamiliar path, waterlogged and muddy, fragranced with damp earthiness, and after carefully skirting the edges, avoiding the nettles and brambles, decided to walk right through the squelchiness, which wasn’t so bad once I’d started.

Time ticks steadily by, and I might not know yet which steps to take, but I certainly do have choices; and walking through the messy bits, rather than trying to avoid any disappointment seems the best option. Meanwhile the clouds are starting to shift and I feel like writing. Sometimes I guess we are so busy searching that we miss the things that seek us, and sometimes we have to be patient with our hearts, because winter is always followed by spring eventually. Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo sadly uncredited, via Pinterest; Words ~Hayley Darby ©2014}

Waiting for the storm..

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Today I woke late (again), to find that moody grey clouds, which hung heavily over the port, had replaced the sunny blue skies of yesterday. The almost glassy still waters had morphed into choppy waves that caused the yachts to bob up and down, jostling for a safe mooring; indeed many local boats have been removed from the water completely. We are waiting for a storm, and the storms we get here are quite a spectacle, trust me! They are fierce, dramatic, exciting, beautiful, and oh so humbling; a real reminder of how impuissant our existence is on this planet when nature unleashes her energy to the sound of Zeus’ wrath. Or as my dear friend Hilda says of the thunder, “There goes Zeus moving the furniture around upstairs again!”

I wandered around the quay, finding Kostas in much better shape than yesterday, in fact he informs me that rather than ‘better’ he’s in fine form; quite a spectacular recovery! We sat on the deck watching the storm come in with our cappuccinos and shared traditional pastries from the local bakery. The change in weather means more work for the locals, as umbrellas and canopies are tied down, outdoor seating (which makes up the majority) is stripped of its upholstery, and anything that’s not nailed down is stowed away securely. The bars and cafes are also preparing to be busy, as we all cram in to the limited space when the rain starts, to sit out the storm in relative comfort with company. Meanwhile the visiting flotillas linger in the harbour, rather than risk the white-capped waves that wait beyond the lighthouse, as their crews sit on deck patiently waiting.

I spent the day visiting friends, lunching with the lovely Tselenti family at the big house on the hill, MT having cooked a feast for her mother and 4 brothers, who all tucked in heartily, between shifts managing their two hotels. I called in to see my oldest friend ‘Speridoula’ and my special friend Phoebus at the taverna with the best view across to the neighbouring island. When we met 14 years ago, Speri didn’t speak much English, and I certainly didn’t speak any Greek, but we quickly became firm friends based on some serious feet-stamping laughter and a twinkle in the eyes that made words completely unnecessary. Now we manage quite decent conversations, despite poor grammar and including much gesticulation, which is an amusing and beautiful testament to our friendship. Phoebus is one of the most determined and inspiring souls I know, he suffered a life changing moped accident years ago that left him severely disabled, unable to control his body including his speech and capacity to manage tasks we so often take for granted such as dressing, eating, or bathing unaided. He is such a brave, patient, courageous soul, and I adore him. Today we hugged and laughed, and I felt his strength emanate from his body, he improves each time I see him, slowly but doggedly determined to stand on his own two feet again.

The air is thick and heavy, but it’s still warm despite the breeze that tugs at the awnings and canopies; the dark sky has been threatening rain for hours and I have been holed up in a favourite patisserie with my laptop, in anticipation of the rain that slashes horizontally. Several cups of coffee and pots of tea later, the light is fading and just as I wonder whether the storm will pass by uneventfully, the distant rumble of thunder creeps into the chilled out music currently playing.

I am not a patient creature by nature, which doesn’t always work out best for me, but some things simply cannot be hurried, and life seems to teach that acceptance is key. Aristotle reminds us that ‘patience is bitter, but the fruit is sweet’. So as I wonder how soon I will sink my teeth into the soft flesh to release the juiciest pleasure, lightening fills the sky, flashing across the water; followed by much closer, quickly advancing thunder, and a dirty great grin creeps right across my happy face.. oh I DO love a storm!! The clouds have crept in, hanging heavy and low, almost obscuring our neighbouring island. The temperature has distinctly dropped a few degrees, but I am still comfortable in my shorts & vest, after all the less I wear, the less laundry will be necessary. Skin is certainly a fantastic design element of the human body; thermostat controlled and wipe dry, perfectly suited to dancing in the rain, maybe! In all probability we will lose internet connection soon, so I will post this and just let you know I’m barefoot and ready. “Bring it on Zeus, I’m in the mood for dancing, just throw the rain at me!” ☺ Hxx

{Photo sadly uncredited, via Pinterest; words ~Hayley Darby ©2013}

September letter

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Good morning everyone!! Today I woke early, around 6am, and snuggled into the covers in search of sleep again; happy just knowing I had the privilege of such an option. I drifted for a while as my mind considered attaching itself to the thoughts it observed floating by, but in the end the draw of the deep was too great to overcome and I succumbed to the dreamy depths, to dwell in that secure state where the answers are all obvious and nothing is a problem. I woke later in the morning feeling calm and refreshed, and decidedly carefree, as if any potential obstacles on the horizon will work themselves out, or I will overcome them and gain some new learning. So I lay for a while in gratitude for the peaceful feeling, until thoughts of coffee distracted me and I got up to greet the day beyond the blind.

It’s a cool autumnal day here in London, there’s a dampness in the air, but blue sky patches appear sporadically amongst the clouds, and it’s not raining (which is a relief after the relentless downpour yesterday). I pottered round the house for a while with my latte, still reorganizing my home after a protracted absence, and chatted with the dustmen (refuse collectors) who welcomed me back from my trip with tales of their summers and experiences in America. They are such a friendly team, always so cheerful and it’s nice to know that they’ve been keeping an eye on my property for me. I addressed some laundry, answered some emails, and made a list of all the important things that need doing today.

The top priority is my annual letter to Billy. Billy is a dear friend from my favourite Greek island, yesterday was his birthday, and every year I write him a letter, pouring out all the things I wish for him and all the important stuff I wish I had known at his age (he’s just turned 18 years). Billy is a beautiful soul, he’s a thoughtful guy wrapped in fun with a cheeky grin and lovely manners, and I adore him. It’s a letter of love really; just an out-pouring from my heart, that takes me on a journey as I write it, through my own learning curves, regrets and understanding, and is full of hope to inspire courage and compassion in this young man that is so dear to me. Of course I don’t have all the answers, and much of our learning must come from personal experience, but I write so that he knows that I care, that I believe in him, that I wish the best for him, that I will celebrate his success and appreciate his struggles, and that when his heart has been broken and trampled on, I will be here to listen and gently encourage him to pick up the pieces and keep loving. This annual letter writing usually takes place on a favourite Greek beach, when I arrive around the time he has to return to school on the mainland. So today I’m going in search of that space within, where I am full of gratitude for the beauty that surrounds me, and my thoughts can float with the sun on the sea, and a love that’s as deep as the ocean churns up all the words I need.

I hope that you have a beautiful day, and hope that you have received and will send love letters, not necessarily romantic, just a way to reach out and let someone know that they are cherished, and that your heart fills with all the beauty that you have seen, because you want to share it too Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo sadly uncredited, via Pinterest; words by Hayley Darby ©2013}

Press pause

mermaid am

Good morning everyone! Today I woke late, slowly struggling to shed the layers of sleep that clung like wet seaweed as I slipped back from the surface several times, before eventually breaking into consciousness. I lay for a while as the final vestiges of fatigue drained away, and found myself washed up on the shore of a peaceful day with the gentle rustle of the breeze through the leaves outside my window. I drew the blind, to find a cloudy sky with big holes for the blueness to pour through, and feeling an autumnal ‘nip in the air’, wrapped up in my robe in search of coffee.

I climbed back into bed with my latte, and noticed my thoughts drifting towards some projects on the horizon, feeling a little nostalgic for my mornings watching the ocean, as I sat on the beach steps with my coffee, admiring the surfers and adoring the dolphins playing amongst them. Meanwhile some online messages interrupted my thought process, and some discussion about business direction inspired some creative thinking and enthusiasm, so that I was soon wide awake and firing those inquisitive neurons again.

I have several areas I want to explore; yet there is hesitancy, an undecided direction, and reluctance to commit just yet to tying up my energy. And as I write I realise it’s because at this moment in time I am enjoying the stillness, the feeling of being exactly where I am meant to be in this instant, and that my life will continue to unfold accordingly, as I dwell in possibility.

Previous to my trip to California I was feeling frustrated and disappointed as I tried to swim upstream, and fought hard to make something work in an environment that actively sabotaged my efforts. It’s no surprise that since my departure several newly appointed nutritionists/dieticians have met the same resistance and left the company already. My carefree Californian summer gave me space to recover from my dismay, reconsider my goals, and ultimately the realization that I could ‘dream much bigger’ darling. Trust me, ‘big’ in this context is an understatement!

Sometimes the most constructive thing we can do; is to do nothing, to wait and see what will be revealed. When we take time out to listen to our hearts, and hear the melody of our souls singing, we are more open to finding the answers that really matter, to seeing our dreams and feeling them draw us, rather than searching for solutions that will allay our fears, albeit temporarily. My three months in California have given me a beautiful fresh perspective, not to mention a relaxed happy vibe with which to enjoy it, and for now I’m just loving each step as it unfolds in front of me.

I wonder if there is something you are struggling with that would benefit from taking a step back too? OK, maybe not three months, but perhaps 3 days, or 3 hours, or even 3 minutes will help you accomplish more by truly looking at the situation, rather than ploughing ahead determinedly without checking your direction. I hope that whatever you do, that you can take some time to quiet your mind and listen to your heart, and then have the courage to follow it. You never know, it might just send you to California, and if it does, I’ll meet you on the beach, watching the dolphins amongst the surfers, because I’m pretty sure my heart is sending me back there soon! Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo sadly uncredited, via Pinterest; Words by Hayley Darby ©2013}

My first surf lesson (20th July 2013)

me surfingHi everyone!! It’s been another amazing day here in SoCal, and I am very aware that as the days and weeks slip by that I am busy being here, and not writing as much as I had planned; but ‘being’ just seems to be my priority, and there’s been a lot of ‘being’ to be! Today though was an especially awesome day, and one I want to commit to memory through written word, a reminder to read again when I need to remember how awesome it felt to face a fear, and how much I loved my first surf lesson!

I love the ocean, if you didn’t know this already, ‘welcome’ you must be new here! I dream about it when I’m at home in London, and feel most at home on a beach than anywhere else, and although I can swim I’m not terribly confident in the water. In Greece, where I have spent many happy times, I swim in crystal clear waters that are often have a pond like surface; here in Socal I could watch the waves gracefully arc and fall for hours, but have never ventured out to greet them, until today that is. Today I took my very first surf lesson, and pushed through my fears and self-imposed limitations as I swallowed my pride, and a more than a mouthful or two of salty water, to attempt something I’ve been telling myself for years that I would have tried if I was younger. Well I’m never going to be younger again than I am at present; but my courage found a friend in a patient and kind teacher, and it seemed like an adventure with my name emblazoned on it.

Growing up inland, I never really learnt to swim proficiently, it was only in my late 20’s that I learnt to breathe as I swam the length of the pool, albeit with my head out of water like a swan. Then in my thirties, after being seduced by the Greek sea, I took a single lesson to acquire a better technique (with the help of goggles), and can swim a reasonably acceptable breast-stroke back and forth across my favourite bays, watching the fish that glide beneath me. This gave me a taste of a calm, serene world that I fell in love with, an escape from the ridiculous chatter that pollutes my brain and a way to reconnect on a deeper level. However as my travels took me to shores of ferocious oceans (Bali, Australia, and California), my love of the deep remained in the form of a spectator, as I watched and admired the surfers from afar, enchanted as they played so elegantly amongst such unharnessed power.

I really never thought I’d be brave enough, or that I could be fit or agile enough, or indeed any kind of enough to put my life out there, leashed to a board, an inanimate object amongst the frighteningly fierce forces of the deep and daunting depths of the ocean. I’ve read too many Tim Winton novels and seen too many surf movies (Point Break, Lords of Dogtown et al.) where the dangers have been spelt out explicitly to enhance the drama; and I’ve met strong (sometimes cute) men in Bali, propping up bars with their ‘survivor’ stories, scars and injuries. However, there is something enticing about the sport; the freedom and oneness with the ocean, not to mention the ‘aloha’ culture and the tanned lithe bodies, and as I’ve been watching the waves here in Laguna the temptation has been calling, quietly yet persistently.

So when I met L a surfer-girl from Hawaii as I sat with coffee at ‘Brooks’ one morning, I was instantly charmed by her courage and dedication to a sport that steals her from her husband for hours daily. He surfs too, and shapes boards for a living, but his love of the waves cannot compete with his wife’s dedication, her escape and coping mechanism for any stress she’s encountered. Chatting one day, L’s husband asked if I’d give her a nutrition consultation, and since I cannot take payment (without a US work permit) she suggested a surf lesson in return. It was a pleasure to share my knowledge and understanding, not to mention my passion of healthy eating, yet part of me was unsure about accepting the lesson. However, L has a very understanding and patient character, someone I could trust, and hence it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

So today we met early, emboldened with coffee and well wishes from fellow wave watchers in Laguna, and drove up to Newport where the water is shallower for further, and there are less rocky outcrops to encounter. We drove through the cute homes on the Balboa peninsula and took the 3 car ferry across to the island, praying patiently to the ‘parking Goddess’ for a space near the pier for L’s flatbed truck that suits her immensely, despite her petite frame and feminine appearance. We changed into wetsuits, luckily we are the same size although I’m six inches taller, and once I’d got that far (one doesn’t merely dress but struggles into neoprene I discovered) I realised I was committed, and there was no going back without the burden of a regret too heavy to carry.

We practiced on sand initially, the jump from paddling whilst lying to standing, and I discovered I’m ‘goofy’ which means I’m left-footed, despite being right-handed, rather than simply as inelegant as the Disney character might be if he surfed; and I’m sure he’d be far more elegant than I anyway. We waded out, jumping the galloping white horses of waves that tumbled over each other and into the shore, then turned to present our backs to resist them as they got stronger, before launching ourselves over them as we progressed further out, deeper and deeper out of my comfort zone. I am not adept at keeping my eyes open under water, and struggle to clear the drops that cling to my eyelashes on surfacing; so feeling disorientated and utterly vulnerable I climbed to sit on the board as L held the nose steady for me, as steady as she could out of her depth between the sets. It took a while to get my position, evidently I need a longer board to stand on since I’m tall, but the light board we took today was a perfect introduction to feel the waves, learn to catch them as they crested, and practice paddling; and as soon as I caught my first one properly, somewhere between realizing that the sensation of joy that was propelled by the energy of the sea playing with me, I knew the desire exceeded my fear, and I was eager to try again and again. I did have some epic wipe outs, and felt incredibly impuissant in the force of the waves as they pounded my body, and tasted the bitter salty water that stang my eyes so viciously. Yet each time I recovered quickly, and got back on the board to paddle over the breakers to wait for the next wave I might try and ride on. After several hours I felt fatigue creep over me, and as we returned to the beach I felt myself grinning all over!

There were several novices in the friendlier water by the pier today, and we acknowledged each other’s progress and somehow avoided colliding and injury. And as we rinsed the salt from our wetsuits in the shower after our efforts, it felt somehow surreal that I too had partaken in this activity rather than just watching from the sidelines. As if I couldn’t quite believe that I had been the girl in the water, afraid but stubbornly determined, as if I had observed that part of me between feeling the sea carry me and giggle as it playfully pushed me, in the manner of my father swinging me around as a toddler.

Today I had my first surf lesson and it was awesome! I faced a fear and although I’m still afraid, I know how it looks and feels, I experienced it’s textures and tasted it, to discover that it’s something I can cope with, that yes it will knock me down, but I can withstand more than I thought, and for now I’m ready to get back up again, and I’m ready to be that afraid again, as soon as possible! Maybe you have a fear that’s not nearly as scary close up as it seems from afar, I guess the only way to find out, is to plunge right in and take a closer look! ‘Stoked’ and happy, and so very grateful for my kind and patient teacher : )) Blessings & love, Hxx

Photo & words: Hayley Darby ©2013

Turning corners

am meGood morning everyone, happy Monday!! Today I woke early, the morning sun having sneaked into the room to tempt me from dreams that held answers to questions I’ve yet to ask, and found me smiling. I lay for a while trying to make sense of the remembered images of my reverie, until they faded and curiosity called me from my bed to find what lays in the day ahead. The start of the new week is for me an inspiration for productivity, I have a list, a long list, an extremely long list, and it seems to keep growing despite the time period shrinking. So I drew the blind, made some coffee, and got back into bed with my laptop and diary searching for a sense of organised confidence in the tasks to complete, and ticked off several surprisingly quickly.

As I peruse my list: appointments to schedule, telephone calls to make, items to collect, information to clarify and notes to check; I am aware that life seems to have turned a corner, and each tick is a step closer to the next thing rather than a step away from the last thing. My energy has improved dramatically, and even the most mundane tasks are embraceable with an enthusiasm recently lacking. The change in myself, and the direction I’m taking are all due to a moment of belief amidst the uncertainty, when suddenly creating the life I desire became more important than the responsibilities and limitations I had previously let confine me.

I wonder what this week will bring for you, and whether the items on your ‘to-do’ list are taking you in the direction you want to be heading? Because if you’re just fire-fighting to keep your head above water amidst a sea of responsibilities, maybe there’s something you’ve neglected that you should be addressing, since in the words of Goethe “things that matter most should never be at the mercy of things that matter least”, and if today isn’t the best time, maybe it should be!?

Wishing you all a beautiful day and a productive week, with blessings & love, and a smile on my face Hxx

{Photo sadly uncredited, via Pinterest}

Shadows

dand

Today I met a young man, well younger than I (mid 30’s at a guess), a good-looking guy, with gentle eyes and a smile that lit up like Christmas when he saw me. We chatted briefly about the things people do; the weather, the traffic, and places we knew. His eyes shone brightly, despite the redness around the edges, and his smile was engaging, captivating, infectious. My gaze momentarily fell over his shoulder, where his shadow smiled back in silent acknowledgement, detached from our exchange, yet with a definite presence.

The young man asked questions animatedly, interested and even fascinated by our conversation, which ended too quickly, I’m sad to say. I said I was leaving, and he wanted to know how long I had been staying, I explained I was only visiting, and he twisted the edge of his robe a face full of questions. I looked into those eyes, and felt a flicker of his confusion, before he smiled again and wished me well on my journey. His shadow, much larger than he, stood by and opened the door. I heard him locking it securely behind me, protecting his charge from harming himself, any more than he had done so before.

Life is harsh, and sometimes people don’t cope as well as we would wish, which is why we must be kind all of the time, because we rarely see the suffering under the skin. Sadly their shadows aren’t always there to protect them, and they are only equipped to deal with the physical, whilst the emotional demons fight within. And I drove away in the traffic he could only imagine, out into the world that was too painful and challenging for the man with thin skin, leaving him behind in a safe place that respects his fragility, where shadows are kind and caring. Blessings & love, Hxx

© 2013 ~Hayley Darby

{Photo credit: 2,000 Suspended Dandelions by Regine Ramseier}

Wishes

dandelion

I wish ..
I wish I was braver.
I wish you laughter.
I wish it were simple.
I wish I understood more.
I wish everyone had dignity.
I wish your dreams come true.
I wish I could make things better.
I wish you happiness in your heart.
I wish you someone special to love.
I wish you courage in the darkness.
I wish broken hearts mended quickly.
I wish you could see the opportunities.
I wish you knew you are truly beautiful.
I wish that the world was a kinder place.
I wish you gentleness when life is harsh.
I wish people smiled more & grumbled less.
I wish I had a magic wand to right the wrongs.
I wish that you knew how much you mean to me.
I wish that people could see beyond insecurity to appreciate beauty.
I wish you love..
~Hxx

Hayley Darby ©2011

I am often asked about this post, and just found it! So sorry for the delay for everyone who requested it! ♥ Hxx

{Photo sadly uncredited, via Pinterest}