He’s a lover not a fighter x

Three years ago today, Leo came into my life, a special beam of sunshine that reminds me daily how lucky I am to be blessed, with his fun-loving, joyful, affection. We start every morning with a cuddle, he sleeps as close as he can, either snuggling his head into my shoulder, or simply arranging himself on the pillow around me, ready for cuddles and tummy tickles, the moment I gain consciousness. He has learnt that being awake doesn’t mean I’m actually getting up, but when I start to stir, he springs into action, usually placing his paws on my chest or either side of my face, in a deep play bow, smiling as his tail wags furiously, and kissing me enthusiastically! It’s impossible not to feel wonderful to be alive with such a greeting, and every morning is so full of fresh enthusiasm, as if he’s thrilled we’re both still here, together! Soon after Poppy jumps on to the bed, claiming her own tummy tickles as her tail thrashes away, and Platon stretches his full length alongside me, patiently waiting before sighing and nuzzling me for his share of attention too. Then the dogs start nuzzling each other and play erupts, before we all tumble off the bed, as Poppy impatiently pleads to go outside (to chase the creatures that may have crept into the garden overnight).

Leo came into my life as a timid stray that had clearly suffered abuse, as evident by the myriad of wounds and scars he sported. He was a nervous dog, too scared to take food from the hand of the guy that called me from the port, and he darted backwards and forwards as he found the courage to retrieve the salami scraps thrown on the ground before him. I remember that I sat alongside him, a few metres away, and he tentatively sidled over until when he got to me, he seemed to make a decision to trust me, and melted into me as he panted with heat exhaustion and trembled with fear. He was quite happy to accompany me in the collar I had coincidentally purchased that morning, and it was only when separated in the car (he in the boot, whilst I drove) that he cried pitifully, apparently at the distance between us, because as soon as we got to the house, he jumped into my arms as I opened the boot. He then cried woefully again when I tied him to the bottom of our stairs to secure Platon, climbing up as far as the lead would allow to follow me. It was late, but I showered him, removed ticks, gave him a flea treatment and treated his wounds; which he let me do without any resistance. I fed him and made a bed on the balcony, our quarantine ward, then left him whimpering as he pawed at the door to come in, before he finally settled for the night. The next morning he woke us early, calling in a high pitched whine, which changed to excited barks the minute he saw me, and he relished the cuddles and tummy runs he received with his breakfast. I had made a sun shade and a comfy little den for him, but he just wanted to be with us. I left Leo in his den and took Platon for his customary beach walk before the tourists got up, and when I returned my neighbours were all keen to let me know that the little dog had howled the village down in our absence.

I decided to take Leo straight to the vet, a 90 minute trip better done before the sun was high, so manoeuvred Platon into the bedroom again to bring Leo through the house and down to the car.. I must admit the door got badly scratched in his frustration, but it was worth every centime of the highly inflated repair price I paid to the landlord. I arrived at the Veterinary surgery to be greeted by Amanda with cries of ‘Hayley mou! Not another one! You are crazy!’ As we let Leo ‘christen’ (pee on) everything, and cleaned the sick out the back of my car. She inspected his wounds and surmised that the bruising around his flank and gonads was from someone kicking him, and that he’d probably been a stray most of his short life (approx 6-8 months), judging by the numerous scars and fresh wounds he sported. Leo’s right knee and left ankle had been broken but re-set and she advised that surgery to fix it would be too traumatic, especially as he seems to have adapted to accommodate it (he sits wonky, and walks in a circle whilst going to the toilet to prevent straining the knee… which means he leaves interesting poo patterns). She tested him for leishmaniasis and erlichia, both which came back negative, and gave me some antiseptic spray and ointments for his wounds. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that we discovered a lump in his neck, we had suspected was from a tick bite, was actually a bullet, and that another one was embedded in his skull, right between the eyes. Amanda suspects he was shot head on, and then again as he ran for his life. I remember the rage and fury I felt that someone had been so hideously beastly to this loving little dog, and the wonder and amazement that this adorable creature had suffered such cruelty, yet remained so trusting and loving. Leo is my daily reminder that life is 10% what happens and 90% how we handle it.. I strive to be more like him every day.

Once I returned from the Vets, I wasn’t quite ready to introduce Leo and Platon, Leo was still quite weak and timid, but he also still had his dumplings, and I wasn’t sure how my bigger, healthy, established and neutered boy was going to take to this testosterone disparity. So I again shut Platon in the bedroom, much to his annoyance, whilst I manoeuvred Leo onto the balcony. Leo cried on the stairs waiting to be let in, Platon protested loudly, and took his frustration out on the door. It was quite a din, then just as I got Leo into the house, Platon managed to catch the door handle, opening it and flying into the room. Leo immediately crouched, and Platon stood observing him, there was a half second beat where I held my breath.. then Platon dropped into a deep play bow, and Leo mirrored him, before jumping towards Platon, and they played adorably. Platon was gentle with his new playmate, who squealed excitedly and licked him adoringly, as they tumbled around the house and onto the balcony and back again. They soon tired in the heat, and lay in the breeze on the cool floor with their heads on top of each other, and so began the most beautiful bromance I have ever witnessed, and it continues to delight me daily.

That first night, Platon came to bed with me, but I left Leo in the dog bed in the living room, with all the doors open. I hadn’t planned on a second dog, and had initially thought Leo might suit my parents, but when I woke in the early hours to find Platon missing from my side, and when I went to investigate, found the two of them curled up together with Leo’s head resting on Platon, it was very obvious that these two shouldn’t be separated and I knew that our little family had extended unquestionably! I always say that it was a Platon’s decision, we had had several other dogs come into our lives, but none had bonded like these two, and Platon played a very valuable role in Leo’s recovery.

And so the scruffy little dog that came into our lives covered in scars needed a name, I knew it had to be a warrior’s moniker, and initially called him Hector, after a much underrated character who is honourable and brave, fighting to protect his brother. However, the name just didn’t seem to suit this playful pup, and he quickly became Leonidas after the gutsy king of the Spartans. I have a dear Greek friend who bitterly complains that this scruffy little dog is named after one of the country’s greatest legends, but Leo is not a calm measured warrior as I imagine Hector was; yet he is brave and gutsy and rushes in, despite his inadequacies, rather as I imagine his namesake. Leonidas also means son of a lion, and Leo’s scruffy little face with his wiry eyebrows and beard, certainly look a little lion like. It really doesn’t bother him that he doesn’t measure up to anyone’s perception of a warrior, and he truly bears the battle scars to make him worthy of the title. Truth be told, he’s a lover not a fighter, but he loves more fiercely than any other creature I have ever encountered!

Since that day, three years ago, Leo has been a bright ray of sunshine.. he greets everyone, people and dogs, cats, anyone with excited squeals of delight, and although this is sometimes misinterpreted, he often wins over the circumspect; like the cat that lived on our wall. A stray cat that the neighbours fed, used to sunbathe most of the day on the wall at the bottom of the stairs. Platon, being a calm, cat friendly dog, curiously used to sniff her as we passed, and eventually she did the same back, until touching noses became their greeting. When Leo saw this, he was beside himself with joyful enthusiasm to join in, but the cat wasn’t thrilled with this energetic bundle that approached her, so would hiss and walk away, yet Leo didn’t give up, he learnt to approach more cautiously, and eventually the cat succumbed and touched noses. You have never seen a dog so pleased with himself as Leo that day, and so our routine on entering or exiting the house included two dogs ‘kissing’ a cat, several times a day.

Leo has been a relatively easy dog, he was instinctively house-trained, was happy to walk on the lead, and pretty much did whatever Platon did, but in a more relaxed and trusting way. For example, he’s great in the car, if I’m there and Platon’s there, he’s secure and usually curls up to sleep; whereas Platon watches every inch of the road, as if he doesn’t trust my driving. Leo did however suffer with dreadful separation anxiety if both Platon and I left him, and used to watch us take quick ‘toilet walks’ round our Greek village, howling like a banshee from the balcony. But if I took him, or left him with Platon, he was fine. It has taken time and patience, and several courses in dog behaviour, but he is much better now. He knows we’re coming back, and I always walk them in the same order so he knows when it’s his turn. If I am going out, he quickly recognises the signs, but now he’ll come and watch me get ready, then curl up somewhere comfy for me to kiss him goodbye.

Leo is definitely the most affectionate of my three dogs, he loves to be cuddled and often rolls over to reveal his tummy in readiness for a tickle. He seeks me out when I’m relaxing, and is undeterred by how close to the fire I sit in winter (the other two are a bit nervous of cracking logs), or that I always choose the sunniest spot in summer, he likes to lie snuggled into me. He is the first to race upstairs at bedtime, to secure his place nearest my face on the bed, and often follows me around like a little shadow, preferring to be in the same room wherever that is. I love snuggling him too of course, and often ask him for kisses, which he’s very generous with but also humorous about. He developed a funny little game, whereby I ask him for a kiss, and he turns his face away, so I ask again, and make kissy noises, which he ignores for a while, watching me out of the corner of his eye, until quickly planting a kiss when I look like I am no longer expecting one. I laugh and tickle him, he in turn kisses me again and again.. until I ask him for one more kiss, and the game begins again.

I can’t imagine how Leo suffered before I found him, but I am determined that he knows he’s loved, is safe, and gets treats every single day.. he in turn blesses me, and Platon and Poppy with more love than I could have dreamed, he really is the most loving little ray of sunshine to ever bounce into my life, and I absolutely adore him!

Happy ‘Found-day’ Leo mou, you are loved so much more than I can put into words, and I’m so grateful that you manage to show me so much love without words too!

Photo and words by me, Hayley Darby ©️2018

Back to my back..

It’s a cloudy, grey, drizzly day, I am full of cold, coughing and struggling to breathe through my nose, lacking both sleep and energy, unable to taste or smell; and yet today, I cannot feel anything, but gratitude. Today is my CES birthday, a two year anniversary since my life-changing emergency spinal surgery. CES stands for Cauda Equina Syndrome, induced by a spinal cord injury that can provoke paraplegia, or a range of mobility issues, affects bowel and bladder, and pretty much everything from the waist down. I’m often asked what caused my spinal cord injury, and the short answer is: ‘I’m not sure, but an accumulation of events led to a disc gradually slipping and impinging on the nerve root’, this is the long answer:

I didn’t get my CES from a dramatic, adrenalin fuelled accident such as skiing or sky-diving, I didn’t acquire it in the aftermath of some dreadful car crash or a freak disaster, or even in the noble act of pregnancy or giving birth, nope mine was a boring, gradual onset of increasingly worrying symptoms, as I stoically (but stupidly) persevered with a bad back, just living an independent life, persisting in thinking I was stronger than my reality.

Looking back, there were several signs that there was a problem, but it is only in hindsight that I have been able to connect the dots, and see the warnings too late for me. I suspect my journey from Greece to the UK in December 2014 started the problem. I had left Greece in my trusty, 18 year old, Ford Fiesta, ‘Rubini’; a lovely old lady with relatively low mileage for her age, but holes in the floor, a disconnected (faulty) heater, and inadequate windscreen wipers. She was perfect for the few miles drive from my island home to the beach, and a fortnightly trip across the mountains to the main town, for vet visits and provisions, yet I had taken my chances and pushed my luck taking her to Southern Italy, where I had intended to spend my first winter with Platonas, my stray dog puppy. However, the home (and associated car) in Italy didn’t work out, and I figured my best option was to stuff everything back in to the still sandy Rubini, with Platon curled up neatly on the passenger seat beside me, and drive as far as I could towards London; hoping that if I fell short, it would be close enough that someone would help me, without having to distress Platon with an experience as aircraft cargo.

We were driving through the most breathtaking scenery, but equally as terrifying, road out of Italy, which was loaded with heavy cargo lorries from the port of Genoa. The AutoFiori (Autostrada A10) passes through Liguria, across a steep and sprawling hillside, though a series of tunnels and viaducts, sometimes plunging you into echoing darkness for almost 2 km, before ejecting you onto vertiginous viaducts, precariously perched high above ravines in couloirs that stream to a sparkling sea; almost too beautiful to take your eyes off, except that the road is too narrow, too fast, too busy and wayyy too dangerous to take your eyes off either. As I carefully negotiated my way through the perilous barrage of trucks and juggernaut lorries, in my underpowered old lady of a car, I suddenly felt a stabbing in my heels, too intense to ignore. I suspected I had simply tied the laces of my trainers too tightly, but remember first struggling to untie them whilst driving, and having to pull over at a service station to loosen them. I must have stepped out of the car to stretch my legs, completely unaware that I was relieving the pressure on my spinal cord, caused by a seemingly innocuous seating position. Anyway, I carried on my journey, making it all the way back to London, having a fantastically, wonderful adventure on the way, and irritatingly tight shoe laces (or so I thought) completely unaware of the damage I was doing.

After a short winter period in London, I had resolved to sell my home of 20+ years there, looking for something more dog friendly to accommodate my darling, but decided to wait until after another summer in Greece, so I packed up the house to rent it for the interim. My back ached from carrying heavily laden boxes of books, clothes, kitchenware, everything, into the garage; but you know, it was just a bad back, so I kept going. It was a bitterly cold winter, as I walked Platon round the sprawling graveyard, with glittering frost and plumes of our warm breath in the biting cold air, and yet despite the sub-zero temperatures, I noticed one foot was always pleasantly warm as if I had a heating system in the sole of my right boot. It took me a while to address, as it didn’t hurt, in fact it was a lovely contrast to the blue, cold toes of my left foot. But, since I realised it was a neurological issue, I eventually presented it to my GP, who dismissed it with ‘well if it doesn’t hurt, why worry?’ and I foolishly left it at that.

My drive back to Greece in April 2015 was in a car I bought ‘for Platon’, a Toyota Rav 4, with a much higher seating position, and much more room for my height, Platon, luggage, everything. We had a good journey down, apart from a strange bout of nausea and breathlessness, as I headed through the now familiar but no less intimidating deep tunnels through Liguria. I wondered whether it was purely psychological, but there was a lack of rationale to the feeling, I wasn’t afraid in my mind, despite my symptoms, which I eventually put down to an upset tummy, but I am now not so sure, and wonder whether somehow the duration of the journey, or even the memory of my stabbing heels was another unheeded warning.

My back was often a bit sore, I had packed up 20 years of accumulated living, well ok, ‘stuff’, into boxes, traipsed them down at least one, mostly two flights of stairs to the garage, then spent a week driving, and lived with a loving but stubborn dog of around 30+ Kg, whom I was often impatient enough to pick up, when his mood and mine differed, such as when he didn’t want to get in the car, and I did, for example. Then I found Leo (timid, terrified, and bearing the broken bones, bullets and many wounds of his abuse), and had two darling dogs to manage. They were absolutely fine most of the time, but Platon became reactive on the lead when I walked them together, I suspect in a protective manner of his much adored and fearful, little ‘brother’. I was probably a comical sight, walking along the curvaceous mountain roads, with Platon lunging and barking at anyone or any vehicle that approached us, as Leo hid nervously behind my legs, and leads tangled the three of us together. Fortunately they are quiet roads, but still, it wasn’t an easy walk for a bad back.

Then the storm came, we have some wonderfully dramatic electrical storms on the island, the thunder crashes (Zeus moving the furniture, as my dear friend Hilda quips), and lightening forks through pink and purple night skies. The rain relentlessly hammers on the glass balcony doors, and seeps through the cracks if we don’t secure the shutters, drumming on the roof and drenching absolutely everything! The electricity often fails, and we have to unplug the internet for fear of blowing the modem, so there’s little chance of anything other than watching the storm by candlelight, or sleeping. The dogs were excitable (Platon) and panicked (Leo), and as I was trying to keep them calm and hunker down for the night, I heard a faint scratching at the door, then mewing that grew with intensity. Dressed in my pyjamas, I manage to keep the dogs inside as I ventured out onto the step, finding a stray cat and her kitten, crying for mercy. My neighbours, the Russian ladies in the apartment below ours, were great cat lovers, and I remembered seeing a cat box on the wall of their patio. Thankfully, it was still there when I got soaked to the skin to fetch it, and after wrestling to keep the dogs inside and retrieve a dry towel for them to lie on, the cat and her kitten were keen to get in it. I struggled once more with the door, trying to keep the two dogs in as I brought in the cats; I lifted the not particularly heavy cat box, and felt a sharp stab in my lower back. It brought me to my knees, and as I knelt hunched over the crying kitten, with my wet hair plastered to my face, and rivulets running down my neck, on my knees, in the storm, on my doorstep, I did wonder how comical this painful story would be in the telling! I eventually managed to prize the door open, and slide the cat box inside, before crawling to bed, with Platon and Leo whimpering, seemingly sympathetic, as they settled beside me.

I spent about 3 weeks hardly moving from my bed, my Italian neighbours kindly took the dogs out for toilet walks every morning, my landlord gave them a quick walk some afternoons, and plentiful parcels of food arrived from friends and neighbours; such is the Greek virtue of philotomy, my back hurt like hell, but I was never hungry! The lovely local physiotherapist made house calls, and was reassured that the pain was only in my back and hadn’t radiated down my leg, and the doctor handed out pain-killers like sweeties.

Eventually I started to feel more able, and regained mobility, enough to take the car for a service in preparation for my now delayed journey, back to London. I set out early, to avoid driving in the heat of the day, leaving the dogs at home with the balcony doors open so the air could circulate, and they could lie watching the sail boats bob along across the still blue sea below. It seemed strange to be completely alone without their constant endearing company, and I breathed in deeply the solitude of my journey, across dusty mountain roads, strewn with lazy goats that dawdled precariously along the cliff edges. Whenever I approach the place where I first found Platon, a remote road, far from any villages or habitation, my chest starts to tighten, and I experience an emotional reaction; sometimes tearful (that poor, sweet, soul, left to starve and suffer), sometimes angry (those bastard monsters that could perpetrate such an act of brutal cruelty) and that day was no different, except that it was cut short, by amazement, and another Puppy! Poppy (short for Penelope) as she became, was a few months old, skinny and cowering in the road when I saw her, I stopped the car, and cursing that for once I didn’t have any leads or even treats on me, approached her very slowly. I squatted a few metres from her, and let her draw near, which she did tentatively at first, before planting herself submissively between my knees. I gently stroked her dusty fur, feeling her skinny ribcage and spine too easily, noticing the wounds on her hind quarters, wondering what I was going to do; but knowing I couldn’t leave her abandoned here in this wilderness to starve to death. I stood and sighed, before talking gently to her as I slowly walked over to the car with her following, opened the boot, into which she jumped without waiting for me to ask or change my mind. So suddenly I had three dogs to take back to the UK, well 4 actually, as I had already agreed to take Dexter, another dog to a home I had found for him in Switzerland en route. And so I must add a car journey, mostly alone with 4 dogs, my luggage and a bad back, for a week across Europe to another thing I inflicted on my poor back, when it was already struggling.

Once back in the UK, I tried not to drive too much for a while, I was tired, my back was still sore, but the easiest way to walk three untrained dogs, is to take them to a secure paddock (20 minutes drive away), and let them chase each other around for an hour. It wasn’t ideal, but it was manageable. I started studying canine behaviour, and found it impossible to sit through the lectures, standing at the back of class trying to stretch out the odd feeling in my leg, and then grimacing as the sharp stabs returned, just before a trip to Athens for a wedding. I remember at the airport, wondering why I had even contemplated anything with a heel, as my grey suede knee high boots weren’t exactly towering, but they definitely had a heel.. so I purchased some foldable pumps in duty free, a little leopard print pair of salvation, worth every single penny!

I arrived in Athens to be greeted by an old friend, a gorgeous English girl from our modelling days, decades ago. She warned me she was struggling with a dodgy knee as she whisked me through the streets to her home, where we collapsed on the sofa, and I suddenly couldn’t get up again. Every time I moved the shooting pains attacked, but you know, I didn’t think it was anything serious (?!?). So the two of us managed, we hobbled around together, laughing at our predicament, and gritting our teeth as we stoically soldiered on. I attended the wedding, even managing to dance a little in my newly purchased pumps, but after the frivolity faced another 4 hours seated on an aeroplane back to London, which really added insult to injury, as far as my back was concerned, literally.

The next day, having missed my dogs desperately, I drove them to the paddock for a run, except that I started to feel light headed and nauseas as I joined the motorway, and as fought to keep panic at bay, suddenly realised I couldn’t feel or move my right leg. This is not a pleasing revelation, whilst driving in excess of the speed limit on the M1, and I quickly searched for a safe solution. Fortunately there was very little traffic about, so I headed over to the hard shoulder (emergency lane) and braked shakily with the handbrake. I struggled to get out of the car and stumbled to the barrier, where I leant over breathing deeply, focusing on the toes of my boots, trying to stop myself from fainting. Again the change of position must have removed the impingement from the nerve, as I realised as I got my breath back, that I had regained mobility, if not all of the feeling in my right leg again. I made it to safety, but the pain when seated was excruciating, as if the muscle in my right thigh was tensing involuntarily, and I had to stop every 5 minutes to stand and relieve the pain.

I went back to my GP insisting on an MRI as quickly as possible, and endured the most painful car journey, lying agonizingly across the back seat, to get to the appointments. On receiving my results, the GP informed me that he would refer me to physiotherapy, despite having informed him of what I now know to be red flag symptoms, and I struggled through Christmas and New Year, with an irritatingly persistent urge to urinate, without passing much (neurogenic bladder), and what I thought was an upset tummy (impaired bowel control). Eventually, impatient with the GP’s tardy referral, I booked myself to see an osteopath locally, who took one look at my MRI, and recognised my symptoms, before sending me immediately to A&E (ER room), where I was operated on ASAP. (You can read that episode in my previous post: https://purenourishment.wordpress.com/2017/01/06/looking-back/) When I woke from surgery, my heels felt as if they were being stabbed with hot, sharp knives, which led me to discover that they are the site of the insertion for the affected nerves, suddenly the early warning signs made sense.

My outcome is incredibly lucky; I have almost full mobility, although two years later I am still working on building my core strength, and still can’t lift anything heavy, or even push a full supermarket trolley. Despite my initial fears, and necessity of a second emergency surgery, I am able to use the toilet normally, and don’t have to rely on the catheters, as I feared so dreadfully. Most of the saddle-numbness has disappeared, apart from a small area on my right thigh. The PTSD I suffered post-surgery, seems to have abated, I haven’t had a panic attack for at least 6 months, but I am still careful about driving on motorways, especially in the dark.

I know from the CES support forums that I am definitely one of the fortunate ones; many of my fellow sufferers have had to adjust to life in wheelchairs, or with walking frames and AFOs (Ankle Foot Orthosis – plastic supports). Many people with CES suffer with incontinence (both types), and rely on catheters and unpleasant evacuation techniques as part of their daily routines. Many people’s relationships fall apart, they lose their ability to work, and suffer with debilitating depression, and isolation, as a result of their CES. Whilst my surgery wasn’t life-changing in those ways, it has given me perspective, I no-longer strive to be fitter, faster, stronger in the gym; I am content to be able to walk the dogs and carry smaller hand bags. I’ve found a true appreciation for simple pleasures, and take time to reflect on my abilities, rather than dwell on my inabilities or failings. I am also acutely aware of an increased empathy for anyone that struggles with mobility issues, and hope that my increased awareness is reflected in increased kindness towards others.

So, a little back ache at the end of the day, is not something I can complain about, I might not be able to ski or ride horses again, but I can walk my dogs; and trust me, the little things really are the big things, sometimes we just need a little perspective! Please take care of yourselves, especially your backs, and if you have any suspicious symptoms, please insist on a thorough investigation, and don’t let doctors fob you off with their lack of concern or failure to take you seriously. Love & blessings, Hxx

{Photo: Rubini, with Platon and I on board, Greece 2014. Words, by me, Hayley Darby © 2018}

If you want to know more about CES here is a useful little video: http://www.spine-health.com/video/cauda-equina-syndrome-video

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}

Joy on a grey day

nurse teaIt’s a cold grey day here, and I’m lying on my day bed with Platon lying against my legs, his chin resting gently on my ankles, as he snoozes between watching the world outside the long French windows. Leo has trampled all over me, and the bed, searching for a comfy spot, but dissatisfied with all his options, has moved to the sofa where he’s curled up alone and uncharacteristically grumbling. He’s usually my sunshine, a super happy chap, full of joyful enthusiasm, and the friendliest, most affectionate dog I could think of; but today he’s having an ‘off’ moment, and comically grumbles in little half barks and almost growls at noises outside. I suspect he’s over tired, sulking and like a toddler fighting sleep, he will soon give in to that sweet dark oblivion, and float to another realm of consciousness. I wonder if he dreams of our favourite little beach in Greece, and swimming out in the clear turquoise waters, which he does so, much further than I dare to. He has a leg injury that gives him a disadvantage on land, but in the sea he’s unstoppable. Finally, his little chest has started to rise and fall rhythmically, and we are a peaceful little trio in our cosy abode. I stifle a yawn as I type, and Platon sighs loudly, as I pull the blankets up a little higher, and he snuggles back into me. I too could fall asleep, I tire easily since my surgeries; especially since I have started my physiotherapy exercises and increased my activity daily.

Yesterday I had a hospital appointment; it was the first time I had been back since my surgery. I still feel somewhat fragile; an awareness of my vulnerability, previously not even glimpsed, as I felt fit and strong, and lead an active lifestyle. Walking in public places makes me anxious, my injury (spinal) is invisible to most, as I can walk unaided and have no casts or bandages. It’s a ridiculous fear of being knocked, although I’m assured my spine is now stable, it still feels odd, and I am acutely aware of the risks associated with my condition, however small they are in reality. I saw the urology nurse, since after my first operation there was a complication with my bladder function requiring a further surgery, and yesterday I got a clean bill of health, a huge relief. My Cauda Equina experience has certainly helped me appreciate how much the little things, really are the big things!

As I waited in the hospital lobby for my lift home, I met Joy, a health care worker that truly lives up to her name. She took a moment to recognise me, (I clearly look very different with freshly washed hair, dressed and standing, to my hospital bed state), but her face soon lit up, as she recited my bed and bay number on the ward. Every morning of my hospital stay, Joy greeted the ward with her sunny smile and sing song voice, serving us breakfast, lunch and supper, remembering how we all take our tea, and our individual food preferences. She was always cheerful, thoughtful and considerate, and she brightened the room with her smile. When she made her rounds, she served us all as if we were her favourite customers in a smart restaurant. Maybe it’s maybe not the tea, but the person serving it thats the best medicine. This small part of our day made me feel more human, it was a time when as we picked our meals from the menu, however basic, that we regained some independence, choosing gave a small sense of control; when the rest of our day was determined by our medical team and hospital routines. Again, I am reminded of the little things that make a difference; and wonder how often we have missed opportunities to give a little that will mean so much to someone else, without us ever realising how much importance it is to them.

Meeting Joy yesterday reminds me how grateful I was for the compassion and kindness of the nurses and health care workers that cared for me during my hospital stay. I cannot imagine what a tough job it is, and have huge respect for all of them. If everyone worked with the same selfless enthusiasm that Joy does, we would all reflect more sunny smiles in our environments. Talking of which, it might be a cold grey day in February here, but it’s not a bad day, we have blossom on the window sill and daffodils on the table, and Leo has woken up, back to his happy smiley self, enthusiastically stretching into a play-bow and wagging his tail, ready for another adventure. I hope that you are seeing a glimmer of the joys of spring, wherever you are too.. unless of course you’re in the Southern hemisphere, in which case, enjoy your Summer, and send it back to us in the Northern hemispheres soon, please!

Blessings & love, Hxx

 

{Photo via Pinterest, sadly uncredited; words by me, Hayley Darby © 2016}

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}

Letting go…

sigh
Today I woke early, too early for my body, but my brain was insistent. My head lay heavy on the pillow, weighed down by a headache and sadness, my limbs felt leaden and sank into the mattress; my eyelids fought to keep the light out as it crept round the blind, and my heart just ached and tried to hide. I struggled in vain as I searched for the sweet oblivion of sleep again, trying to shut out reality as thoughts and memories flooded in. Words, that once uttered cannot be retracted, and more importantly, words that are left hanging, hopelessly unsaid; once happy memories distorted by bitter betrayal and knowledge that cannot be unlearned, however hard one tries to forget.

I lay for a while, drowning in disappointment as the sunshine pushed at the window, anxious to drag me from my den of despair. The knot that twisted in the pit of my stomach was interrupted by a realization that flooded my body; because today I don’t have time to wallow, to wonder how life would feel if things had been different; a record that’s recently been stuck on repeat in my head. So fortified with a latte, I washed my face and dressed quickly, smoothing the pain from my expression as I swept my bed head hair into a bunch of carefree curls, and applied mascara (not the waterproof stuff).

Today is a beautiful spring day in London, and my little pocket of the city was buzzing industriously as commuters headed to work, and the world carried on turning. My meeting this morning was informal and fortunate enough to include a walk, so we headed up the hill towards the Heath, comforting familiar territory. We walked and talked, my companion is well travelled, intelligent and interesting, excited about embarking on a new chapter, professionally speaking. Our conversation was full of hope and visions of the future; we discussed dreams, far-flung destinations and career opportunities.

I noticed the buds on the trees have started to swell, and the blossom that had tentatively blushed along branches, now blooms bravely and enthusiastically. The path was clear, no longer squelchy and impassable without danger of muddy footwear casualty. We wandered through the woods, where branches stretched skyward, reaching into the blueness, soon to become adorned with shady green canopies. Winter it seems has finally lost its grip, and slips away lost amongst memories as spring asserts her hopefulness and promise of summer. We all have to let go in order to move forward; like monkey bars we need to let go of where we’ve come from to embrace where we’re going. I have observed that people who insist on clinging to their past, often impede their future, painfully. Change is inevitable, sometimes we have to just let it happen, and when some things fall apart, we just have to trust its making room for something wonderful that’s waiting to catch us.

You don’t always need a plan, sometimes you just have to let go and see what happens next. Life isn’t about control, it’s about adapting to the changes that are inevitable, and sometimes it helps to remember we’re not in charge, which is probably a good thing. Once in a while, let go of what you think you want, create some space for possibility, let life surprise you xx.

Blessings & love ❤ Hxx

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

Swings and simple things

swing sky

It’s a cool cloudy day in London, and I’m sitting at the window table of my favourite bistro, armed with a latte and wondering where the sun has gone. We had a beautiful weekend in London, it was 17 C/63 F yesterday and sunny, so that all of London’s parks and pavement cafes were bustling with carefree happy faces that come out of hiding when the sun graces us in the Northern latitudes. I drove south of the river, contrary to urban myth one does not need a passport for such an expedition, but it is advisable to pack plenty of patience for the heavy traffic and ‘weekend drivers’. The journey of 8 miles from my home to my brother’s can easily take an hour, so it’s also a good opportunity to play some music and sing my heart out in privacy, without inflicting my less than sonorous vocals on the world. Having been away from London for a while, it was a fresh chance to appreciate the city’s majestic beauty, as sun cast elegant shadows on the regency architecture and gleamed off the windows of the modern mirrored structures. The early blossom on the cherry trees shimmered gently in the breeze, and the pavements buzzed with more energy than the collected efforts of the numerous runners that pounded away, plugged into their ipods.

My arrival finally at my brother’s doorstep, was heralded with the cheeky grin of my niece M, who informed me that my Christmas present was still waiting for me to open it.. as she peered expectantly at the bags I was carrying. M is not yet 3 years old, and her sister Z is almost one; so obviously the most important factor of my most recent three-month trip abroad was that I had indeed missed Christmas. She had also been waiting patiently to devour the pretty iced cookies that had been freshly baked for the occasion. So after the important unwrapping with tea and biscuits, my brother and I left his wife in peace and quiet as we took the girls to the common (a rather large park). It’s only a short walk by adult standards, but when your legs are as long as the average three year old, that can be awfully tiring. So we stopped for a makeshift picnic by the bandstand, indulging in some people watching as M found an amateur photographer shooting his girlfriend with his very long lens fascinating; before heading to the playground with heady anticipation.

Both M and Z could spend hours it seems on the swings, in fact most of the children seemed very content to watch the world fly back and forth with demands of ‘higher, higher!’ squealed between giggles to their pushers. I’ll admit I wished there was an empty ‘big girl’s’ swing for me too, to feel the carefree lack of responsibility on a Sunday the sun shone again. Children are smart enough to appreciate the simple things, before they are corrupted with entitlement and expectation, and I wonder when and how we let things get complicated as we advance into adulthood. Maybe there’s a way we can find it again amidst all our grown-up-ness, if we stop worrying about the things we cannot change and focus on appreciating the little things. So as I write this on a Monday, and the clouds part to let the sun shine in, I wonder where the nearest park is, and if I can get there before school finishes ☺

I hope you have a lovely day, and if there’s a moment in between all your busy responsibilities, that you slip momentarily into the carefree child you once were, and let your heart soar skyward again?! Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo sadly uncredited, via Pinterest; words by Hayley Darby ©2014}

Spring awakening

contemplative

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}

Happy Valentine’s day!

val

Happy Valentine’s day!!

I hope that wherever in the world you are, whether you are married, dating or single, that today on the most romantic day of the year that you feel loved.

I wish for you the purest, unconditional love, one that appreciates you for exactly who you are, not your appearance, your intelligence, your success or achievements, or even some fantasy of what you could, should, would be. I hope you are loved for the essence of who you are, and that it’s a clear love that sees your faults and failings, and knows that these are a part of you as vital as your strengths and achievements, so loves them too.

I hope you feel an encouraging love, one that truly believes in you, and your dreams too; especially when you have trouble believing in yourself. A love that celebrates your unique gifts, and encourages you to appreciate them, that understands the intent that drives you, values your view of the world and dreams your dreams with you.

I hope you feel a supportive love, one that truly listens, not just with their ears but with their heart also, so that they comprehend your feeling rather than just the words you choose. A love that’s there by your side through the good and the bad; to hold your hand in the darkness and whisper words of comfort when you need them, and to revel in your success and bask in the light when you shine brightly.

I hope that you feel a forgiving love, one that sees your heart is human, and all the struggles it goes through, and appreciating your imperfections forgives the mistakes you make and urges you to forgive yourself too. Forgiveness frees us from all that isn’t love, and when we learn to truly forgive, we learn love.

I hope that you feel a kind love, one that cares for you and considers your needs generously. A love that will go out of its way to demonstrate how valued you are, with gestures grand and small, and to give without any expectation, just a hope you will feel loved. I hope that you will feel a love so kind that you want to express it in all that you do, and that love will inspire kindness in others too.

I hope that you feel a love that is as free as the breeze, that caresses you gently, yet never pushes or demands of you. A love that accepts you exactly as you are, and doesn’t try to change you, or trap you, or own you; but that delights in your flight, in your pursuit of life and the knowledge that your love guides you.

I hope that you feel a fun-filled love; one that will tickle your heart with giggles and helps you see the magic anew. A love that explores your imagination and takes you on adventures of discovery, finding miracles in the dusty corners of the ordinary, and treasures sequestered in the mundane. I hope that your love laughs heartily and embraces your experiences with joyful anticipation.

I hope that you will feel a trusted love, an acceptance that the love you feel is true, that you will not feel fearful of loss or protective against pain, because love does not die, and there is no need to question the integrity of genuine love. I hope that you will love yourself to know that you deserve this too.

I hope that you will feel loved, I hope that you will love bravely too, that you will not hide behind walls of pride, conceit, fear, or any other emotion that might try to protect you from the vulnerability of truly loving another. I hope that you will find the courage to open your heart, despite the risk of all that it may encounter, and trust that you have enough love to survive anything that the world can throw at you. Because love is what we’re here for, and love is what we are, and the answer is always love, so love is what we must do!!

I hope you feel love everyday, everywhere you go, and in everything you do, and if you’re wondering where to start, I’m sending love from me to you! Happy Valentines day, with love Hxx

Dear 2013

HD beach

Dear 2013

You have been a year of my life, and I am grateful for you. We haven’t always seen eye to eye, and there have certainly been times when I wished you were shorter than 365 days, but that was only when I was hurt and upset, struggling with my human-ness and fighting to get ahead of the pain I was feeling; which really wasn’t your fault at all, rather mine for having expectations that could be disappointed and an immense impatience inherent of my personality. However, despite my faults you always stood by me, and managed to surprise me with wonderful, unexpected gifts and joyful memories, a reminder that things are often better than we can imagine, as long as we can let go of our plans and let life take us blissfully and carefree to where we are meant to be.

With you I have wandered along sandy Californian beaches, and sat watching the early surfers with my morning coffee, as dolphins played delightedly. I met blue whales, whose peaceful presence held me in awe and took me to new depths emotionally. You were there when I conquered my fears and braced the waves for surfing lessons, and let the tide carry me, accepting things the way they’re supposed to be. We danced at concerts in the park, and around bonfires on the beach, we sang along (loudly and badly) to the radio, driving PCH with my hair dancing in the breeze. Together we wandered round art galleries and enjoyed good company, and watched sunsets that burst my heart with gratitude for their beauty.

We returned to float in the turquoise blue of favourite Greek seas, and watch sunlight sparkle on the water feeling blessed and carefree. With you I enjoyed peaceful hours at the beach, and submerged into a marine underworld, snorkelling and scuba diving. We hiked through the villages, visiting interesting characters and revisiting memories; and we followed in the footsteps of mythological heroes to climb mountains and worship at ancient temples. We watched storms rage in the sky and toss the world around angrily, then suddenly forgive and restore calm, quickly and quietly. We discovered cracks in hearts that were quietly bleeding, and found forgiveness and love are by far the best remedy.

With you I found myself tempted into unexpected adventures, and let my heart lead without plans or itinerary. I celebrated my first Thanksgiving holiday, danced on bars in Vegas and flew to Mexico for an escapade in Acapulco. We let the night time breeze sweep through dreams to the sonorous sounds of the ocean, feasting on papayas for breakfast and drank pina coladas for supper. I was charmed by customs in Houston (who’d of dreamed!) and skied in Colorado, where I left a smarting hurt on a moonlit road through the mountains, and found some salve in the Garden of The Gods. I shared shrimp with Tiny Tim on Malibu beach, and had a delicious Mexican meal for Christmas dinner instead of traditional turkey, with dear friends in Laguna.

So dear 2013, thank you for being the year that turned an unexpected corner, and after a bump in the road, took flight towards the previously undreamed. You have been a serendipitous year that changed my direction by several degrees. With you I have learned to accept that letting go is often stronger than hanging on, and often an opportunity to discover a new route engraved on the map of my heart, for perhaps a more scenic journey. I appreciate all that you have given me, even those bits that hurt like hell in the beginning, but are shaping me towards the person I am meant to become. I’m excited in anticipation of future adventures, ready for the unwritten chapters waiting to take shape in the year to come. So as I prepare to say goodbye, know that I appreciate you, and tell 2014 I’m ready!! Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo & words ~Hayley Darby ©2013}