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

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}

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

September letter

beach type

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}

Laguna Beach 18th June 2013

Laguna me 1

Hello everyone!! I’m sitting in my Laguna kitchen, watching the breeze dance with the shadows of the leaves on my patio, as the fragrant flowers blush in the afternoon sun. I am relaxed, content, happy, extremely grateful that I’m here, and privileged that this SoCal paradise is my home for the summer. It doesn’t seem possible that two weeks since my arrival have flown by already, yet at the same time it feels as if my London life is a distant memory, as it appears I have stepped back into the rhythms of life here almost seamlessly. I have shed a ton of worry and responsibility along with the jet-lag, and life feels lighter, brighter, and bursting with hopeful possibility.

I have enjoyed catching up with friends here, and re-acquainting myself with the laid back vibe this beach town absolutely hums with; and I have enjoyed meeting ‘me’ again. That’s the me that walks on the beach with a heart full of gratitude, that feels the resistance slip away in downward dog, that breathes in deeply the air perfumed with jasmine and gardenia, and sips my soy latte slowly savouring my environment. It’s the me that doesn’t have a head full of lists to tick off, emails to answer, people to contact, and chores to address; rather it’s the me that has room for acute observation, happy amusement and spontaneous decisions that make my heart happy and my soul sing. Life is easier here for lots of reasons, but most importantly of all, I feel as if I am perfectly positioned in this place, time, and sentiment, for whatever is meant to be, and it’s a wonderful feeling!

The past two weeks have been spent being gentle with myself, letting go of the ‘shoulds & coulds’ and accepting the way it is as I live in the moment. I have focused on sleeping well, eating well, and exercising gently; I have indulged in massage and manicure, reading, and making my home a sanctuary. I have purchased several scented candles (plus room sprays and diffusers), soft feather cushions, sumptuous body oils and creams, potted plants and bunches of peonies. I have joined a yoga studio, explored new beaches, reloaded my kindle, hiked in the canyon, discovered nutritious & delicious eateries, and watched the waves (and the surfers) each morning with coffee. I think it’s safe to say, I’ve settled in nicely!

There have also been some beautiful gifts here, it seems just waiting for me to come and claim them. My first day I met a British hairdresser, (as a curly girl stocking up on ‘Be Curly’ (Aveda) is a priority to tame the tresses), and we got talking (as you do!). He asked what I would be doing here in Laguna, and when I mentioned writing he immediately suggested I met his client that publishes books on health and nutrition. As it turns out, the publisher (relocated from New Jersey) has an impressive listing and I feel extremely privileged for the introduction. Then there’s the talent manager I briefly met last summer that I had coffee with this morning (SHE called ME!) and the exciting and energizing discussion we had about building the Pure Nourishment Brand. Suddenly I am aware that I have shed any prior tiredness and fatigue, and have caught the optimistic enthusiasm that infuses my SoCal experience, life is full of potential, I am surrounded by beauty, and I am bursting with gratitude for this opportunity : ))

Funny, I was going to give myself the whole of June as pure vacation, but suddenly I am itching to write that book proposal! Maybe I need another walk on the beach to consider the structure? ; )) I DO hope that you find time this summer to get reacquainted with the ‘you’ that you enjoy best too, the one that makes time to appreciate your needs, is gentle and kind with yourself, and finds serendipities waiting Blessings & love, Hxx

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

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}

Heartbreak

heart break

Hearts break, that’s just what they do. Lungs breathe, livers detoxify, stomachs digest, brains think (from time to time), and hearts break, and ache, and bleed inside, they drive us insane with questions we can’t answer; oh yes, and they pump blood too! I think maybe our hearts break to teach us things that we’re too stubborn to take from the brain, whose teaching is logical, which our hearts aren’t at all. At least I like to think they break for a reason, that the pain we feel isn’t all for nothing, because wouldn’t that be an awful waste? I think my heart first broke to teach me humility, kindness and compassion, that relationships aren’t easy and shouldn’t be taken for granted, and that probably loving myself was a big part of the equation. Well I wish it was just the one, tough, terrible lesson; but it seems I had more to learn, because I somehow kept enrolling in that same class, and managed to flunk it again and again.

I believe our hearts are fragile for a reason, so that we know to handle with great care and respect, those of others that we are given. I suspect that hearts break to teach us resilience; so that we come to understand that once they’ve been busted and hurt and trodden in the dirt, that they will scrape themselves together eventually, dust themselves down, and hopefully be brave enough to risk it all again. Because the amazing thing about hearts is, that no matter how bruised and battle scarred they get, they have an amazing capacity to keep on working, and will love indefinitely if we let them.

I think hearts break to show us that no matter how bad it seems, that love is stronger than the worst we can imagine, and then we can truly appreciate what a wonderful gift we have been given. So please don’t hide your heart away, or protect it too tightly for fear of pain, because hearts are masters of recovery, and each time they show us a different reason for whatever they drag us through. Have a little faith, be brave, because yes, hearts break, but they keep on loving

{Photo sadly uncredited, via Pinterest}

Morning medicine

lue cup

Good morning everyone!! Today I woke slowly, from a series of dreams, invaded by a presence that swanned through my thoughts as nonchalantly as it wanders through the chambers of my heart; feeling I admit, half delighted at the sight, whilst half annoyed that it continues to permeate those layers of protection and sanity we all attempt to surround ourselves with. I lay in the mists that seemed several times about to lift yet descended again with sleepiness, despite the attempts of a cough to waken me, as I spluttered from the depths intermittently before drifting off again. I surveyed my internal terrain, noticing the soft spots of vulnerability, pretending to myself that I am perfectly fine, yet truthfully feeling a little less courageous, on a dark wintry morning waiting for spring to return.

The coughing eventually won, waking me to the realization I have a temperature, my body aches, and my head is pounding, illness is always so inconvenient isn’t it!? It seems I have a flu, which curtails my plans for a while, as I’m not one to martyr on and generously inflict my contagion. I believe that when the body communicates it’s struggling, that the best course of action is to listen and spend energy on healing quickly. This hasn’t always been the case, I have previously subscribed to soldiering on, dragging it out as I refused to make my health a priority. The truth is I’m not very good at being ill, in fact I’m absolutely rubbish, I’m not terribly brave and impatiently wish the time away, waiting to get better.

However, I remember a favourite lecturer from uni, a kind soul who told me once that being ill was something we should embrace, a time to stay in bed and read all day without feeling we should be doing something more constructive. He taught me that nothing is really so important it can’t wait for us to get better, and it’s an opportunity to gain perspective and assess our priorities. So I’m remembering his words of wisdom today, and taking time out rest, sleep, and be kind to my body; not minding the grey skies beyond the windows as it’s cosy inside, and refusing to feel guilty for all the things I ‘should’ be doing. I hope that you’re not sick today too, but if you do happen to be feeling under the weather, please be patient with yourself, as your body is busy repairing. ❤ Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo sadly uncredited, via pinterest}

2013 Let’s do this!

lets

Happy New Year everyone! It’s a beautiful sunny start to 2013 with blue skies stretching across London in every direction. I woke late after welcoming the year at a very chilled, elegant dinner party thrown by darling LS, laughing our way from one year to the next as we decided 2013 is going to be gorgeous. I stayed in bed for a while, searching my heart for clues as to my wishes and aspirations as I set my intentions and goals for 2013, and decide upon a plan of action. Eventually the sun pushing through the curtains tempted me out of my nest, so I stretched my full length and sent love to those I care about, before bouncing out of bed and downstairs for coffee.

The sun sends shafts of light through the windows, bathing the room in happy positivity as I sit with my coffee and feel truly grateful. 2013 has just begun, a fresh new chapter waiting to be written, one I intend to embrace with optimism and enthusiasm, to appreciate all those moments of ‘now’ that thread together my story. I am so grateful for the people with whom I share my journey, celebrating friendships and appreciating the opportunities we will meet along the way for lots of love and laughter, creating happy memories. I’m looking forward to the adventures that await and pray that I’ll face the challenges with grace and dignity. I hope the year will teach me to become a kinder, gentler, more patient and accepting version of myself; and that this will enable me to empower others to discover their truth and beauty. I’m wishing for peace and love for everyone, so c’mon 2013, let’s do this! ♥ Blessings & love, Hxx

{Artwork sadly uncredited, via Pinterest}