Looking back..

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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}

Dear 2016..

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Dear 2016,

You have been brutal, by far the most difficult, painful, expensive, terrifying, sad and challenging year of my life. You commenced with life-changing, emergency spinal surgery (x2); and culminated with the heart-wrenching demise of my beloved father, cruelly snatched from life, so suddenly and unexpectedly. I have gritted my teeth determinedly, bitten my tongue patiently, and cried several oceans, unreservedly. My body aches daily, my mind worries anxiously, and my heart is repeatedly smashed to smithereens as the waves of grief crash over me. Yet, I am grateful, you have been a year of my life, I have learnt many painful lessons, and I am ready for 2017.

You have been a year of struggles and loss, but loving light has pierced the darkest depths of despair. Every day, as my world fell apart, the sun still rose, and the world kept on turning, even though I had wished it would stop and let me step off, momentarily. I noticed sunlight dancing gracefully in the leaves of a tunnel of trees, as I drove from the hospice, blinded by tears I couldn’t curtail. And once as I crested the brow of a hill, overwhelmed with sorrow, strong shafts of light poured through the clouds, reaching down from the heavens to steady me. When I felt hopeless, rainbows magically appeared to comfort and encourage me, and when I was tired and defeated, sunsets gently soothed and nourished me.

Amongst all the difficulties, angels have emerged to help, support and care for me, friends and family who held me when I fell apart, and picked up the pieces of my life as they lay scattered around me. I have been enveloped by kindness, as I learned to walk after surgery, and again as I learned to walk in a world without my Daddy. Dear friends have shared their understanding that the gaping hole in my life will never be healed, but that I will come to accept its presence, and learn to live by filling it with never-ending love and happy memories. I am eternally grateful for these loving souls that have shared my journey.

My mornings greet me unfailingly with the wet nosy kisses and joyful tail wags, of unconditional love. My dogs have been my best medicine, strongest motivators, and most comforting, loyal companions, through everything. Because of them, I have found the strength to get up and embrace the day, and found myself admiring beautiful dawns, when I thought I wanted to hide in sleep. They have licked away my salty tears, snuggled lovingly into my broken body, and found smiles in my face when I didn’t think there were any. They have silently acknowledged my pain and let me bury my face in their warm furry necks to weep, sought me out for snuggles and cuddles, and accepted the changes they couldn’t understand, patiently. Leo is such a loving boy, and continues to fight valiantly against the life threatening disease you bestowed upon him. Poppy is becoming affectionate and sweet, learning to trust and settle, despite the many moves and upheaval. And Platon remains my rock, protective and patient, unswervingly loyal and devoted, even when earthquakes unnerved him.

2016, you have been horrible, the world has lost some amazingly talented souls, you enabled Brexit, and voted in a disastrously dangerous choice of American president. Many desperate refugees have drowned fleeing war torn countries, terrorists have ripped apart the lives of many and their families, and atrocities continue to be inflicted on innocents as their homes are destroyed by militants. The world is full of hostility and cruelty, it is plagued by anger and swamped in sorrow, but light still shines through the darkness, beauty blooms amidst despair and misery, courage clings on through adversity, hope remains steadfastly, and love is still stronger than anything. Please tell your successor 2017, to bring it on, I am ready!!

Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo credit: The talented, Maria Koutala, Kefalonia. Words by 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}

Hello Autumn

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Good morning! Today I woke late, as Platonas (my puppy) who had been snuggled into my legs, stood up to peer over at me, angling his head inquisitively, before turning several times to snuggle back into position, possibly a fraction closer than previously. Autumn has arrived on our favourite Greek isle, suddenly switching after lovely late summer days, still swimming in the clear turquoise sea. We lay listening to the rain drumming rapidly on the roof of our attic apartment, a comforting melody when you’re cosy and warm, wrapped in a duvet with a cuddly puppy. We live high on the side of a mountain, with wonderful views over the sea to the next island, accompanied by a beautiful breeze in the summer months, that becomes a raging wind when the weather changes. It whips around the balcony, shaking the olive trees, tinkling the feng shui charm the previous tenant left hanging above the door, and blowing over our fragrant pots of herbs that sit on steps. It rattles the loose shutters, and drives the rain hard against the windows, even managing to push water under the French doors (we have 3 sets), that seeps into sizeable puddles until I remember to dam them with old towels.

All of this, along with the realization that the storm has cut our electricity, kept us happily ensconced in our cuddle fest, as I curled around this bundle of love with the softest ears; until after a while, he sighed and stretched, before leaping off the bed and trotted into the kitchen to ring the goat bell I’ve attached to the door. This means he wants to go out to the toilet, this means I have to get up and get dressed, this means the wind is going to push me as the rain streams down my face and trickles down the back of my neck, this means it’s time to walk in the puddles with my puppy.

I unwrapped my body from the duvet, and finding some cosy slippers and an oversized old jumper by the bed, I wandered into the kitchen, where Platonas waited expectantly. I opened the door to reveal the reality of the weather, and as he stepped back, looking up at me, thought momentarily that perhaps his call of nature wasn’t so urgent. Until I shut the door, and he immediately nosed the brass goat bell attached to the handle, and stood looking up at me with pools of love and trust, questioningly. I threw on some warm clothes, and dug out my duck down jacket for the first time since May, as he sat waiting patiently. Then we set off cautiously down the steps, righting the pots on the way, before trotting off up the country lane to sniff favourite spots and perfume plants with ‘eau de Platonas’.

We have a regular route that takes about 15 minutes; first we pass the field with the sheep, and our landlord’s garden with chickens and rabbits that hop happily around the lemon tree, orange tree, and (my favourite) the fig tree. Platonas looks longingly at the rabbits, it has to be said he wants to play with anyone and everything (other dogs, cats, goats, birds, grasshoppers, butterflies, hedgehogs, geckos, wasps) but the rabbits call his hound instinct undoubtedly, and he strikes a pointers pose. Next we pass the graveyard, and at the church steps, Platonas becomes terribly devout pulling towards the call of frankincense, and I suspect the mice that nestle religiously. It’s a pretty church, painted lemon with white window frames and steps, elegant arches, iron gates and an open bell tower, it must have once been the heart of our small village but in the absence of a regular priest, now only serves to mark the circle of life with funerals, weddings and baptisms.

We are distracted next by Millie, an elderly dog who barks at all that pass her family’s house. She knows us, but it doesn’t make a difference, she’s too well programmed. Platonas would love to play, and after two or three daily walks in this direction since spring, still hopefully advances; but she’s an old lady, not even slightly interested in an enthusiastic puppy. We pass the square, a place to meet and talk as children play safely by fragrant flower beds, on balmy summer evenings; deserted now as the rain runs in rivulets down the stone patio, and lightening briefly brightens the sky. After a few more steps the sky rumbled with thunder (or Zeus rearranging the furniture, as my friend Hilda describes it), and although Platon glances at me for reassurance, he’s unafraid and trots along happily sniffing for lizards in the rocks. I guess his stint living abandoned in the wilderness gave him some courage, as he must have witnessed the spring storms in an exposed environment. The thunder and lightening don’t really bother him, but the heavy rain certainly isn’t his favourite thing, luckily it has eased off for our walk this morning.

We continued on our way through the village, past the garden that smells so magical in the evenings, as stocks perfume the air, mingled with the honeysuckle that’s crept back into the hedgerows to accompany the jasmine. For now, we can just smell the rain, and the damp earth, as drops bounce off the leaves and Platon sniffs gleefully at all the scents this change in weather brings. We pass the ever so elegant, but empty, big house in the overgrown terraced garden, it’s shutters painted a gentle duck egg blue, to compliment the sandy colours of it’s old stone walls, with matching iron gates at the foot of all those steps that lead to the veranda, waiting for someone to grace them. We pass the holiday cottages, almost empty at the end of the season, and we walk along the edge of the road where the valley drops away steeply, full of goats we don’t see but hear as their bells tinkle merrily. We get close to the bins, where the cats usually hang out and tease Platonas with their tails twitching playfully, before we head back up the hill, him pouncing on acorns as if they were big fat beetles, and sniffing the rocks after any of the interesting creatures that climb them (he would too, if he weren’t on the lead).

When we get home, Platonas bounces up the stairs and sits on the doorstep, waiting for his person with the key. Then he patiently let’s me wipe his feet and rub him vigorously with a towel, before leaping onto the sofa, resuming his curled up position, waiting for me to join him for a cuddle with my iPad to write this. We watch the rain, and laugh at the rumbling thunder as wait for our electricity to return, looking forward to a pot of tea. Meanwhile, we agree that we’re going to enjoy autumn, with all it’s rainy walks, changing colours, and sweet smells as well as scented candles and snugly cuddles. Life is sweet 🙂 Hxx

Words & photo of Platonas snuggling this morning, by me ~ Hayley Darby © 2014

Letting go…

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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}

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}

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}

Grateful heart

beachtoday

This morning I slipped gently into consciousness as delicious slices of sunlight streamed through the gaps in the shutters, extending their invitation to grasp the morning and embrace another beautiful autumnal day. I lay under the sanctuary of the mosquito net for a while, contemplating my blessings as wakefulness crept over me and vignettes of my retreating dream flickered across my mind in farewell. I had slept soundly, and woke smiling, from some place in the depths, where the knowledge that everything is exactly as it is meant to be had retained a hold on my memory, restoring my equilibrium after a little ‘niggle’ had wormed its way under my skin yesterday. You know sometimes that feeling that something is amiss, but you can’t quite identify the reason, or even put your finger exactly on the concern, just a little bothersome ‘niggle’ you can’t quite ignore. Well whatever mine was, it had vanished this morning, as if something stole into my dreams to reassure me, and I woke confident that whatever needed to be resolved, in the halls of my heart, had been.

I swept back the net, feeling quite regal after waking under the swathed canopy, and found the sunny pool on the tiled floor to bathe my toes in as I got up to stretch and open the doors to the balcony. I stood outside for a few moments, appreciating the warm sunlight on my shoulders, and the peaceful quiet of this little Greek village in my favourite corner of paradise. A few goat bells tinkled in the distance, the birds chattered in the nearby trees, and I heard my heart sing gratefully as I looked over the olive groves to the sea. I feel very blessed to have this opportunity and this place to escape to, to be alone as much as I need to be; to take time to listen to my heart, and ask it questions that only arrived once I gave it space to answer them. Although in many ways I’m none the wiser of the direction I’m heading, I feel more comfortable with the uncertainty. I’m practicing living in the moment, trying not to expect too much from the future, and allowing life to surprise me; which of course it does anyway, it’s just nicer to be open to it rather than resist the curve balls because I’m sticking too rigidly to where I think I should be. Letting go and going with the flow isn’t always easy though is it? I know that I have previously let stubbornness and stupidity masquerade as dedication and determination, and hopefulness cloud by judgment when I wanted things so badly

However, here where life is simple, it’s somehow easier to observe ones emotions rather than dwell in them; life has a gentler pace and it’s easier to see the wood from the trees. I am, in fact, literally surrounded by trees, twisted, wizened olive trees with their shady, silvery leaves that shimmer in the breeze, and tall, noble cypress trees, standing proudly with stretched shadows in the afternoon sun. The boughs of citrus trees hang heavy with colourful oranges and lemons, and bright red pomegranates along the roadside shine brightly against the clear blue skies of autumn. The countryside is beautiful, peppered with crumbling stone walls, adorned with honeysuckle and jasmine along twisting lanes, lined with long summer grasses that bask in the glow of sunlight. My ten minute walk to the village for coffee in the morning is as equally enticing as my fluffy cappuccino, and the walk to the next village to buy provisions is as rewarding with coastal views and elongated shadows as the ripe red tomatoes, and creamy Greek yoghurt.

Of course the jewel for me is the sea, spectacular clear water that stretches from aquamarine, through turquoise to teal, and eventually the darkest navy. Swimming one meets all sorts of pretty fish, whom are unabashed and unafraid of visiting humans to their world below the surface, where interesting patterns and rock formations can be seen clearly on the sea-bed at considerable depths. It’s the most peaceful place I know, and as I swim rhythmically my heart-beat slows to appreciate it. I cannot resist floating like a starfish in the setting sun, as the water sparkles like stars swimming around me, letting the salty buoyancy support my body as I surrender blissfully. I dream of this when I’m not here to enjoy it.

This paradise is filled with life’s simplest pleasures, and here I don’t crave all those things that seem so important in London, I’m satisfied with a few possessions (OK, admittedly my laptop is one of them!) and I guess I’m content with less because I feel so appreciative of what’s here naturally. I enjoy the simplest meals of boiled eggs and toast, feta or tuna salads and even cheese and tomato sandwiches, which somehow here taste absolutely divine; and my days pass by quietly reading, writing, walking and swimming. Here I feel so full of gratitude for my surrounding beauty, that it seems to eclipse the need to have, or indeed be, anything more. This is the gift of gratitude, and I find it here so easily, but the wonderful thing is, wherever we are, there is always a supply of it, because it’s carried in the hallways of the heart. Blessings & love ❤ Hxx

{Photo taken by me, the last to leave the beach.. again!! Words, also by me ~Hayley Darby © 2013}

Autumn morning

love autumn
Good morning everyone!! This morning I was awoken by thunder, ‘Zeus moving the furniture upstairs’ abruptly dragged me from sleep, to leave me lying staring up at the gauzy mosquito net as I found my bearings. The rain clattering at the windows and the wind howling round the villa, bending the cypress trees and shaking the olive trees, giving me a quick indication of the cause of my disturbance. So I lay in the half-light listening to the weather, and my heart beat as it slowed to a regular rate; wondering if sleep would reclaim me, and return me to the dreams from which I had been so rudely interrupted. The chill in the air caressed an exposed shoulder, gracing it with goosebumps before I snuggled back under the covers; heavy blankets weighing assuredly on my body, pressing me into the mattress. I let myself sink slowly from the surface of consciousness, and watched the light fade to find sweet oblivion and the gate to my dreams opened again.

At a much later hour, I awoke again to find the villa still shaking with the wind’s fury, which gave me an opportunity to appreciate how cosy and smug I felt, as I let wakefulness slowly wash over me. I slipped out from under the mosquito net, finding some thick socks to pad downstairs for some green tea, and settled with my laptop, to relax on the ample sofa. I addressed some correspondence and after a skype call noticed that the sun was trying to break through the clouds, so smiling, I dressed quickly and walked up the hill to Liz & Joes’ for coffee. The coolness in the air, heralds new scents along the lane, the honeysuckle and jasmine replaced by a damp earthy smell , complimented by the wood smoke that circles gracefully from a neighbour’s chimney. I met Nikos on the road, who laments the sea is too choppy for fishing, and we discuss his plans for garden maintenance and olive picking. We’re in agreement that autumn asserts a slower-pace, but with a responsibility to prepare for winter, and a reminder to appreciate the clement weather that allows us.

A large cappuccino soon put a smile on my face, as I sat outside to enjoy the sun that plays peek-a-boo amongst the clouds, and weigh down papers that flutter in the breeze, with the salt and pepper pots. The wind has dropped significantly, but the silvery leaves of the olive trees still shimmer as their boughs are swayed, and the vine leaf canopy, creates a dancing shadow on the road. The café is quiet, and I sat peacefully with my thoughts, enjoying not having to be anywhere in particular, or even have a plan. A pause to enjoy autumn, as delicious as my cappuccino, with it’s fluffy lightness, perfectly complimented by a balancing bitterness, and its rich comforting aroma. Just letting mellow autumn swell my heart with nostalgic tendencies and enjoy really being in this moment of transformation. I hope that you let autumn under your skin, and take a moment in your busy life to notice its beauty, and become part of the process. Blessings & love, Hxx

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

Autumnal acceptance

shoulderr

Good morning everyone!! Today I woke slowly, gradually drifting to the surface of consciousness, carrying contentedness into wakefulness from somewhere sweet in my sleepiness. I lay for a while in the gentle opaque light of another cloudy day, listening to the gentle patter of raindrops on the skylight, and let my thoughts wander towards autumn. Something has changed, and I realise I’m ready to let the last rays of summer slip through my fingers, to embrace the changing season. I suspect that after my trip to Cali, the arrival of cooler days in London felt too abrupt, but after a few sunny days on my Greek island, I feel replete with summery memories to face the cooler, darker days; as if my summer was incomplete without some Greek sun. Βεβαίως, φυσικά!

I stirred slowly, cosy under the heavy blankets, reluctant to expose my warm skin to the cool morning, but the thought of coffee became too tempting to resist; so I dressed quickly in a favourite blue sweater, and soft yoga pants, to keep snug despite the elements. I dashed through the heavy raindrops, noticing how they patterned the pool with their pretty concentric ripples, and jumped in the jeep (kindly lent), to drive up the hill to Liz & Joes for my grande cappuccino. There is a mellow atmosphere in the cafe today, the gentle flow of locals and tourists alike discussing the weather, and the conflicting forecasts. The rain falls steadily and persistently, but the absence of wind makes it feel quite calming, and I’m happily resigned to a day writing in coffee shops, noticing the nostalgia of autumn, and the slower pace it brings.

I ventured down to the port, where the choppy water bounced the few remaining yachts around their moorings. The quay was quiet, the rain bounced in puddles, chairs and tables sat desserted, canopies were drawn down, and waiters stood in doorways, watching the arrival of φθινόπωρο – fthinoporo (autumn) in the harbour. For them the end of the summer means a welcome rest, and for many a return to families and homes on the mainland. Autumn is after all a time for retreat, as nature gently turns within, to work on internal transformation, invisible till the spring. As the trees shed their leaves, maybe it’s also time for us to relinquish expectations, and observe our thoughts and feelings; maybe this is what makes it the season of the soul, a valuable time to pause and contemplate our journey. Wishing you a beautiful October day, whatever your geographic location, and hope that you find beauty whatever season you happen to find yourself in. Blessings & love, Hxx

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