Looking back..


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings & love, Hxx

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

Joy on a grey day

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

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

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

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

Blessings & love, Hxx


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

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}

Waiting for the storm..


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

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

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

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

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

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

My favourite slice of paradise

PN Kef emblisi pic

I awoke late by the Greek clock, early by the British hour, and my waking thought searched for that peaceful presence, that occupies a space in my heart recently encountered. I had been wandering along, feeling remarkably carefree and unsuspecting of the impending intrusion, and am left floating in the uncertain ocean of possibility, a place I have learned to embrace passionately, for after all it is full of infinite beauty, if we choose to see it.

I eventually found my body, having previously only been aware of my internal territory, and noticed the disparate relationship of my physical topography and the typically unyielding mattress of my austere Greek bed. Sounds of the port slipped through the shutters with the slices of light that had spilt across the crumpled sheet, wrapped around my legs, entwined in a memory. Sighing I summoned some strength and managed to inspire millions of motor neurons to move my body, in order to check the fluctuating Internet status of my abode by opening my emails. I read those I wanted, then sank back into my repose to process my findings until coffee called me, when I dressed swiftly in a faithful pair of denim shorts and vest, to bound down the stairs to greet the lively port and all the characters that make this particular slice of paradise so precious to me.

I wandered around the quay greeting friendly faces and answering the familiar questions (What took you so long? Where have you been? How long are you staying?), until I found Kosta in the quiet shade of his bar, whilst the staff served the tables outside as quietly as possible, so as not to aggravate his hangover. His face cracked into the most beautiful smile of recognition before his headache sharply reminded him of his condition. We laughed at life and hugged tightly despite his temporary fragility, catching up over a cappuccino (me) and water (he), sharing traditional pastries from the local bakery. Aggeliki lived up to her angelic moniker and administered her magical massage to the troublesome spot of Kostas neck that feels the tightest, and we lamented the consequences of age combined with the youthful behaviour of his crazy parties. Kosta surrendered to his struggling body and retired to bed, Aggeliki resumed her responsibilities at the bar, and I sat outside figuring there are worse places to contemplate ones indulgence in temptation, as the cheerful sunshine drenched the peaceful port, illuminating it’s beauty as boats gently traversed the glassy water.

After a while I left my seat on the balcony in search of the preciously acute and hilariously dry observations of Minas. He customarily spends the majority of the day at his favourite table, surveying his restaurant. Surrounded by his team of waiters, he called out across the square at my approach, heralding my arrival for anyone within 100m, and nursing his coke zero assured me that his diabetes is behaving lately. We discussed local politics and recounted stories of our shared histories, noting the changes and lamenting absent friends. We watched the life of the square and Minas’ grumbled for my entertainment, enjoying the audience for acknowledgement of his unique and frequently extreme viewpoints. I left Minas with a cheerful smile with a kiss for the orange juice, and walked around the corner to find Angelos in his office.

Angelos is a serious young man with the weight of responsibility resting on his shoulders, and a photo of his father smiling from beyond the grave on his desk. Our comprehension of the passage of time and our confusion over the specific years in which events occurred, served to remind us of the accelerated speed of time that age bestows upon us. Although at least a year younger than I (and a quarter of a century than Minas), he always makes me feel juvenile with my independent adventures in contrast to his empire building vocation. We put the world to rights, and he tells me to keep travelling and bringing home my stories for his enjoyment. I left him with promises to visit his mother soon and sent some love to his wife and children before sauntering back along the quay with an undeniable hunger for my darling, the sea.

As luck would have it, Makis had a similar craving, so when I popped into the shop on my way back to the apartment, he offered me a lift to his favourite beach; allowing me a quick change of clothes as he sat impatiently with the engine running. The car curled expertly into the curves of the road, just a short distance before our descent amongst the fragrant pines towards the turquoise water sitting, waiting, assuredly faithful, for our adoration. Makis changed in the car, and it was my turn to be impatient as I rushed towards the deliciousness. I paused momentarily to drop my bag on the beach and swap my ray bans for Cressi goggles, before hastily stepping into the water, saving my entering breath to exhale below the surface.

The crystal clear water engulfed me, and it felt as if anything other than bliss was cleansed from my soul, instantly revealing the clarity of this privilege. I swam towards the shelf, clearly marked by the line where aquamarine meets turquoise, inhabited by numerous fish that swim unafraid of the human company that dips into their world. I took a moment to float like a starfish in gratitude, to feel the surface tickle my sun kissed skin, feeling supported by the powerful entity in its reassuring calmness. Having spent the summer in California, enchanted by the ocean, my heart has still pined for my true ‘agapi’, the Ionian sea, with it’s gentle caress and beautiful hues of the heavenly blue spectrum. I submerged completely; lost in that peace that resides within and felt my physiology sigh thankfully, as does the heart in the embrace of a previously estranged lover. I noted my slowed pulse and that internal tranquility one finds when gratitude obliterates any other emotion, before breaking the surface to breathe in deeply the joy of living. I swam across the bay, much to the amusements of Greeks who tend to swim straight out into the darker deeper waters, beyond the rocks and around to neighbouring bays, whilst I cause disruption to the traffic system since I wasn’t born by the water and lack their confidence. I soon found my rhythm, breathing deeply for the long strokes my lengthy limbs prefer, and smiled at the un-phased fish, which loitered nonchalantly in my pathway, showing off their magnificent iridescence in the piercing sun beams. I finished my dip, resuming the star-fish floating position for my finale, before joining Makis and his sister on the beach to top up my tan as the sun sat high above the shady olive trees.

Makis returned to the shop, leaving his towel and flippers for his girlfriend Nancy, who appeared for her swim, bravely venturing beyond the visible rocks, before settling on the beach and into the conversation amongst the locals whose children played at the shoreline. I let the language waft over me as I lay under my panama, feeling the heat on my skin and remembering vocabulary and other trips. My thoughts wandered away from the beach and retraced some recent adventures, exploring new territory and chambers of my heart, slipping through the layers of awareness and comprehension, desire and vulnerability. The afternoon drifted by, as the shade inched towards the shoreline, soon eclipsing the beach, cooling my salt dried skin. Yaya, a French friend that runs the diving school, kindly gave me a lift back to the port, and I wandered down the steps smiling as I noticed my shoulders have dropped several inches after my sea-bathing. I encountered Nikos & Themis passing the bar, and admitted that I’d cheated on the Greek sea with the Pacific Ocean, but that my heart was ‘home’ again, laughing as they teased me good naturedly, but promising to join them for the last buffet at The Thai restaurant. It’s the end of the season here, and as tourism cools, businesses close for the winter. For me it’s the best time to visit; the port is returned to the locals, and as they untie themselves from their shops, bars and restaurants, they have time to relax and enjoy it again.

I’m writing in the port, replete after my Thai dinner and catching up with Anna & Pete (who tend to collectively know all the news in the village). I found a sweet spot at Le Passage, beautiful Eleni’s new business venture, which reflects her chic style and sweet nature, as well as her family’s famous restaurant for locals in the village up the hill. As I sip my tea (Jasmine) looking out over the still dark water, it reflects the pretty lights of the port in a perfectly mirrored image. The yachts are lined up and sit obediently waiting for adventures tomorrow, and the impressive private cruisers jostle for pole position for admiration along the quay. Passing friends greet me with hugs of welcome, and acquaintances nod in recognition; they know that this is my favourite slice of heaven on earth, and that I wherever I travel, I will always find a way ‘home’ again. I have had a gorgeous day, and I have more of the same to look forward to again tomorrow : )) Evlogimeni eimai (I’m blessed) !!

I hope that wherever you are, that you have an opportunity to appreciate your environment and spend time with people that enhance your being too. Blessings & filakia (kisses) ❤ Hxx

{Photo of my slice of Paradise 🙂 Words ~Hayley Darby ©2013}

11th September 2013


Good morning everyone!! This morning I woke reluctantly, I had fallen abruptly out of a pleasant dream, and wishing to return, lay in a somnolent haze, hoping sleep would reclaim me. However, wakefulness had flooded my brain, and no amount of snuggling into the duvet or burying under the pillows was sufficiently effective slumber inducing, so I eventually gave in and grudgingly braved the cold air, wrapped up tightly in a cosy robe and made my way downstairs for coffee. I finally succumbed to autumn; feeling disenchanted by the abandonment of summer, and turned on the heating. Even the boiler grumbled as the coffee machine hastily produced my coffee, and the leaves of the trees rustled in disgruntlement. I quickly returned to my lair, and sat with my knees drawn up to my chest as I sipped at the hot latte, wishing London was sunnier, or I was back in California, or even that I had just slept longer, until I recognised my ingratitude and decided to reframe it. I’m in my cosy bed, with a roof over my head, the boiler works, the house will warm up soon, it’s not raining, I’m meeting dear DC for lunch, at the favourite bistro, I have hot coffee, I’m healthy, I have a beautiful life, I’m so blessed really!

Then I realised the date, and I felt shamefully churlish, because I have so much to be thankful for, and I am alive to know this. On this day 12 years ago, so many lives were prematurely extinguished and the world was shocked by such an outrageous crime, rocking our smug sense of security with such an atrocity. It’s one of those dates we can never forget, and rather like the assassination of JFK for the previous generation, we will all remember exactly where we were when we heard the twin towers had been attacked. And I think of my life since it’s happened, how much I have grown and experienced since September 11, 2001. The privilege of those 12 years denied to those that died, and the grief and loss that their loved ones have borne long after the public mourning of our sense of peace has ceased.

So today, I am of course respectful in my remembrance, and my thoughts are with all those whose lives were thrown into chaos and turmoil as they became bereaved. Yet I am also grateful for the moment of perspective, an opportunity to look back on 12 years of living; the experiences and achievements, my travels and relationships, my education and career, the laughter and the tears, my growth and understanding, the sunrises and sunsets I have watched, and all the damp, dark, chilly autumns I have witnessed since that one, in 2001. That day when the world felt unsteadied, rather more fragile, and vulnerable than it had done before, and left so much devastation for so many. Let us not forget those who were lost, or those who suffered, or suffer still with their loss; but let us be grateful for the lives we are living, and the chance to experience this precious existence, every single day we wake up. Blessings & love ❤ Hxx

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

My first surf lesson (20th July 2013)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo & words: Hayley Darby ©2013



Good morning everyone!! Today I woke early, before my body was ready, but my mind was busy and insisted, so surrendering to wakefulness I found myself washed up on the pillow feeling exhausted. I lay for a while, just wishing sleep would reclaim me, waiting to wake up feeling refreshed and energized, but today is not one of those days, so I gave in and got up for coffee.

It’s a cool, grey start to the day in London, so I crept back to bed with my latte to sip it slowly and watch the cloudy sky as it threatened to cry. I had a lovely day yesterday; attending a first birthday party of a much prayed for miracle child, before meeting a friend I rarely see since he’s a professional tennis player on tour most of the time. I think perhaps my busy day just didn’t have time for self-indulgent feelings of sadness for a situation I cannot change, or the frustration and anger mixed up in the sense of helplessness as I watch someone I love drowning in shallow water they could easily stand up in. And yet it seems those feelings found me, having bided their time, and caught me defenseless whilst sleeping. The pain seeped through the cracks of the protective layers carefully constructed, winding their way round my heart and squeezing it until the tears rolled down my face as I let go of illusions of bravery and stoic aspirations.

Sometimes it’s too hard to stay strong relentlessly, so I sat with the sadness awhile; unfolding the layers, feeling the textures, seeing the flaws I cannot correct, the worn fibres and stubborn stains. I bunched the anger and grief up in my fists, then smoothed out the wrinkles of frustration and regrets, I poured salt water on historic wounds and wished it had all been different. Time passed and tears ran out, and suddenly I became aware of my breath and the rest of the day waiting patiently. So I sighed deeply and accepted things the way they are, that the changes I cannot make are not my responsibility and that no matter how hard that is to believe, it’s an immovable fact, with no way through, round it or over it. And I saw the day with all it’s potential, the preparation I must make and the progress beckoning. So I carefully folded away those feelings I couldn’t ignore, and having examined and accepted them, put them back in the drawer. Today I will be gentle, I will not expect too much of myself or pretend that I am stronger than I am, but I will be brave and I will not dwell on the pain anymore. If you’re feeling tender too, please be kind to yourself, you can be stronger and productive tomorrow. Blessings & love Hxx

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



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}


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}