Blurred signposts: pink ribbons, white rabbits, orange bras

depression / Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

I had an important hospital appointment yesterday at the Breast Clinic. Tests, examinations, a scan for which I thankfully got a resounding all clear. But it wasn’t a day to be sniffed at. Not least because the relief of good news can force us to forge forwards without really taking care to collect and protect ourselves from the wit-ending worry we’ve been straining under. I, for example, felt so pumped after my good news I decided to head for a speedy lunch before back to work and a meeting. The result? I promptly fainted onto a male stranger’s lap as he was quietly eating some noodles making a terrific crunch as I smashed into his bench and my head hit his knees.

I wish there was a wittier end to the story, rather than a bruised back and a long-lasting sense of humiliation and discombobulation on my part, but the humour is only there if I tell it like it was an adventure not a black out: in a brash way, preferably with actions. In reality I’m wondering if my head was teaching me a lesson, my brain saying: there’s only so much stressful preoccupation I can endure these days on no sleep Mrs, and this one could do with more than 30 minutes to collect yourself, so if you are going to charge around as if super-powered underwear will protect you from everything in the world I am going to stop you in your tracks by turning off the lights!

My poor head though, I can’t blame it for having a tantrum. It turns out, worrying about dying young and everything in your life falling apart finally and forever is, actually, just too much for any tiny mind (well, my tiny mind at least).

Especially a twisty dark tiny mind which tiptoes round the tipping point. For example, I caught my brain seeing this as a perfectly logical analysis last week as I waited for my referral letter: because the last few months have been stressful, my son has been sick and things have been feeling so tough it is both unthinkable, being seriously/terminally ill, but also an inevitable conclusion to my life. What depressive conditioning!

It felt for a while there that my capacity for making, or even seeing, choices open to me and recognising where I may have an agency for changing anything myself was fused shut and rotten, like a broken root-canal. And yet, though in a response to powerlessness we assert our desire for choices, when chips are down and dirty enough, choices themselves are the worst thing of all. They become fascinatingly frightening and elusive: banal refuges and untameable monsters for us to pick a careful route between.

Before the appointment my mind had been a blur. Blurred like a Gerhard Richter painting. My thoughts razor clear slices of life exquisitely rubbed out round the edges, or outrageously down the middle, normal scenes obscured by tilted glass, reality and clarity placed near enough to smell it but shown only viewed from askance.

Worse, though I am normally pretty clear that I don’t (or can’t) believe in symbolism (divine or otherwise) from the universe, my mind’s eye was wearing very wonky glasses. I couldn’t sleep without a montage of critical illness cover documents I may or may not have signed zipping past my eyes, I couldn’t dream without wisps of pink ribbon everywhere around me, and ghosts of past To Do Lists turning up to berate me for plans unfinished and all my failures: social, economic, health wise, intellectual, creative – white rabbits all in their crushing fury at my endless waste of time. Christ, I couldn’t even walk into the kitchen or turn on the TV without hearing or seeing tales of tits, orphans, coffins or dead mothers.

I am told this is a variant on a phenomenon called the ‘Baader-Meinhof syndrome’ although that is more clearly a cognitive function in which a novel or obscure and previously undiscovered idea is presented, and then you realise it is not new at all because everywhere you look it is glaring out at you. And it can be linked with ideas of the Zeitgeist, whereby a similar idea or way of thinking becomes prevalent as if we all share an unconscious.

It is also, the seeing such phenomena as signs of how life might turn out given mercifully by some deus ex machina, raging bullshit, which we should really avoid. For me I think my perceptions of reality and my imagination were bleeding into each other and doing an intensely provocative dance which was certainly gliding in the direction of madness.

My field of vision became a sponge for ‘signs’ but my sense of self had just enough ‘sense’ to move on and instead I immersed myself in the sort of silly illusion of choice which is just as distressing as making massive life changes. Lucky (over) thinking and tempting fates. I became focussed and obsessed by which bra I should wear and properly upset and wired about it. A sorry sight I was, standing in front of my smalls drawer, rendered speechless and immobile in the face of my underwear.

Choices, monstrous choices all ears of corn and strands of straw breaking my back. Should I go sensible, strappy, attractive? Should my bangers be nondescript, fashionable, functional? Would it be better to wear a breastfeeding bra or under-wired balcony? And what about colour: black, white, orange, nude?

Should I display my d├ęcolletage defiantly and gloriously, hold them up on a mango coloured lacy platter hoping that this last minute cherishing would protect them from harm? Or would that be a rather sordid, and impertinent response… a challenge to ye Gods who may think such frivolity worthy of punishment? Would the doctor think I was a sexual menace if I wore scarlet? And spinning further out of orbit, I began to wonder, Gods aside, which bra would make the consultant surgeon be nicest to me, even if it couldn’t guarantee good news?

In the end, after some wise words from a midwife and sonographer I wore an orange bra which made me feel fleetingly good about myself. This, I decided, as I made my way on wobbly legs, was probably as good a way of making a choice (in a situation where I was ultimately powerless) as I was going to get.

As a CODA, and perhaps I should do a full post on this but it goes without saying, firstly the NHS were absolutely marvellous and kind and nothing was embarrassing or awful at all at the bangers clinic. And secondly, ladies and gents reading, always check your knockers – this is the only thatwoman – her who went early and her who got checked, even if the news isn’t so marvellous, that you ever want to be x

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