What it feels like to be getting better – crap!


The quiet world of being a recovering brain haemorrhage victim was livened up somewhat over the last Bank Holiday weekend.

Not only was there a house full of people, lively and humourous ones too, but there was also a list of potential engagements which, for once, I decided not to turn down.

Well, my neurologist is now saying that my progress is “very reassuring” and that, as we know, is medical speak for something even more optimistic.

A feeling of euphoria followed the weird feeling of depression that took me over when I heard that I might actually be getting better. One of the commentators on here, who has been very helpful at the various ups and downs of this condition, said that is was a normal thing for someone receiving good medical news to feel depressed. She said that it was because good medical news never comes your way unless you had previously had bad medical news.

She has got it right, yet again.

When I started to think about recovery, I was thrown back into thoughts of how dangerous my condition has been. When you are in mid-battle with something life-threatening I suppose you don’t focus on the trauma, just the fight.

I thought I was just being neurotic that when all around me were celebrating my medical news I was plunged into a feeling of anxiety and, yes, depression.

My thoughts were filled with all those “what ifs” that you try to keep at bay when you are in a crisis situation.

I think now is the first time that I have really taken on board that I was near to death six months ago and that I have, in reality, been seriously ill ever since.

I have fought against it all the way – I have hated being told to be careful, I have resented taking all those drugs, and been deeply frustrated by the many things I haven’t been able to do. Somehow, underneath my resistance, there was a feeling that I was fine, that I would be able to get on with a normal life if people would just leave me alone.

It wasn’t true, of course.

So when I got that email with the preliminary findings from my latest brain scan, I was relieved, of course, but it was then also, when it really hit me that I might not have made it.

That email didn’t actually stop my head from feeling permanently concussed of course. Some of my friends have assumed that everything is now fine when the reality is that I will probably feel ill for a long time yet.

The great and late Kenneth Williams, star of all those Carry On films, would undoubtedly have a wise crack about me not being able to bend down without getting a strange feeling in my head but, joking or not, it is true.

The depression has gone and now the temptation is that I am recovered – yay! -and that I can now do anything I want.

I went to see the Globe Theatre’s touring open air production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors on Thursday night in Brighton. I love Shakespeare, I know the play well and really enjoyed the imaginative and playful production which had one actor playing both twin brothers the Boys from Syracuse, and one actor playing both twin servants. It was a celebration of the arts of theatre as much as an early Shakespearean study of identity, insanity and human relationships. I loved it but when I walked back to the train station, the pavement tilted and zoomed for me in a truly alarming fashion.

It was only a play, I know, but it was a big journey for me.

The next day I went to a bar-b-que at a neighbour’s house, all my best friends from around here were there and it was a gentle, civilized affair with humour and observation in equal measure. As with the play, it was a simple event but the walk back was a struggle and the surges of tiredness really surprizing and inexplicable.

Then the house filled up with visitors, theatrical types up for joking, banter and fun. I joined in as if I hadn’t been ill except far too often my words were held up with my new, brain-damaged, stammer. It changes what you say and how you say it. Involuntary pauses transform the timing of a joke so a new technique develops and, maybe, if that is possible, I grew a little louder than before.

Then on Sunday, I went on a half-day course in Tai-Chi in a park, by a lake, in the sun, some twenty miles away.

Taking it slowly, sitting down when my head started to pound, I went through the 66 moves and, yet again with this most subtle of martial art forms, I discovered new things. It is amazing what follows when you discover how to place the heel of our back foot. Why did it take so long to work this out? Well that is part of its fascination.

I felt terrible of course on Monday morning and I nearly cried out of doing my usual two man Mandarin Chinese lesson but the brain rose to the occasion, weirdly and, for someone as naive as me, surprizingly.

It was as if the brain really is just one big muscle which needs flexing and stretching before going into action. In fact, this lesson was probably the best one for me since the haemorrhage.

I was even well enough afterwards to go to my Monday night Tai Chi class and to try and put into practise what I had learnt the day before. It worked too. I remembered that back foot heel and it unleashed all sort of surprizes and I even sent a big man flying!

Then, of course, the tiredness. I have felt tired before in my life, obviously, but nothing like the tiredness I have these days. It is like that moment before you go in for a general anaesthetic when the pre-med has taken hold of you. There is no fighting it, just a powerful feeling that you have to go wherever it takes you.

That and the pounding head – this is what it feels like to be getting better!

I am not complaining, I have had fun and even written a few more poems, but it would be so very good, to know that, one day, I will wake up without these sensations that dictate to me every minute of the day, making me think, all the time, about that central organ, my brain.

6 Comments

  1. lots of love to you!
    I’m so glad you had a nice weekend doing things you love with people you love! x

  2. Thanks Bridge…..yea, it was a bit of a break-through time I think. So nice to have your help too. x

  3. I suppose it’s a bit W C Fields “better than the alternative”, and I can imagine that it is hard to remember just how things were at the best and at the worst.

    I suppose the other thing is that we are often defined by illnesses (a DPH once told me that some specialists wouldn’t recognise a real person if they fell over one: they only recognise their ‘bit’ which they understand very well). Maybe that’s why we do say that we are “feeling ourselves again” because we feel less managed by our illnesses.

    It’s been a long time, but I’m sure it’s been worth waiting for – and ‘Comedy of Errors’? Well, it ought to be a laugh anyway!

  4. It has been a long time, six, nearly seven months now, but I hope I didn’t sound self-pitying because in many ways it has been a great time – an awakening in fact.

    There is nothing quite like stripping away the facades of life and looking at what really makes you tick.

    There are so many things, if it doesn’t sound too crazy, so many things that I have discovered over this time that could even make me think that brain haemorrhage was worth it.

    There is no going back any way and I am more than just merely alive, I am full of life.

    Just a pity about the brain! It has done its job, that haemorrhage, and now I just want to get on with things without that pounding in my head.

  5. Colin all I can say is your still an inspiration to many even with that horrible head injury.
    So keep strong mate. After all you have to learn all sixteen Kungfu patterns and we have to learn to speak Chinese better then Elizabeth Schofield.

    Cheers Neil

  6. Thanks Neil,

    I am not sure about that Elizabeth Scurfield, the “holier than thou” voice of Teach Yourself Chinese will be any kind of incentive but our Chinese sessions have definitely spurred me on through this period when my brain kept telling me to turn cabbage!

    Those 16 Kungfu patterns, well, I so want to get there and you have been the inspiration there, wushu laoshi, but I may have to settle for that Walking Stick Pattern but I am not going anywhere before I have learnt the broad sword pattern – it might, if all else fails, be a useful was to cut my own head off.

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