The People We Used To Be

It’s been five weeks since the heart attack and three weeks since the diagnosis of urachal cancer. Some of the aftercare has been tremendous. Some has been piss poor. It hit me again today that one area where the aftercare is non existent is around the mental and emotional input after the surgery/diagnosis.

Today I went for my first full session of cardio rehab circuits. Last week the rehab nurse phoned me for our weekly chat. She’s great with a sizeable supply of empathy but the conversation is entirely of a practical nature. (How am I finding the tablets? Have I sorted out my monthly blood pressure checks? Have I increased my daily walk to a brisk pace?) I asked her when I could return to the gym but she said I needed a fitness assessment first. She squeezed me in the following day and decided I was fit enough to join the circuits class.

There were 12 of us in the group: 8 men and 4 women. I was at the younger end of the cohort. The trainer led us through a warm up and then we did a circuit of 12 stations, spending 2 minutes at each. My third station was the trampette. I was semi stepping, semi jumping and I suddenly realised that my eyes were filling up with tears. Nobody noticed and I soon stopped. A couple of stations later and I was doing some bicep curls with 1kg dumbbells. The tears started again and this time they didn’t stop. I think some people noticed but nobody said anything and I think I was grateful for that. I became stuck in a time that was only 8 weeks ago. Back then I was at my gym doing bicep curls with the 17.5kg dumbbells.

I did the rest of the circuit: the stepper, the cross trainer, the bike, the imaginary punch bag. All in all, I quite enjoyed it. There was a bit of a gap afterwards as the nurse took our blood pressure one by one and then laid the chairs out in a large circle. I’m a therapist. I’ve done my share of encounter groups and process platforms. I assumed we’d be talking. Wrong. The personal trainer talked and started a brainstorm about the benefits of exercise. He was a good presenter but after a couple of minutes I zoned out. I started noticing my fellow circuiters. I thought back to the bicep curls and wondered “Who am I now?” I wondered the same about my 11 peers and who were the people we used to be. I feel different so assumed they do too. What has become of our old self image and how is our new one being constructed?

The trainer asked, “How does exercise help our mental state?” My attention returned to the room. I nearly spoke. The woman who outdid me on the treadmill replied, “It can make you feel good about yourself”. The trainer gave her a thumbs up and then the nurse took over and reminded us to take our medication. The group therapy was done and dusted.

Physically I’m feeling fine. Almost back to normal. Psychologically I’m still in no man’s land. Everything has changed and my anchors have become detached. I’m lucky in that I’ve got good friends and family who will help build my new anchors. But it strikes me as odd that you can go through a major life and death event and whilst the time and money is there to attend to the physical, the emotional is completely ignored. We were introduced to their “process timetable” which ran from P1 to P4. The circuits class is P3. I was left thinking that at least the offer of some counselling would make a useful P5.

No Ps for that. Blood pressure – good. Cholesterol – excellent. Head – fucked.

9 thoughts on “The People We Used To Be”

  1. The professionals seldom warn you how physical trauma like surgery or life threatening conditions affect your state of mind. You have to get used to yourself as a different person and it’s really hard to get your head round it. It takes time to accommodate the new you. You’ll get there but gradually, a bit at a time. Be kind to yourself!

  2. I totally with you on those feelings. I had a 5 line letter describing the most harrowing six months of my life this week in such a matter of fact way
    No attention to the trauma of planning your funeral most nights inbetween every test and the sheer loss of energy and yes physical pain after major surgery and coming undone was not described as a medical surgery but a superficial wound! Felt like something out of Monty Pythons Holy Grail sketch
    Being in a place for 5 days where everyone was dying has affected me hugely and returning but yes Mark I’m making a good recovery they say and that’s it. You do lie awake like I am now and think loads. Much love how hard it all is

  3. I so understand what you are saying Mark. We parents are introduced to our new selves as soon as we approach LA’s for support or advice. ‘We’ ‘I’ are… gone forever. Till a new person/intervention.. and we are born again in anothers eyes.

    From that point we become someone else…repeatedly. and the someone else we become is manipulated by each new transaction. No matter how hard we try to stay who we have learned to believe we are…we are reshaped.

    Throw into the mix a serious illness..or other floor shifting life crises and all starts to wobble in a terrifying way. Our extended family is our strength ? Auntie/Uncle this or that – helps keeps us straight on who we were…are? Family is our bannister to keep us in touch with ourselves. But for too many they have gone

    When a crises earthquake is thrown into the mix, a LA that may have been pretty indifferent to all for a very long time -.will rush in like storm troopers dressed in full kit.. ‘WE’ are thrown aside.

    ‘We’ assigned – redesigned again. Emptied out.

    In the better old days …care reviews would contain a little sensitivity and the best new worker tried to achieve some understanding of us as a family.

    Now review seemes to be solely around how much of the community support costs can be pushed on to NHS – ‘we’ – as a health need…just a number, in pounds shillings and pence. A very slippery slope indeed ?

    We are now just a pathology with on costs… and we may or may not exist…at all.. today..or..

    tomorrow ?

  4. Bless you. It’s so sad you have had to deal with this but I hope you are feeling better and that you will also get the support you need.
    You have had a lot to deal with as a Parent/Carer and I feel even though we have to deal with that and feel we are strong, but it takes a toll on us and we just carry on but the thing is we are not strong enough to the constant battles we have to deal with especially in this day and again. But we are actually amazing what we have to contend with. You are an amazing man. Thinking of you.

  5. A couple of my colleagues (an art therapist and a dramatherapist) went on a visit to our pain management team recently. Of their 250 plus referrals a month they said that 75% have had an emotional trauma. They have to listen to the most horrendous stories and stay empathic, which they seem to do well. Sadly, they have no clinical supervision to help them deal with this, and the potential for vicarious trauma. There may be a niche for us there, if we can be released to do this. It is so hard for those that are trained in physical treatment to cope with the emotional. That doesn’t excuse those offer no empathy obviously. It must be tough for you to deal with a new identity, as someone with a cancer diagnosis who can currently only be trusted with a 1kg bicep curl, not your usual weights. I hope you get back to something close to where you were, even if it’s not the same. You’ll still be fitter than the majority of people. What I find hard, as a therapist, is to accept help for myself. Either that, or I’m over critical of those that don’t have my training. You also have the added role ofmaking sure that Steven gets what he needs and deserves, and dealing with all the bureaucratic crap that comes with it. The apparent lack of emotional empathy of those in Social Care (do they care?) mirrors what happens in your physical care. It can be a matter of luck as to whether you get good emotional support alongside your physical care. I hope you get high levels of both

  6. ‘I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.’
    Joan Didion, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”

    You’re still all the people you ever were, Mark. The young lad bouncing around his local Lido; the one sitting in school French classes with his future wife; the sharp-dressing Mod; the bridegroom in a wedge haircut; the new Dad; the man who so impressed a High Court judge with his quiet demeanour in unusually trying circumstances; the man who impressed a young North African gym-goer with his transformation from Mr. Old Fat Belly; the writer whom thousands of readers appreciate for his humour and wisdom; the counsellor whom a comparative handful of clients appreciate for his care and candour. You always will be, even if those facets are not immediately obvious to a new observer.

    I’m glad you’ve got family and friends around you who can help you integrate this new aspect of yourself – Mark the patient – into that complex glitter-ball of a personality and a lifetime. I hope your fellow circuit-class participants have people who can do the same for them. It’s hard work.

    And I’m sorry you’re finding that the NHS is pretty pants at this aspect of things. I guess it goes with the institutional territory. Organisations can make a good, efficient job of looking after us, but they will never truly care about us; they can’t love us. But then you’ve always known that (and been able to articulate it for the rest of us who were a bit slower on the uptake).

    Wishing you all the good things.

  7. I think you raise an excellent point. Unfortunately, all mental health services in this country and woefully underfunded and underpromoted. Just as the emotional effects of physical illness or surgeries are largely ignored I believe that the care offered to those caring for people are also poor. My husband had a stroke and the care offered by the NHS was excellent for him. Not once was I asked about my wellbeing as his carer or offered a leaflet on national or local charities that could support me. I had to wait until I reached breaking point and saw my own GP to be referred into talking therapies which I then found out I could have accessed myself all along. Of course when I accessed the service I then had to wait another three months before receiving any therapy – all the while struggling on and trying to maintain a brave face for my husband.

    I’ve only just found your blog but it’s excellently written. I look forward to catching up on your previous posts.

    Wishing you all the best x

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s