Late May 2015
We have a few days with no children around. My husband is not working at the moment; he is on gardening leave. He has had enough of gardening, though, so we decide to go to London for a couple of days.
‘We could pop down to Kent and see your parents?’ he suggests, as we pack a small bag.
‘No.’ I know he is being considerate, but I wish he hadn’t mentioned it. I need these two days to be about us. I need to go to art galleries and sit in the restaurants we loved going to in the days before we had the children. I need to remember that life is not all about death.
Minutes before we are about to leave, I go into our son’s room to check on his tortoise. I notice the dry food needs topping up, so I get down on my hands and knees to look for the tub of sage-green pellets which our son keeps under the window seat.
As I move to get up from all fours, there is a popping sensation, so sudden, so definite that I am sure I have heard it as well as felt it. I know what this means, but I try to get up anyway. A surge of white-hot pain shoots up my spine from my lower back.
I try not to make a big deal out of it. I don’t want it to spoil our two days together. But I am in agony. Every step I take sends ribbons of pain spooling through my vertebrae.
‘I have never met anyone whose body is so in tune with their emotions,’ my husband says, with no small trace of irritation, as I hobble to keep up with him on our walks and gallery visits.
He is right. I look back over the occasions when my back has ‘gone’ or I have been struck down by a mystery virus to which no amount of tests can successfully put a name. Every time this has happened, there has been something major going on in my life which I am trying to deal with whilst also juggling Mother and her anxieties and fears. There was the time as a young mum, having just gone back to work, when I was laid low with a virus for weeks at the exact same time Mother was on my case about how I should not be going back to work at all. Then there was the time my back was thrown out of kilter while I was putting something in the boot of the car, days before we were about to move west for my husband’s job and Mother did not want us to move further away from her. I could go on, but today I am focusing on putting one foot in front of the other so that we can still enjoy our weekend.
Skip forward to June 2016 and my back has gone again. Physio doesn’t seem to be touching it this time. I have sciatica, so on top of the needles of pain emanating from my weakened disc, I have a tingling sensation running up and down my left leg which is painful in a different way. I find an osteopath in the end. She is so kind I am worried I will break down in uncontrollable sobs.
‘Is there something going on in your life at the moment?’ she asks, once I have explained my symptoms and run through my history.
The answer comes in a rush. ‘It’s the anniversary of my dad’s death soon.’
‘Ah,’ she says. ‘No wonder you’re in pain.’
Yes, no wonder. The pain that I am carrying around inside me, and which I cannot give in to every day because I must live and look after my family and work and smile and survive, has now pushed its way to the surface and is racing up and down my spine.
‘It’s all right,’ she says, as my eyes mist over. ‘You need time. You will heal. You just need to be kind to yourself.’
I know this because I have been told it before. And I know, as C S Lewis said, ‘Pain insists on being attended to.’ So I have to sit up and take notice of this, because this pain is telling me something: ‘Be kind to yourself. And be patient.’