‘Always expect the unexpected’. That’s what people say. But even the things that we are expecting can surprise us; things we are preparing ourselves for; things we know are going to happen, but push to the back of our minds. They speed towards us out of nowhere, and we stand in the beam of their headlights, wanting to run but knowing that at this stage it is futile.
I wrote half of a blog post last night, and intended to finish it this morning. But I’ve spent my day on an emotional rollercoaster, and the things I wrote last night are now mostly invalid. The following is a series of events and thoughts, mostly about unexpected things (it might not flow very well or be the most beautiful thing ever written, but that is not the nature of our thoughts).
I went for my pre-operative assessment yesterday. The nurse was really nice. He explained both procedures that I will be having, and showed us the device they will be implanting. It’s not that bad at all actually, the worst part for me is going to be being in hospital again, even though it is only for an incredibly short amount of time. The nurse went out of his way to help us get a date for the surgery. He saw that there was an empty space on the 2nd of September, but my consultant isn’t working then, and he has made it very clear that he wants to do the surgery himself. The earliest it could be done was the 9th September, so we pencilled in that date, and I was told to stop taking my heart tablets a minimum of three days before the procedure. I was warned that as it is marked as urgent, the hospital could phone me at any time and ask me to get there for the next day. But I didn’t expect it. I put the whole thing to the back of my mind, and decided that I wouldn’t revisit it again for a couple of weeks.
I didn’t expect to be woken up this morning by a phone call from the nurse I saw yesterday. I didn’t expect him to tell me that my consultant was working yesterday, so they had spoken to him, and he wants to do the surgery tomorrow. Tomorrow. As in, the day after today. No time to get my head around it, or to prepare. No time to even properly wake up before I was told. But also less time to freak out I suppose. Thankfully there are about a million ways in which the situation could be worse, so once I’d got over the surprise, I began to feel very lucky that my health hadn’t been crueller to me.
I messaged a couple of my friends just to let them know. And as I was messaging my university flatmate (who I mentioned previously), I decided to tell her too. I was very surprised that she cared enough to want to be kept informed. I was even more surprised when she said that if I end up in hospital while we are at university she will be there every single day. She’s been so lovely about everything and we have a lot in common. After the reactions of some of the people I’ve encountered in the past, I wasn’t expecting that from somebody that hasn’t even met me yet. If I’d expected her to react to me and my issues in the way that she has, or anticipated such kindness, then I would have missed out on the experience of a very nice surprise. Because the unexpected doesn’t always have to be bad, and we forget that.
I’ve actually had a very nice week. On Tuesday a group of six of us went for lunch with a teacher from our old school who has now left, but was like a second mother to all of us. I’ve never sat in a restaurant for three hours before without getting bored, but she bought us all presents and it was so lovely to spend time with her again. She helped me through a lot of stuff while I was in sixth form and I can’t ever thank her enough for that. I brought a friend back to my house and my teddy bear of a dog converted her from not liking animals to wanting a dog (because it is impossible not to fall in love with my dog). While my friend and I watched Bridget Jones’s Diary (I’ve seen that film too many times!), my little brother went out to get braces fitted to his teeth. My little brother is a surprisingly healthy human being, so this was one of the worst things that has ever happened to him (he’s never even broken a bone!) Initially, he thought he would never be able to eat again. It turns out that they had left something sticking down from his tooth, so he couldn’t actually shut his mouth.
For ten days after my procedure I’m not allowed to do much. For this reason my mum wanted me to spend the day clearing out my room so she can start to sell some of the furniture (university is a very expensive process!) When my friend found out about tomorrow, she ditched her sister and decided to meet up with me for the afternoon. We talked about life, and then went out to dinner. I usually eat enough for at least two people, but I barely touched my food. I guess I’m more nervous than I am willing to admit. Which is understandable, I guess, but I still hide that from the people around me, because I don’t want to worry them. Just like panic, calm is also contagious, and I try to put them at ease.
In any situation, there is normally at least one person who is totally calm. They seem to have got it all together, to be able to deal with the things that the rest of us can’t. And we think it is because they expect the unexpected. We think it is because they’ve learned how to deal with the things life throws at them. We don’t offer them help or support, we turn to them for it instead. Emergency workers are prime examples of this, but we all encounter people like this every day – people who wear the mask of calm in order to prevent a situation from spiralling into chaos. It works. It helps. But who is there for the people that are there for us? Who catches them when they fall and puts them back together when they break? Nobody is invincible. The nurse yesterday said I was ‘so young and so brave’. But we can’t see each other’s thoughts. The two procedures don’t scare me, but many more aspects about the day do – things that are far less frightening (such as even being in the building, or trusting strangers with my health). On the outside we keep it together, we grit our teeth and we keep going, and only in the privacy of our own homes and our own company, do we unpack our emotional baggage. And there’s nobody to help deal with it.
The strong people, the quiet people, the ones who don’t openly show emotion and let it all out… They are the people who need supporting more than others, and yet they are the people who carry everybody else’s problems along with their own. You can call them brave, you can call them strong, but inside they don’t feel like that. Inside they feel just like everybody else, they just don’t want to weigh you down too. People never expect that to be the case either.
I got called brave because I wasn’t scared of the surgery (he totally put my mind at ease with it). But I’m terrified of much less scary things. People call me brave for going through the physical and emotional issues that I’ve gone through, and am still going through, but I have no choice but to live them. Health problems, emotional or physical, are not a choice. Just like we do not choose to have defective organs, we do not choose to be unhappy. We do not choose whether to be scared or not. All we get to choose is what we do with those things. So I ask people to judge me not by what I’ve been through, but by what I’ve done with it, and in that respect, I am a truly unremarkable human being. Does that bother me? No. I’m exactly where I always dreamed I would be – going to university, lucky that things aren’t so much worse, lucky to know some of the nicest and most amazing people on the planet, and at least temporarily ok with who I am. Plus I get to go to London tomorrow for the second time in three days, and it is a city that I absolutely love (and a city that in three weeks will be my home).
“Glass half empty, glass half full – either way you won’t be going thirsty. Count your blessings not your flaws.” – Lauren Aqualina, King (it’s a good song, helped me through a lot)
Don’t expect the unexpected – be the unexpected… Be the understanding flatmate, or the person who sends a card just because they can, or the person who supports someone who doesn’t know how or who to ask for it. There is no better way to make yourself feel better than making somebody else smile.