Monday, 16 February 2015

A little something new...

The Retired Bridgeburner is now two years old! Excuse me while I have a bizarrely proud parent moment.

Last year my "something different" was the 30 Day Chronic Illness Challenge. Whilst I enjoyed doing that, it has isuses with repetition and towards the end it became difficult to answer similar questions differently enough to make it worth posting. One of the key problems was in some cases I'd already covered the answer in an earlier post - there are only so many questions you can ask about the experience of chronic illness after all. At some point you enter the murky boggy waters of "Where have we heard this before?"

So, I'm doing something quite different for this birthday. I'm going to answer more typical life questions and see if they reveal any links into the more usual realms of this blog. I'm going to start it off with this post myself with a question fresh in my mind from a recent discussion with a friend, but I'm also quite openly asking for questions from you readers. I'm really looking forward to your suggestions!

So, the first one.

Given complete freedom, name a person you would like to meet and why. 

I doubt this will surprise many of you, particularly if you've stuck around with TRB for a while. Also, I'm cheating. There are two. 

J. K. Rowling

(I really recommend this Oprah interview to other fans - they're actually both very interesting women and it's a nice thing to watch.)

On one level, I'd like to meet her because I think she'd be an interesting person to talk to, and I love stimulating conversation. I've watched the few TV programmes she's done (Who Do You Think You Are, A Year in the Life etc) and my impression from this is of an interesting and grounded woman with a great outlook on life. Who wouldn't want to meet someone like that?

On another though, it's the same reasoning as I have for the second person. I'm a book person, and books are my first great love. However, as for I suspect all people there are certain books which do important things for you, whether it be to teach you something profound about yourself or because they make you feel at home. The Harry Potter books were one of my examples. 

There is a documentary on the special edition of Deathly Hallows Part 2 called "The Women of Harry Potter", in which Rowling discusses the the various female characters and the reasoning behind their creation and some of their actions. The final third or so is about Hermione, and Rowling reveals Hermione came from a very personal place as she is an exaggeration of her at a similar age, She talks about the sort of little girl she was at that age and the parallels with the character, and the first time I watched it I burst into tears and wept rather quietly for the rest of the discussion. The only way I can describe it is as if she had reached through the television and grabbed me around the heart. I can honestly say she could have been talking about me. 

The Hermione Granger comparison is something I smile and laugh at rather fondly now (yes, I can still do a rather good impression of "Just because you have the emotional range of a teaspoon!" and the like), but at the time it was something I held rather closely. For a chronically bullied young teenager, I cannot express the power of the existence of a pop culture figure who is very similar to you. The Philosopher's Stone film was released in my first year of secondary school, which made up what cannot honestly be called the happiest five years of my life. I'm not suggesting anybody thought Hermione was "cool", but her existence meant I wasn't alone. It made a love of learning, a high level of ability and a strong sense of what was right over what was "cool" that little bit less abnormal, and such small victories are very, very important at that age. They kept me just shy of the brink of despair.

Discovering proof that she was based upon a real person just perfected the sense of what the character and the books gave me. Even as my taste moves on, my love of re-reading the series endures because of that nostlagic attachment. They're also an easy thing to return to when I'm not feeling well because they're undemanding entertainment. It serves as a wonderful pick me up, and makes me feel good. What more can you ask for? 

Steven Erikson

("And ignorant historians will write of us in the guise of knowledge.... They will compose a Book of the Fallen.")

Yup. Predictable. 

As mentioned, books that do something important for you resonate, and I doubt it's unusual to wish to meet the person responsible for them. 

Aside from the books however, Erikson's other writing is often thought-provoking and challenging, and to me that's a wonderful thing. I adore stimulating discourse. I love anything that makes you pause and consider things, perhaps more so than you may have done before. 

For a recent example, he hosted a rather brilliant discussion on Reddit about authorial intent. The good folks of Malazan Empire shared this, and it kept me riveted and deep in thought for quite some time. There is nothing so wonderful for me as challenging and intelligent discussion. 

Occasionally though, you come across an author and you feel an instant spirit of kinship with the way they look at the world. Ms Rowling says in the interview linked above that she thinks you find out what you believe from what you write sometimes. I think the same can be true of reading as well. Throughout the Malazan books I had more than one "light bulb" moment. As I've said before, I first read Malazan when I fell ill and was awaiting my own light bulb moment when a doctor would finally tell me what the heck my body was doing to me. 

Timing is sometimes key, and those books came along at a very formative time in my life rather like the Harry Potter books did. I was older and hopefully wiser, and as such the connection is different and deeper. It's my adult love as opposed to the nostalgic childhood one above. However, they're both examples of an escapism I firmly believe I need for my own mental health. It angers me to sheer fury when escapism of this nature is derided as childish and having no place in an adult world. I don't think it's in my nature to be so wholly cynical, so it's anathema to me that the wish to escape into something reassuring which makes you feel good has no valid place. If there were ever books to prove that fantasy is not for the childish, it would be these. 

On the meeting front, there's a particular death in one of the books which monumentally destroyed me, and I really want to tell him off for that, somehow at the same time as congratulating him on creating such a perfectly crushing moment. Such is the perfect dissonance of those books at times. 

So there you go. I'm not remotely interested in "celebrity" or being famous for being famous. The only known people I would be interested in meeting would be those who've done something interesting. I'm not a person who feels things in a shallow fashion, and emotion runs very deeply for me. In a way I suspect that's part of why I have such health problems relating to stress, why it never fails to cause flare ups. 

Doing the things that make you feel good, whatever they may be, really are one of the keys to overall health and well being. Partially it's why I picked these two people - it'd be nice to say thank you in person, wouldn't it?

Who would you meet given the chance? 

Wishing you all many spoons xxx

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

"Nothing but the rain"

Unless you've been living in Gollum's Cave for the last few weeks, I assume you will have come across the news that Tess Munster, creator of #effyourbeautystandards has been given a modelling contract. As with anything else on the internet, nothing out of the ordinary can happen without extremes of opinion flying out of the woodwork faster than you can utter "I didn't see that coming".

Tess is 5'4" and a dress size 22 - as such she's far from the traditional size and shape found in the fashion industry. Whilst plenty of people have celebrated this as a victory over the stranglehold of the incredibly narrow vision of beauty perpetuated in the media, plenty more have waved their pitchforks in impotent rage and shouted into the void about what a terrible thing this is.

(Image from

Various arguments are being thrown about as to why that is. "The fashion industry shouldn't promote poor health" is the first. No, strictly speaking, it shouldn't and it has a responsibility for the media and imagery it produces. However, given that for years we have been discussing the trend of models who are underweight or suffer from eating disorders, this is hardly a new idea. We should also be considering the fact that the primary thing being promoted by the fashion industry is the fashion industry, because it needs to remain relevant on a massive scale.

Second among them is the typical "Oh my God, how is that person a model?!" I'm not even going to dignify that. If you're one of those people, take a fanned long look at yourself and consider your choices.

The one that particularly interested me in terms of this post though is more inextricably tied up with what #effyourbeautystandards is all about. I've seen many variations on the theme of "People that shape should not be comfortable with themselves."

To which I ask, who the hell do you think you are?

There is a difference between being comfortable with yourself and "promoting obesity" or however we wish to phrase it. How comfortable another person is with themselves has nothing to do with anyone else at all - it just simply isn't any of your business.

Why is it that when, just possibly, a small baby step has been made towards a wider representation of shapes and sizes in fashion (which is surely to the good of all), that people are so put out?

I suspect I can answer that. It's because it's something different.

There are a lot of people who don't like anything outside of the norm. It challenges the status quo, and that makes them uncomfortable. Things they don't understand frighten them.

Because they can't understand why a person at a particular end of the weight spectrum would feel happy and secure in their size, they try to impose their view. Anyone outside of the norm has " no right" to feel the comfort and security associated with that norm.

Something else to consider - there appears to be a (completely misplaced) sense that anyone outside the norm is immediately open to public consumption. Everyone else "owns" the right to have an opinion on them and to express it to them regardless of any hurt caused. In revealing I'm a fibromyalgia patient I'm frequently bombarded with everyone and their aunt's opinion on my "attitude" and various things I "should" be doing in order to feel better (because everyone's a doctor). In the same way, it appears anyone carrying extra weight is subject to the fact everyone feels they have the right to tell them what they should be doing with their own body.

Tess Munster is indeed overweight. However, it's her body, and I for one am behind everyone feeling as good as possible about themselves. I'm lucky in many ways that as a petite slim woman I don't have to try very hard to seek representation of someone my size and shape. However, I've still suffered through body hangups and feelings of inadequacy. Having done so, I would not wish them on anyone. The idea then that those outside of the average should be forbidden from feeling good is nothing short of disgusting.

(Even early 90's Disney got their head around the fact people are rubbish at dealing with "different".
Image from

The same logic can be applied to many things. To take the stereotype of "lazy" chronic illness patients, this sort of thinking would dictate these patients have " no right" to fulfilment and happiness because they are outside someone's box of understanding. They are yet again outside of the "norm".

I quoted Steven Erikson's thought on lifestyle fascists in this post. Humorous as it is, there's a serious point there. When you begin to dictate the parameters and ostracise those outside of them in terms of size, shape and weight, a lifestyle fascist is exactly what you're  becoming.

To further the alternative example of patients with chronic illnesses, to the narrow minded, anyone not out of the house in an average nine-to-five job is "lazy", so patients who are forced to remain at home much of the time are definitely squarely in their firing line. However, they can be doing plenty within their limits to help themsleves and to hopefully improve their situation - negative and ill-informed attitudes do not help. In the same way that attacking Miss Munster stands in the way of the very movement she has thrown herself into supporting, so attacking "lazy" patients can hamper their own efforts to effect change in their lives.

Also, here's an interesting idea to stick in your pipe until you choke - not everyone "can" get better. Not everything is curable. Do you really think you imposing your vicious inability to think outside the box is going to do anything except damage the person you've set your sights on?

But wait, everyone and everything should match your opinion, right? Nothing else is acceptable in your hopelessly narrow existence, is it?

And very neatly, we're back to those people who claim people the size of Miss Munster "have no right to be comfortable with themselves".

You do not get to dictate who can and cannot feel good about themselves, and neither does anybody else. You have no right to take that away from another person.

For me, I tip my hat to Tess Munster. If having just one single representation of themselves makes a group of people who usually cannot see themselves in the fashion industry feel better, then I refuse to accept that is a bad thing. It could well be the first step on the road to all shapes and sizes finding a space in fashion media.

Everyone has the right to self worth and to make peace with themselves - whether they match the ideals of what you wish to do with your own body or not.

If you do not accept that, I suggest you should have some long and hard self-examination ahead of you.

I'd love to hear other people's thoughts on this - even though I'm not in the group this is most relevant to, I still think the abuse and narrow-mindedness says a lot of damning things about people, and that needs discussion.

Wishing you all many spoons xxx

Sunday, 1 February 2015

"Once more unto the breach, dear friends"

I decided it was high time I posted a bit more about the recovery since my operation, and those pesky nerve exercises I have to do to combat the somewhat inevitable damage caused by the removal of the tumour. 

I used that quote for the title because.... well, I look flat out ridiculous and I'm letting the entire internet see. 

I have four exercises, two in particular target the nerve branch which was damaged during surgery, which is the one which controls the right side of my bottom lip. They're actually really simple things, so it's a bit surprising and perplexing when you first find you can't do them any more. 

Firstly, let's go for the pair which have never been a problem, and are done purely to keep the rest of the nerve working while the affected part tries to recover. So, raising my eyebrows and screwing my eyes shut. 

(Informative selfies are acceptable selfies.... sort of.)

Thankfully I can still register instantaneous surprise or disgust at will and people actually understand what my face is trying to do. I do all of these ten to twelve times a day (preferably when I'm on my own!) and have to do this for a few more months yet. 

So, the remaining two which touch on the damaged part of the nerve. 

Number one: make like a hamster!

(I'm bringing sexy back.... er...)

This one makes a lot of sense to me. Blow air into your cheeks, see if your bottom lip will stay closed and allow you to hold the air in. I can do this pretty successfully now and it's almost symmetrical. For the first couple of weeks I couldn't do this very well at all and the failed attempts were very amusing for witnesses. My other half still hasn't stopped doing what we might call "less than flattering" impressions of said failed attempts. I have promised suitable retribution once fully recovered. 

The final exercise is the one which still isn't working, and in reality I still don't know whether it will improve. The guideline for facial nerve damage is that however the nerve behaves at six months post-surgery is likely to be as good as it will get. We're about six weeks out at this point, so there's plenty of time for this to improve. 

So, this is my attempt at baring my teeth at the moment:

("What a cute grin you have!".... said nobody ever.)

What I can't show in a photo is that there are small hopeful signs with this. If I hold that absolutely delightful expression, my bottom lip does start to twitch to my right. That's really good - it means the nerve is trying to move, and even if it's not managing it yet that's proof of residual sensation and motor function, so all in all it's very positive. And yes, I'm now typing just as fast as possible (I'm a secretary, so that's pretty damned fast) to get away from that photo. I look either really concerned or as if my lower lip is very specifically drunk. 

This damaged nerve does manifest in a general sense as well. Towards the end of a day, and particularly at the end of a working week I can feel the lip dragging and moving sluggishly. I keep mistakenly assuming I sound like I'm slurring my words - it turns out I'm not, but to me it feels like the sluggish lower lip is in the way of me speaking. It's a very strange sensation. This is usually accompanied by the scar area starting to stiffen and my jaw to seize a little - it's all normal and really just symptomatic of the fact I'm perpetually very tired at present. 

At six weeks post-surgery, whilst I'm doing really well from a medical perspective I'm intensely frustrated. My only prior experience of an operation under anaesthetic was an appendectomy when I was 12. After that, I felt pretty much back to normal within three weeks. My hope that this was because I was some sort of mutant healing wizard have gone sadly unanswered.

It was because I was 12, and as a child you bouce back from things like that with extraordinary resilience. It seems the adult body is just too damned grumpy to accept upheaval with the same carefree aplomb. 

In my own head (a kingdom of vastly unrealistic expectations and an at best tenuous grip on medical reality) I've returned to full time work so I expect to feel better. Whilst I do feel better than I did, I'm still very easily tired and do very little with my evenings. I have received more than one "Why don't you just ... y'know.... sit still?" from my GP in the course of check-ups. I think the poor man has resigned himself to the fact the only way I'll sit totally still and stop finding things that "need doing" is if he employs someone to give me a smart knock on the skull whenever I start being too active. 

(If I ever here "Meep meep!" anywhere near me I'm going to run like hell...
Image from

The reality, however much I like or dislike it, is that it will be another few months until I'm fully right again. Slow and steady wins the race, and it's sensible not to push it too much.

My solution? 

Oh, hi Dragon Age: Origins. You recommend sitting still whilst playing the game, do you? 

Let's do this!

Let it never be said I won't sacrifice dignity for the sake of providing my readers with information and a bit of a laugh...

Wishing you all many spoons xxx