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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pride and peripatetics

Armidale's trees are colouring nicely. The claret ashes are turning from deep green to that of a rich cabernet (I guess I should say 'claret'!) and along what used to be the old highway to the south, the tall poplars are a distinctly shimmery-golden-green in the breeze from the west.

I can see these things clearly on our walk now, but it's as though it's for the first time. Why? Because I have abandoned pride. Not pride in the positive sense, because I still have enough of that, but vanity. Vanity in this physical sense at least.

Let me explain. As I related in some detail in an earlier posting, which I am vain enough to think you might read if you haven't already, I now have more trouble walking, because the right leg is not getting the same motor signals from the brain as the left. I also have an increasingly troublesome issue of general balance.

In fact, there are two postings on this subject; the first, a brief one from September last year with 'coming of spring' photos Tracey had taken on the way round. This one had faded from my memory. I'm shocked now on reading it at how much greater the walking problem has got compared with six months ago. Things creep up on me.

The second entry, which was what I was really recalling, was from just last month. I thought I'd written it earlier than that, but my perception of time these days is weird.

As I said in that February posting, this means that I have had to focus deeply on the mechanics of walking, looking just one step in front of me at a tar road or concrete path while we pass the urban beauties of nature by.

" [Taking Tracey's arm] is very steadying," I said, "but it also fosters dependence. It gives me a false sense of balance." I am indeed much steadier when I take Tracey's arm and there's logic in trying to retain independence.

BUT as the days go by, and as balance declines, the sheer mental effort of holding so many 'walking' arts in mind becomes too much.

Finally I had to admit it. When I took Tracey's arm, to walk the regular paths and not just street corners or obstacles or young women with twins in strollers coming the other way, everything became that much easier. I could relax, and with that, walking itself became easier and less exhausting.

I could look around and see what was happening. We could talk if we wanted to, not that we always do. Neither of us is the sort of person who demands that silence be filled with inconsequential chatter. We feel no need to entertain each other every second we're together. Just being close when walking can be enough, and the unspoken words may be more important than those that come out of our mouths.

The reality is that for the past few weeks I had been fighting against pride, but not the healthy sort. I mean the ornery soul-sapping kind that makes me irritable and frustrated with myself and, no doubt, irritating to others when it surfaces.

So in the past few days, walking has become so much more enjoyable (for me at least), as it becomes more natural in the ways that really matter. It may not look graceful, this guy clutching a young woman's arm and stumbling occasionally, but I don't stumble anywhere near so much. I arrive home less exhausted. I can put in the effort where it is required without fear of spearing my nose into the concrete or shattering a few rather important bones.

Pride is fine. I just have to draw the line between it and vanity, and not look on unavoidable dependence as public humiliation.

That, my friends, is a bloody sight harder than it looks when I've spent 98.46% of my life standing - and walking - on my own two pins.

(Autumn photos by Tracey)


  1. There is a lesson here for us all Denis. The goals/levels/standards we set ourselves may not always be in our best interest. In fact letting go some control & "independence" could actually result in "more" not less. May you find a thousand joys as you journey forth on Tracey's arm.
    Debbie Green

    1. Thanks, Deb. As I said elsewhere, it's not 'giving in' or 'giving up, it's making a necessary adjustment. Changing tactics.

      I feel increasingly that this is not hardest on me; it's hardest on Tracey. And that's what comes hardest to me.

  2. I love reading your stuff, Denis. It's so easy to read, interesting & makes me think about stuff. Stuff like - I'm glad that someone like you shares your stories, I'm happy that we have these interwebs that allow you to post & us out here to read your stuff, and that even in the midst of my hurried life where it feels like I'm juggling one thing after another I can make some sort of mental connection with someone really smart and interesting like you (not in a weird way - lol!). Anyway - thanks for sharing, and posting :)

    1. Aw, c'mon on. I know you just like looking at the pictures! :) Seriously, thank you. It's the inter-connectedness that makes all the difference for someone like me; and there must be millions of us.

      I'm just lucky that people want to look. But I never expect them to do it all the time, because I know that I can't always get round all the blogs of the really good writers out there.

      What's nice about a blog is that you don't have to pretend to be good - just able to connect. Simple as that. Many thanks.

  3. It's funny (not funny ha-ha but funny peculiar) just how much I can relate to you. Your battle is so much harder than mine because mine is a sloooooow degeneration but every now and then I stop and think "I could do that yesterday" and now I can't. It's sad and it makes me angry as well. And I apologise. Damn but I apologise! And I don't want to! You make the anger a little easier to bear - understand. It's nice to have a friend.

    1. Thank you, and it's great to hear from you, even under these circumstances (yours I was thinking of.) Because you understand. I could never have really understood if I weren't experiencing something similar, or was as close to it as a loving carer.

      It's so interesting to read comments that provide insights through other people's windows. The first thing that struck me from what you said was that in some ways, slow degenerative disease is harder to cope with than quick, both for the person and for those who care for them.

      But in my case there can be wins. Just being able to prise that lid off the jar of peanut butter now (which I couldn't a year ago) can be triumphant.

      I won't go into this now but it's something I intend to return to. The 'anger' bit as well. That's an intriguing one, cos it manifests in unexpected ways.

      We'll share the journey as the road opens. Clichéd as it is (and I don't give a damn about that), there are corners ahead, and you never know what's around them.

  4. I have never commented on this blog before, mostly because I have nothing to say that is as remotely generous as the pleasure I get from reading it.

    1. Thank you. Your writings have given me great encouragement and I've learned a lot from them. C'est tout.

  5. thank you for writing this, it is helping me to understand what my brother Craig must have gone through and felt in his last year. there was days when i just wanted to scream at him, Make the effort, days when i had to leave the room because I was so angry. in my defence, this was at a time we still believed it was possible for him to recover, as it was not cancer that claimed him in the end but his weakened immune system and hospital infections.

    strangely enough, i have started a new get fit programme, and when training this morning got tough, i found myself thinking, what Craig wouldn't do to be here now … thank you again. xt

    1. You're very welcome if it's helped you to understand. Sick people don't want to be sick, unless they have a mental disease. In the case of cancer, it is so complex and so unique to the experience of that person that everything tried is an experiment. That's why chronically sick people get depressed. They may try everything and still come up with a seemingly negative result.

      In this case, we treat a 'negative' result as a learning experience and not a mistake that warrants guilt - unless, I have to say, you ignore treatments with verifiable positive results.

      Steve Jobs was one of the latter who made wrong turnings, in my view, by thinking he had time to experiment with dodgy methods.

      Time is that other factor. We were told on diagnosis in December 2009 that I had 3 months if I did nothing and I'd be dead. That's not a lot of time to pussy-foot around.

      By contrast, my sister and her husband did everything that on the balance of probabilities were the best known treatments in her much more difficult fight with cancer.

      It's all about optimising chances and not taking anyone's word at face value (as Joan knows in the case of Carl's recent brush with a medical condition). What's right for one won't work for another.

      It's not so much luck as risk assessment.

  6. Question: why is your condition harder on Tracey than on you? Personally I'd rather be Tracey, given a choice. I'm having a discussion about this very topic with someone else right now which is why I mention it.

    Julie M.

    1. Well, I guess I'll answer that with a question. Let's suppose that you were told that one of you, Michael or you, were to acquire a degenerative terminal disease of uncertain length (but not good long-term prospects) from which there was no escape.

      Your choice. Who of the two of you will you choose?

    2. It's certainly a heroic person who would choose to give up their own life. I'd much rather live than die, right now. However, in this impossible 'choice' scenario you've suggested, I suppose I'd choose me to have the illness, simply because I think my long term chances of life are less than his anyway, for several reasons. He's also a lot better at coping with the world than I am, in a survival sense.So though I see both our lives as immensely precious, that is my pragmatic answer.

      I wasn't saying it isn't horrendously hard on Tracey on many levels. Of course I understand that, and that you hate inflicting this on her (though it's not 'you', it's just life. These things happen).

      I meant it this way: if the situation was reversed, and you were caring for Tracey, would you then think that you were the one to be most concerned for?


    3. I knew my question was impossible and fortunately, not a choice people usually have to make. (I do think of that terrible, obscene choice that Sophie had to make in Sophie's Choice though.)

      In my case, there would be no doubt in my mind at all, but my circumstances are different. That's for reasons similar to yours, and that I am selfish enough not to want to be the one left. And you and Michael are much closer in age than Tracey and I, so it's simpler for me. That's a consideration in this (fortunately) hypothetical case that I could never ignore.

    4. But I think this is an interesting discussion, and thank you for replying to my overly personal and badly phrased question (which had reasons relating to my own life). I've thought about it a lot today, so have to tell you both sometime:)

      Julie xx

  7. There's part of me that would want to be the one to die. We die only once and we all have to face it sooner or later, but we can lose loved ones many many times, go through the horrible pain of loss, helplessly witnessing suffering, and saying goodbye over and over again, and I'm sure the pain never gets easier. Death is natural. Montaigne (sp?) had a NDE when he fell off a horse and when he recovered he said he was no longer afraid of death because nature knows exactly what to do. We fear death because we fear the unknown, but I fear loss more.

    I let you know what I really think when the real time arrives.


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