I've been lucky. Richmond Carers Centre offered me twelve weeks' free counselling a while back. I had the last session a couple of weeks ago and I really found it helpful. There has to be someone to listen - not family, not friends - someone you don't have to look after, who will focus on you and take what you say and feel - and make sense of it. Eve did that for me. Roch often tells me, joking, 'It's all about me'. Well, of course it is and that's as it should be but how refreshing to be the focus of attention for a good 50 minutes per session, as I was with Eve. It's a powerful experience, and one that is often underestimated - to be heard, and to have your feelings acknowledged and understood.
I thought I was being so time efficient, arranging my final session for midday - fitting it in before a late shift at work. I was feeling fragile. In fact, to quote a very famous Hobbit, I was feeling 'Sort of stretched, like...butter scraped over too much bread.' The weekend had been all go, my days off full and I hadn't arranged any time for myself - by myself.
Anyway, Roch's personal assistant David arrived - Roch was showered, dressed and ready and so I set off. The first inkling I had that something wasn't quite right with me came as I was parking the car. I watched a woman walk down the street with a confident stride, swinging her bag. She looked - how did she look? She looked happy. Happy and in control. Just about the opposite of how I was feeling, in fact. Whether she was or not, is immaterial. Suddenly I realised that I was feeling very shaky indeed. My eyes filled and in fact I spent a lot of the subsequent session in tears. Together Eve and I worked out why. Well, it's not rocket science, but sometimes it's hard to work out the why by yourself - and it can feel very scary to feel overwhelmed by strong emotion without quite understanding where it's coming from. Eve helped me to see that I consistently successfully push down all the emotion I'm feeling, in order to cope day to day, so it's not surprising that eventually it all comes bubbling up and I can't stop it from overflowing. Sadness, anger, grief. I have to allow myself to feel it to get through it. If I don't take time for myself, to look after myself - this is what happens. It's not the end of the world, but it does mean that I just have to STOP.
Here I had been rushing around doing everything for everybody for days without stopping for myself and without taking time to get in touch with my feelings (to coin a useful Americanism, now don't laugh). The result was a gibbering wreck. Well, perhaps not gibbering, but certainly unable to function normally. For only the second time since Roch's diagnosis, I knew that I just could not face work. (The first time was the day after we received the diagnosis).
I called my line manager and tearfully explained. She was very understanding. She asked me if there was anywhere I could go, someone I could be with. But I didn't want to be with anyone. I didn't want to go home and anyway, I wasn't needed there. Happily it was a bright, sunny autumn day so I donned my sunglasses to hide my red and swollen eyes, took a few deep breaths and headed into Richmond. I felt a bit lost and wandered round rather aimlessly before conceiving the notion to go to the cinema. This idea brightened me up considerably and I had lunch al fresco on Richmond Green, bought some clothes and started to enjoy myself! I felt like I was playing hookey. I had never been to a film alone before and found it very liberating. I chose a film I thought wouldn't interest Roch much (so he wouldn't feel he'd missed out) called 'Hope Springs' about a couple undergoing intensive couples counselling. It was billed as a comedy/drama but I was interested to note that of the audience (which consisted of two middle aged straight couples and a duo of young women - and me) - only the men ever laughed. That tells its own tale. The film was most enjoyable, by the way.
It was only the other day, when Roch and I were deciding which film to go to next, that I mentioned my lone cinema visit to him. I think my expression may have been rather hangdog, but I think he was glad I told him, and that I'd had some time to myself.