Can’t Sit… Still

My back has been giving me grief the past few days. Today, though, it has been plain nasty.

This meme was shamelessly borrowed from the Internet. I don’t know who created it.

By the last lesson of the day, the spasms were so bad it was all I could do not to cry in front of my students. Then, as soon as most of the students had left the building, I started the slow, painful walk to my car.

Getting home was a relief. The process of lying down was no fun, and it still took some time for the spasms to ease.

So how did I get to be in such a bad way? I sat down at work for more than fifteen minutes. Sadly, that’s all it takes.

Since my spinal surgery last October, Sitting has been a huge issue for me. I can walk, I can even manage stairs, which I had really struggled with for a few years prior to that. But if I sit on a regular chair for any period of time, I am in pain. The more tired I am, the worse it is.

So, the only sitting I tend to do these days is in the car on the way to and from work. That, too, can be exhausting.

My current physiotherapist insists that it’s just my brain telling me my back might hurt.

I disagree. Those spasms are not the fruit of my subconscious spine having a panic attack. That level of pain is actually my back hurting– and way more than it should.

I’ve been doing the exercises and stretches, and there just doesn’t seem to be any improvement.

So, I’m going to listen to my body and not the physio. Well, not that one, anyway. I’m going back to my former physiotherapist and I’m going back to the doctor, because I can’t keep doing this.

It’s been seven months since my surgery, and I should be able to sit long enough to have dinner or do some work without suffering for it by now.

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A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘My Brilliant Career’ by Miles Franklin

Many readers outside of Australia may not have heard of either this wonderful book or its author, but I would heartily recommend them to read it.

‘My Brilliant Career’ was the first Australian novel to be published. Franklin sent her manuscript to Henry Lawson, who liked it so much that he wrote a foreword and submitted it to his own publishers.

Although presented as a romantic story, It’s actually something of an anti-Romance. Sybylla Melvyn is an artistic and independent young woman who experiences a series of downturns in her family’s circumstances and finds herself at the wrong end of the same social expectations and judgements to which she had always been resistant.

While not opposed to the idea of love, that is not where Sybylla sets her hopes for happiness. The book does reflect the growing influence of the women’s movement in Australia and the changing values and expectations of young Australian women at the turn of the 20th century. 

The story is so realistically and vividly written that it caused Franklin considerable grief: people assumed the book was based on her own life and family and made such awful judgements about her that she withdrew the book from publication until after her death. While there may indeed have been autobiographical elements in the story, it was only ever presented as a work of fiction. In the end, it is a very poor reflection on those readers who chose to be so critical that they entirely missed the beauty and depth of a wonderfully told story. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett

This is a beautiful, although sometimes bleak, story in which a horrid little girl grows up, makes friends, and becomes a nice person. Through her experiences, she also helps others to rebuild their lives and relationships, so it’s a happy ending for most of the characters. 

As things tend to go in novels, the unpleasant behaviours and attitudes of Mary Lennox are shown to not be the consequence of being entirely unloved as the young child of parents who didn’t want her and did all they could to pretend she didn’t exists. The cynical side of me cannot help but be a little satisfied that such nasty people died of Cholera while their daughter survived and found a better life than she was ever likely to have had with them. 

While there are numerous TV and film adaptations of the story, there’s no substitute for reading the book and enjoying the story as it was meant to be. . 

Fibromyalgia And Me

I could have spent most of Fibromyalgia Awareness Month writing about my experience of this condition. I could spend a year writing what people don’t know or understand about it.

However, I plan for this to be my only post on that topic during this Fibromyalgia Awareness Month, because I don’t like to complain and I don’t want to sound like I am hiding behind my disease or making excuses. 

Fibromyalgia is a diagnosed medical condition— now. It wasn’t always. It has a wide variety of symptoms, although they basically all contribute to chronic pain and overwhelming fatigue. 

Because of Fibromyalgia, I have pain all the time. Think about that. 

Pain.
 All.
The.
Time. 

It doesn’t ever completely go away. The best I can hope for is that it will ease off a bit, and that I’ll have more good days than awful ones. 

When people present to the Emergency Department or paramedics with pain, the standard procedure is to ask them to rank it between 1 and 10, assuming that 10 is the worst pain they have experienced. I wake up most days to a starting level of about 4 or 5 for me. With medication, I can generally keep it down to about a 3. 

That’s why I have structured my working week so that I start a bit later in the mornings. It’s not because I don’t want to get out of bed: it’s because when I do, I am stiff and sore and it’s really hard to get moving. 
As the day wears on, my pain levels start to increase. My legs feel heavy and hard to lift when I walk. My feet  begin to ache, and that often turns into a throbbing pain that starts to work its way up my legs. It can take hours for the aching to subside enough to let me sleep, especially if I have been on my feet a lot. A similar thing happens with my hands and arms if I am using them a lot, and especially if it involves holding or carrying anything with a bit of weight in it. It’s not unusual to end each day feeling like I’ve been either beaten up or body slammed by someone or something a lot larger than me. 

Anytime I get stressed or anxious, or when my depression is messing with me, my pain levels flare. Overtiredness also increases my pain. Sometimes, I reach that level of tiredness by lunchtime and still have two classes to teach and a 40 minute drive home before I can rest. Add in a work deadline or two and things can get pretty horrid. 

All of this is completely separate from my back pain, which is a different thing and a different type of pain altogether, and which I am able to manage fairly effective for the most part.  

The problem with pain is that people can’t see it like they can if you have cuts and bruises or a cast. You can hide a lot behind makeup and a smile. 

When they call this an invisible illness, they’re not kidding. If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me “But you don’t look sick,” I could quit work and live very nicely on the interest. It’s such a shame I can’t bill people for their insensitivity or ignorance. 

I know it’s not a death sentence like some other diseases are. It is, however, a life sentence. As things stand, there’s no cure in sight. All I can do is keep up my painkillers and anti-inflammatories and hope for the best. 

None of this makes me, or anyone else with Fibromyalgia, weak. 

It takes strength and courage to get through each day, and sometimes that’s on a moment-by-moment basis. It takes resolve to blink away the tears and keep showing up for work or social or family occasions. It takes guts to say, “Actually, I’m not doing so well” when people ask, or to write a post like this one. In a world that prioritises health and beauty, brokenness is often an unpopular confession. 

I have Fibromyalgia. I don’t want sympathy or pity. I don’t want people to tell me I am strong or brave. You bet I am! 

What I really want is more awareness, better understanding, and more effective pain relief. And a cape. They can’t see my pain or my superpowers, but they’d be sure to know I have something if I were wearing a cape. 

Spamalot! aka The Show That Ends Like This.

This weekend and last I achieved one of my ultimate theatre goals as an actor, singer, and not-quite-a-dancer in Monty Python’s Spamalot! The Musical. 

A lot of people have done an incredible amount of work, both on stage and off, to bring the show to life and make it run smoothly and professionally. 

It’s a really, really funny show. By the time our cast was done with it, it was non-stop hilarity and good times for the duration of each performance. To be honest, that was pretty much the order of every rehearsal, too,

Sure, there have been moments of frustration and, occasionally, despair for some of us. More than anything, though, it has been fun. It’s fair to say that however many tears may have been shed in tiredness or anxiety, a hundred times more have been borne of laughter. 

From our first read-through of the script to taking our bows of the final night, we have laughed together, learned from one another, inspired and encouraged each other. 

From the final week of January to the second week of May, the cast members have grown from acquaintances into friends. Those with whom I have worked most closely have begun to feel like family. It’s fair to say that they understand my love for theatre and performance more than most members of my family, and it seems they have fully accepted my own individual brand of weirdness and subversive humour. I have found my theatre tribe. 

Today, dismantling the absolutely amazing sets and cleaning the theatre felt kind of surreal. Yesterday I had tears because I didn’t want it to be over. Today, tears threatened again as reality set in: the show really is done. 

My heart is heavy, and even though my Fibromyalgia-plagued body and permanently rather dodgy spine are expressing a strong and well-earned sense of relief, I regret nothing. 

At the end of it all, I am blessed to count these amazing people as my friends, and to be able to say “see you next time!” with every confidence that there will be another show and we will be keen to do it all again.

All photos in this post are by Joel Barker aka Sir Bedevere, and have been used with permission.

A Favourite Classic Book: ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell

This novella is a genius piece of political satire based on the events leading up to the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the rule of the dictators who followed. 

The allegorical use of animals on a farm enables the author to be critical and insightful without making direct accusations. Indeed, the most effective use of insinuations and suggestions is a trait that Orwell shares with Snowball and Napoleon, the two most prominent characters in the book. 

As the plot moves from incitement to revolution and then tyranny, each phase of influence and control is cleverly and powerfully exposed as those in charge exert their will over the rest of the characters.

Although it was published seventy years ago, this brilliant work retains a great deal of relevance today because, in all honesty, politics and politicians haven’t really changed that much. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen

Many people assume that this is a book all about love and courtship. That comes into it, of course, but really only the sense that Jane Austen is blowing an enormous raspberry to the way society did those things.

‘Pride and Prejudice’ is full of delicious snark and subversive humour, parody and caricature, that make its observations far more rapier than romantic. 

Of course, Mr Darcy is smolderingly handsome and, as an introvert, I totally get that he was regretting being dragged along to that party long before he even got there, and by the time he was offending all the locals, was busy trying to think of ways to leave without anyone noticing. Further evidence of that is found in the fact that he falls for the one brainy chick who is happy in her own company and reading a book without needing someone affirming her delicate sense of self every three minutes.

Elizabeth is smart and sassy enough to stand up for herself, and to not settle for the first nincompoop who tried to marry her, nor does she agree to marry Darcy just because he’s loaded. No, she is a woman of substance.

Those things are enough to make us love them both more than the rest of the characters, most of whom are either quite socially acceptably bland or rather horrid.

If you’re not sure where to find the sarcasm,  it all starts with the very first line. Let’s be honest: what rich man, living the dream and enjoying his wealth, is desperate to find a wife to keep him at home and spend his money for him? 

Yeah. I don’t think so, either. 

Attention: Facebook

Due to recent trends, my algorithm has been realigned.

You may notice that your invitations to boost my posts or create advertisements will receive zero attention. Some may be marked as spam due to lower perceived relevance to the audience. 

If you won’t show my posts to the people who do follow me, I most certainly will not be paying you to show them to people who don’t. 

Because, as you say so often yourself, “it’s all about engagement”. 

Fortunately for the rest of us, there are other places to “engage”, too. 
Are you aware that Twitter neither suppress nor hides anything I post? As soon as it’s sent, BAM, it’s out there for the whole Twitverse to see.

We’re you aware that WordPress allows me to use tags, categories and SEO to make my posts available beyond those who already follow my blog? And they do it free of charge. Ingenious, no?  

I’ll still give you a little attention, Facey. But not as much as you want. And not to help you make money. From what I have heard on the news, you’ve already got quite enough out of people like me. 

A Shout-Out to my Favourite Co-Star

I commented here recently that life had been hectic with work, rehearsals and all my other commitments each demanding sizeable chunks of my time.

That has gone up another notch or two this weekend with full days of dress and tech rehearsals for Monty Python’s Spamalot, which opens on Friday May 3rd.

The sets are magnificent and the crew are great. The directors are positive and proactive and their standards are high. My fellow cast members are talented, encouraging and supportive. The band is that good, it would be worth just coming to hear them play without any of us being on stage. We’re all having a blast because the show is hilarious and great fun. There is no doubt this is going to be a sensational show.

Thus far, I have managed to keep things under control for the most part, and get things finished by deadlines and due dates. 

It’s fair to say, though, that I would not be doing anywhere near as well as I am without the consistent, faithful support of my favourite co-star: caffeine. 

It will continue to play a crucial supporting role this week— possibly even more so, given that the week ahead is further complicated by two evenings of parent-teacher conferences sandwiched between school and rehearsals, almost an hour’s drive away from where I work. 

Anyone who wishes to tell me that caffeine isn’t good for me or suggest that I cut back would be well advised to wait until after the final show, at least. 

Until then, I will continue indulging in my “morning  cup of don’t hurt people” as my husband and I like to call it, and rewarding myself with as many others as I need to get through each day. 

As for keeping me awake at night? I honestly don’t think that will be a problem. I’m beat. 

Shakespeare’s Birthday

Every year on April 23rd, my family celebrates Shakespeare’s birthday with cake. I always do some reading from a play or sonnet, but my husband isn’t so fond of that as he is of the cake, so it’s usually either a solitary activity or one I share with my dog. It’s a well-established fact that Abbey the Labby loves the Bard… and cake.

This year, though, my homage will take the form of several hours of rehearsal for a different comedy – Monty Python’s Spamalot – before I am able to indulge in birthday cake. It does seem fitting that the show is a little bawdy, somewhat irreverent, and absolutely hilarious. 

While the precise date of Shakespeare’s birth was not recorded, the date of his baptism was registered as April 26th, 1564. Because it was traditional for babies to be christened three days after they were born, it is generally accepted that William Shakespeare was born on April 23rd. 

In an ironic twist, Shakespeare died on the same date in 1616. Some people think that is awkward, but I think it’s a pretty cool achievement. I’m not sure how common it is for people to die on their birthday, but one of my grandfathers  did, so it’s a feat that has always been a point of interest for me. 

So, here’s to The Bard, his works, and his legacy.