Looking for the self help book

The other day my breast cancer buddy said to me “It’s really shit having cancer”.

It is really shit having cancer.

It is really shit being told you  have cancer. It is even more shit having to tell people you have cancer. That’s knackering.

But the shittest thing was being told my cancer had come back. I was scared; horrified; angry with myself (and that’s interesting, isn’t it, and maybe another post another time). And when they told me it had spread to my lungs, I knew I was going to die.

So I decided that I would find a book that would tell me how to die. A step by step guide. I may even have imagined a flow chart.

I have bought books that give me advice on every conceivable topic – from having a baby to tidying my bedroom. Finding a book for this proved more difficult than I expected. I wanted something:

  • Secular. No religious content. (And really – if I really believed in life after death, why would I be afraid of dying? Religious books on dying feel like cheating…)
  • Practical. I don’t know quite what I anticipated. Something that would give me guidelines on how much time I should devote to worrying about death? A will template? Suggestions for controlling my children’s reading habits from beyond the grave? I think I just wanted something that would help me feel in control.
  • Positive. Obviously.
  • Well written. Because I might be in the process of shuffling off this mortal coil, but I don’t want to be reading something that makes me cringe.

The really interesting thing is that I’ve worked in mental illness for over 20 years now, and yet somehow I had not grasped the idea that it is normal to be afraid of death. Maybe I’ve worked with too many people with suicidal ideas – maybe I’ve got used to the idea that it’s living that’s the scary bit.

I’m not sure I even knew that I was afraid of dying. I simply didn’t think about it, except as something a long way off, that happened to other people. When people congratulated me first time round on “conquering” cancer, it was as if I’d become immortal. We could all stop thinking about death. Phew.

I still find it hard to think about dying – it’s impossible to imagine not being alive: not breathing, not seeing, not hearing. Not being.

So now I’m beginning to think that my journaling and blogging is actually me writing the book for myself. The magic self help book that’s going to sort it all out for me. Maybe I’m stumbling and fumbling towards some sort of understanding of what works for me, what helps me deal with the different emotions that roll up like waves in the ocean, and roll back down again – often seemingly at random. Maybe this is it.


If we were having coffee, I would be telling you the things I learned about life from playing Candy Crush.

I deleted Candy Crush from my tablet a few weeks ago. It’s a life-sucker. I replaced it with the YOU app, which gives me something healthy, beautiful and life enhancing to do every day. That means I get my online kicks from sharing that I did 10 squats, or tidying a drawer in the kitchen, or enjoying a moment of peace. Much better than the thrill I got from swiping shiny, pretty coloured shapes around a screen.

I did learn some useful lessons from Candy Crush, along the way, as it were, and I’m going to share them with you today, my friends. That means you will never have to play it yourself. Thank me later.

  1. You can get a buzz of achievement from something that’s essentially meaningless. That applies to many things in life: Likes and Shares; buying a new pair of shoes or a recipe book full of beautiful pictures of beautiful people living a beautiful lifestyle. Those things aren’t going to make you any happier long term.
  2. You can do things for a long time, and feel you’re pretty good at them, and still mess up. And that doesn’t mean you’re a failure, or bad at what you do. It just means you messed up.
  3. There are no second chances. If you swiped the blue one left instead of right,there is no “undo” button. You are stuck with that choice. Think carefully. But be aware of number 2.
  4. The candies never fall the same way twice. Actually, statistically, they probably do. I can’t imagine the number of possible variations on a grid, but in theory, you could get the same one twice. And on another planet far, far away, there is another you sitting reading these words, who will go on to win the local lottery,and have 4 beautiful children who never use foul language, and celebrate their birthday by driving their brand new sports car into a swimming pool of champagne – but that’s not going to do you much good, right here, right now.
  5. Just because something is pretty and shiny and a bit addictive, doesn’t mean it’s good for you. In fact, I would suggest looking carefully at things that are pretty and shiny and a bit addictive, because, chances are, they are not good for you.
  6. Other people will use up your bonus help things much more quickly than you will. Just saying.
  7. When your kids complain about you spending too much time on line, you neeed to take a long, hard look at yourself.

There you go. That’s what I learned. So now  you don’t need to download it. You can spend 5 minutes reading this and then go and do something more interesting instead.

I did this for you. Because I care about you. Now go and make real candies, or go for a run, or read a book, or write a poem – something that will give you a real buzz of achievement in this beautiful real world of ours.

The best way to stop weeds

Actually, I was in the vegetable patch. And what I said was “The best way to stop weeds is to plant stuff”. Himself was hoeing and I was hand weeding round the walking onions. The sky was blue blue blue, and the ground was hard, but gently moist once you got below the surface. The pea shoots are just starting to twine themselves around the sticks, there are artichokes sprouting up (pull them out! They want to take over the world!) and the birds are going crazy. We have a big colony of rooks at the top of the field, and they are raucously sociable. It’s like living next to a student bar for birds.

Anyhow, that’s what I said, and then I pondered what I’d said in that way you do when you’re working with your hands outside, and I realised that that, pretty much in a nutshell,(that could be put onto a soft focus nature picture), was a valid, positive,philosophical stance to take on life.

Or maybe I’ve pinched someone else’s idea without realising it. Maybe it’s on a million motivational posters out there. I don’t care. I thought it up in my own head, in my own vegetable patch, and I’m sharing it with you.


It is easy to forget to be grateful. I’m not even sure what we are grateful to – not to a God, because we are secular humanists, aren’t we? Maybe to other people. Maybe to the world. Maybe to blind chance. Maybe even to ourselves.

These things don’t always notice your gratitude. But you will.

It is easy to skim over the small details that make up a life, and concentrate on the big events – the exams passed, the holidays, the parties, the promotions. And they are fantastic – though the fizz wears off  pretty quickly – but as the Mad Hatter points out, it’s much better to celebrate un-birthdays than birthdays. There are 364 of them a year.

I have kept gratitude journal on and off for a while. It’s something I like to do. I enjoy recalling and recording the beautiful, transient moments that make life a little better. It’s funny what comes up: the time my dear friend’s teenage daughter gave my little girl a manicure (and that’s a long time ago); the perfect combination of bacon and avocado; the work colleague who brought me a cup of tea because I looked tired.

I wonder what it would be like if you did the opposite? If you kept a journal of things that irritated and annoyed you? Things that got you down?

I think I might have effectively done that for a while as a teenager. I’ve often tried to keep diaries and not succeeded very well, but I’m pretty sure that if I could track them down I’d find they were pretty moany. I’m also pretty sure that if I read through them I’d find I’ve forgotten most of those terrible things that made my life so desperately unhappy. Or they’d look so laughably trivial I really wouldn’t understand why they made such an impact.

My life is a mosaic of good and bad moments – and quite a few that pass by unnoticed. Drawing my attention to the good moments reminds me why I’m alive and why I want to be alive.

So happy unbirthday to you.

If we were having coffee…

I’d be gasping for one, as usual. I’d start by talking about the weather. It’s glorious. Blue blue blue sky, with a few white clouds bubbling over the horizon.

I won’t have a biscuit, no, thank you. I’m trying to cut down on sweet things. I have a terrible sweet tooth.

So, the weather. Amazing. Stood on the edge of a rugby pitch all morning, watching my son playing. He’s so light, it’s hard for him to tackle. He just gets dragged along. But he keeps getting stuck in, and he enjoys it, and the boys on the team are a nice bunch of lads. Usually I’m standing in the drizzle, warming my hands on a cup of cheap and cheerful coffee, wondering why I’m not a cricket mum, but today it was beautiful, and people I know and love kept coming over for a chat, so it was very sociable. I’m not mad keen on a lot of sporting parents. I don’t like the ones who get carried away, I can’t bear the ones who spend hours telling me how wonderful their son/daughter is, and I’m not that fussed on the ones who try and play for their child. But today I had a lovely chat with one of my favourite fellow mums.

We had a bits and bobs lunch and then went to work stacking wood. It looks much better down there – it was worth the effort. But now I have to go and make dinner. Thanks for the coffee. It was great. Catch up soon. Mwa mwa!

the bike ride of doom

I hit a bit of a low spot just before Christmas. The lumps in my breast had grown, my medication was being changed, I was in a flurry of tests and reviews and assessments, and feeling very pessimistic.

Then my friend, Golden Girl, persuaded me to sign up for a sponsored bike ride. It’s in aid of our local children’s hospices, and involves cycling 210 miles over 3 days.

I’m kind of glad I’m doing it, and kind of terrified.

But what I will admit, right here, right now, is that ever since I started training for it, the weather has been awful. Cold, wet, rainy, muddy, sleety, haily. Floods. High winds. Horror show stuff.

And, without wanting to give the impression that the world revolves around me, I am happy at this point to step up to the mark, accept personal responsibility for the horrible winter we are having, and apologise to anyone who has been directly or indirectly affected by it.

Just think of me, trying to clock up my 2 hours of hilly (chilly) cycling this weekend.