#3: Coercion Therapy
I can’t remember a time when I was more determined not to join in. We’d had to cancel Maurice’s 14th birthday party and in a fit of blind parental panic and guilt I’d spent a fortune getting the two of us tickets to the Women’s World Cup semi-final, England versus the USA. After a wearying, strictly against doctor’s orders, five hour drive to Lyon, and having abandoned the car in a shopping centre a couple of miles away, we were now in the stand at Parc Olympique and surrounded by thousands of flag-waving, hand on heart, Star Spangled banner singing Americans. Not that I resented the Americans at all, these were the good ones, they obviously had passports for a start, and they gave Meg Rapinhoe, the gay, talismanic, fearless Trump-baiting star of the American team a huge reception, in which we all joined in. Even me. It was the last time.
What happened to live sport? I remember going to big events as a kid, a Division One football match, a cup Final, a Test Match, Wimbledon and – fans singing aside, though not at Wimbledon obviously, this was pre- ‘Come on Tim!’ – the main sound you’d hear was an expectant hum, the tension of the supporter. The quiet chatter made whatever arena it was sound like a throbbing bees’ nest. It added to the magic of the event, you could feel the nerves just like one of the competitors. It made the day. Not now though, from the minute you’re warned to ‘stay hydrated in these high temperatures’ (but only with FIFA approved water, all others will be confiscated) you are bombarded with high energy, YOU WILL ENJOY YOURSELF music and MCs with a career in high octane vacuity, cheerleading people who by and large don’t need, or even want, bloody cheerleading. The crowd MC for the semi final was an American bloke in an ill-fitting, light blue suit, clearly on amphetamines, and who kept shouting, ‘It’s literally PANDEMONIUM in here!’ at a ridiculously high volume and to people who knew damn well it wasn’t. There was no way he could keep that tempo up, I thought. And sure enough at half-time he was spotted, lying back in his seat, jacket off and with a look that was directed at the 52,000 people in the arena that I know well, ‘Tough Crowd’ it said. He was superfluous to events though, an unnecessary cog in the machine of manufactured fun. It’s the modern world, a dark heart has grabbed major sports and the corporations know it, so they’ll beat you with the baseball bat of enthusiasm until you’re too tired to argue.
Forced enjoyment is as oxymoronic as forced relaxation. And as someone now being medically and familially badgered into leading a less stressful, less manic lifestyle, I know what I’m talking about. I am being bullied into personal tranquility, and I feel like R.P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In the week before my next appointment with the Rheumatologist I was, to be perfectly candid, something of an emotional wreck. In my head, whatever it was I had, was terminal. I was dying by inches, my body slowly eating itself like a lazy cannibal, too lethargic to look elsewhere for food. The only way I could cheer myself up at all was to sit in the dark, nobly contemplating my demise with the knowledge that I would, after a lifetime of trying, finally achieve something my hero David Niven had achieved and die horribly of Motor Neurone Disease. It was scant comfort to be honest.
‘It’s as I suspected,’ the Rheumatologist said, leaning over the desk, her nicotine stained fingers shakily holding my various results.
‘What did she say?’ I asked Natalie, still not attuned to the specialist’s machine gun French-Romanian.
‘It’s as she suspected.’
‘Oh God, really?’
She said various words that even now seem interchangeable in a sentence, and can be taken in whatever order you like really, but basically it’s Chronic Psoriatic Inflammatory Rheumatoid Arthritis (i got her to write it all down, though as you can see above, it’s no clearer). I’m calling it Chronic Rheumatoid Arthritis Psoriatic Inflammatoire, adding the French word at the end so I can give it the acronym it deserves, CRAPI Oh, and with the ubiquitous double spinal hernia thrown in. I have to take daily pain killers obviously, and a weekly injection, self-administered and in which I roll my eyes around like Gary Oldman in Leon even though it doesn’t hurt a bit. The injection is an auto-immune suppressant which I just blithely took in without really knowing what the doctor meant, but which a mate explained is actually a chemotherapy drug. Christ, I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time though, I’m not sure how I’d have taken the news. Everybody’s been very supportive and caring and sympathetic and so on and making it out to be far more serious than I seem to think it is. And there’s a reason for that, and it’s once again, the triumph of the pessimist.
‘You seem very sanguine about the whole thing, are you not worried?’ A friend asked, used to me being very worried about even the slightest thing.
And the answer is no, not really. You see, like I said, I had imagined much, much worse. I had got to such a stage of lunatic pre-diagnosis panic that of an evening I would don, Niven-style, a smoking jacket and a loose cravat and talk in clipped Sandhurst tones, dropping anecdotes about Grace kelly and the Hollywood scene, preparing myself for the inevitable gruelling decline, ignoble decline. Chronic Rheumatoid Arthritis Psoriatic Infammatoire, as far as I’m concerned, was a bit of a result.
Of course, congratulating myself for having dodged the terminally ill bullet can only last so long. It’s chronic, therefore it’s not going away. It has to be managed. I have to be sensible apparently and not, like last week, carry heavy furniture up the stairs. Needlessly heavy furniture.
Natalie: You did empty the drawers before lifting that chest of drawers upstairs, didn’t you?
Me: Of course! I’m not bloody stupid!
Natalie: You didn’t, did you?
I sat down five minutes later, and it hit me. I felt like I’d been knocked down by a car and then reversed over for good measure. Twice. ‘Bugger,’ I thought, ‘I am actually ill.’ What’s slightly galling of course is that I am essentially to blame for all this too. I mean, what are the combination of factors that have led to CRAPI in the first place? Well, there’s a small hereditary element, but the rest is lifestyle, work, stress and travel. Me, in other words. Everything I am and do. I am my own medical disorder. In years to come they won’t call this Chronic Rheumatoid Arthritis Psoriatic Inflammatoire anymore, they’ll just call it Ian.
‘How are you feeling? You look rough.’
‘Yes, my Ian’s playing up today.’
And if a rubbish name like Ian isn’t a stark warning to future Ian sufferers then I don’t know what is.
In order to be more relaxed though, I have to be more disciplined. I remember when I finally managed to give up smoking. I’d just reached the point mentally when I’d had enough. I got back to my in-laws’ place in Crawley, it was about 2am, and as usual I went straight out into the back garden and lit up a menthol. I watched the tip burn and for the first time properly thought, ‘what the Hell am I doing?’ I stubbed it out and threw the packet over the fence. That was ten years ago, and I’ve never had even the slightest pang for a puff since. So I have the discipline to deal with this, somewhere, but leading a stress-free, more sedentary, healthy lifestyle is a big ask. Slowing the pace of life right down, prioritising the good things, shrugging off the niggles and frustrations and just simply letting the days play themselves out, with perhaps the odd glass of wine at sunset… well, you’d have to move to rural France or somewhere to get that sort of thing. Hang on a minute…
The ‘Monsieur So British…’ blog carries on from my two best-selling books, ‘À la Mod…’ and ‘C’est Modnifique!’ both published by Summersdale and available here. This blog will also appear as a podcast every fortnight. It’s here if you want to listen, I can’t work out the itunes process yet, so all feedback on the podcast would be much appreciated.
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