A few years ago a friend gave me a tiny plant pot holding a stem with a leaf attached to it and told me how to grow it. The same friend gave me a Venus Fly Trap for my birthday once because I’d always wanted one. I did my best, I did everything I could for it, but there was just no way it was going to survive (I sound like a surgeon when they’ve lost a patient on the operating table). I am not green fingered in any way but lucky for the leafy stem it had a better start in life. In the office there were two of us watering and nurturing the plant we later named Penny Plant. The number of stems increased and more leaves came to life, it grew so well that it needed re-potting so I brought Penny Plant home so mum could re-pot her for me – you didn’t think I could do it did you? Really!
After that Penny never made it back to the office, she found a new home and over the last…I don’t even know how many years, we’ll call it seven…Penny Plant has thrived! The other day I looked at her and I said to mum…
“Is that the plant that Premal gave me?”
When she said…
…I took a picture of the plant and sent it to my friend. He has no recollection of ever giving me the stem with a leaf on it, but he did say one thing…
“And there’s your next blog title. It all starts with a little leaf and a stem.”
I haven’t written a blog for a week or so because I felt like I’d run out of steam with it. There’s only so much you can write about before people start thinking…
“Oh god, not another soul sucking, dramatic diatribe about the trials and tribulations of having an unfortunate brain and a bowel that doesn’t give a crap, literally.”
So, no people. This one is different, this one is about how lucky I am and how I should remind myself of this because when life feels unfair I forget that it could be so much worse.
I’ve done a fair few blogs now and I’ve dedicated all of them to people along the way who I respect and love and I want them to know that for whatever reason they have carried me through times when my head is contemplating sinking beneath the water.
Up until now there’s one person who, obviously I’ve mentioned, but I haven’t dedicated a blog to and maybe now is the right time.
I met Matt at the tail end of 2013. I think I told him about Bernard the Bipolar on our third date. I expected him to either not know what it was or look horrified. But I got neither reaction because he knew what it was – well, he knew what the word meant. No one really knows what Bipolar is until they’ve witnessed an episode unfold before their eyes because no two Bipolar people are the same. So the fact that he knew the meaning behind the word was brownie points for him and a relief for me because I didn’t have to do the generic spiel straight from Google.
In 2016 we’d known for a while that I was going to be crapping in a bag pretty soon after we got married and to be honest I only asked him once if he was going to be okay with this – because obviously I was going to look slightly different, but when you’ve had self-harm scars decorating you left arm for the last 18 years, a poo bag under your jumper is the least of your worries.
In my eyes it was a case of…
“This is how it is…deal or no deal?”
…turns out it was deal. We had no idea what was in store for us, we knew nothing about ileostomy bags or stomas or anything to do with pooing in a bag in general because this was a physical ailment, this was unchartered territory; so we did what we’re good at, we made it light hearted and it worked.
Now with that out of the way let’s get one thing straight. This is not about being the Bipolar one in a couple. This is not about being the one who can’t control her farts because when you have a stoma it’s just not possible. This is more than that because I am a person and being Bipolar and having a stoma does not make me who I am. They may be the reasons why I am a public speaker and why I write a blog but I am not a public speaker 24/7 and if I wrote more than one blog a week I would get really bored, really quickly and so would you.
This is about the driving force behind why I do what I do and probably a big aspect of who I am today.
It was 2014 when I decided I wanted to be a speaker. It was in my head for weeks and the need to explore the possibility of doing it was like a ball of fire in my chest. I knew I had a voice that wanted access to the things I’d been through but I didn’t know how to do it.
In the past I’ve had fleeting ideas of adding something into my life to make it a bit more meaningful or more exciting. On occasion I’ve thought about joining an amateur dramatics group but pretending to be something I am not not has never come easy and I left my acting shoes with my GSCE drama exam. I’ve also wanted to try out stand up comedy but stand up comedy is the same thing as writing a novel.
“Everyone has at least one book in them.”
…well I’ve written many but it doesn’t make them good! And everyone can tell a joke but it doesn’t mean you’re funny.
I usually sit on my ideas and if they pass the threshold of about two to three weeks I know I’m serious.
In 2014 I didn’t know I wasn’t going to poo in a bag so my voice was solely going to focus on being bipolar. This was mental illness, this was before Heads Together, before the Be Kind brigade was born and it was a gamble. I wasn’t a volunteer anywhere, I had no direction, all I had was an idea. I’d already told mum what I wanted to do but I had a boyfriend who knew nothing about this and I was going to be standing up in front of groups of people and literally outing myself to the world – because at this point I didn’t even post on Facebook that I was Bipolar, 90% of the people I worked with had no idea this was the case so this was a massive deal, this was actually make or break because if I was with someone who didn’t approve of me speaking out about my mental illness, then who was I with at all?
I vaguely remember the conversation; I think I said something like…
“I want to try out public speaking and talk about being Bipolar.”
…I had a big spiel prepared to back up my plan so I could convince Matt that this was a good idea and this was something I should do and it was needed because back then it looked like Kerry Katona was the only female Bipolar person out there and she was making a mess of it (sorry Kerry).
It turned out I didn’t need my spiel because the first thing Matt said was…
“Yeah do it. It’s a really good idea, someone might learn something from you.”
I remember I said…
“Yeah, I support you. I’ll always support you.”
I’d already fallen in love with him after about a week of knowing him but when I heard those words it happened all over again.
This is what my friend was talking about with the leaf and a stem. I had an idea, a tiny nugget, a little leaf wafting in the wind and I didn’t know if it was going to grow into anything or if it was going to flop like a bored and deflated balloon but the point is, I had someone believing in me and it was without question. It wasn’t reluctant, it wasn’t a case of…
“Well I have to, even though I don’t really want to.”
Mental illness and poo are two of the things in this world that we’re not supposed to talk about and over the last few years I’ve been asked a number of times if my husband is okay with me doing the things I do. Every single time I say yes and almost 8 years into us being together it’s become a no brainer. I get offended by people asking this question because to me it’s like asking someone…
“Does your boyfriend mind that your eyes are blue?”
“Does your partner care that you’re taller than him in heels?”
“Is your husband not offended by the big mole on your face?”
…because I have always believed that whoever I was going to end up with, if anyone at all, they would love me for who I am and not the bits about me that I cannot change.
Now let’s not go painting a picture of a saint here. Matthew is just as whacky as I am. We spend our days irritating the hell out of each other, joking, sniping, shouting…
“You’re a poo face!”
…up and down the stairs. At night I’m certain he swallows some form of demon and he’s damn lucky I haven’t put a pillow over his face because his snoring is something so far out of this world even as a writer I have no idea how to describe it.
I hate that he drinks energy drinks and eats pre-packed burgers because one day he’ll die and when someone says…
“I’m so sorry about your husband, what was it that killed him?”
I’ll have to say…
“A can of Red bull and a microwaveable burger.”
We drive each other crazy and we are complete opposites; he’s a sports freak, I read books. He’s got an Xbox, I don’t even know how to switch it on. He likes Black Adder and Bottom and I can’t stand Rowan Atkinson or Rick Mayall. I like Crime Drama, I’m not gonna lie. I’m creative and I can’t explain it. My communication is terrible and where my silence is supposed to speak volumes, I find it rarely speaks at all.
The smushy smushness of our early days dating may have fallen by the wayside but two lockdowns later we’re both still alive and no one has been murdered – yet, there’s still time my friend. These days the best thing about life is being woken up on a Saturday morning with a cup of tea and a bacon and egg McMuffin. It’s having pasta made for me when I can’t figure out what to do with myself and being given a framed picture of the cat the day after she died to make me feel like she’s still there.
Life is good when someone tells you you’re pretty first thing in the morning when you’re grumpy and literally look like a troll. When your entire wardrobe is consumed by jeans and jumpers it’s a gift from the Gods when that special someone doesn’t mind that you don’t own a pair of heels and you’ve never worn mascara (sorry ladies, that’s true). When the only opinion he has about your appearance is what your glasses look like and that’s because he’s an Optical Consultant, that’s an opinion I will take! And sometimes it really is the thought that counts, like when you discover the genius of South Park twenty-five years too late and one tiny comment of…
“I’d love a t-shirt with a picture of Butters on the front.”
…probes him into spending ages trawling through Amazon to find one. And when you’re looking through your CD singles from the 90s and you discover that you’re missing one The Montrose Avenue single from 1997 and your favourite independent music shop can’t find it; it really does take a special someone to track it down on eBay for you and surprise you with it.
Admittedly sometimes I feel like he doesn’t pay attention to life. I feel like he’s not that bothered and I end up thinking that all the stuff I have on my plate, all the mayhem I have to deal with, I have to do on my own. And sometimes I discover that I am wrong.
Last week we were in the kitchen and there was some form of creepy crawly on the wall near the window…
(NB – if anyone is pro-creepy-crawly-life please look away now, this is not for you, come back in a couple of sentences)
…Matt pointed out the little blighter and in true Kat style I did a bit of a squeal and told him to squish it (I’m sorry, I did warn you). In the next breath, as he disposed of the unfortunate creature’s carcass, he said…
“It always amazes me even with all the stuff you have to deal with and how strong you are, you can’t deal with flies.”
Maybe my strength is my own misfortune. Sometimes I just need looking after and I don’t know how to voice that. Maybe it’s time I learned because whichever way you look at it, our weird and wonderful life together works and as I write the last few sentences, I have my iPod on loud and I’m listening to A Day to Remember – Everything We Need. I would never have heard of this band had I not met Matt so look up the lyrics and you’ll know what I mean because when I can’t voice my own thoughts, I’ve always found that music can.
So despite our differences and our disagreements we are a team, we’ve always been…
…and if life has taught me anything, it’s that big things grow from something small, it all starts off with a little leaf and a stem…
Dedicated to Poo Face…love you, you smell, Poo Bum xx
(Also dedicated to my friend Prem, thanks for the plant)