Notes on the body...

Yesterday evening I spent a magical hour between 6.30 and 7.40 PM. Lying beside my body, my mind roamed in liminal space. Juno spread-eagle across me; our warmth mingles into a sweet breath of animal musk. I am an inhabitant of Ovid’s Metamorphosis.

Juno is a 7-month-old cream of the milk whippet. She is many other things. She looks like she belongs to one of Durer’s horseback knights. Her muscular neck, as are her harelike haunches, so powerful. Her ears so versatile that she could be mistaken for a lost meercat. She uses her snout like a hoover and I have started to call her Miss Shrew, which reminds me of the card game ‘Happy Families’, but do they exist? Boris’s slurp and sentimentality about our ‘Christmas loved ones’ would make the ancient Greeks laugh at our naive sentimentality. In action, Juno becomes a gentle sloe-eyed leaping roe. Resting, she is a wheaten moth until her ears twitch her becoming into a Pease blossom faery bat. One aloof stand sentinel!

Last night was not a good night …I also have many thoughts about the differences between insomnia and being an insomniac but today, I am reluctant to cast out a Pharmacia of infirmity, although I will admit that yesterday I woke at 11.30 PM from a frenzy of noise in my ears. I always suffer from low grade tinnitus which doesn’t bother me, but this seemed to be another infernal messenger of doom. I don’t think I could bear to inhabit another chronic infirmity. I managed to tell or wrestled with myself that it would make no difference how much I panicked about whether it would have disappeared with the dawn and unusually went back to sleep.

Recently, I have become surprised how reluctant people are, even in their therapy hours, to speak about dysfunctional disorders of their bodies, by which I mean those disorders that cannot be diagnosed as diseases that do not show up on scans and which often inhabit the regions of digestion. Above and below. Maybe, it is the shame of being dismissed as a psycho-somatic anxiety, which smacks the mind like hypochondria.

Twice, in the last few weeks I have been speaking to ‘patients’, who share with ease the intimacies of their emotional lives. In each case and gender, like a conversational jack in the box, both individuals surprised our conversation by an unintentional reference to suffering with gut disorders and severe dietary intolerances about which they have never spoken, and which were frustrating their lives.

There used to be a taboo about talking about Cancer, and it is a trickster illness that often inhabits its host unacknowledged until they receive a terminal call. Susan Sontag might be surprised if she knew what a constant topic of general conversation Cancer and its treatments, or tortures have become, although the smaller and larger intestines, as opposed to ‘indigestion’ do continue to be tributaries of shame. Sontag was right in her definition that there is clean disease and there is dirty disease. Nobody seems to have difficulty in talking about broken and repaired bones, the latter almost carry a geriatric badge of identity.

When I questioned one person who I have nicknamed ‘The Warrior’, about her reticence and stoicism, she replied: “It’s bad enough to live with its lifelong, (often starting in adolescence it seems), pain and inconvenience so why add anguish or undue anxiety to the burden of what is inevitable?

Hilary Mantel and Jane Haynes in conversation Autumn 2009 (left) & BBC - Podcasts - Start the Week with Andrew Marr (right)



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