Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Eavesdropping, me?

A couple of years ago I was freelancing for a company in Spitalfields, East London. Befitting of the E1 postcode the offices were extremely funky. In the basement there was a kitchen area and three large, red leatherette, high-backed booths. A bit like an American diner.

One day a colleague and myself were having our lunch in one of the booths. We’re quietly eating when we become aware of a conversation in the booth behind ours. We can’t see them and they can’t see us.

A male voice speaks first, “So how was your weekend?”

“Not brilliant,” a female voice replies, “I was up at my parents.”

Mildly intriguing. Both my colleague and I stop chewing and instinctively lean back so we can hear better.

“Yeah, I’m still working through some issues with my dad,” continues the girl, “Stuff from my childhood.”

My eyes widen and my colleague pulls an ‘eek’ face. I flap my hands, meaning ‘shhh’, even though he hasn’t said anything.

“It’s only recently that I’ve been able to forgive him. And my mum, too, for letting it happen,” says the girl.

Letting what happen? Cripes, she must be one of Fred and Rose West’s kids. This is terrible. There’s a long silence.

Then the guy speaks, “Do you mind me asking…?”

“God no, it was all a long time ago,” she says.

I hold my breath. No way I’m missing this. I sit up as straight as I can, tilting my head so my ear is as close to the rim of the high-backed booth as possible. My colleague does the same. It looks like we’re hanging from invisible nooses.

The girl’s voice is now tinged with regret, “A friend from school’s parents were going away for the weekend and she had a party, but my dad wouldn’t let me go.” She let’s out a sad little sigh.

She wasn’t allowed to go to a party? No, no, no, that can’t be it? There must be more to the story than that? Maybe she missed out the bit about being handcuffed to a radiator from the age of four to seventeen? Or how she was forced to serve drinks topless to her dad and his mates? Puffing my cheeks out I slide back down the booth. My colleague rolls his eyes. I slowly close mine, shaking my head witheringly. We continue to eat in silence.

Now I know you shouldn’t eavesdrop, but what I always say is, if you don’t want your conversations to be overheard, use telepathy. That’s what it’s for.

I recount this story because I think there’s a good lesson to be learnt from it. And it’s about the importance of keeping things in perspective. Perhaps I’ve been too quick to judge this girl, but from what I heard it seems she has taken a fairly minor adolescent grievance and fleshed it out into a full blown ‘issue’ that apparently she is still dealing with many years later. A mountain may well have been made out of a molehill. I’ve been guilty of doing the same myself.

But one thing I’ve learnt from Guru Cohen, and my dabblings into the happy-clappy world of self-help, is to keep things in perspective. And I believe it has made a huge difference to my general wellness and state of mind over the last year.

To be frank, having a colostomy bag can sometimes be a real shitter; I have to empty it, change it, it sometimes leaks, I’ve got a yucky looking hole in my tummy, you get the picture. It would be quite easy to let it get me down. Which is why I make a real effort to keep things in perspective; it only takes a minute to empty my bag, I can practically change it in my sleep, it doesn’t leak very often, 99.999999% of the world doesn’t know I have a hole in my tummy. Whenever my stoma infringes on my life, I try not to roll my eyes or sigh or grumble or whinge or let my head go down, I just deal with it as quickly as I can and then move on and forget about it. Making a conscious effort not to dwell on the unavoidable little niggles of life with a bag and to pivot my thoughts to the positives means I’m in a much happier place.

And that is why no one will ever overhear me complaining about having to deal with ‘issues’ with my colostomy bag. I’ve got it in perspective.