Last night I had people over for dinner. Here is my little lounge all ready and waiting for my guests:
When you’re chronically ill, social events are a mix of abject terror and adrenalin pumping excitement, with a dollop of dread and anticipation thrown in for good measure. For 10 years I wasn’t even capable of getting dressed, let alone hosting a dinner party, and even now it occurs once a year if I’m lucky.
For a week beforehand I exist in a state of anxiety, which is based on the fear that I will wake up the morning of the event with vertigo, or a migraine so severe I can’t lift my head off the pillow, or nausea so severe I retch just thinking about food, or just so MEish that my concrete body refuses to even move off the mattress. I try to be all zen and “hey, if that happens you can cancel and your guests will understand” but it’s hard. It’s hard because, just for one day a year, I want to do something nice for other people. To have fun. To have a social life (even if it’s with 4 pensioners in their seventies).
I went to bed the night before my dinner party with raging period pains and tossed and turned for hours wringing in sweat barely managing a wink of sleep. My period was actually due Christmas Day, so I don’t know whether to be grateful or pissed it’s arrived early. The next morning I feel like I’ve been trampled by a herd of wild elephants but at least I don’t have a migraine. Thank you God.
Around lunch time I drag my backside out of bed, grab a bowl of cornflakes (don’t have the energy to make lunch and dinner) and start to lay the dining table. I can’t leave everything til 2 hours before my guests arrive because I could conk out at any minute. I make the table look pretty, then have to rest for half an hour with a mug of warm milk and some treacle flapjack to replace my sugar levels. I’m still sweating.
The kitchen is strewn with last night’s dinner pots which I was too exhausted to deal with at the time. They all have to be cleared away before I can even think about preparing a meal for tonight. Kitchen tidied I sit for another half hour resting, with the room swimming in and out of focus. Bertie woofs at a tractor crashing past the lounge window and the noise pierces my head like a knife. My tampon needs changing.
Back in the kitchen I prepare the veg, lay out the desserts, plates, napkins, glasses, pots and pans, put the wine and beer in the fridge to chill and write down the times I need to put everything in the oven. All the while the room tilts and shifts in the glare of the flourescent kitchen lights, producing pin pricks of light in my vision.
Bertie still needs his afternoon walk, so at 2pm I dress like I’m on an expedition to Mount Kilimanjaro, hot water bottle stuffed up my anorak, and set off up the village on my scooter in the drizzling grey winter rain. When we get back, Bertie tramples muddy paw prints right through the house before I can catch him to wipe his feet. Cheers for that my furry friend.
I get out the hoover. If my back wasn’t breaking before, it is now. The nozzle sucks up half a hedge Bert’s trampled in from our walks in the 2 weeks since the cleaner was last here. Grit and twigs scrape the inside of the plastic bin as they swirl. I sweat some more.
Finally, house clean and kitchen ready, I run a bath – even I can smell me. I could have a quick shower, but that involves being upright and at this point in time I’m not sure I’m capable. I lie there in the soothing water wishing I was well. Getting dried and dressed again rivals the hoovering in terms of effort.
My guests are due to arrive shortly. I light the candles, filling the air with the scent of cinnamon. Frank Sinatra croons about Mistletoe & Holly from speakers that buzz slightly from dodgy wiring – I can’t afford new ones. Deep breath, game face on.
The next hour is spent in a warm, fuzzy haze. I’m grateful adrenalin has kicked in and I’m acting like any other normal host, topping up glasses, offering seconds and trying to follow the conversation. Aromatic wine wafts up my nostrils and my heart aches for the days I used to eat and drink with abandon, staying up playing silly games til 2am without a care in the world. I sneak a piece of Tesco’s Finest chocolate yule log – it’s delicious we all agree.
At 6.45pm we abandon the litter strewn dining table, don our coats, and head out into the dark night (the council turned off village street lights recently in a cost cutting exercise). My little pen torch lights our way to the Church gates and we find a pew. My Mum can hardly breathe with the effort of walking so far – I worry about her constantly. I look around the Nave, lit with hundreds of twinkling tea lights, and wave to people I know. We sing from well thumbed hymn books: The Holly & The Ivy; Hark the Herald Angels Sing; Ding Dong Merrily on High then proceed outside again in the drizzle and the dark to sing Away in a Manger round the Christmas tree, faces lit sporadically by blue flashing fairy lights. My Mums stays indoors, so exhausted she can barely stand now.
By 8pm I’m back home, alone. Table cleared, dishwasher full, candles blown out I make my way up to bed. Thankful I’ve survived the night and everyone had a nice time. I remember when it used to be about more than survival though. When it used to be about fun and the only thing I had to worry about was how many pounds I’d gain if I ate the entire box of After Eights in one go. I swing between mourning my old life and being thankful I can do something, anything festive this year.