‘The Other Me’
While all this was going on, my relationship with Allie continued to have its ups and downs. During my initial recovery, she would sometimes get me, and take me to her place, just to get me out. Or she’d pick me up after some of my nerve blocks, and take me home. As usual, her efforts were generous and big-hearted. But, conversely, we still argued about lots of the same things, until I felt myself splitting in two, unsure of what direction to take – wanting it to work, but learning to accept it wouldn’t. The anxiety and stress became ingrained in my head, in my body, in every breath.
I began working part-time on-site for a publisher for whom I’d subcontracted. On the first day, I developed a violent nausea, which remained with me for weeks. I had an endoscopy done, which revealed nothing. Gradually, the nausea faded, but then there were episodes of shortness of breath. Then, when I had continual neck problems, I demanded an MRI, which revealed a bulging disc in my neck and the possibility of surgery to have the disc removed. This happened just three days after I got out of the hospital system for my leg.
I broke down one day, on the drive to work. Why was this happening? Five years of one health issue after another. I was trying to get my life right, to finally, belatedly, get it on track, but it felt like I wasn’t allowed to do it. Another part of me thought maybe it was just all the anxiety and depression twisting me up, and manifesting physically, because I was so afraid about being out in the world. You get battered around enough, and sometimes you just learn to expect it.
The biggest issue was nothing healed. The leg and foot had to be managed to avoid making the pain worse. The diet had to be managed to avoid aggravating the intolerances, or causing a hypoglycaemic episode. The neck had to be managed, or otherwise I had episodes of severe cranial tension, loss of balance, or a sensation like the ground was rocking under me. Later, I learned that my neck was also the cause of the nausea – if I had my head turned down or to the right for a while (like ten minutes), nausea followed. It was triggered at work that first day by sitting on a chair that threw my whole spine out of whack. Later, I bought an orthopaedic chair just like the one I used at home.
The body’s natural evolution is to heal. You expect it. If you take something simple like a flu as an analogy, you feel the symptoms come on, they worsen, they peak, then, and as they gradually alleviate, your mood lightens because you know you’re coming out of it – you’re not carrying that pain. I could never see the other side of that peak now.
I wanted to find some peace in myself, as imperfect as it might be. The person I’d been before all this had begun was a stranger now. I needed to find some control. It seemed tenuous over my health, and impossible with Allie, the relationship becoming so tumultuous I was unwittingly programmed to remain in a state of tension and alertness for the next argument – a horrible mindset that didn’t help with the rest of my pain and health management.
When another argument over something meaningless led to a break-up, I started to accept the truth – our truth. The break-ups were frequent and impermanent, but each one nudged me more and more into reconciling that Allie and I were simply incompatible, and she deserved somebody who was aligned with her ideals and goals. You can’t always hold on. You can’t always make things work as much as you want to, as much as you can try. Some things just aren’t fixable. I learned that with my leg. And I learned that now.
Only a week later, a friend ended up in hospital, seemingly with a breakdown following a relationship that was equally tumultuous. I sat at his bedside and thought, This could’ve been me. I didn’t want to keep repeating destructive patterns, especially given how my life had shaped. When I was a teen, I thought I’d be a successful writer, married, kids, all that sort of thing by the time I was thirty. But here I was in my forties, and in a lot of ways just starting out because of my love affair with neurosis. Everybody else had zipped past me. People half my age had zipped past me, and, at the very least, were comfortable in themselves – thoughts that often made me feel gloomy, no matter how I tried to counter them.
But at least I was somewhere. I thought of it in the same context that the surgeon talked about my leg. Maybe it wasn’t where I expected to be, but it was a victory for me.