The hardest words to say are the ones that mean admitting some kind of weakness: ‘help’, ‘I’m not ok’, ‘I can’t do this by myself’. And, as a result, people often say them too late. They say them when they have already fallen apart, when the damage is already done, when the humiliation of saying such words is multiplied significantly by the desperation with which they are said.
Last night I found myself in a situation where none of those words were enough. I met perhaps the biggest obstacle I will ever face in my entire life – myself. It is easy to turn your back on a situation, on the emotions it stirs up inside of you. But you never let go. The emotions demand to be faced and they find a moment of weakness and overwhelm you a little. They isolate you. They gang up on you when you’re by yourself. And they make you feel alien and alone in the way you are thinking, in the way that you can’t cope with things that everybody else seems to be able to.
I didn’t know how to carry on. It sounds utterly pathetic. It made me feel utterly pathetic. It made me frustrated, it made me ashamed. It made me talk. Because I felt so helpless that it was scary. I felt so lost that I was desperate not to feel alone. And I only talk when I can’t keep things to myself any more. Because I feel like I am burdening people. I’m scared that my emotions will rub off on them, I’m worried that I will drag their mood down to my level, that I will fill them with my fear.
This morning I’d arranged to go out for coffee with a friend. Why not go to school before?, we thought. Why not carry around a heavy bag full of nine textbooks and spend almost an hour wandering around to find teachers? I thought (or clearly, didn’t think. Because I am not the old me. I can’t do that anymore). I needed to give my textbooks back. I walked past the wheelchair to leave the house. There was no way that I was going to use it in school. None of my friends would be there, but I didn’t want to be judged. I wanted to be me for a few blissful moments. I felt fine. I thought my heart could do it (which was stupid, because it’s been having a run of bad days, and the night before I’d had to miss going to a huge barbeque because I was too dizzy to lift my head off of my pillow and my heart was clearly having a party inside my ribcage.)
I don’t like to appear weak, or even to admit any weakness to myself. It probably has something to do with being bullied when I was younger. I became determined never to be a victim again, especially not to my own body. So I’ve mastered the art of trying to pretend that I’m fine when I’m not. After ten minutes of walking around I was not fine (who even built our school on a slight hill? I would like to meet them, and point out how flat ALL THE LAND AROUND IT is). I felt dizzy, there was an intense achey pain creeping into my shoulder and spreading up into my neck, but I held it together. I didn’t want my friend to see that I was ill (oh how I hate the word ‘ill’). People panic about hearts. I don’t like fuss. It makes me feel guilty when people worry, so I just shut up about it.
I said what I needed to say too late. When I eventually said that I didn’t feel great, I was feeling pretty rough. But people don’t seem to be able to comprehend that. I would love for one minute to be able to pull out my heart and place it into another person and let them feel the pain and the head rush and the dizziness and the overwhelming fatigue (so the fatigue is probably also due to other aspects of my body that are also malfunctioning but the heart doesn’t help) We walked around some more. My head of year suggested that my friend went and got her car and drove it into the school, but I was embarrassed, and if I sat down my heart would get very grumpy at the effort of rising back up onto my feet, so I walked back to the car. And then we walked around the shops.
That was possibly the biggest mistake I’ve ever made. I said I didn’t feel great but my friend needed to go to a particular shop, and I didn’t want to let her down, or let my body win. So I walked around feeling like I was going to pass out.
When we got home, I ordered pizza for me and my nephew. I got up to go and collect the pizza and BOOM. The heart said no. It screamed at me in the only way an organ can – it hurt. And when I say hurt, I mean that I didn’t know what to do with myself, and I also didn’t know where to hold, because my chest hurt, and my shoulder hurt down into my arm and up into my neck. It’s not a sharp pain, not like being stabbed. It’s a weird pain. A dull pain. And yet it takes your breath away. But nobody could see how much it hurt. Nobody else could really comprehend it. And I wouldn’t let them. I didn’t want a fuss.
When my friend left, I somehow made it to bed, with my heart hammering away at 150bpm, and I crawled on top of the covers, and I slept. I didn’t mean to sleep, and yet I slept my afternoon away. I wasted it. And the most frustrating thing is that my body wouldn’t let me do otherwise. So ultimately, it won. And I pushed it too far. Again. Because I’m at war with myself, and neither side can win. It has never been this bad for so many days in a row, and that’s a little frightening.
My mum woke me up a couple of hours later. A friend (who alternates between being the best friend a person could ask for, and one of the most insensitive, annoying individuals on the planet) had invited themselves into our house. Or, as my nephew put it “Some guy has just barged his way into our house. Bit rude.” I was already really frustrated. At myself. I was not in a people mood. Long story short, my mum started having a go at me in front of my friend because of something he did. And I snapped back at her (I now have to do all of the ironing tomorrow, which I’m sure my heart will love).
But that’s what we do, isn’t it? We lash out at the people we care about the most, because we can be ourselves around them, we can show them our vulnerability, we can let out the emotions that we can’t quite hold in. We direct our bad moods at them because we feel comfortable enough to act how we feel around them. And in doing so, we make it hard for them to care about us. We hurt them. And I couldn’t deal with that. Not then. I thought there was no capacity left to be annoyed at myself. But there was. Because I was angry at my body, and I was angry for not listening to it, and then ruining it some more. And then all of a sudden I was angry at me. The thinking, feeling part of me. And I unravelled.
But a very good friend, who I most definitely don’t deserve (and for some absurd reason has the capacity to care about me) eventually talked me out of my self hatred. Which shouldn’t be a friend’s job. And should most definitely have been my burden and not theirs. And was not a fair situation to put someone that you care about in… But I am very grateful that there was someone there, someone who knows how I work, someone who knows that these feelings will stick, but by tomorrow they will be buried at the back of my mind instead of at the front. I don’t know what I would have done without you, so thank you. And yes, you will still never know how grateful I am, or how sorry I am for putting you in that position, because there aren’t words.
So I think the second step to getting out of a rut in life is this:
Say the things that it is difficult to say while you have a choice to do so, not when desperation forces you to. Find someone you can talk to, and say those things to them, just so that you don’t have to carry the weight of them alone. My brain finds the person that I turned to last night very easy to talk to. The words just flow, and feelings that I didn’t even know that I had seem to pour into messages that I never dreamed I would have the confidence to send.
Being lost in life is a lot less scary when you have somebody by your side.