Sink Or Swim

I told my body that it wouldn’t ruin this holiday. And from that point onwards I hoped it would listen. If this were a game, then it lost. Because I made it here. That’s all that matters, and it has to be.

I’ve felt pretty awful for a couple of days. My heart rate has sat at a minimum of 150bpm, and despite taking a couple of extra ‘heart tablets’, it still seems to have a mind of its own. Which is, y’know… Interesting (that’s the wrong word, it’s actually pretty terrifying at this stage)

The heat for the past two days has been ridiculous. This morning it was 48 degrees Celsius, and a couple of hours later the thermometer reached its maximum of 50 degrees and gave up. It was the kind of heat where you stand in the sun and feel like your skin is cooking, the kind of heat that bakes the tiles on the patio until they are too hot to stand on, the kind of heat that forced everyone else into the pool, even though we’ve all just been walking around in swimwear for the last two days. I didn’t get into the pool. I was too busy trying not to embarrass myself.

I left everybody outside and literally crawled up the stairs feeling like I was going to pass out. My brain felt like a helium balloon floating off above me. I felt so dizzy my vision blurred, and all I knew was that I didn’t want anybody to see me like that. Our last day of holiday, and I was determined not to spoil that, to give my family a break from the worrying. I felt like I was going to pass out, and I also felt like my body weighed a tonne. I made it to the bed, and I only know this because that’s where I woke up a few hours later, with my heart still hammering away, and my head floating, and a feeling like somebody was crushing my chest. I was told that when this happens, I am supposed to go to hospital immediately, instead of waiting to see if it will stop… Not after 48 hours of what I would describe as… A heart party (clearly, at this stage, it is apparent that this is just not stopping, which means my heart will eventually get all tired and move on to a whole new level of interesting) To put it simply, I could just face the music and walk into my new biggest fear (a hospital) or suck it up and carry on.

This is where you are probably expecting some bravery. I don’t possess that characteristic. I didn’t take it in my stride, because I felt so awful (I can’t really describe how awful) and I didn’t admit the need for help. Instead I got angry at my body, really angry. I laid there and I pleaded with my heart like the pathetic creature that I am. And then I just sat up. Sink or swim. I was sick of waiting for it. It had stolen my last afternoon, and it wasn’t going to steal my evening. 

I sat up and the dizziness intensified. The crushing pain curled up into my shoulder and I told myself that it was just my imagination. I looked at my feet and my toes had changed from pink to a blueish white, as had the tips of my fingers. This made me more annoyed at my stupid heart, so I stood up, and out loud, to an organ that clearly doesn’t listen to me, I said ‘deal with it’. I swayed, and when I walked I stumbled. But standing up on legs that don’t want to stand, and pushing forward in a body that really doesn’t want to, made me feel like actually, I was in control for once (I so totally was not).

We all went out for dinner, as today is our last night. I mastered the art of appearing normal… Or at least, I hope I did. Pretending that everything is alright is something I do a lot. It’s sort of a defence mechanism, not for my sake, but for the people around me.

Seeing worry on the faces of people that we love, and knowing that we are its source, opens up a raw wound that hurts more than words could describe. I owe my family a lot, and to constantly see the effect my health has on them hurts me. I try to avoid that. I try not to let them see when I’m unwell. I retreat to my bed, I get myself out of the way, I try to make them stop caring about me to spare them from the worry (which never works).

My parents are talking about taking me to hospital when we get home. I’ve needed medical attention for a couple of days, but we didn’t want me to end up stuck in a French hospital (people tend to overreact about hearts). Being in a hospital where people speak the same language as me has already proved to be traumatic enough lately. I can’t be dealing with central lines and resus and trying to give my entire medical history… In a foreign language. So my heart basically has one more day to sort itself out, because my body is not very pleased with it and I am fully aware that carrying on like this is both dangerous and very stupid. 

And I guess I just found my point. We do really stupid, really wrong things when emotion takes over our minds. But at the time they feel so right. In fact, the wrong things don’t only seem right, they seem like the only way to make it through. Our desperation forces us to try them, to put our faith in things that deep down make us feel uneasy. But we are creatures of hope, and given an opportunity to spare ourselves of shame, or fear, or a lack of control, or an absence of normality (the list goes on), we will try anything. We push ourselves beyond breaking. We ignore warning signals. We disobey rules and instructions. We go against what we have been told. We try to go through everything on our own, we curl up inside ourselves, into the personal hell of our bodies and our minds, and we push ourselves beyond help. On the outside people see normality, and they see strength, they do not see our private battles. They do not feel the effort that it takes just… Being. They don’t know how much it took for us to get to where we are, the private battle it took to get up and go on as though everything is fine. They don’t see the fragility, or the desperation, or the stupid things we do to try and protect both them and ourselves… And we very rarely shown them. We don’t think it is their place to see.

We can rarely see the things that wear us down. We can’t raise them above our heads and show them to the world as evidence. Yet we wish that we could. We live in a world where it often feels like we have to prove that we aren’t ok, and then provide a reason. The truth is that sometimes we just aren’t. Sometimes feelings spring from nowhere, and we feel like we have to justify them, we wish that we could find the words to describe them, and we just can’t do either of those things. Sometimes we walk around with a medical emergency going on inside our chests, and we wish that someone else could feel this feeling, and share in our concern. We wonder how the world can still be so normal when we feel like nothing will ever be normal again.

Without even meaning to, we put up barriers, we wear masks, we build walls. And as we add more and more layers to our defences, making them harder and harder to get through, what we really want is to not have to hide anymore. We want someone to breech those defences and see the broken parts of us. We want someone to open the flood gates and let out the things that are wearing us down. We want someone to understand. We want to be open instead of fighting to hide things. The thing is, we just don’t know how to ask for that. And we don’t know who to trust with that. We are too scared of the way people will react, too scared that our emotions may be contagious; and half the time, we don’t even know that’s what we want.

Step 16 to getting out of a rut in life:

Some of the things that you think you can handle on your own… You probably can’t. The things you think are right… Are going to be wrong sometimes. Your attempts to help yourself will sometimes make things worse, or feel like a wasted effort. And I’m not trying to say that ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ because that’s not true in a lot of cases. But with an extra person you stand a much better chance of moving or climbing over whatever is in your way. If people want to be there for you, that hardest thing to do, and the best thing you could ever do… Is to let them. Because when you go it alone, you either sink or swim, and you never know which one it’s going to be until it’s too late to change your mind.

Sometimes we all need saving from ourselves.


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