“That doesn’t show here”
That’s what my anatomy lecturer said to me on Thursday. We were discussing the after-effects of my brief yet destructive meeting with some serious health complications that outraged my brain. We were discussing the fact that I had been up until 6:30 am the night before because I was freaking out too much to sleep and couldn’t deal with everything alone. We were discussing the fact that my brain can’t remember a lot of things, and that I’d spent the last 2 and a half hours in my kitchen (instead of in another lecture) desperately trying to teach myself the anatomy of the entire human skeleton (which is way more complicated than I thought it was). We were discussing the fact that I needed some advice on how to move forward, that academically I needed some support, that my concentration wavered and my ability to think has gone on holiday and lost its passport, but that I could still keep up with the work. And right at the end, when the topic got back to memory loss because I forgot that I’d told him about my memory loss, he pointed at the skeleton from which I’d just been assessed on my ability to locate and name specific bones, and he said
“That doesn’t show here.”
And for a fleeting second I felt like a superhero.
I did about average. Average. When I felt so far below average that I almost didn’t see the point in getting out of bed that morning, when I felt like I was good at nothing and good for nothing. I was underprepared and I hadn’t been in the lectures and in two and a half hours of panicked staring at a diagram of the skeleton I managed to match most of the people in the room, and even score higher than some. People with higher marks than me were bitterly disappointed but my main achievement was just being there. My main achievement was somehow talking to someone who could give me some advice, for finding the support that my brain has been crying out for, for opening up when everybody else’s reactions had made me withdraw into myself, because that wasn’t easy – but the relief was instant, and so overwhelming that I nearly cried… In the middle of my assessment. I fought to mask the effects of something I had no control over (the memory loss), and I succeeded. Because I’m good at doing that now.
I have been masking the effects of something I have no control over for a long time. And I have succeeded. I have been drowning while successfully giving off the illusion that I am swimming. I have been smiling to hide that fact that a huge part of me wants to cry. I have piled on layers and layers to hide the broken parts of me that I am too ashamed for people to see, because when they do their laughter seeps through the cracks and it stings… But that doesn’t show here.
And I am not alone. We all have hidden depths. We choose what we display on the surface, hide things that people could not even comprehend behind false smiles. We carry more with us than a single human being should be able to manage and occasionally we stumble and the weight of our own issues holds us down, but we get up and we carry on without anybody even noticing that we are struggling. We break and we fall and we struggle on a daily basis but we smile and we laugh and we joke over the top of this. We keep the things that bother us locked away inside and we wear an illusion on our sleeve in place of our hearts because we do not want to get hurt… But that doesn’t show here.
When my lecturer looked at me with surprise and reassuringly told me that the things I was trying to overcome did not show in that room, I was happy. But then I realised there was so much more that didn’t show there, so much inside all of us that nobody else will ever see. And if we all knew the thoughts and feelings that the people around us carry around, if we could see their emotional scars and if we knew the parts of their history that they no longer speak out loud… We would be surprised as well. We would look at them with admiration, and maybe a little pity (because people don’t seem to be able to avoid that) and we would wonder how we hadn’t seen it before.
I spent Friday afternoon with my friend at a central London university. And with five words she completely made my day,
“I’m so pleased to see you!”
I had felt invisible, and I had slowly drifted away from everyone and everything and nobody at my university had notice. When I tried to talk to them they had laughed and I felt isolated and alone, I felt like I didn’t matter and that, more than that, I no longer fitted. And then someone was pleased to see me. Which made me feel part of life again. The remnants of the thoughts that had been eating me alive melted away outside Holborn station when she pulled me into a hug and the smile on her face told me that when she said she was pleased to see me she genuinely meant it. After hanging around her university for a few hours, we crossed the river and went for a walk along the Thames at night which was pretty magical. And I started to feel whole again. Instead of feeling uncomfortable in my own skin I once again felt contented.
My mum came to visit on Saturday morning to help me sort my life out. And I finally felt like I was getting a grip. We went food shopping, tidied, made lunch, went to change my bed… And that’s when we found bedbugs. Living in my clean bedding which was stored in the compartment under my bed. And the temptation was to just break down. I stopped and for a moment everything else stopped and my eyes were ready to cry and inside I just wanted to scream but I held my breath and pushed down the tears and supressed the scream, and while my mum began putting all of my things into bin bags I walked down to the residency help desk and showed the guy behind the desk a few specimens I had collected.
So now I’ve been evicted. Thanks to health and safety I can’t stay in a room infested with bedbugs, so the university have told me to go home and commute. Which I can’t really afford to do because train tickets into and out of London are very expensive. We double bagged all of my clothes and soft furnishings and everything and piled it all up in the hall. Anything else they had got into would have to be thrown away, including the textbooks that I hadn’t really been able to afford the first time around. All my stuff, potentially infested. And again I just wanted to fall apart because I didn’t have the emotional reserves to deal with what in the bigger picture is not a big deal but yesterday was a huge deal. So instead of going to watch the rugby final in Trafalgar Square as I had planned, I stood in the middle of my room until it was bare, searching everything for bedbugs and throwing away non-material things on which we found them. And so many times I just wanted to give up on it all and walk away, so many times I thought I was done but I carried on sorting through stuff and piling it into bags because there was no other option.
I can’t afford to miss any more university. We’ve left most of my books back in my room because we had no space in the car, but I still have an assignment due in next week and assessments and practicals… And I have no idea how but I will do them. I am not giving anyone any excuses to tell me to leave. It became apparent to me a couple of weeks ago that I was going to have to fight to stay here and that is exactly what I will do.
So last night I came home. And a very excited chocolate Labrador ran across the driver’s seat and threw himself onto my lap when he saw me sat in the car. I saw on social media that an impromptu flat party was happening in the kitchen of our flat and I just curled up and hugged my dog and tried to figure out how I’m going to get to university on time every day while still trying to fight off the after-effects of some pretty serious health problems. My stuff is piled in black bags in front of the garage, and it is systematically being tumble dried on the highest temperature and boil washed or vacuumed or sprayed with insecticide to remove/kill the bedbugs. And I am beaten but I will not be beaten. I have nothing left to give but I will give my all. I am down but still not out. Life tried one more lick of flames but it did not read the warning that you should not burn me even when apparently empty because I will ignite. I am hollow, and a little hopeless, and everything is difficult because I am running out of the energy that is required to try…
But that doesn’t show through my smile. And hopefully it will not show in the things I do.