What do you do when someone you love tells you that you’re destroying them? When they say they know you’re unwell and they understand things are difficult but they can’t take it any more, how are you supposed to react? Because the only thing I could think to do was to break down.
Correction – I didn’t think, I just broke down.
The guilt was already very much there, bubbling away beneath the surface. It was resting, curled under a blanket of self hatred, its monstrous head on a pillow of futility and an awareness that I am not the only one being emotionally bled dry by my health. It did not need poking with a stick. It did not need aggravating. And yet, the night before my third exam, it was disturbed from it’s slumber, and it roared. There was no fight or flight response. I was too weak to fight. There was nowhere to run. I sat and I cried while the claws of my guilt tore me to shreds from the inside. Whatever there was left of me to lose escaped through the gaping holes, the emotional flesh that hung like ribbons slowly died while guilt took a seat and licked fresh blood from its claws.
It has always been hard. It will always be difficult. To hear those words. To feel the thoughts that they generate, that were already there but somehow multiply until they form a lump in your throat and induce an almost physical pain in the rest of you. I might fight with circumstance from time to time, but at least I don’t have to watch somebody I care about do that. The emotional wounds I sustain are my own, and yet the weapons of circumstance that made them do not stop once they have damaged me. The bullets don’t slow when they are done tearing me apart. They carry on, or they ricochet from my selfish desire not to be alone with them on the occasions that I’m cruel enough to ask for help; they hurt everybody who is close to me, they make my wounds their wounds, and the blood on my hands is no longer my own. The tears I dry are no longer mine. The mood I try to lift belongs to the people that always try to lift mine. And that, that is what kills me.
I didn’t need to be told I was destroying a life. I already knew. It already hurt. I’ve been told I’m ruining lives before, sat while individuals who are just as near to breaking point as I am shout about all the ways in which my long-term hospital admissions affect them, list all the ways it makes them feel, as if it is deliberate, as if I do it just to hurt them, as if I caused my own heart problems etc. and feign the extreme fatigue that results. And sometimes I think, what about me? What about the one living it? And then I realise that I am used to it, I have figured out how to shut it out and I usually live in a little bubble of ignorance and denial.
They can’t shut it out. I am always so, so aware of the effect I have on the people around me, the people strange enough to find it within themselves to care even though my fear of them letting me down makes me constantly push them away. I can’t protect them, I can’t remove them from the line of fire in which they place themselves, into which I drag them. I couldn’t take that any more. I couldn’t handle the weight of my own feelings towards my health situation at the moment (there are now too many feelings to bury, and they seem to have formed a mountain I’m not ready to climb). I was already being crushed by my guilt – not just about my family, but my friends who at 19 and 20 years old don’t need to be dealing with things like this, the doctors who shouldn’t have had to sit and watch me break down in my last appointment because I didn’t know where else to take my tears, the people who let me bother them when I really shouldn’t have… Every single one of these people took bullet after bullet with me. We bled out together. And we will bleed out again.
As I sat crying I picked up my phone (because I have finally found out how to message someone other than a uni parent at times such as that… Mainly for reasons I will post about after I’ve revised some more) and I exposed several other people to the emotional bullets tearing me apart. And the guilt roared louder, and somehow its claws were sharper. That made my heart sink. And then I opened a hospital letter from one of my consultants (part of the team I cried at during my last appointment with them –I saw my cardiologist since then but he was so apologetic and feeling so guilty that I didn’t want to talk about how awful it was all making me feel emotionally or physically.) That made my heart break. But they shielded me from the wounds and took them all themselves. My messages switched between
I don’t know how to do this any more to Why have you stuck by me? And I’m so sorry, this isn’t fair of me. And Thank you so much, I don’t deserve friends like you, I don’t know what I’d do without you, I’m so sorry about this.
And the night before there exam they all made the time to be there. They didn’t care about the time, they didn’t care about the things they should have been doing, they didn’t care that I was telling them to take a break from me because they deserved it. They were there, and they refused to leave me in that state alone. I’d break myself into a million pieces to keep those people whole – for anyone I know actually. I’d give them whatever was left of me. I would and do take their emotional bullets with them when I’m able to be there, and I’d take literal ones too just to spare them the pain. When they hurt, I do too, beyond that, I make it my place to be there with them.
I never expected anyone to be willing to do the same. And my guilt writhed when I realised that for months and months – they already had been.
Caution: extreme cheesiness is about to follow.
Thank you all. You’re beyond awesome and I couldn’t have made it through the last couple of weeks without you. I was really nervous about the whole Winston (wheelchair) thing, but you made me relaxed about it and didn’t treat me any differently. You don’t cry in front of me but some of you tell me that you cry about me (which wakes my guilt up too, but you’re so totally allowed to cry). You’ve sat with me in intensive care units and resus until 3am, you’ve held bowls while I vomited blood and stood there while my brain swelled. I couldn’t have watched that. Thank you for those of you who stayed. You know who you are, but the internet will just have to guess.