I always get a little on-edge when things suddenly start to improve. I enjoy them warily, cautiously, before giving in to my desperation and throwing caution to the wind. Some call me a pessimist, but after years of living with this body, and wandering through the course of my life, I am simply a realist. The higher you climb, the further you fall. If you’re on the floor you can’t fall. If you are only a short way above, with your expectations limited, you don’t do any serious damage. But I have been in the stratosphere. And pathetically (and for no real reason) I hit the ground with more than a bump.
“That’s the point. This healthy-feeling time now just feels like a tease. Like I’m in this holding pattern, flying in smooth circles within sight of the airport, in super comfortable first class. But I can’t enjoy the in-flight movie or free chocolate chip cookies because I know that before the airport is able to make room for us, the plane is going to run out of fuel, and we’re going to crash-land into a fiery, agonizing death.” – Jessica Verdi, My Life After Now
Physically, things haven’t been going great. Compared to how I was a few weeks ago they are excellent, but really not great. Health hiccups are starting to hiccup in combination, a combination that usually attracts the grim reaper for a little chat. But that wasn’t going to stop me.
After my swimming stunt on Friday, I slept a lot yesterday and cuddled my dog for hours as I lay beached on the sofa. I watched the Olympics, and I was in heaven at having non-stop sport to watch. I felt inadequate and inspired at the same time. It woke in me the same ambition that was planted in the mind of my 12 year old self when I walked out of the pool (after an afternoon of swimming laps while my dad and brother messed around) and saw footage of Rebecca Adlington winning a gold medal while I sat in the café waiting for my dad to finish drinking his coffee. There was that same idea of I will never get there, but I can dream of getting somewhere half close. Only this time, “there” was nowhere near as ambitious. I started to wonder if I would ever compete in any sport at any level again. But it wasn’t a sad thought. It was a positive thought, it was a driving force. It was a burning desire to get back in a pool or in a boat or be attached to a pair of legs that could run for miles… And I lost myself in the heaven of imagining what that life might be like, what the life I used to have might be like if ever it returned. And it didn’t drag me down. It pushed me higher. After my surprising ability to swim, I felt a little invincible (which is always dangerous with me because it encourages my stupidity).
I nearly bought a road bike (and a laptop, but hey). A road bike. Me. The person who it took two and a half hours to swim 1,100 metres, and whose body and heart screamed the entire time (and the heart for about twelve hours afterwards). I knew swimming had been too much, that there was no way my heart alone would deal with cycling, and yet for a brief (but not as brief as it should have been) moment, my brain was all Yeah heart you can do that… (It can’t. It TOTALLY can’t). But there I was, looking at a cheap but decent road bike in a massive sale on a cycling website, imagining myself holding the handlebars and cycling my way around London to get to the Olympic park and go for a swim… Me.
I wanted to go for a run. 12 year old me could never ever sit still, she was always doing some form of sport (or reading/ writing a book… or drawing… But mostly sport) and she seemed to be back in charge of my brain. I had found myself in a swimming pool and although I loved the sudden fire for life that raged within me, I was aware that my sudden urge to go for a long, long run through the woods was probably rather stupid. Because my legs wanted to move. I didn’t want to sit still. Exercise is different now. It never used to hurt and now it is near agony (even to walk half a mile). I never used to notice the extra requirement of my heart and now even walking reminds me that the demand for blood is higher as my heart races and aches. But still, I wanted to go for a run. I wear running shoes most of the time because that temporarily appeased my urge to run when things got tough at uni, and continues to quiet my urge to just get out and go. But I couldn’t run, because I knew I’d probably end up in an ambulance. So I walked my dog for half a mile without a care in the world. And the only thing that stopped me running was the clothing I was wearing (not even the partially torn tendon and my screwed up knee, both of which were taped with physio tape).
My hugely distended abdomen didn’t bother me. The twinge in the back of my knee and my patellar tendon with every step didn’t bother me (for once I walked without my knee cap wandering round to the outside of my knee – where, for the record, it really shouldn’t be).I was impressed that for once my immune system seemed to have contained (but not kicked out) and infection after a worryingly fast initial spread. The thundering ball of muscle in my chest that ached a little was drowned out by my relief at just being outside. And I’d managed to swim the day before. That had saved me. After those 1,100m of pain and cardiac outrage, life felt bearable again. Mentally, I felt refreshed and freed. For the first time in years I had the opportunity to clear my head, to think of nothing, to let time pass without the dread that it is dragging me towards the next hurdle into which I will stumble. As my muscles screamed all the pent up frustration and worry and… Emotion had just seeped out of me, lost to the blue of the water. That is what sport always did for me. And I was still riding that high as I walked my dog, craving it again like a drug.
Instead of freaking out about my hospital appointment in London tomorrow morning, my brain focussed on how I planned to come back and swim afterwards, in the pool where my old club is based (went swimming in a different pool the other day because my brother and nephew wanted to go somewhere with slides and rapids as well as a fitness pool). I was so excited and happy at the thought of swimming again that there was no space to freak out. Swimming helped me conquer fear that is usually crippling by this stage. It also helped me sleep the whole night through for once (and most of the next day but hey).
I stupidly fell head first into the brilliance of it all, the feeling that everything was falling back together, that I was being reunited with myself. But this is me.
I now feel I should set the scene. The 5th/6th teeth back on both sides of my top jaw both have HUGE holes in them. Until recently I’ve had perfect dental health. But I need surgery on my lower jaw after an infection so we decided to hold out and kill many birds with one general anaesthetic. For a couple of days, eating had become increasingly difficult as suddenly the only side of my mouth that I could chew on started to hurt as well, meaning that I could only chew with my front teeth. I found myself picking stuff out of the hole in each tooth with a toothpick after I ate anything. Anyway, yesterday my left holey tooth started to feel… Weird. (Scene set!)
A short section of my maxilla is about to become toothless, and not in an ironic sense like the adorable dragon in the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell (who I think one of my uni parents is actually friends with, awesomely enough) but in an OH NO I’M GOING TO LOSE A TOOTH EXCUSE ME BODY COULD YOU JUST NOT kind of way.
At about 11pm, I touched the hollowed out tooth on the lefthand side of my mouth. And I got the sensation of a wobbly tooth as HALF OF IT BROKE OFF under the gentle touch of my finger. Cringing (I do not do teeth. NOPE) I pushed the broken half back up into my gum, where it stayed somehow, and messaged my fellow third wheel (We message a lot anyway, and he’s a good person to talk to in a freak out because he doesn’t react emotionally at all so it’s great). I looked at my tooth and there was a crack from the bottom of it right up into my gum, with a slight displacement of each half. Well ok then. I thought. Except it wasn’t ok with me at all. The hardest substance. In my body. Broke. By itself.
It wasn’t a big thing, but I got so annoyed over it.
“[Me] please, [crying face] stop f***ing stuff up” My fellow third wheel joked.
But that’s the point. I felt like I’d screwed up another thing. Even my teeth couldn’t go right. The physical pain of a throbbing tooth didn’t phase me. I’m used to physical pain and can tolerate a stupidly unhealthy amount of it (which leads to weird situations like me walking around with a broken ulna for three weeks whilst in hospital, and insisting it couldn’t be broken because I could deal with the pain… This was the second time I’d wandered around for over a week with a broken bone. If I ask for pain relief or am actually bothered by pain, it tends to be BAD). The pain that I couldn’t handle was the emotional sort dragged up by the pain of a raw nerve meeting air and saliva for the first time. Pulses of pain throbbed through my tooth, and all I could think was, Why can’t I do anything right? I can’t even have a tooth right! A teeny tiny tooth! What next? I can’t even not screw up myself. How… How did it even break? And then I just got really angry at myself and concluded that I was indeed a complete screw up and could do right by nobody and nothing (this was a frame of mind induced by my family over a few days/ a very long time actually, but which swimming had helped me to shake off for the first time since I don’t even know when). I didn’t get all mopey about it, just super, super frustrated at my idiocy, even though I’m pretty sure that my tooth breaking genuinely wasn’t my fault. It was my tooth. I felt responsible for it. I feel responsible for all of my health hiccups sometimes, even the autoimmune part… As if I had any control over that (I’m an illogical thing most of the time).
I didn’t want to go to bed, so I slept on the sofa. My dog clambered up onto my legs and curled himself up so that his face was resting on my shin. He stayed laying there all night, only changing position when I got up and he freaked out with excitement upon my return no more than a couple of minutes later each time. I have too much love for that dog. I just cuddled him, and he let me hold him. Because he seems to be the one thing I can do right by, the one thing I haven’t screwed up. He loves unconditionally even though I don’t deserve it.
My mum of course got annoyed when I told her about my tooth. She swore at me and was very moody, which made me feel even more like it was my fault and I’d done something wrong. I was astounded at her reaction, actually. She was even annoyed that I’d texted her about it last night (knowing her phone was on silent and downstairs) in case I was asleep in the morning and needed to be woken up to call the emergency dentist before all the appointments went. Dad had just told me to go to sleep and wait until Monday. I was so tired I slept almost instantly and struggled to stay awake even on the phone to the dental person. Usually when I start to sleep this much it means the grim reaper is looming. My mum even said yesterday that I look like I am at the start of a very significant health crisis that usually ends in ICU for me. But denial smothered all of that. I was wary about telling my mum the outcome of the appointment. I’m scared of the dentist and the dentist said my tooth need to be pulled and the other filled, but that she wouldn’t do it there and then, and just gave me some antibiotics.
I nearly cried. The thought of extreme pain, the thought of having to deal with something else so tiny on top of other health issues that are so huge. It was just a little crushing for a few moments. I didn’t know how to cope all over again. I wanted to rip my tooth out and throw it across the room as it throbbed away in my jaw, taunting me.
And now my grandparents are here for lunch, which will be interesting after the other day when they were selfish and made me wish I was dead. I can’t even comment any more. It will start a war. And there’s already a battle that they’ve started over me. Pathetic. Selfish. Shameful. That’s how I feel their behaviour was. I don’t even know how to look at them right now. There are things I need to say that are better off unsaid. They also happen to be things that they need to hear. I cannot deal with selfish humans right now. They don’t care about anybody else’s feelings and we all pander to them too afraid to upset them. I’m done being torn apart by members of this family. Shots have been fired. And they will ricochet back at the people who fired them. I don’t want to argue, I don’t want to fight. But I need to let a lot of stuff out – carefully, politely.
No way but through.