Over the past few days I planned to get my life back on track in terms of catching up on work (we’re three weeks into university and for the last two weeks I’ve felt like I’m two YEARS behind with work) and tidying my room (when I ran out of floor space I knew I had a small problem – this was confirmed when I filled not one, not two, but NINE bin bags yesterday). My body, as always, had other plans. I usually wake up at 7am every morning without fail… And then after a few minutes, find my way back to sleep. This is generally only for an extra hour, but for the past few days I haven’t left the land of dreams before midday. In fact my body has even clung to sleep well into the afternoon. Getting “normal people sick” on top of my body’s usual state of affairs has completely wiped me out. I tried to work from my bed, but I was too tired and unwell to properly focus and at some point just crashed out again. All I’ve done is sleep, which frustrates me a lot, because over the past couple of days all I’ve wanted to do is go for a run.
Yes, I apologise, back to this obsession with wanting to run again. I’m wearing out the record I know, but I am craving a long, long run. I told myself I’d compromise by just going for another long walk, but my body isn’t even up to that right now (plus, I am currently sat listening to the roar of rain so thick and heavy that I can no longer see Canary Wharf, and as much as I love the rain, I don’t want to go out in it right now). Sometimes it feels like my health is like this rain – slowly blocking out the good stuff, trapping me inside as I wait with no idea when things will start to improve again. Within myself I feel like physically I could handle a run. My brain asks how hard can it be? It used to be effortless! On the other hand, I also know that leaving the bed will be a struggle, and I am fighting to be awake but clinging to this part of myself that was not made to be stuck in bed – the part of me I thought was dead and that perhaps would be easier if she just would go away – the part of me that loves the outdoors and doesn’t know how to sit still.
It’s so difficult feeling like one person, and being another. Two different versions of me are sharing this body – the person my brain feels like I am, and the person my body has forced me to be. It’s difficult to keep both of those people happy, because they both want and expect such vastly different things. I know which one I should listen to, and I know which one I want to listen to. On rare occasions, they sing from the same hymn sheet – last weekend for example, when I walked all the way to Hyde Park… But afterwards they remember their differences and I end up unable to leave my bed.
What’s making it even more difficult for me at the moment is that my friends are starting to discover the power of running. Uni Babe is 5 weeks into a couch to 10k running plan, and has on a few occasions mentioned how amazing running makes her feel in terms of relieving stress. WR Uni Friend also runs. I thought with this newfound discovery they may understand why not being able to run makes me so… Y’know… (I don’t know how to explain it. Frustrated?) but I think because it’s been so long since I ran, people don’t expect me to miss it any more. The thing is, I’m sort of like a husky – I need a good long run every day or I have all this pent up energy that turns to frustration and makes me irritable. Running was as much a part of my daily routine as brushing my teeth, and I feel like I’m hardwired to run. In my “running days” if I didn’t run, my mood would suffer. It was my coping mechanism. But slowly the runs got harder. And then I’d pass out. And then I’d just pass out without running at all. And there was no more running.
I made all these ambitious plans in my notebook when I set out on my journey to try and get back to running (you can follow my progress – or rather, lack of progress – here). I wanted to be able to run 5km by the new year. I wanted to run a 10k in February for Cancer Research UK. The weekend before my birthday, I wanted to compete in my first ever Park Run in Mile End Park. I wanted to join a running club in the spring, and run the exam stress away in the summer… WR Uni Friend turns 21 five days before I do, and wants to complete a 10 mile running event through the Scottish Highlands on her birthday. I kind of pleaded go along. Camping and running… And Scotland (I. Love. Scotland)… Perfection right there. Let’s not even discuss how overambitious and ridiculous this was of me.
But at the moment there seems to be this huge battle going on inside of me. I feel like something is missing, and I am craving whatever it is. I want this sense of belonging, but I don’t want to keep bothering Auntie Godmother by staying with her and her family (even though they are my relatives so it’s totally fine). I want to get closer with my friends but I feel like I just burden them too, especially with my health how it is right now, they don’t need to deal with that and I’m scared they’ll ditch me like almost every other person I’ve ever been stupid enough to think was different. I want to run so, so badly. I want to join sports clubs. I want that feeling of community, something to focus on and something to do. I want to feel normal, even though I’m not. That’s it. I just want to feel like a 20 year old university student. I want to forget all the health stuff. I just want to feel human again. And the more my health slips (and therefore the more I become incapable of sport and socialising and travelling to Aunty Godmother’s) the more I crave these things, the more necessary they feel, and the more I tear myself apart. But not last night. Last night denial and hopeless dreaming won.
Last night I went to a house party in Uni Babe’s new house. I’m completely socially awkward and shy until I know someone, so I either like huge crowds where nobody pays any attention to each other and I can blend in and just enjoy the music, or small groups of close friends. I went with WR Uni Friend and another of our friends. I got extremely drunk on two ciders (ok three in the end) and a single shot of schnapps diluted in A LOT of lemonade. I think I spoke to some people. Some new people. One of Uni Babe’s flatmates gave me a huge fluffy coat to wear, and somehow I ended up stood with a large group of people smoking some interesting substances by the canal at about 1am. They were still in a better state than I was. I was offered many drugs and a lot of spirits, and somehow had the drunken sense to turn them all down. I get totally honest when I’m drunk because my filter between thought and speech dissolves, so I probably mentioned my health, but would also have been honest enough to say I didn’t want to talk about it (I hope. I don’t like to just tell random people).
I remember WR Uni Friend basically mothering me (as she also had to do the first time we ever met), and then I somehow ended up in my room wearing a fluorescent jacket (the kind workmen wear) with a box of chips and onion rings from a local chicken shop, and woke this morning (ok, this afternoon) to a message to myself written at 4am telling “your sober self” that I’d showered because too many people touched my hair (I have curly hair, people seem to think that they can touch it without asking or even knowing me. It freaks me out because PERSONAL SPACE and also I DON’T KNOW WHERE THEIR HANDS HAVE BEEN. And also, BOUNDARIES). I’m not going to lie, it’s the first time I’ve ever been to a house party. I liked the people, although there must have only been about 15 at the absolute most, because people were turning up and then just dragging everyone out clubbing with them. I think I tried to talk to people, and I remember thinking everyone was really nice and far too… Comfortable and secure in themselves in a way I’ve never been, which mystified and also impressed me.
The air ambulance just flew past my window and reminded me what I have. I know I’m lucky, and I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. Somewhere out on the horizon I’m staring at right now, somebody is in serious trouble. They can’t wait to get to a hospital, so the hospital is flying itself to them. Who knows if they’ll even make it into that helicopter alive, or if they’ll see tomorrow even if they do? I’ve laid in resus and seen the states of the people the air ambulance guys (who are very friendly) bring in – people so covered in blood I’ve no idea what they look like, intubated people who cannot breathe for themselves, skull fractures, crush injuries, stab wounds, sick children… (I’ve been in resus a few too many times). From the window at the end of my corridor, you can see the hospital where the air ambulance is based. Each time I leave this building I look over at the view. Every time I see that helipad empty, or watch the helicopter take off or land, it makes me stop and think of the sorts of things I’ve seen. It humbles me and hits home and makes my heart lurch for an individual who I’ve never met.
And then I snap out of my stupidity, albeit briefly. I used to think that all the time there were people worse off than me, I had no right at all to feel unhappy (and I’d be utterly disgusted and sickened at myself for feeling low when I did). I’m slowly learning that it’s ok not to feel ok, that there are many things about my situation right now that aren’t ok and that any person would struggle to cope with. But I can’t help feeling lucky among all of those other emotions. I can’t help releasing the pressure I’m placing on myself to try and do all these normal human things, and taking a deep breath because… I can afford to let everything slip. I have tomorrow.
Today, if my body can’t human, and my brain can’t focus, and I’m in too much pain to do anything other than curl up and grit my teeth against it, or I’m just having a moment… That’s ok. It’s ok because I have a whole new day tomorrow to turn it all around. And a lot of people won’t have that, some of them don’t even know.
Right now I guess I need those two separate versions of myself to be stuck in this body. I need the person my body has forced me to be, to keep me grounded and humble and remind me to appreciate and be grateful for the simple things (in a way that until I met the grim reaper and was old enough to understand the significance of our encounters, I never really was). And I need the person my brain feels like I am – that hopeless dreamer that generates huge bubbles of denial and tells me that yes I will run again and yes I’ll swim again – to give me whatever it is that helps me carry on, to get me out of bed in the morning, to give me something to aim for even if it is far out of reach. Sometimes I’ll get caught up in the crossfire between these two parts of myself, sometimes I’ll tear myself apart and feel inadequate and do stupid stuff like try to run or get stupidly drunk at a house party. And sometimes I’ll do anything, anything just to feel alive, to remind myself that I am. Sometimes I feel this temptation to do everything wrong and rebel against a body that rebels against me. But that’s just how it goes – the ebb and the flow, I guess. Like the rotor blades of that helicopter my thoughts fly round and round at speeds too great for me to latch onto them.
Doctors have told me that the way I live isn’t a life – they want more for me, they say that the way I go through my day isn’t how a 20 year old should be living and all they want is to try and find a way to somehow get me to achieve that. There are moments where I think like them. Most of the time recently, I completely fall apart. But more often than not my brain refuses to accept their view of me, because my life is more than enough. I am who I think I am, and some of the time my life will be exactly what I make of it (the rest of the time it’s totally out of control), so I’d better make sure I appreciate what I have. It isn’t what I pictured, or what I hoped it would be, but I am grateful for all that I have and simply still grieving for some of the parts that I have lost.
Oh hey, the rain stopped. That’s exactly the point – rainclouds pass.
No way but through.