I love being in places where I get to escape from normal life – lecture theatres where I’m so interested and focused on what the lecturer is saying or on my friends’ conversation that I forget who I am for an hour or two, long walks through London where I lose myself in the sights of ever changing surroundings and awe overrides everything else, cinema screens and books where I can lose myself in an alternate reality…
I like whatever lets me hide from the reality that I can’t deal with. I am running (not literally – I wish!) but the things that I run from are never far behind me now; I feel the hot breath of the grim reaper on my neck (he just wants to say hi but I’m not ready to make his company again), I feel his hands clutching at my shoulders, closing too soon to get a hold (but only until I am too exhausted to keep any distance between us).
I had a good day, I spent my day running from reality, somehow turning my mind away from as I met My Fellow Third Wheel after lectures and sat by Camden Loch talking and eating food.
I stood in a toilet cubicle halfway through the film HK Uni Friend and I went to see, and in the quiet, neutral space, I let reality hit. I know I cannot keep running and in that moment I thought it all through – the reality of the situation… And then I sucked it up, took a deep breath, and stepped back out into the world, wrapping myself back up in ignorance and denial… But there are emails in my inbox that I cannot ignore and there are things going on within me that I cannot hold off. How do you live when you know your body is trying to do the opposite? I don’t know how. You play pretend. You make believe. You just do.
There is nowhere other than… here. I have to carry this, and it’s a choice I made. For protection maybe? To protect who, I don’t know.
The end of the film, there was this other quiet moment where the titles rolled and I just sat there, briefly let everything catch up, and took a deep breath… And wanted to just… I don’t know, because that deep breath was all I needed to reset and go again. But there are these holes now, these fractures in the bubble of a denial that I cannot maintain.
I put on a persona and I try to maintain it – for everyone, for myself… I act like everything is ok when I know it isn’t, and most of the time it works, I am free from the weight that I carry.
I don’t want to be treated differently. I don’t want to be treated like a baby or made to feel weak and defective. I don’t like constantly being asked if I’m ok or told not to carry things or to take it slow, concern makes my skin crawl because it sets me apart and makes me feel defective and different. It means people draw attention to my health and it makes me feel a little alien (and when things are bad, I’m not an idiot, I do know, and I do stop, and sometimes it frustrates me that people think I’m oblivious). I don’t want sympathy or pity, and so I have to hide the things that induce all of the above. This is what lies on the other side of that. There is a reality that they don’t know.
“I will show you the view from the other side
This is the view from the other side” – Hudson Taylor, Weapons
I will carry on (what other option is there – no way but through) but let’s be realistic. I don’t know how – not emotionally, but physically. I don’t know where this is going and I don’t know for how long this body can carry on like this. There is this huge great stretch of oblivion in front of me and I’ve no idea what lies beyond it. There’s fear. I pretend it isn’t there, but there’s a fear.
And on the outside, I deny myself and those around me any knowledge of that fear, of that intimidation. The squirming sensation that runs through me when I think about those emails in my inbox stays exactly there – inside me. People tell me to go to hospital for stuff as if it is this quick fix, and they have no idea what they are talking about. They have no idea what waits there – the doctors who I haven’t replied to for over a month now, the healthcare team whose emails and text messages I have left unanswered and unread (until Monday night, when I was slightly drunk and opened one in which other staff had been copied in, saying that multiple attempts had been made to contact me by multiple people and there were things we needed to discuss so could I be at the hospital tomorrow morning yes or no. I kind of had to reply to that one because it was worded so that I had to, and I had to get rather drunk in order to even face doing so. I had to get drunk to deal with reality. In the email she asked how I was, as if she cares (I’m not going into why I say this, but these people don’t care about me personally). This is all about their jobs and ticking boxes, none of this is about me. I didn’t answer that part. She replied yesterday, foolishly thinking I was ready to re-engage with everything, in this message that went on about arranging appointments and moving ahead with treatment plans, and then again asked how am I doing?
How am I doing? I can’t say the words to her, I can’t say them to my friends. I rarely admit them myself because why stop to pick through mud when I could keep myself clean and move on to other things? I don’t even say it here.
How am I doing?
I am tired all the time – not just sleepy tired (the sort that healthy people instantly think of and say that they feel too), but genuinely unable to keep my eyes open, barely able to hold myself up; it feels as though my muscles are sleeping too, under-fuelled and barely able to move my own bodyweight. I have been going home between lectures, trying to make notes and just falling asleep. On Monday I lost my entire afternoon. I’m not sure if I passed out or fell asleep, but I like the second option far better so I’m going with that. I’ve been doing this every afternoon – sleeping a huge chunk of my day away. I went to Brick lane with HK Uni Friend for more bagels that night, walking slowly, feeling every step, and got accidentally drunk on my return. I was up until 3am, at which point, unable to focus my vision or to see properly and with so many acidic bodies in my blood that I could taste them, I saved my own ass with injections that I still have no idea of the dosage, but that the amount of bloodied cotton wool around me when I woke tells me were given straight into a vein. I have this dizzy headache that goes right through me and most of the time I feel like I’m going to throw up, mostly due to the sickly sweet acidic taste in my mouth, but mostly because of what it means – the medical emergency that it means is almost fully brewed within me – acidosis.
I’ve started dreaming (I don’t class my flashback dreams as dreams, because they’re re-living stuff that actually happened and so much more real than a dream). I have nightmares about university, about what happens when this emergency becomes fully cooked and my body tries to make a break for oblivion… They are dreams where I am simply unsupported by university staff, or they try to kick me out or make me take a year out. It isn’t the near death that scares me, I’ve been there too many times, it’s what my uni will do, it’s being in a hospital, it’s losing another set of friends… It’t the everything else that my health tears apart.
Nobody has any idea how serious this is, how unwell I actually am (other than My Fellow Third Wheel, who, when I met him yesterday, pointed out that he’d been super worried because I have to be almost dead to say I feel unwell, and I’d told him that I felt unwell a few days before). Nobody has any idea what happens when I get home and shut the door. Most could not comprehend how I feel. The only thing I can compare part of it to is a hangover – the symptoms of a hangover are caused by dehydration and I become extremely dehydrated even though I usually drink about 16 litres a day. There are so many other feelings you add to that to get to how crappy I feel, and I don’t know what events to compare them to in a healthy person, but let me try this…
I guess combine that hangover with the flu, and then the energy levels of an ultra marathon runner who has just completed a race (y’know, where their legs can’t even hold them up any more and they are breathing deep and heavy), and then get your friend to stand on one leg on the middle of your chest while you’re sitting in a sauna trying to breathe thick air that won’t satisfy your lungs no matter how much of it you heave into them. Now add the kind of dizziness you feel when you hang upside-down for too long, mixed with the experience of trying to look through the lenses of a pair of glasses that you don’t need. Then add this feeling that your limbs are jelly and there’s the weight of a great big Labrador laid on every one of them when you try to move then, but when you just relax they feel like they’ve floated off. You’re cold, freezing cold, no matter how many jumpers you put on (or how many blankets you sleep under), even when everyone around you is sweating because it is so warm.
Mix this with the start of a migraine and the stage of being drunk where your words are slurring and you feel out of it but good (sometimes I just feel a little high when I’m unwell because my brain just can’t even). On top of this, you either haven’t passed urine for three days because your kidneys forgot how to kidney, and so have swollen up uncomfortably in your ankles and abdomen… or your feet are so swollen you feel like they might split and your abdomen is huge, but you’re peeing out about a litre every half hour (I swing wildly between all or nothing) and none of your clothes will fit over your swollen stomach which makes you feel overweight and horrible even though you know it’s just water. Along with this you’re tired like you stayed up for a solid 72 hours trying to finish your dissertation and can now hardly keep your eyes open (except you slept for at least half of those 72 hours, and you were just trying to human).
This is all eventually going to annoy your heart (which sometimes even causes the crazy water retention itself and is responsible for some of the junk above), but then adrenaline at some point gets involved, so throw in a heart rate of 160bpm with a blood pressure so low that you can’t really feel your peripheral pulse, and add a few palpitations and a pain in a very general left side of chest/left arm/left shoulder area. The fluid will at some point decide to accumulate around/in your lungs, so add a wheeze and uncontrollable coughing for a good five minutes where you cough until you settle into a crackling sound with every breath, which generates an even more intense dizziness. Now imagine that on top of that you’re passing out but you can’t let yourself pass out – your vision keeps fading to black while your eyes are open, and you feel yourself starting to go limp but somehow you hold it all together…
Then imagine that while all this is happening you’re sat in the middle of a lecture theatre (or on the London Underground, or in a cinema, or trying to write up your lecture notes) trying not to look as crap as you feel… And then you’re somewhere close to what my days are like (and you may understand why I have no sympathy for people who like to spend ages telling me how they are “dying” of a cold and couldn’t come to lectures yesterday because they had a sore throat. Please).
I’ve learned to carry on with feeling like this, I never know how I manage to and I never expect to, but somehow I haven’t passed out in any public places yet this uni year (although I do get stopped by concerned off-duty medical professionals or random strangers who note that I look like death). But then on top of that, imagine you start to slip into acidosis, and on a daily basis have to fashion your own rudimentary IV to try (and fail to completely) fix the situation.
When it gets worse than that, I fall onto my bed and just crash out for hours. I don’t wake up feeling rested. But it’s fine. I can deal with that, I just don’t know for how long my body can.
So I don’t know how to answer how are you doing? Especially when it is asked by someone who knows exactly how I will be doing and just left me to that situation previously. I have absolutely no confidence in her or the doctors she works with for that hiccup – they screwed up too many times, they came far too close to killing me with pure negligence (which their profuse apologies could not make better).
What she wants to hear is what everybody wants to hear, what I always say, and what only two people on the planet can see right through
I’m fine. (And I genuinely feel that I have no right to say anything otherwise really. Sure I feel a little rubbish and I look completely awful, but I’m not dead, and I’m not in hospital, and I am at uni and have friends, and I’m sorting my life out having finally ranted at my mother who is now acting like the other night never happened… I am so, so lucky. And this is just normal now).
We all ignore the other side. Everyone is happier that way, including me.
“It’ll cause you pain
It’ll make you cry
From the hopeless day to the sleepless night” – Hudson Taylor, Weapons
“If you don’t believe, it can’t hurt you” – Nothing But Thieves, Graveyard Whistling
But that doesn’t make it go away.