Dear Universe, I Submit

OK, I give in. You play dirty. You change the rules. You’re like an orca playing with a seal before you eat it… except you never make the kill. Your favourite time to kick is when I’m down. When things go right you shout JUST KIDDING! You feed on my hope until there’s not enough left of it to sustain me, and then you fill my world with people who tell me to think positively as if that will change your course. Normally, I can put up with your rubbish. But sometimes, when I’m really broken, I cry. And then, because I hate myself for crying and the shame is too heavy to bear, I curl up in a ball on the floor and deprive myself of the comfort of a chair because it feels like the floor is where I belong. And that’s how I know I’m really broken.

My mum brought me back to university. We were almost into my accommodation when we passed the front of the campus restaurants with big benches and tables outside. It was extraordinarily busy, and due to the anxiety I have about going ANYWHERE WITH MULTIPLE HUMANS IN IT while in a wheelchair, I was already pretty uncomfortable (being way below eye level and not in control of where you’re going is something I have yet to get used to in a large group). And then I was falling. More accurately, I was being catapulted out of the wheelchair – the old wheelchair that has had several users before me and now can’t turn left – the new wheelchair I was using has had to go back to its former user. Before I really knew what was happening, my mum was saying sorry and my knees were smashing into the ground. I just wanted to get out of sight and out of the way. A girl I’d never met brushed the dirt off one of my knees as tears welled in my eyes, and my mum tried to laugh it off at one point but felt very bad. And yeah, I’d been on top of things at uni. I’d switched off all emotion to get myself through. I was drowning but not yet drowned. Now I hurt in places that didn’t hurt an hour and a half ago. I’m on the floor. I’m all cried out (it took me about an hour to actually allow the tears to fall). Honestly, I’d been so… On it.

Would you be open to a truce? A ceasefire? I promise not to join twitter just so I can internationally mock you in a series of tweets. You already have pretty much every element of my health and I’m not sure what else you’ve left me that I could possibly give to you. But you’re welcome to whatever you can think of. 

I submit.

I don’t want to use the wheelchair. The frustrating thing is that my legs are fine, and they want to walk, and I want to walk on them and run on them… And Skippy says no. And we’re in a stalemate. And I am losing faith in medicine. I think I am losing faith in myself. I have had no idea how to carry on, no idea how to get through the destruction in my mind. But I know I’ll get through. With no idea how, and no real awareness that I’m even making process. One day I’ll just wake up and the world won’t feel heavy. And the awfulness will be behind me somehow. Because time drags you through. So it’s ok that I don’t know how to be. I don’t have to. (Trigger warning). I have fallen apart and the crumbled pieces have just been trodden on, but all those fragments are drifting together, being pulled to the other side of this by the passing of time. There’ll be an end. Even if it’s death. Even if that death is at my own hands, as it so nearly has been in recent weeks (don’t panic, I’m not going to do that, for starters that would involve getting up off of the floor). Something won’t let go. Something won’t give in. Physically I’m not struggling. The physical side of these health things is not what gets me. It’s the mental side. And emotions are not a conscious choice so anybody about to tell me to be positive… please don’t. If there was no positivity, there’d be no human left to write this.

My life at the moment is a situation I can’t control. None of it. And on top of everything else uni deadlines are arriving like rapid machine gun fire so I feel I should leave my friends to their work. I feel like I’m staring in the face of defeat, and I accept that. I accept the outcome and that I can’t change it and that this is what it is, but some stupid little part of my deluded hope is still fighting for its life… and it’s going to kill us both.

“Sugar we’re going down swinging” – Fall Out Boy, Goin Down

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Alien

I have spent the past few months living privately, locked inside of myself in many ways, trying as best as I can to be nobody and nothing, to tuck everything in and scrunch my eyes shut so that I might pass a little easier through the nastiness. I have no idea why I have chosen now to stick my head above the parapet. Perhaps it’s because I no longer care if an incoming projectile rips it off. Perhaps it is because even though I want to melt away, the feeling inside of me is growing, and it wants to be heard… and I need a little help to shoot it down. Either way, here we are. Or rather, here I am. Exposed (and by that I simply mean… present).

Since my second year of university I’ve laid on a table under a bright light and the hands of a doctor six times. April. June. July. August. Twice in September. Each time I thought and hoped it was the last time, and so far it hasn’t been. My last procedure was on the 29th of September. I went to a clinic appointment unable to hold my own head up (three days after we’d tried to reprogram my pacemaker and see if that helped) and a few hours later I was at the start of a 5.5 hour unsuccessful attempt to make my rebellious heart behave. It left me… With a very sore chest. Unable to sit up. Unable to stand up. Unable to walk. My heart was really, really unimpressed. I’d gone back to university in a wheelchair, able to walk short distances and occasionally leave my flat under my own steam. I suddenly couldn’t even lift my head without the world spinning. Since then I’ve had to use a wheelchair to go everywhere. The physical symptoms don’t bother me. I sleep a lot, I am exhausted after an hour of being out (despite the wheelchair), I can’t walk far at all, I get frequent palpitations, my vision fades to black, oh, and Skippy hurts to an alarming degree at times (that’s settling down). That I can handle. My body has imposed clear limits, and it doesn’t give me the energy to fight them. It often doesn’t give me the energy to get out of the wheelchair to get to bed, or to eat, or to lift my head. I’d rather not waste what precious little energy I have on worrying about how I feel physically. I have thoughts about it, but they aren’t for here. My summer has involved an awful lot of unpleasantness, weeks in hospital, multiple admissions, mental health crises… Things I don’t want to remember, let alone share.

Before I go any further, I want to explain something. I was bullied as a child. First because I was clever, and then because of my health issues. I am painfully shy, and I hate being treated differently because of my health. I hate standing out, I hate attention of any form. I learned at a young age that being different was very bad, and I try to hide away in plain sight to avoid my differences being sharpened and used as weapons against me. I have, for a little while, struggled with being in large groups of people. I am insecure, I am self conscious, my self esteem if quantified would be of a negative value. I hate myself, I feel like I bother everyone I interact with and so I try to do everything alone out of guilt and self loathing. I do not value myself enough to prioritise my own needs or feelings. I play down everything. I hide. I hide how I feel both physically and mentally, to blend in, to fit in, to wrap myself in that comfort. I am used to nobody having any clue how lousy I feel. I am used to being able to sit in a lecture hall with my peers oblivious to the catastrophe going on inside of me, or the fact that unless I attend a hospital within a few hours I’m not going to wake up the next day. I smother layers and layers and layers on top of any weakness, to compensate for the fact that people associate me with vulnerability because of my health issues.

Now, I am not the first person to ever be in a wheelchair. I am not the only person on my campus to be in a wheelchair. But I feel like an alien. People are not subtle when they stare. I wheeled myself across campus the other day past people wearing giant foam breasts to raise awareness of breast cancer, and I was the one people looked at (because y’know, society). People I have known for a long time suddenly treat me like a baby. Strangers treat me like I am incapable or even stop me in the street and demand to know why I am in a wheelchair. I can’t wheel myself places because my heart protests and I almost pass out, so suddenly I need people, I have to rely on people, I have to ask for help, and I have to let people help me or I can’t get anywhere. I have no independence at all. Since I was a child I’ve always been told by my doctors that I am just like everyone else and for the first time in my life I feel like… An alien. And I’m not. It’s just two wheels on a chair and if you think about it that’s kind of cool. But after the first few stares my brain suddenly ran away with its insecurity. Suddenly I cannot hide. I can’t hide my vulnerability. I have no choice but to face it. And I also have no choice but to wear it publicly. I cannot accept it, but now I also cannot escape it. And I cannot deal with that. It feels like the whole world is staring any time I go outside. People treat me so differently. And so… I became very, very reluctant to leave my flat or go anywhere on campus. London is not made for wheelchairs. It really is like being in space. And I feel like an alien every time I step outside.

Shame floods me. My skin does not crawl with discomfort, rather it writhes while I shift uncomfortably inside of it, trying to shake it off and cease to exist. When my friends are pushing me, I smile and lose myself in their conversation, with Bastille playing in one headphone to distract me from the situation I am in. But at university, that bubble falls apart.

With all of the above in mind, it is story time.

After three (I think three anyway) weeks of university, I still had yet to attend anything. I’d just had a procedure on my heart, which had ruined everything, and that should have been my biggest bother. But it was out of my control, and I realised and accepted that and let it go (I think. Maybe I’m just totally dissociated. Anyway). We had a tutorial at the medical school to discuss a case study we had been given to research and prepare information on. Attendance was compulsory, so not only could I not hide my vulnerability, but I could no longer hide that exposed vulnerability from my peers. I was going to have to face humans, and that was a big deal.

Firstly, while it is a 15 minute walk to the medical school, the pavements to get there are bumpy, the drop kerbs are at places more like cliffs, and even those pushing me commented that it was not appropriate for a wheelchair. There are buses, yes. But around here the buses are packed full of people. So many people that, because they refuse to move, there is no way you can get onto the bus with a wheelchair. And if you do, there is usually someone there with a pushchair who simply refuses to move, so everybody gets very grumpy at you until they collectively make you leave the bus so they can be on their way. None of the tube stops round here even have escalators, so a lift is far too much to ask. It meant I had to bother someone, knowing that pushing me all that way was not only an inconvenience because they’d have to get me, but also because it was going to be like a gym session (their description of the event, not mine).

I swallowed my self loathing and managed to find a very understanding human who was more than willing to help me to the medical school. Two, in fact. I thought getting there was the hard part. Uni is wheelchair accessible, it’s a medical school so y’know, they would obviously have thought about access for disabled individuals. Great! Until we got to the main entrance and for the first time in three years I noticed the flight of steps to get in the front door of the building. There was no sign for a disabled entrance. No other doors. No lift. Just steps. One of my friends went in, because she didn’t want to be late for her tutorial. I died a little bit inside, but was kind of relieved to not have to see humans. I told my other friend to leave me. She didn’t. We stood there staring at the mountain between us and the medical school, until someone on his way out happened to know that there was a ramp around the back of the building. So we set off. We found an open gate some way around the corner, and assumed, as it was the only gap in the wall, that it must lead us to the wheelchair ramp. I was so embarrassed about all the fuss, about standing out, and about the trouble to my friend. I was relieved to finally have a route inside.

We wandered around the back of the medical school, found the ramp, and proceeded to the door at the top of it which was… Locked. Never mind, we had access cards. My friend scanned the card reader. Nothing happened. She tried again. Then she began hammering on the door to the people we could see through the window. Our fellow students could also not unlock the door. Random people I had never met were staring out of the window at me and trying to unlock the door. I died a little more inside, and wanted to cry.

Eventually someone somehow made the door open. We went inside, only to realise that neither of us had any idea where the lift was. There is a very large and pretty grand staircase in the middle of the old building, but you have to go up 3-4 flights of stairs to go up one floor. There was no way on earth my heart could do that, and no way I could be carried. By chance, a passing member of staff happened to think she’d seen a lift once through some doors, and another friend said she knew where it was. We found it, and went up to the designated floor, where my other friend took over pushing me.

We entered the corridor and it said that room number 1.21-1.27 was one way and 1.27+ was another way, or whatever. My room number was pretty high, so we went the way the sign told us. The doorway was so narrow that the wheelchair barely fit. The corridor was wide enough for it and nothing else either side. People piled in behind us, because there are a lot of students and not a lot of building, and we walked along the corridor towards the room. We were one room away and then… steps to get to the other rooms. A member of staff told us to turn around and go the other way, where there was a ramp. I was so embarrassed. There wasn’t really room to turn around. In turning, we ran over her foot and almost took out someone else. Everyone had to reverse out of the corridor so we could fit by. All eyes were on me.

We went the other way round and found the ramp. The corridor was stuffed full of people, who had nowhere to stand but on the wheelchair ramp, meaning I couldn’t get to my room even though my group was already inside. I wanted to melt away, but my friend also had a place to be so she shouted “Look out people, wheelchair!” I wanted to cry. She then threatened to run people over if they didn’t move, and because they had nowhere to go, she ended up following through with this idea, and running over several feet and hitting several legs. People looked down at me with shock and outrage as they were rolled at and over, and I just turned my music up even louder and tried not to cry.

Finally we got to the room, after struggling to get through a huge heavy fire door. We knocked on the door and the tutor opened it… And the room was tiny, there was barely any room for the desk and chairs, let alone me. She made people re-shuffle and I felt so so bad for making them move. I spent the next hour trying to get over my patheticness, but I was dreading leaving.

Afterwards, nobody I knew was going back to the main university campus, so I had no way to get back and was too exhausted to go to our workshop that afternoon. Eventually my friend went out of her way to go back to the main campus so that I could get home. She has her own health issues, and walking will have exhausted her I know, and so I felt so guilty. I got back to my flat, shut the door, and crumbled. I felt very, very different. Wheelchair accessible and actually practical are very very far apart.

I was too unwell to attend anything else, so I didn’t. I met with my personal tutor last week, who completely changed the way I see myself and my mental health, and understood my wheelchair issues via his own personal life. But then yesterday I had a meeting for a group assignment we are working on. The night before, I panicked at the thought of having to leave. I cried. That morning trying to get up, each time I thought about leaving my flat I curled up under the covers in a panic, trying to literally hide from everything. It took me an hour (and the music of Bastille) to leave my room. I made it to the door of my building, saw other humans, and froze. Like… Completely freaked. I couldn’t do it. I’d already mentioned my anxiety to my personal tutor, and he got it. He understood it. But suddenly it was controlling me. My group, who I had only met once before, came to rescue me. We went to the newest building on campus.

As it was new, it had two wheelchair entrances. Amazing! Both are behind huge support pillars, so you have to be good at steering. Neither of the doors currently work. So there’s that. On our way in, a member of staff managed to help figure out the door. I spoke to my group about my anxiety and things, because I was basically having a breakdown at this stage, and they told me to contact my personal tutor. So I sent an email about how our university seems to be as accessible to disabled students as the International Space Station is to the average human, and the effect this was having on me (I had stopped sleeping, was panicking and crying at the thought of attending the workshops I had to go to the next day – aka today, and I was terrified of people and public places). Satisfied that I’d taken a step in the right direction, we eventually finished our meeting and went to leave.

But there was no member of staff. Also, this time the “out of order” disabled doors would not open at all. Neither of them. We pressed the button, my friends tried to rip the things off their hinges, random other humans stopped to help. So much fuss, with me at the centre of it… I was mortified. The only way out was a revolving door. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried to get a wheelchair out of a small revolving door, but we very swiftly learned why there is an alternative entrance. It was not easy. It was not dignified. It was not subtle. It was not great for a shy person.

On getting outside, my group all went one way to get the tube to wherever they had to be, leaving me to somehow make my way across campus, which I have noticed is on a very very slight hill. I figured I could wheel myself. I made it maybe 20 metres before I almost passed out. By that point, I was in front of the science building where some of my friends were in lectures, so I stopped because I had no choice, and decided I’d just have to wait. It was 3:05. Their lecture finished at 5. There were a lot of people walking past and I was stopped in the middle of nowhere so they at least glanced but mostly stared (or at least that’s what it felt like). I wanted the ground to open up and eat me. It started to rain. I started to cry. For the first time in a long time, I wanted to die. Really pathetic. Totally ungrateful. Totally uncalled for. But I was more serious than I ever had been. I made a plan of how I’d do it, even calculated how much of an overdose it would take to be untreatable. And I committed to it. I was genuinely going to do it. I sat there for an hour and a half, until my flatmate realised the situation, told me I was an idiot for not saying something, ignored my statement that I didn’t want to bother him, and made his way across campus to rescue me. He found me listening to Bastille, and I thought I’d be called pathetic and stupid but people just said that the entire thing was a horrible. I was planning to go back to my flat and take all the medication I have. Instead, I got into the room, thought about doing it, and that was enough of a comfort to stop my tears.

My friends pulled through. They were outraged at the university’s provisions, and aware of how shy I am and how much I hate bothering people, and therefore the effect everything would have on me. One friend came round. Another video called me. My flat mates took me to buy alcohol because all I wanted was alcohol or painkillers so strong they might numb emotional pain too. Instead, I bought comfort food. My other friend spoke with me on the phone until past midnight.

I made it to my workshop today after several freak outs and an hour of trying to persuade myself to leave my flat again. We went into the lecture hall and I looked up to see people looking at me. Of course they were, I was at the front of the room and they were probably curious. But shame flooded me and I just wanted so badly to blend in. There was nowhere for a wheelchair in the room. I could have got up and sat in a seat, but I was scared that people would think I was faking using the wheelchair, so I stayed put. The only desk I could have used was a stand alone desk in front of everyone facing all of my peers. Thankfully, the lecturer sat at it. I tucked myself on the end of the front row, which meant I had to sit across the front of the stairs and block that passageway. In my mind everybody’s eyes were on me and their collective gaze made me squirm and want to hide away. I came home and hid. I’m still hiding. I don’t ever want to leave again.

I have a workshop tomorrow at the other medical school campus 3 miles away. Buses aren’t an option, and neither is walking. The taxi fare is £39.50. Each way. The university said they would try to fund that if I could provide a doctor’s letter, but my cardiologist has not responded. And I’ve developed crippling anxiety about going out in public places so… I’m not going. They may as well have set me lectures on the International Space Station, because it feels about as feasible for me to get there. I feel like I’m looking down on the life I used to have but I’m thousands of miles away from it. Hearts are not appreciated enough. If yours works normally, just… treasure it.

A lot of people would be ok with the situations above. A lot of people won’t see anything wrong with them. You probably think I’m spoiled or ungrateful or stupid or pathetic or all of the above. I think those things of myself for feeling this way too, so you aren’t alone. I went to Bangkok in the summer. That was not wheelchair friendly at all, so I couldn’t leave the hotel and the heat also meant I couldn’t actually leave the bed because of my heart. Plenty of people have it far, far worse. I am also not the only person on this campus in a wheelchair. But I’m not handling it right now, and I’m really ashamed of that. I just needed a place to… words.

Thoughts, anyone?

One Thing Too Many

Something is very wrong and I don’t know how to make it right. I don’t know how to BE right, is more accurate. My brain seems to be done. Completely overwhelmed. I’ve no idea why. Maybe it’s because I was so happy with my 3am discovery (see previous post) that I gave up on sleep. Maybe it’s because the new drug I am on is PURE EVIL IN IV FORM and has made me feel like death BUT ISN’T DOING WHAT WE NEED IT TO. Maybe it’s because a doctor walked in this morning and told me that tomorrow (instead of today as I had been told) one of his colleagues is going to slice me open as casually as if we were discussing the fact that this hospital room has no windows, and nobody has appeared to explain what is going to happen in any way shape or form (I have to have a plan. It’s my body, my life, and right now I feel like I’m the only one left in the dark. Not being in control at all scares me). Maybe it’s because I was already completely overwhelmed. Maybe it’s because I got worse overnight. 

(Note: the standard of this post is shockingly awful. I am trying to put words to things that don’t even make sense to me and that make me so ashamed of myself as a human that I have no intention of reading through it after it has been written. I’m irritatingly weak and pathetically beaten, and you’ll have to excuse that. But I want to be real. As a society we often romanticise illness with fictional stories that tug at heart strings, but it also has an ugly side which unfortunately I am about to mention a lot)

My brain is no longer thinking, it’s reacting. I’ve hit this wall, this huge great mental barrier, and rather than climbing it or scaling it I’ve curled up in a crying little heap at the bottom. I’m too exhausted to fight with my own mind any more, and so today it called the shots. I seem to be refusing all IV things that I am not currently hooked up to (there are three on this drip stand, and four other things prescribed which I just cannot handle being given). I’m not doing it to be awkward, and not even because I think it’s something I should do, it just happens because for some reason when someone walks in the room with the next IV I now completely freak out and tears well and I just cannot. It’s one thing too many. I’m so overwhelmed that every single new thing is just too much today. My brain reacts to being so overwhelmed by… curling up in a ball and deciding it’d rather just feel like death. Or face death. No more waiting. It’s cruel to drag it all out. I don’t know how to do this any more. 

A (lovely) dietician came to see me this afternoon because being intubated has messed my throat up to the point that I still can’t swallow anything without choking. She wanted to put me on a puréed diet and told me I needed to stop and appreciate that I’ve been doing all the right things and my throat is at fault, not me. My friend sat there while we had this chat and I just watched reality cloud this happy mental place I’d been lost in. I’d been in this little bubble – I had a video from the stranger who happens to have a brain capable of making music that saved my mind (apparently the video was his idea), I had the company of my friend from the Bastille gig all the way from Manchester… so the awfulness had been so far away. And then just like that it had me. With a new pacemaker and a puréed diet I suddenly felt like an 80 year old. I remembered where I was. I stopped feeling like a normal 21 year old human. I remembered how I felt emotionally. I remembered the entire situation and it hit me like a train. So did the fear, and what I can only describe as a desperate helplessness (nothing we do is working, we’ve thrown some nasty drugs at the situation and it’s still deteriorating). My voice cracked, the tears welled. My nurse just said “Bastille! Play the video!” So I played the dietician both videos I have and I don’t think she was interested (although she had heard of Bastille) but it helped because I couldn’t cry for a few minutes after that. I was furious at myself for being such a pathetic idiot. When she left, the tears fell. 

Soon afterwards, a doctor walked into the room to take bloods (to check the nasty new medication wasn’t causing kidney failure or messing up my liver or making my muscles break down and poison my blood – as it is known to do as some of its “less common” side effects). I looked up, and off my brain ran. Tears immediately gathered again, my voice broke. I didn’t have the energy to say no, or the confidence. I rolled up my sleeve, both of us knowing that getting blood from me is a near impossible challenge that usually requires an ultrasound machine and an anaesthetist… She put her tray of equipment down on the bed… I saw all the blood bottles and needles ready to go (she’d brought a few because she knew she’d have to have many attempts – the vein my PICC line is in is so small they can’t take blood) … and I was just completely overwhelmed. My mind crumbled. I just stared at my arm and sank inside. The doctor said she didn’t have to do it then, and asked if I wanted to wait. In reply this tiny voice that sounded kind of like mine said,

“Can you come back later please? I’m really sorry, I just can’t. I don’t know why. I’m so sorry.” She was totally calm and very understanding about it. I’m so hard to bleed that my “daily” bloods are taken like… once a week. So it doesn’t even happen often. I’d thought I could do it. I had tried to swallow how overwhelmed I am right now and offered her my arm but I just couldn’t. After that I was embarassed. I was ashamed. I felt pathetic and ungrateful. I apologised profusely, and then withdrew to somewhere in my brain that made my eyes brim with tears as I lay on the bed (by that point I was too unwell to leave it). 

I have no idea why, but every single thing is just too much right now. Every time a member of staff even walks into the room I find myself holding in tears and my voice breaks as I try to speak. I haven’t seen my consultant since Sunday. I have no clear plan, just – sit, wait, slice tomorrow (Thursday), sit, wait, hope. And I have nothing left to give to my thoughts or feelings. Maybe I’ve cried it all out. 

Staff keep telling me that this is understandable, that I’m doing better than a lot of others would in the same circumstances and that I’m coping so well. They tell me I can’t see that because I’m.. me. When I apologise for crying at them and argue that I don’t need to be here (knowing how many people had cardiac arrests on this ward today alone), they tell me I don’t appreciate how serious the situation is, because I’ve gone from feeling so extremely unwell with my heart before the surgery that this still seems like nothing to me… But it isn’t ok or justifiable, is it? It’s ungrateful and ridiculous and really really not a good idea (brain, please take note). I just have no idea how to deal with this, no idea. I ask for help and just get told that given the situation my reaction is normal and human and ok. 

But how can it be ok when my brain is here like, “Right ok so I don’t know how to deal with this any more so let’s go into denial and refuse to switch IVs every few hours so it doesn’t feel like we’re in a hospital… And then let’s decide whether we’re going to just run away into the night or ask for a self discharge form…”(???)

How can it be ok if when the nurses explain that y’know… the grim reaper may gain a new customer if I did that, my brain is all “BUT WHAT IS THE POINT?! NONE OF THIS IS WORKING! It isn’t working and I’m terrified of everything getting worse and killing me so naturally let’s just wander down that route with open arms because hey at least then we aren’t out of control and in a crisis, just in a crisis.”(???)

Honestly, nothing is improving my physical health situation and now it actually seems to be deteriorating. I’m so scared it won’t stop in time to prevent the worst case scenario. I’m also scared by the fact that my brain can no longer face… anything remotely to do with hospitals… whilst I am an inpatient… in a hospital… relying upon some IV pumps 24/7 to keep me alive (luckily the most important things were connected BEFORE my brain shut down and so I’m still getting them 24/7).

Not even sure why I shared this, but hey. 

A Little Too Much

I’d be lying if I told you I was doing anything other than sitting in a hospital bed crying right now. I don’t know how to do this. I am drained and alone and so, so scared. Another IV has been added to the 6 drugs my new PICC line (Pablo) was already juggling over the course of each day, and the clinical director (who gave permission for my procedure to take place) saw me this morning and expects that on Wednesday I will end up having the wound in my chest cut open back on an operating table (and then still maybe two procedures after that). It should be no big deal. Way more minor than the extreme procedure he approved for me to undergo a couple of weeks ago. So I should be able to shrug it off. But I’m scared.

Fear isn’t something I let find a home in me often, and when it does I usually pile denial on top of it and wait for it to dissipate, but this fear is eating me alive. There is more than one health hiccup that could go very wrong here. Three different specialties came to see me today alone (as did an amazing friend who I met at the Bastille gig in May, who travelled all the way from Manchester to London to spend the day distracting my brain and quite honestly made my week). Things are complicated. There are too many things to consider and be worried about and too many thoughts to try and queue and process. So the fear hits all at once in a big jumble that I can’t untangle and streamline and sort because there are too many things to be scared about and all of them are justified. 

Among all of that, I smell that hospital smell and PTSD throws in a flashback or two and pure, raw terror tears through me like wildfire. In its place seeps a fear for my wellbeing, a fear that we aren’t winning this yet despite throwing rather a lot at the situation; a fear that things seem actually to slowly be getting worse after an initial halt in the course of things… and then maybe a sound or a different smell will trigger another flashback, and I’m curled in a ball trembling and sweating and scared like I didn’t think was possible all over again, until the other fear seeps back in. 

And I’d be lying if I wasn’t crying because just now my brain thought about the possibilities of how long this could last and what could occur and said to my body “Hurry up. Please just hurry up. Enough. Too much. Just do it already.” 

I’d be lying if I told you that the fear wasn’t eating me alive, and that there weren’t so many elements to it I didn’t even know which parts of it to focus on to start trying to manage it. 

Being here in itself shakes me to the core, turns my world upside down. Too much has happened to me in hospitals. Mistakes have nearly killed me too many times. Mistakes have resulted in emergency surgeries that went wrong and left me able to feel every cut for a very brief period of time. I have been bullied and belittled and neglected by staff. I have been legally assaulted by a paediatrician. I have been traumatised during hospital stays on children’s wards and in a children’s hospital in ways it is too painful for me to even talk about, and I carry that always. It causes nightmares, flashbacks – great big terrifying obvious things that leave me helpless to my own terror… but it burrows deeper than that, it affects me far more than even I comprehend. It also means my brain finds danger everywhere – in every word or act of concern, in every “I care” or “I want to help you”, in every medical professional, in every hospital, in every element of any thing that helps and heals. Because those are the things that broke me, that hurt me, that killed me inside and left this version of me behind. So I cannot trust these people with my life because people just like them almost took it from me (these people are lovely, but PTSD overrides logic). And it’s like being trapped in my own mind, in this endless cycle of flashbacks and fear because now I am “with it” and well enough to… lose my mind. 

And maybe that on top of the justified fear makes it harder. Maybe reliving the old things so frequently and vividly that you cannot separate them from the present… doesn’t help things. I want everyone’s concern to die away, I don’t want to be having big serious conversations about infections spreading to heart tissue and blood becoming acidic and leukopaenia and all of that. I don’t want to hear doctors say they are concerned. I don’t want to hear about how completely awful the situation could get (worst case scenarios that are actually plausible SUCK). Because I cannot deal with it. There’s no room. I can’t face reality because I cannot cope with it any more. Too much. I can’t handle this fear and I. Can’t. Run from it. I can’t leave this reality. I’m tied to it (literally, I drag 4 IV pumps around with me everywhere… and a peacock that I made from a glove – his name is Pierre and I made him a nest from a bandana which hangs from my drip stand).

It’s like rapid machine gun fire, but I can’t even finish falling before the next bullet hits or the next specialty walks in with some other different plan that my brain can’t handle right now (and also means that whatever the person before them decided now needs to be changed to avoid y’know… a crisis on top of the current disaster). I know this is super pathetic. I know. I keep being told that this situation warrants tears, but I know beneath my feelings that it could be worse and I hate that I am selfish enough to indulge my own emotion. 

All I can think as I sit here breaking is that I honestly have no idea how to go on, and for that very reason I need to stop other people going through stuff like this. I need to help just one person take just one moment like this out of their life. And so it makes me want to raise money for charity more. Because I have to take this away from someone else. I have to. I can’t stand the thought of anyone else buckling in the way I am right now. I don’t know how to handle the thought of someone else feeling like I do right now – it’s too late to save me from these moments (clearly) but it isn’t for someone, somewhere – and I want to help that someone. 

I’m tired. I hurt. After being intubated for my procedure I still choke on everything I try to swallow. This could be a thousand times worse, and physically it’s the kind of thing I can handle, it’s nowhere near the nastiest things I’ve been through, but… A lot is going on. That doesn’t help things. Mentally… I’m lost. This stuff just isn’t stopping. Right now I need a break from my health hiccups and life is just cranking up the dial. I’m in a specialist heart centre but non-heart factors are ruining things. I honestly honestly do not know how to face tomorrow. And I think my eyes may genuinely just be faulty because the tears will not stop falling.

Here comes the nurse with another IV to start. 

Where I’m At

Those of you who follow this blog will probably have noted that there are certain circumstances which drive me to post:

  • Things are great and I want to share that
  • Things are not great but I’m trying desperately to get a life
  • I need a place to vent 
  • I feel I should let you know I’m still alive
  • I’m in hospital
  • My world is falling apart a little 

You may also have noted that the long pauses in my more recent posts are usually driven by common situations too:

  • My health is so shockingly appalling that blogging is the last thing on my mind and I cannot function enough to read or eat or leave the bed
  • I almost died again
  • My mental health, reliant upon failing physical health, has deteriorated to the point where I am on the verge of a breakdown and possibly considering stupid and drastic actions to end the situation (which usually means ending myself) and the effort of fighting those thoughts consumes me
  • Things have been really really great and I didn’t have time to post 

Take a wild guess as to where I am right now. Almost any of the above would be right, because all of the above statements (except the very last point) are true. I have been awake for half an hour and already cried. I don’t cry, it’s something I hate to let myself do, and yet I also spent an hour last night unravelling and crying uncontrollably (until I remembered that the music of Bastille existed and pulled my thoughts away into their songs).

I had my heart surgery two weeks and two days ago now. It took six and a half hours. It was “extreme” and “challenging” and the people who came to see me afterwards had never seen anything like it before. I woke up happy, and immediately decided I had to raise money for charities that fund research into that area of medicine so that other people could have their lives changed too (and also so that others don’t have to experience the same things I have). And my life did change that day – my cardiologist put the entire world back at my feet. 

I can now walk AND talk. I don’t cough pink froth. I can lay flat, I don’t get breathless at rest or even when I walk. I can walk more than 5 metres without almost passing out. My resting heart rate is HALF of what it was (so FINALLY normal). It’s magic. Pedro the pacemaker is stepping up to the job of telling my heart to beat (the part of Skippy that tells him to beat is now dead). But Skippy, being my heart, is having a few teething problems. My blood pressure drops to 50 systolic and sits there for a couple of hours just because it can. And there’s a post-op infection. So I’m in hospital on a lot of IVs to try and keep me and my other health hiccups stable.

I’m in a specialist heart hospital in London. I’m miles from home and most of my uni friends aren’t in London any more as it is summer. I have nightmares and flashbacks to terrifying and highly traumatic events which occurred in hospitals when I was younger, and then wake up in a hospital bed and struggle even more than usual to persuade my brain that we aren’t in those situations any more. 

I have feared for my life with legitimate reason to, and a few days ago genuinely thought it was “curtains” to the point that I found myself sending final goodbyes to family members and friends because my case was complicated by my blood deciding to become acidic, and nobody knew how to manage the situation. The treatment I am on seems to have stopped working within the last couple of days, and I’m frightened about the severe decline that could happen whenever my body decides it hasn’t messed with me enough yet. I may need two more general anaesthetics in the coming days or weeks to prevent any further decline, and we’re waiting and waiting to see if they can be avoided. They’ve no idea how long I will be here, I just keep being told that it’ll be quite a long while. There is a lot of uncertainty, way too much time to think, a lot of pain, a lot of drugs, and a lot of emotion. And it just won’t stop. There’s no break, no time to get my head around one disaster before another strikes… and no more capacity to cope. I can’t cope any more. And so the tears arrived and I cannot stop them. 

The staff here pretty quickly learned how magical Bastille’s music is to me, and so I am frequently told to listen to it. I play their songs out loud into my hospital room as I sleep, and when I wake shaking and sweating and buzzing with fear, their sounds dampen down the flames in my mind and pull my attention and thoughts somewhere safer. Not many people here had heard of Bastille before I appeared on this ward, but it’s fair to say that they have now been educated, and the band has gained a few fans! 

I found myself in a place where nobody and nothing could reach me last night. For days I had been trying to hold myself together for the sake of those who are justifiably worried about the current state of my health. I know I’m lucky to have had such a chance taken on me and my heart, and I’ve been more focussed on making sure others can have access to that same chance. Last night though, reality became too heavy for me to shield others from the weight that is crushing me. Talking to my mum, I started to cry… and I wiped away the tears but they wouldn’t stop. 

My thoughts jumped into an abyss of uncertainty and hopelessness from which I thought there was no return until my reality changed, and that reality has the potential to become much better or… completely wreck my heart. Until that point, moments like that had fuelled me to want to raise money for charity even more, so that someone else could be spared from such feelings and moments. There was still a slight element of that, but also… I cried until I was too drained to really move. I just could not. And then I played a song. One song. (Pompeii, because it rescued me from an equally uncertain hospital situation the first time I heard it) and I could settle enough then to sleep. I don’t know how music does that, how it runs in to a mind on fire and floods away the flames, but I’m very grateful that artists decide to share it with the world. 

I guess then, the reason that I’m posting is because I don’t know how to do this any more. I am utterly, utterly broken and drained, and there is no break. I’ve been through worse, I’ve been in hospital for years before, it’s just tough to cope with this right now after so much, and even tougher to cope alone and with the trauma of PTSD forcing you to relive the most terrifying and traumatic experiences of your life over and over and over. I don’t know how to do this any more. I honestly don’t know how to be ok. I don’t know how to settle and I don’t know how to stop the tears because even when they don’t physically fall inside of me they’re raining all over the place. 

All I have, in this moment, is a heartbeat and Bastille’s music and… an awful lot of hope. I hope this situation changes. I hope I get the future I want and am able to raise money for the charities I want to help in the way I’ve already been planning. I’ve been too unwell and in pain (and on pain medication, but my body seems to get less high from it now) to post or really contact anyone, but today I just need… I don’t even know. Nothing can help because this is all on my body. And that’s a beast I don’t know how to tame.

I need to save other people from that, from this. I want them to have the chance I have had and I want to erase the fear and the hopelessness from the timelines of their lives by funding research that can help them to have chances like this too (minus all the bad luck afterwards, but hopefully with further research they can stop hearts getting grumpy about such drastic procedures like Skippy has). I am incredibly grateful to my cardiologist (who says this is just a blip). He’s given me a future and an entire life to live… now I just have to take that future back out of the hands of my body. Right now it feels very far away. But I will appreciate every moment of it, every step I take. And more importantly, I will use it to help others. Morally I can’t not try to pass this good on and I have big, big plans (wow I did not expect a positive end to this but clearly part of me is still alive and kicking). I just have to find a way to make it through today. And that… I just don’t know how. 

No way but through.

Just Another Loop

I’m on an emotional rollercoaster at the moment, and yesterday was the sort of day which I can only describe as another loop on the track. I woke up knowing a date for my surgery (22nd June, exactly a month since my heart wrecked the awesomeness of a night at a Bastille gig by behaving in a way it NEVER HAD before) and also knowing that despite only finding out I needed it two weeks ago, the surgery ideally has to take place within the next week. By the time I went to sleep (or not, because it’s 2am the next day and here I am trying to sort my head out) I had experienced the pure BRILLIANCE of hearing the new single from Imagine Dragons and the long awaited new Lorde album, lost most of the day to a rather involuntary sleep (Skippy rendered me dizzy and unable to breathe. I couldn’t human, but only for six more days!), and then been hit by the pure DESPAIR of being told that, thanks to the recent massive computer hack, the hospital is still 350 surgeries behind so can get me a theatre team but… no theatre! Goodbye surgery date. Hello void I thought I’d crawled out of. This, right here, is why I usually never let myself hope – because it sets me up for a fall, and the landing hurts A LOT.

Basically, it was the kind of day where you look out of the window and wonder how the world is still turning at the end of it, because in your mind molten rock is raining from the sky and everything you thought you’d managed to build is falling apart around you. 

My cardiologist is really upset that we’ve been forced to go private to get the surgery in the time frame we need it to happen, but the already overrun NHS part of the same hospital where he usually does all of my treatment has a shortest wait of about 8 weeks because of the huge backlog with even emergency surgeries. I felt awful about my family having to gather a sum of money we don’t have. It felt morally wrong and it troubled me deeply. I’d been terrified of the procedure itself, knowing what it will do and how significant the impact will be (the scientific part of my brain is ALARMED at what is taking place). And then there were all the what ifs: what if it doesn’t work? What if something goes wrong? What if it kills me? I feel personal pressure for everything to go ok just so that money isn’t wasted. 

I’d been spiralling into this sinking feeling, and when I was given a surgery date it was like someone cut all the bad stuff away. Maybe the not knowing was the hardest part. I like a plan. Don’t like being left in suspense with things as important as my future. So I was happy. It felt like flying. And then after one phone call it felt an awful lot like falling, all over again. 

I just stopped. All of me stopped. Like in a film when someone is shot, and there’s this moment where they grunt and pause and just clutch at where the bullet went in – you don’t see any blood, they don’t fall right away, they are winded and they hunch over with this kind of startled pained look on their face, and their brain is all “WHAT. WAS THAT.” I’m still stuck in that moment. For a while I was so restless, feeling so many things but unsure what any of them really were because I was too overwhelmed. I wanted to go for a walk to clear my head, but since that Bastille gig I’ve been housebound. I wanted to get away. I tried playing music, but it just became a noise layered over the top of the chaos in my head.

The situation seemed too good to be true and it was (just like the crazy idea of having one normal night at a Bastille gig where I thought I could forget about my heart, and the surgery a month before that which was new and we thought would tame my heart). But it isn’t all bad, and at some point when I stop reeling from the sucker punch and stand back up again, that’ll sink in. I’m lucky. Always lucky. There are people far worse off and so my conscience tells me I’m a complete arse for reacting in the way I have and refuses to stop focussing on everything that it is seeing on the news at the moment. But being scared is a draining process. Waiting is draining. Hoping is draining. Losing hope and finding it is… Draining. Almost dying takes a huge emotional toll, even though it’s happened so many times (but the last time was only just over a week ago and I still haven’t wrapped my thoughts around being as ok as I am). I can’t handle the not knowing. It’s my life. My chance to have a life. And every time I think we’ve found a way to tame the beast it breaks its chains. It feels like a cycle (this also happened with my last heart surgery).

I think what got to me the most was that as I laid there today, my heart hurting just to remind me it was there, dizzy, struggling to breathe, exhausted, eventually unable to stand and then unable to stay awake as things started fading to black over and over… I felt so physically unwell that I didn’t know how my body could endure that for another hour, and the thought of six days between me and any potential relief from that exhaustion and incapability and (literal) heartache seemed like such a long period of time I almost cried… Six days felt too long. Six days felt too long. 

I don’t know why I’m posting this. Probably because the comments on my last post were very helpful, my family will be having their own reactions to this situation (and we don’t talk about our feelings anyway) and only three of my friends know (and are therefore on this rollercoaster with me and a little lost for words). Hopefully when my cardiologist is back at work on Monday we’ll have some better news. Although Monday marks the start of what should be “surgery week” so that’ll be a little tough. I’m lucky and I’m grateful and I’m fortunate. I’m also reeling and hurting and lost. So excuse how pathetic I’m being right now. At this exact moment, I don’t know how to be. I can’t sleep. I can’t think but I also can’t not think. My brain is full of feeling and devoid of all emotion at the same time somehow. 

Still, no way but through. 

I’ll order pizza for breakfast. I’ll cuddle my dog. I’ll listen to Bastille. I’ll watch some Julian Solomita &/or Jenna Marbles YouTube things. And I’ll wait for my world to start turning again. 

“An Act Of Kindness”

I’m kind of embarrassed to say that things lately have been becoming increasingly… tough (I hate the ‘t’ word, because I’m not sure I’m justified in using it to describe my circumstances EVER). It feels as though I’ve been watching every element of my life slip away around me, with not enough hands or enough strength to catch the parts worth saving. I’m always very aware that I’m lucky (incredibly so) that my life isn’t awful. There is a huge capacity for it to have been much, much worse. I always use that attitude to drag myself up out of the places my mind gets stuck, tell myself I’m an ungrateful idiot, and move on. But things pile up. Normal 21 year old things, the impending doom of exams that I’m far too unwell to prepare for (and may not even be able to sit, as they are only next week), a crime committed against me in my own home, the huge emotional mess that existed before and after that, family disasters, and all the health stuff etc. etc. Not the end of the world, and maybe manageable one at a time if I wasn’t so mentally exhausted. But I kept going at the thought of heart surgery, at the thought that it might fix everything and I’d wake up an entirely new person.

For most of yesterday my heart rate refused to dip below 150. With all the marathon headlines floating about, Skippy (my heart) seemed to think we were running a marathon. I slept most of the day, not by choice, but because I couldn’t fight it. I couldn’t catch my breath. Eating was a strenuous exercise. So strenuous in fact that I almost passed out in my dinner. I was a dizzy heap of pathetic incapability that infuriated me. Skippy just said no. He hurt in extraordinary ways. My left arm went dead. I could barely function. Surgery was not meant to do that to Skippy. It was meant to appease him and every aching moment of his freak-out was an anchor pulling me back to the reality that things hadn’t worked. In fact, things were significantly worse. And that… That was a bitter pill to swallow. It made all of me sink.

Then I got a message. From Portsmouth Uni Friend. She told me she had a surprise, and sent me a link. To this. A small charity gig, featuring none other than Bastille. In Islington (an area that just reminds me of the hospital Skippy and I used to go to near there). On the 22nd of May. She knew how much the music of Bastille has meant to me through some pretty tough times, what it stood for, what it got me through. And she said, “shall we go?” And then another friend messaged, saying she knew how much that music meant, and she’d even buy my ticket. With the track record of things that seemed too good to be true turning out to be… hopeless hoping, I didn’t think anything would come of it.

So I went to bed. I was up all night, and I was scared. I stayed up until 3am, with Skippy racing the entire time, feeling almost as tired as I was in the end. For some reason, if I sat up and turned the light on, I was sure it would stop him from stopping. It was irrational for me to think I might never wake up, but after surgery Skippy is a beast I no longer know. He’s different now. Alarmingly so. I drifted off. Palpitations woke me from sleep. Chest pain stopped me drifting back off. Over and over again. I’d sit bolt upright and just hold my chest and oddly enough… Talk to the freaking out ball of muscle beneath my sternum. Skippy didn’t listen. It didn’t stop me telling it ssshhhhhh, it’s alright, over and over again. I was too wired to sleep. So I put in my headphones, and listened to Bastille’s Pompeii on repeat, because from the first time I ever heard that song, it has never failed to calm me down. I haven’t had a night like that in a very, very long time. It was draining. I was scared by it, stunned. I hadn’t expected it. I woke up almost afraid to stand.

With my heart in such a state, I naturally began thinking about the consequences. My exams start next week, and I would be in no state to sit them in my current situation. Then what happens to my third year of uni. Come to think of it, with a heart like that, how would I ever get a job? I wouldn’t be able to go for a walk, and I’d certainly never run again like I dream of being able to do. And my thoughts frantically raced around my brain trying to find something that might be unaffected, and there was nothing. Skippy has a hold of everything, and when he rebels, I lose it all. So I was searching for something to wake up for, to carry on for, to motivate myself with… And I just watched everything slipping away. Stupidly,  I couldn’t find anything left. I was so tired. With all my health issues. But mostly with the idiot inside of my chest. Skippy in his current condition isn’t going to kill me, he’s just “limiting your life” in the words of my cardiologist (which tells me that there isn’t really any reason to be significantly bothered because hey, the thing could be about to kill me and it isn’t). But still. I ground to a halt.

And then this morning, at 10am, with Skippy still shaky and determined to misbehave and me trying and failing to focus on revision through his aches and grumbles, I got a message. Two tickets to see Bastille at a pretty small gig. Me and Portsmouth Uni Friend. HK Uni Friend adamant that I would not pay a penny for my ticket. I was, and still am, astounded by their kindness. Completely. Astounded. In fact, it all seems a little surreal. They simply said I needed a reason to be happy. They said I deserved it. They said my life was unfair. I don’t deserve such awesomeness, and there’s nothing unfair about my life at all; in fact, I’d rather me go through all of this if it means that somebody I know or care about doesn’t have to go through it in my place, and I am frequently thankful for that fact because I think that’s… Fair.

And now there’s something to look forward to, something Skippy can’t take away, because even if I have to crawl, I’m going. My friend pretty amazingly said that even if we go and I end up unconscious (as I did on my birthday when we went out), it will be entirely worth it. And that’s pretty much my view. Skippy is wrecking a lot of things at the moment, and right in the middle of the void that has created, there’s now something to aim for and look forward to and… Be on the planet to witness. A calm, right in the middle of the storm.

And that’s all I needed. Something to look forward to. Because nothing seems bad anymore. I have perspective again. I’m sat here with Skippy still being an idiot, waiting for an arrhythmia nurse to call and… I’m lost in this awesome little bubble of happiness where fear cannot find me. I have something that makes me feel 21 again instead of 80, and I kind of live for moments like this. Where normal 21 year old things happen. I just suddenly have this overwhelming feeling that things will be ok.

It all works out in the end, I guess.

You don’t appreciate solid ground until you’ve been lost at sea.

(Also, yes the title of this post is also that of a Bastille song. Very fitting today. My friends are… well, I don’t deserve them at all, but they mean the world to me).

Comfort of… Bastille?

“As the world falls down around us

Give me something to remember

I am holding on

In the back of my mind

For dear life, dear life

Holding on

In the back of my mind

For dear life, dear life

Oh I, Oh I

I am holding on for dear life

Oh I, Oh I

I am holding on for dear life”

Bastille, Comfort of Strangers

Words fail me a little bit at this current moment. When I heard those song lyrics, I stopped dead. Everything melted away, and my brain curled up in those words like a comfort blanket. I had been fracturing, bursting at the seams, suppressing emotion that I couldn’t allow myself to feel but was most definitely there. I was torn. I was on the edge of letting it all go, of falling apart. And then I got a message from a friend asking if I’d heard Bastille’s new song. Immediately, I almost laughed out loud. Whenever I hit a tough time or get bad news or something, Bastille (the band whose music ended my emotional isolation in the back of an ambulance when I was… 16? if intrigued, see this post) seem to drop a new song or a new album.

I searched it online. Hit play. Listened until the chorus played, and this song just… took me. A total calm rose up and engulfed me and had I been alone, I may actually have shouted YES at the top of my voice. It was the same feeling I got when I heard Pompeii for the first time in the back of an ambulance, when I heard Good Grief for the first time as I walked out of a hospital ward after almost dying and being told that waking up everyday was pretty much like playing Russian Roulette… the same as I felt when they dropped a new album a day or two after I’d had surgery and was laying in bed writhing in pain until that haunting voice played  through my headphones and removed me from the world for the entire length of time it took to listen to all those songs.

I’m pretty sure this latest song is written about being in a relationship with another human (I may be way off there), which I most definitely was not, but the beauty about all forms of art is that people are free to interpret that art in any way they want. I have no doubt that this song said something to me that it was never intended to say when it was written. But it sort of woke me up to myself, it gave my brain an ally, it gave me words I could twist and put to something I couldn’t verbalise or even accept before. It was like a “Eureka” moment… It brought all the guards in my brain down and finally let me admit that I am not ok with how things went, I am not “not feeling” all the things I think I should, I had simply, as my counsellor noticed I do often, dissociated myself from the things that hurt too much to go near.

On the surface yes, I can ignore how I feel, I can tell myself I’m not disappointed yet, I can try to ignore the fact that three (wait, how many days ago was Wednesday?) days ago I had heart surgery (and not only did it not work, but I somehow feel worse, and the second part that needs remodelling if we have to attempt again was too close to my phrenic nerve so… asdfghjkl… and I have no idea what to do or where to go and it changes all of my imagined plans because is this all I am now? A tachycardic, fluid retaining, coughing, breathless, swollen, oedematous mess?) but in the back of my mind I am in the middle of a storm, clinging to this tiny shred of something that remains. Hope? Maybe. And I am being battered by emotions (not only from the past few days, not only from my health. There’s a lot hanging around and churning around back there), torn apart, ripped apart, withering, worn out, exhausted, beaten, probably ready to throw in the towel and walk to the Grim Reaper with open arms. In the back of my mind, in the part I ignore, there is a battle, and I am holding on for dear life. Paralysed by it all, completely lost, completely terrified, and just clinging to anything. That anything, right now, is this teeny, tiny hope that there is something that can still be done. And I didn’t realise that, couldn’t accept that, couldn’t work out why I wasn’t entirely happy and felt tense and bothered (or even admit that I was any of those things)… until I heard those lyrics and my great big deluded, ignorant conscious mind turned around and went, “oh yeah.”

And then… click. I am disappointed. I am falling apart. I’m devastated. I’m terrified. I’m wondering if I will ever be able to have a job, what will happen about the final year of my degree. Will I ever be able to go for a walk again? In the back of my mind I am still feeling all of the things I refuse to let myself acknowledge, and they have been burning slowly, like a fire. Those flames have silently eaten away at all the foundations that held me up. And the thing is, before I can rebuild, I need to crumble. Just demolish the wreck that is left and build something new to take its place, before the rot spreads. That’s kind of how I work. But I’m really great at pretending to everyone, including myself, that I am fine.

And then along comes a song, written by people who I never have or will meet, about a situation I probably can’t relate to at all… And it says all that needs to be said. Enough for me to stop hiding from myself, to let down the barriers, to accept what I am trying to shield myself from and have in doing so let silently destroy me. Weird. Awesome… Bastille.

Medicine saved my body. Music saves my soul. In ways that nobody and nothing else can. (Hey, it moved me enough to post twice in a few hours rather than twice in one month). It kind of brought me… Home.

I was so lost, and I didn’t even know where to turn or what to do or how I felt or what to reach out for, I was just crumbling and trying to pretend I wasn’t. And a song I’d never heard before just shut me down. Totally. Shut all of that. Down. No idea how long for.

This is why I never go anywhere without headphones.

 

Not What We Expected

“But if you close your eyes

Does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?

And if you close your eyes

Does it almost feel like you’ve been here before?

How am I gonna be an optimist about this?”

Bastille, Pompeii 

“There’s a pain in my heart and a pain in my chest

I wanna feel human again

There’s a pain in my head and I’m losing my breath 

I wanna feel human again

Human again”

Kodaline, Human Again 

As I laid in the CCU after 6.5 hours in theatres and just as many after that trying to shake off the anaesthetic enough to remain awake, these are the songs I played. I had prepared myself for outcomes at either end of the spectrum: new me or no me (fixed or dead, basically. Improved or killed). I hadn’t been prepared for the in-between. I hadn’t been prepared to wake up in recovery to the nurses discussing my tachycardia, and manage to hold on to enough waking moments to look up at my ECG trace and find my heart was just as grumpy as before. Before the anaesthetic snatched me back to (a far less deep) sleep for a few hours, I thought just long enough for my heart to sink. My consultant bumped into my mum on her way to the CCU as he was leaving the staff changing rooms, having swapped his surgical scrubs for his suit again. He told her some of it was guesswork, and that the last resort part/ all of it may need to be repeated. The next morning a doctor I hadn’t met before looked at the 10 lead ECG I was hooked up to and told me the surgery hadn’t worked. I’d need it again. Just like that, like it was nothing. I already knew. To them it’s just everyday, they get to walk away from it, they get to switch off from it, shut the door on it, walk away from the consequences. But to me… this is a disproportionately. Big. Deal.

(Oh, in case you haven’t noticed yet, Skippy – my heart – has totally stollen this post… apologies for the boring medical nature of this post but… this is life, and unfortunately I couldn’t choose to live a different one so I could blog about something worth reading about. I hate this part of me, this side of my life, but it’s a huge part of my life and if you choose to read on then… thank you)

In 24 hours my body went through it all: the terror of being in a hospital (as the surgical team all lined up in front of me and introduced themselves one by one in theatre, I trembled with fear and told them I was simply cold. The consultant anaesthetist held my hand. One of the theatre nurses that wheeled me to theatre had PTSD and was awesomely understanding), an anaesthetic, keyhole heart surgery (including a new-ish procedure to try to modify/remodel part – or as they discovered, two parts – of my heart), acidosis on top of already low blood pressure post-surgically (yes, I went in for heart stuff and could have died of a different thing), bleeding from one of the four puncture sites they went in through that resulted in a lump the size of my hand forming under my skin, two raw and bleeding cuts at the back of my throat from the endotracheal tube (which hurt to an impressive yet unexpected degree and left me unable to talk for a while but now just hurts like someone has taken a cheese grater to the back of my throat) oh, and rather a lot of PVCs (extra heartbeats).

I made one nurse cry that night by telling her I’d planned to join a gym when I woke up, and that I’d bought myself running shoes for my 21st birthday that I promised myself I wouldn’t wear until it was safe to try and run in them. I almost cried as I told her I felt like I’d never get to wear them. We talked about me – about the past few weeks, about all my time in hospital, about how people walk away from that because they don’t know how to deal with it. She told me I was incredible and that she wanted to clone me. I pointed out that probably wouldn’t be the best idea, given y’know… me. She spent about ten minutes trying to get me to say I would use my buzzer if I needed anything and there was nobody about, because I felt bad asking for anything at all. So naturally I just… didn’t tell anyone. The pain was bearable so I wasn’t going to bother anyone for pain relief, and I could hold my pee for over an hour before I would guiltily murmur between profuse apologies that the dam was about to be breached. I’m terrified of medical people. These doctors and nurses were so nice though, they spent ages just talking to me, trying to relax me, telling me they were paid to be there for me and it wouldn’t annoy them at Allan’s could I please stop thinking of myself as a bother and let them be there.

Emotionally I was done as soon as I fully came round that evening. Even as they discovered I was in acidosis in the early morning, I still told them I was going home. I’d had a sleepless night of crying and flashbacks and fear. I felt disempowered and afraid and I was intimidated to the point I was almost too scared to speak to anyone medical. They didn’t really know how to manage acidosis (seriously, I had to tell them until the appropriate consultant appeared) so it was pretty easy to persuade them all was well a few hours later with no further blood tests.

After the surgery I got breathless standing up. I got breathless walking to the bathroom. My chest HURT even though they hadn’t had to go in through my chest (I was warned that if the whole keyhole thing didn’t work, they’d take the more direct route instead). Not too unfamiliar. Only, I hadn’t done anything. And I hadn’t gone in there like that, and this pain was in new places. I wasn’t worried by it, just annoyed at my heart. The doctor was all “well you did have heart surgery less than 24 hours ago… it’s going to be a little upset and sore while it heals itself.” Upset and sore it is indeed.

I’m home now, and I feel worse than when I went to the hospital, which I wasn’t prepared for at all. It’s nothing disastrous, just breathlessness even when I’m laying down (except I currently can’t lay flat, so it’s sort of… laying back against 5,000,000 pillows). My lungs feel heavy, but no amount of air can satisfy them. If I stand I get so dizzy that I become spaced out and stupid. Walking makes me pant like I’m sprinting. My abdomen has slowly increased in girth to the point that my tops are so stretched they get pushed up and off of it. My ankles overflow from my socks. My legs are ice cold from about halfway down my shins, my hands are so cold the “capillary refill” is more like a “capillary NOPE” etc. etc. I’m exhausted, and pretty surprised about that to be honest. Even though none of this is new, just… worse than before.

I’m disappointed with how things are right now because my expectations were miles off of this either way. I wasn’t prepared with even the thought of more of this, especially not to this degree. My Brian (ok autocorrect missed up but I rather love this typo. I refer to my brain as Brian anyway) hadn’t even thought of that as a possible thing. I knew it might not work, but I didn’t quite manage to carry that though on to the “I will still feel like poop” part of that realisation. The success rates of the new and more complex one of the procedures (the last resort we were trying to avoid) weren’t that reassuring on paper but people kept telling me I was going to wake up a new person with their hope and optimism. But hope and optimism give you further to fall in order to reach reality. And so I’m disappointed, but… I don’t feel it yet.

To start with in the hospital I was deflated. There were tears (partly due to the drugs, which made me very weepy, partly to do with the fact it was a hospital so my PTSD had a field day, and partly because it hadn’t worked). I just didn’t know what to do, how to be, where to go next in my life, what the point in anything was. That’s a difficult place to be and my body was too exhausted to let my mind stay there. The staff said they were sorry, as if it was there fault my heart is a rebellious idiot. I just laid there and had a brain-to-heart conversation in which I told it exactly what I thought of it. It had even played up during the surgery so that they couldn’t get access to a particular part of it; additionally, my heart taunted them, behaving beautifully until they went to do the second procedure, and then taunting them by being a little poop and immediately refusing to behave in the way they wanted it to. When they tried to remodel one region of my heart (part of the third, new procedure that we hoped we wouldn’t have to do but then decided we kinda had no choice) my heart decided to play a trump card and reveal another anomaly, but when they tried to get near it they realised that they were so close to my phrenic nerve that if they slipped and damaged the nerve I wouldn’t have been able to breathe again, and by that route they kind of had less control of what they were doing, so they had to stop.

So right now I’ve no idea what I’m doing. No idea how to be. Plenty of thought but no emotional response to those thoughts. No idea what to do from this point onwards. Can’t even comprehend the current situation because my brain hasn’t accepted it yet. Don’t know how or where to go from here. My mum keeps telling me to revise and care about the exams I have in two weeks, but I don’t even know where my brain is at, and when it comes back down to earth and the hopelessness I felt when I first realised the surgery hadn’t worked returns… it’s going to be hard to find the motivation to get out of bed. So now, while it’s all surreal and I’m stuck in an emotional void full of thought with no feeling (which really was a smart place for my brain to stick itself – dissociation is a great temporary coping mechanism, and I do it a lot) I am trying to get a life. By that, I mean I am sleeping a lot, trying to beat my body into submission by pushing it to do as much as it can until it rebels to the point that I give in, cuddling a Labrador a lot, sometimes making lecture notes, and eating ice cream (in the words of one person who saw it, my throat has been “cut to ribbons”)

But see, I will get my head around this. At some point the dust will settle. Kicking and screaming, time will drag me through and then back into the boxing ring for the next round. Everything ends – the good, the bad, the amazing and the hopeless. No way but through all of it, even when you want to stay forever, even when you see no way out or never want to go there at all. And that perspective, that important, grounding reality, will return to my brain. So I will leave you with the lyrics from another band whose songs have got me through a lot, whose lyrics I cried to on repeat in a coronary care unit until finally I stopped feeling (many of their songs spring to mind, but this one was written about having hope when there isn’t any so…)

“Falling in this great divide 

The earth it splits, and my feet on both sides

Though my faith is shaky


I keep on hoping (keep on hoping)

Keep on hoping (keep on hoping)

When it all feels broken 

Got to keep your hope alive
Falling in this great divide

The earth it shifts, and I’m on the other side 

And I swear the world is going crazy


But I keep on hoping (keep on hoping)

Keep on hoping (keep on hoping)

When it all feels broken 

Got to keep your hope alive”

X ambassadors, Hoping

And that was the song, right there. That was the song that got me through that night, that initial realisation, the fear (along with Bastille and some Imagine Dragons and other artists whose lyrical art has become an emotional lifeline for me through the hardest things my body and the universe have thrown at me).

Maybe I will start saving for a games console, and I can live as a healthy normal human in a video game.

In order to keep on hoping, I’m going to have to start. That’s something scary and difficult for me to do, because it opens you up to a whole world of let downs and hurting (mostly because reality is a complete boob).

Even if we tried and failed, we can try again. Another anaesthetic. Another gamble. Another chance. And if that doesn’t work, then I’m in a bit of a situation. But maybe at some point before then my brain might decide all is not lost. I just know that in the next couple of days I’m going to feel like the world ended, because it carried on exactly the same as it was. I just don’t understand. I’m right back in the situation I was so desperate to escape from, the situation I’d gladly have died on an operating table just to leave behind.

This is all far tougher emotionally than it is physically. Forget the health hiccups. It’s the emotion they kick up that is killing me.

Blunt.

This post is less interesting to read and more… Life. There is an expectation for me to post, and absolutely no desire to do so on my part. I’m prioritising my attempts to get a life (which, after my birthday for a brief period were going extremely successfully). Things are tough right now. I’m going through a lot, and I have needed, and continue to need, space to fall apart and re-assemble into a human that can deal with this situation. Forgive me for that (and probably for the standard of this post). Also, trigger warning (I’m getting so sick of writing that so sorry if you’re sick of reading it).

My birthday was great. Seriously, it actually was. My smile was genuine for the first time in months. I was given the present of human presence, and managed to gather six other humans to join me for a meal out in Covent Garden (London), and then a trip to a gelato place (where I had the most delicious crepe ever and they cut the ice cream into the shape of petals so it looked like a rose in a cone) and then a slow stroll along the Thames. Many photos were taken by my friends so I have memories to hold on to. I have never laughed so much in my entire life. I felt 21. I was with people, I was back where I loved to be. I felt like I mattered but could not comprehend why… And I was so stunned I just couldn’t believe it was real. 

So reality hit me. Or rather, Skippy (my heart) teamed up with reality, and I was rendered unconscious on the London Underground at a tube stop that means both uni and (until the new year) home. I was beyond devastated. My heart was being an arse, basically. As the paramedics wheeled me through the ticket barrier before carrying me up two more flights of stairs, I made them stop so I could tap out my Oyster card. This was, and still is, the achievement of the year for me. After the paramedic telling me that if he let me out of his ambulance my heart would probably stop and he’d just be following me round London all night scraping me off the floor (he also told me I’d just have to have a second birthday and do it all over again just without the hospitals), I ended up in A&E with three of the best humans to be in A&E with. They stayed, they entertained, they made me laugh, they calmed me down. They went out and brought back McDonald’s at 2am. They were totally chill. 

My heart was totally not, but that was fine because my surgery is on the 22nd, so I was told I really did need this procedure, and to take it very easy until then. This procedure, if it works (50% chance) is going to change my life. The reluctant and cautious hope that this slow and involuntary realisation injected into my mind, filled the cavernous void of nothing that had opened up within me. And there was suddenly… A point. There was a point to me again. There was a point to existing, or at least, to resisting the urge to terminate my existence. There was a purpose for every action. Because there was a future. A chance at one. 

I’ll be able to attend lectures at university, I’ll be able to walk about without sleeping for six hours afterwards, and I won’t be worried about the ticking time bomb I feel lives inside of me. No more fear. Or at least, less of it. And maybe even at some stage, a chance at running… A chance at a life. A chance to be closer to normal than my heart has let me be for a while, instead of sleeping all the time and breathless and swollen and wheezing and unable to even lift my head sometimes. And that picked me up. For the first time since November, I was an almost fully functioning human. In three days I did 24 hours of work. I made lists and organised myself, and got into a routine. I started showering every day again. I cooked my food from fresh instead of buying something factory made. I let myself hope. I lost myself in this protective little bubble that surrounded me even in the tough times, warding off the worst and keeping my mind (and my mood, most of the time) intact. It was like having a force field and a superpower; a presence that I welcomed with relief. And that’s something I never let myself do.

It’s something I shouldn’t have let myself do. It’s something that is never safe. In letting myself climb and be lifted, I set myself up for a fall.

My surgery was cancelled last week. A “life or death” maternity case needs the slot. Two lives lost without it I guess. All of the above stopped. I lost myself in a void. I very nearly terminated my own existence. I very nearly drew my own blood. I sat in the darkness on the floor for three hours and cried. I lost everything, because I lost the hope I had accidentally been relying on and I was in no state to survive the fall. There’s a time when I probably would have explained my feelings here, explained why I was ashamed and guilty for attaching enough value to myself to feel upset at all and all the rest of it. But it still doesn’t feel safe to share here at the moment. Needless to say I have relapsed a little. Less so now. Denial is my home again. And it’s where I’m going to have to stay. My fellow third wheel and I are going to London tomorrow for the day – we’re going shopping and to see a film that he’s seen but that knows I really want to. We were meant for be going for a drink, but I can’t do that now. My entire family is against me going. If I go to walk anywhere or do anything they tell me to think of my heart. But life is about both mental and physical health, and I cannot just sit festering in my thoughts. 

I don’t want to be limited. I physically feel, and am being treated, like I just turned 80. I need to go places, see people, let my mind feel 21. Yes my birthday annoyed my heart, but I was on a knife edge and had been planning on ending my life. I’d go through all the heart drama again for another evening like that. When I’m thinking of other stuff, I forget that I’m scared, I forget that I’m lost, and I forget that I’m hollow. I hate my body right now. I’m angry at it. It’s all that people see, and now those people are joining forces and helping it to limit me. Every part of me rebels against that. I won’t stop everything, why should I? Because a cardiologist took away my hope? Should I die inside to stay alive? What is the point in existing if you have no will to live? I’d top myself before I ever made it to the 19th of April, without continuing my walks in the woods, and the chance to socialise (because this house is NOPE).

I was meant to be having surgery to remove Cedric (growth in my nose) on the 12th of April, and now can’t have that general anaesthetic, because my heart is an unreliable poop. Cedric has now grown to such a size that he obstructs my entire nostril, and is also pressing on a nerve, resulting in nerve pain that runs from my sinuses right through my face and down into my front tooth. Cedric was meant to be removed ages ago, and the surgery has already been delayed 3 times because of my heart. 

My body continues to rebel. Along with the new Cedric pain, Skippy has decided to intermittently hurt in ways he never has before. Through to my back, numb left arm, neck, jaw and then pain in my jaw… Accompanied by the urge to vomit and a tiredness so overwhelming I cease to function and then sleep for hours. I tell myself that I am an idiot, and it will stop, and that there’s nothing that can be done until that procedure (which can’t happen any sooner because it is such a complex case that it needs specialist people present)

And if they are rebelling, why not let my immune system join the show? Yesterday I changed my infusion set to find a small volcano in my stomach (a red lump with a hole left by the cannula in the middle of it which usually closes up pretty quickly). Grossness occurred, confirming my suspicions that somehow my immune system had allowed my subcutaneous tissue to be infected by a supposedly STERILE cannula inserted into a THOUROUGHLY DISINFECTED site. So I went to the GP today. I’m meant to have antibiotics at home because my immune system loves to welcome visitors into my body so often, but I ran out, so she prescribed me enough for my acute issue, and then some more to replenish my supply. She investigated the hard lump that has formed deep below the little volcano, and concluded that it was a collection of infected material and/or gloop about half a centimetre beneath my skin which was pushed much deeper by the cannula and has decided to set up home. If it doesn’t go down within a few days on antibiotics, or gets worse, it needs to be operated on. BUT… MY HEART + surgery that isn’t specifically for it = NOPE.

I’m dealing with normal life stresses. Family dynamics and issues that make me feel… like hurting just to replace the emotional pain with something that can’t last. Behind my health, I am a whole normal person, and most of the time normal life stuff is harder than being unwell. People forget that. I can’t talk about my emotions right now. They are… for my mind only (and my counsellor, a fairly recent and priceless addition to my life) and I cannot deal with being misunderstood right now. 

Reading all this, things aren’t even that difficult. I just no longer have the strength to remain resilient, and letting myself go through the process of feeling what my brain decides to feel stops me breaking down again. I’m trying to find my motivation. University are being absolutely amazing and offering me support that makes my life so much less stressful, so that makes it slightly easier for me to try and think about uni work. But honestly, all I can do right now is hug my dog and play Sim City and go for long dog walks with my surrogate mother (next door neighbour). I’m trying to get a life. But before that, I need to just figure out how to get to a place where I can start. 

I know it’s only four extra weeks until the surgery…

But 4 weeks is a long time to be scared.
Despite featuring in this post, my heart just isn’t in it. I hope you’ll all understand if I just stay away for a while. This just isn’t… Me, right now, and it’s hard enough trying to act more ok than I am on person, I just want to withdraw and just… Rebuild. Possibly. Because honestly, I’m on the edge of existing or erasing that existence right now, and I’d like to try and go with what’s right by everyone else, instead of what’s easiest for me. Which is going to take… Everything I have.