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. 

Testing The Water

After a somewhat un-anticipated and gratefully welcomed hiatus from blogging, I find myself sat in front of a computer screen with not a lot to say (cue one of the longest blog posts I’ve ever written. With its inevitable trigger warning). This time, you do not want to know the places I have been, and I feel too vulnerable in sharing them to ever let them escape my mind. The general reaction is usually that my mind resembling the scene of some sort of natural disaster(/desert littered with corpses that all look like me but represent slightly different parts of who I was) is fully justified by my health hiccups and the frequency with which the grim reaper and I make each others’ acquaintance. That general reaction overlooks one very important thing: me. It overlooks the fact that I am an entire person beyond my health, with an entire life that exists and functions beyond it.

I had a breakdown. I tried for about a month to cover it up. Making it to the end of the day was exhausting even if my health hiccups behaved, because I was pleading with the 99% of me that wanted my life to end, 24/7. And I wasn’t winning. There were so many reasons why. And this wasn’t a safe place to share that, because in various ways I’ve been used through this blog, and testing the water left me scalded. My mind became a prison then, me locked in a cell with thoughts and memories that over and over again reinforced my low self esteem until it built to a self hatred so intense I felt unworthy of everything, even food. The effort of that constant argument took everything I had. Until there was nothing left. There was nothing left to obstruct the 99%, so it became 100%. Only, that wasn’t what I wanted for myself. I wanted the situation to end. I wanted a life, or a death, and the former seemed an impossibility and the latter the only realistic solution. It wasn’t desire driving that feeling or that thought, it was desperation. Sheer, hopeless, defeated, desperation. And my family had no idea the true severity. They had no idea where I was, and where I am. They have no idea who I am. Life itself felt like a prison. I just didn’t have the motivation to try to escape.

In itself, that led to a whole new desperation. And that desperation coupled with misunderstanding and insensitivity that has led me to withdraw from the members of my family as much as I can, led me to counselling. Don’t judge me for that, I’ve already judged myself enough. I’ve already decided it was pathetic and my feelings are unjustified. But that woman single-handedly saved my life, and changed my life, in ways I never thought some words exchanged between two individuals sat in a rented room in a church ever could. I like order, I like to understand and process and let it settle and pack it away and move on. And there are things so big and traumatic and unpleasant that I cannot touch them with a barge pole. So I hide from my own mind and in doing so dug myself into a hole in which I was suffocating.

Sitting in that room I was very sceptical. I cannot talk. I do not open up. But desperation drives uncharacteristic actions. She poked the hornets nest, and my thoughts swarmed. Two sessions a week. Sting after sting. And the hornets only went for me. She understood. Nobody has ever understood. My parents won’t. Cannot. And that hurts. But to finally have someone who takes the mess and sees the same stuff as I do within that mess… Magic. She told me I’ve been through hell. And in (2?) months, we haven’t really got round to my health issues. I am so tired of being viewed as the unhealthy person that I have completely dissociated myself from my body and from my health. My body is not me. It serves me, albeit badly. My health is also not me. Take it away, and I have a life. Take my life away, and there is no health. Therefore, health does not equal life. They exist independently, and the lines are so blurred that people associate my face with a whole list of health stuff and medications and a medical history instead of me. In the past two days, I’ve suddenly started to force myself to function. I have found the free energy to plan, to aim, to set myself simple tasks and shut out the world and not care when my parents disapprove and just rebuild.

I turn 21 on the 9th of March. When asked about my birthday by my counsellor, I burst into tears. I had no idea why, I hated myself for crying, I felt stupid and I hadn’t expected crying to steal my words at all. But birthdays are a big deal when there have been so many times in the 364 days between them that you don’t think you’re going to see another one. Milestones matter, and birthdays are the only “everyone else” milestone my health has yet to take from me. They just matter. They are the one day a year when an individual matters, when people stop and acknowledge you and focus on you. And I squirm at attention, but birthdays for that exact reason are the one day of the year when I see how much I’ve lost. Not in terms of things or time, but people. People who think I matter enough. Because on the other days of the year, their absence stings, their failure to reply or the fact that they forget you exist is painful and understood and in my case justified because I am nothing special. But on birthdays, that absence and silence is enough to kill.

This time 365 days ago, I was in an ICU bed. I had been told, exactly a month before my birthday, that I wouldn’t survive a particular medical emergency again and at the trend we’d observed, it wouldn’t be more than a couple of weeks until it occurred once more; then the guy whose job it was to try and stop it told me he couldn’t. I broke, but nowhere near like I have broken now. I had support, in the form of a uni parent, who grounded my panic and was very right about worry being unsustainable. I walked along the Thames and I enjoyed every moment because I could feel “it” coming. I was in ICU for (6?) days. People forgot they said they would visit, so only one person did. (I am never around. Even now, I am not well enough to attend university and am only going for assessments. My friends see each other every day, they are constantly reminded of each other, they grow closer and closer and I drift further and further out of their minds. Its understandable but it reinforces the idea that I could die and there would be minimal impact to anyone anywhere) And my birthday loomed. The day before it arrived, I figured out how to walk again. My legs shook, but they held me up. And nobody would do anything to change my treatment plan (I literally have to force changes by making them myself, proving they are more effective after stressing about keeping myself alive and juggling the situation myself, and then my doctors are like – oh yeah ok that seems to be working tell me what it is lets stick with it. I have my back. I haven’t even seen one health team for a main hiccup this year. I’d rather go it alone. It feels safer. I know that I can be trusted with my life. Nobody else makes the effort in this field, I am just “a lost cause” I guess, to them). So I asked them not to move me to the ward as they planned to. I went to see The 1975 in concert in Brixton with a friend who completely unintentionally tore my mind apart subsequently. But it was the best night of that year. I felt alive. I had cheated death. And I had never felt so alive.

So the 8th of March… Has become significant to me. An occasion to be marked. An achievement, to be free. This year I’ve bought tickets for me and Uni Babe and Uni Pal to go and see Russel Howard at the Royal Albert Hall. When I was a teenager living on a paediatric ward tied to IVs, I watched that man’s gigs on my iPad ALL. DAY. LONG. I felt ashamed for buying myself a ticket, because it is something nice to do and my brain right now tells me I deserve nothing. It actually disgusts me to do anything for myself, especially anything pleasant. So I’m really struggling with the idea of birthday presents. I like to buy presents for important people in my life on my birthday to thank them for being in my life. But finally, I am angry at those people and the things they have done to my mind, or stood back and let happen, and I am so distanced from them I do not know what to buy. They don’t deserve the burden that I am. I don’t deserve their love, when I cannot return it. Because I cannot love. I am too damaged to do that, too afraid to ever let anybody in. I don’t even trust.

Skippy (my heart) is running me into the ground. I get breathless from walking the shortest way, I can’t breathe when I lay flat, I look about as pregnant as my personal tutor (who is actually 8-9 months pregnant) and I feel unwell. Really unwell. Occasionally Skippy’s displeasure seems to somehow trigger events that leave me on the edge of acidosis.

On the last Friday of February, in the middle of a lab, Skippy decided to do ALL THE ABNORMAL THINGS. My atria freaked, my ventricles subsequently joined the party a little bit. And the director of taught programmes happened to walk in as I was passing out. The guy terrifies me and I thought he was going to ask me to leave the university. He handled the situation so well. It actually made me make a truce with him in my mind. He knew my name, he knew me, he remained completely calm (on the outside) and he showed all present that he actually has a huge heart. He crouched next to me and just talked as my speech got really slurred and I stopped being able to talk and almost passed out on him. He saw I was scared, he told me to stop apologising and not to be embarrassed, he talked me into going to hospital, he held a meeting with my disability advisor and actually offered me support and asked how I was and said that he had no idea where I’d got the idea that if I missed any more uni I wouldn’t get credited with my degree (as I was told MANY times). The paramedic took up where he left off. I wanted to get the train home. All the paramedics said no. And the uni staff. I sat, and when the paramedics realised I could actually read my own ECG, we kind of started a bit of banter over the bits that were abnormal and upside down and suppressed and shortened and rogue.

When my P waves returned and decided to be the right way up, I tried to stand, and ended up back on the floor re-attached to ECG leads all over again and my ventricles deciding to occasionally do their own thing. Got carted off in a blue light ambulance, in which I was like “no I can stand yeah sure” and then passed out… And basically my heart just freaked everyone out. The ECG in the hospital suggested the arrhythmia had led to anterior ischaemia. We didn’t test my troponin levels (a chemical whose presence in the blood indicates heart muscle damage) because the doctor knew it would be high (meaning she would have to repeat in 6 hours) and remembered me from a very messy central line insertion in resus that went wrong and that her boss had to do, so knew how terrified I am of hospitals, and decided it would just stress my heart more if I stayed. I was told to contact my cardiology team and stuff. I haven’t. They know. I’m having surgery on the 22nd of March and I honestly can’t wait. I just want it to work. It’s a chance at the life I never thought I’d ever get anywhere close to again, and I am so unwell at the moment. Since then, I’ve hardly been able to human due to the effects of my heart being a poop. I didn’t think I’d notice any after-effects, but I really am.

My thoughts throughout the whole event went something like this:

Why is everything going black? Whoa, my chest feels funny. But it’s fine it’s not… OUCH… Should I tell someone? I’ll stand up… Well that was a bad idea. OMG THE DIRECTOR OF TAUGHT PROGRAMMES NO, Skippy really? Here? Now? It’s reading week next week and you choose HERE and NOW?! Quick, get out of the lab. Ok no, can’t get out of the lab. Attempted to leave the lab anyway. Then my lab partner got the lecturer leading the lab who was not as chill as the DOTP. NOT (DOTP) OMG. Skippy, what are you doing? I’m going to kill you. Ouch. Ok. Please don’t kill me first. Why? What are you even doing? Please calm down! This is not ok. I want to go home. I can totally stand, sure. Ok I totally can’t. Wow that ECG is very different. Crap. 

But anyway the point was the uni are actually being super amazing about everything. They had to ask if I was safe to be there and safe to study and if I wanted to interrupt my studies, but this time my actual school of the university turned around and instead of piling on the pressure, the director of taught programmes told me that I do have extenuating circumstances, I’m entitled to them, and that I don’t need to be a hero and show up to everything. Finally, they have the compassion to say that if I don’t feel well, that’s fine, that there are things that can be done to salvage situations that may arise from me missing too much. I didn’t walk home that day. I flew. I smiled genuinely for the first time this year. And uni work has a purpose again, now that there is no axe over my head, no risk of being kicked out.

My dog has been horrendously unwell (giant abscess in his mouth, vomiting & its friend from the other end, seizures, lethargy, suspicious mole, severe hip pain that sometimes leaves him unable to move, passing blood from both ends of his GI tract…) so we are all sort of starting to think about a world without my furry rock. And right now I don’t know how that world could ever have me in it, because without this dog over the past 4 months, I’d have done things. When you look at a fresh box of tablets and go as far as to reach for them, and a cold wet nose nudges your hand, and soft brown eyes stare up at you as a tail hopefully thumps away, it drags you back to earth. When you have nightmares or insomnia that leads to 1 hour of sleep a night, cuddling, and even crying into the fur of a labrador at 3am when your mind is dragging you to the afterlife, sort of anchors you to existence. He gives me purpose. He loves me in ways I do not deserve at all but no matter how many times I push him away or withdraw, he silently curls up on my lap, nuzzles under my chin, and goes to sleep looking so contented I cannot remove myself from his life. He’s my companion. He’s the only thing on the entire planet (apart from my counsellor) who sees me. The true me. And I can’t think why he loves that person, or why I am the only person he wants to be around right now, but that fights with my low self esteem and self hatred. And something has to.

Over the past two days I finally think I may be almost at the point of trying to get a life (I had no idea how frequently the title of this blog was going to be relevant to me). And with the help of a bit of heart surgery (which I am telling myself is going to allow me to run) and support from all levels of my university, maybe I might get there this time. The hope appears briefly and fleetingly, and I will not let myself hold onto it… Yet, it seems to suddenly be dragging me through. Because we all need hope. We all do. We crumble without it. I am too scared to let myself have it and wary of it when it arrives. I know how dangerous it is to give yourself further to fall.

The fact that I am sat here right now is a feat I cannot understand. I am not fixed. My mind is not healed. I still ache to cease existing. I still cannot cope. I still crumble. I am a pathetic being I do not recognise. I am foreign, even to myself. But finally, I am sat amidst what remains of my mind with some sutures – no idea if what I’m doing is effective or how long it will hold, but finally an intention where there has been the absence of anything close to an intention for months.

And I’ll say no more about where I am than that.

I am really struggling to share this. Not because of what it says, but because of what people can or may do with it – take chunks of it and post them without acknowledging their original source, take my words and publish them as their own… For some reason, that just makes me feel used lately. Violated, even. This blog therefore stopped being therapeutic and an attempt for me to try and process the easier things to talk about, and became a source of… Distress. For that reason, I probably won’t post for a little while. I am healing. And that takes time. I’ve given up everything non-essential to focus on the things that are. It’s removed a lot of damaging things that once seemed great to me. That includes social media, blogging, and writing. Maybe all of that will return. I guess here I am again, testing the water that burned me. Hoping this time it has cooled. Thank you so much for reading and following and commenting and liking – that goes a long, long way for me in terms of fighting against my low self esteem/ self loathing, and it means more to me than I could put into words. Over the past few months, those follows and likes and comments and views have also picked me up a little on occasion, so… Pat yourselves on the back. I’m always a little bit anxious that I’m going to wake up one day and you’ll all have retracted your likes and follows having decided that this blog is too poorly written or boring or repetitive to be worth your time. But so far that hasn’t happened, and you’ve done more for me than you know, without even realising. You pulled me back to earth a little bit, each and every one of you.

Edit: You’re doing it again now. 

Hornets With Squatter’s Rights

This post is raw and… wrong. Wrong as in “incorrect” because words fail me in areas that only tears can adequately fill right now (I. Don’t. Usually. Cry.) and so this post doesn’t paint a replica of the picture I am looking at. It comes somewhere within a mile though, and it dances around a topic that may be triggering to some people.

My mum told me today that I am like a different person since yesterday. And I’m not. My head is still in a terrible, alarming place. Something inside of me is trying to choke the life out of me, and an even bigger something is telling me to choke the life out of myself. I hurt. Not in the way I’m used to – chest pain and other niggles are a part of everyday. But emotionally, I am going to collapse under the density of this darkness, going to explode with the pressure of this agony. I’m lighter, though. I’m so, so relieved. I didn’t realise how much I had been dreading going back to living alone in my studio until I knew I didn’t have to any more, and the release of that weight made me feel like I’m flying. Which is deceptive. Because my smiles are genuine, and it’s so, so much easier to act normal today (I actually managed to, and I haven’t had enough anything to do that for a few weeks now), and now that I’m not being so crushed it feels easier to try. But… that doesn’t make it better. I thought it would. I didn’t understand that you could be in such agony, and watch grains of the absence of that feeling slip through your hands. People think I’m physically well – people who don’t understand the impact hearts and kidneys can have upon a human’s ability to function. People who assume an invisible illness is a non-existent one. People who fell for the mask I have worn for so, so long over every singe flaw, every single struggle.

I had to break before I could admit to anyone that I was breaking. In front of them I ground to a halt and stopped functioning and socialising and caring and looking after so many aspects of myself, and I withdrew and… I hid it all so well nobody noticed. I pulled it all around me to keep everybody safe, and nobody saw, until I was so lost that nobody could pull me out, and even then they didn’t understand the gravity of the situation. Hello, I am being crushed. This is because some of the people I have surrounded myself with are selfish and ignorant beyond belief and use me as an emotional punchbag or for attention, because they know I will always be there. It’s because the majority of the people I’ve surrounded with just didn’t know, just could not comprehend and still can’t. And I don’t blame them for that. Even my own mother was ignorant (although not intentionally). She complains that I don’t talk but shuts down every discussion, particularly if feelings creep in.

I just wrote the entire rest of this post, and then deleted it, because it does not belong here. Oh ok so apparently tears are a great idea to my eyes right now. Excuse me for a while…

Edit: FYI the re-attempt at this next half says nothing I feel either. It paints the wrong picture. It sounds pathetic. And I’m sorry for it, but I wrote it, and I don’t want to make this post pointless. 

 

No look do you know what, I can’t even. I CANNOT EVEN HANDLE THE IRONY. I cannot even write the irony. Because I can’t handle the hurt it just drove through me.

I just feel let down.

I always make an effort to be there for my friends, to poke the hornets nests of their minds until they let out the swarm and I take the stings with them to save them from at least some of their pain. I have been used by people. Only a few people, but they used me. They let me take sting after sting, then they put me in a position where I had to take them, messaging me when they knew I was fighting for my life telling me they were going to end their existence and putting their life in my hands. They took everything I had and then left me in my emotional overdraft. Even when I tried to say I couldn’t be there, I couldn’t take any more stings because the hornets in my own nest were eating me alive… When I was so emotionally drained and broken beyond broken myself, these people took. They used. They were selfish and they never took any of my stings, never even offered to (not that I would have let them but the intention speaks louder than the action). They added hornets to my nest. They put their own hornets into my nest to relieve the pressure on themselves, and it made them feel better, and it killed me inside, and they didn’t care, because they didn’t hurt any more. They saw strength or whatever else they think I am. And before them I was stung near to death and they just. Kept. Sending their hornets my way. Even when I said, please don’t, I can’t any more (which was so, so hard for me to say, and rang alarm bells in the few people who genuinely know me).

Some people appreciated that and thanked me so much for being there for them, and left me to quietly handle the hornets alone but let me know that they were there. Some people poked my hornets nest but I grabbed onto whatever flew out, tore out the stingers, and let them deal with hornets that could no longer do harm but that got them in a panic nonetheless. Because people are afraid of anything stripy… But anyway. Some people ignored that. Some people went even further and ignored me because I no longer served any purpose in their lives.

And then I get a message telling me one of our lecturers left.

And the concern, the concern I’d voiced before and acknowledged but no longer had no room to feel. They wanted to bake him a cake and arrange a thing and make sure he was ok. The had these huge plans to be there for somebody they didn’t know. And I’ve picked so many stings from my mind that I took for that person because I wanted to, because I wanted to take them all, because that’s me, that’s who I am, that’s what I instinctively do for my friends, and I knew this person didn’t want to hurt anybody, and was stinging themselves with their own thoughts… And I tried to expose my own hornets now. And.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the irony, at the amount of concern and the action and the responsibility felt for someone a couple of times our age with his own huge support network around him who actually know about his out-of-uni life… These people that I know inside out, these people who came to me when they wanted to end their existence, who I spent so long telling how necessary and worthy they were until the hurt passed and a few words stuck… These people who I carried through hard times on a broken, fractured, bleeding mind that could not support itself and really needed their help, because it was dealing with bigger (but not bigger because everything is relative) things than they could ever imagine… These people that are meant to be my support network… They.

I was just lost for words, to be honest.

I still am.

And I’d started this evening to feel like maybe I could claw back something. My mum and I wrote all my uni hours onto the calendar, because she likes to organise things and stuff and decided to organise my life; and I was trying to force myself to imagine that there was some comfort in the idea that I only have to go to uni for a few hours at a time and then I can escape again in order to appease the thing trying to make me choke the life out of myself… And I bought a week-to-view diary and a weekly wall planner thing, and I filled it out. And then like that. Imagine I clicked my fingers there. Just like that somebody shut the door and trapped the hornets in. And I just lost it all. Just like that.

Blissful ignorance. Clueless bliss. Only, I was open, and if that person knew me, they would have known. Some people just…

Aren’t there. I’m a difficult person to be there for. I can’t even complain. I can’t even.

And the reaction and response told me things about myself that that person never meant to say.

It said I didn’t matter.

It said I mattered less.

It said my problems weren’t problems.

It said nobody understood me.

It said I didn’t matter like I thought I did.

It said nobody would ever kill the hornets or even smoke them to subdue them for a little while (I guess my dog is like smoke in that sense).

It said there was no concern.

It said nobody would miss me.

It said… Go.

And I want to join a gym. My mum suggested we start yoga or something, but I want to run again. I want to swim. And she said no, not until my heart is sorted. But she is out tomorrow, everybody is. And I want to run. For so long I have craved that runners high again. I miss it. It was part of my daily routine for years and it was the only thing that ever helped the hornets. The temperature is finally sub-zero (usual British winter is occurring for once) and I want to get so cold it hurts (like I did this morning when I walked my dog with my next door neighbour and their puppy). Like I said, the only thing that ever kept those hornets out of my head was sport. And that’s what I want. I want to run, even though chest pain is pretty constant now and arrhythmias happen a lot, and just walking through the woods this morning left me unable to breathe… My brain is desperate and lost and it will try ANYTHING to stop hurting, to stop hating itself, to feel less hate about its own existence.

So I’m going to run. Tomorrow morning. And even if I don’t, the thought of that run right now is the only thing… The only thing.

I’m willing to take a chance.

Right now, I just wish I wasn’t sat in the dark crying alone. But it isn’t just crying. It’s aching. It’s fighting with a part of me that I am out of control of that tells me my life is worthless and so I should just do what everybody wants and end it. It’s being at war with this constant weight of feeling like the only way to cope with the choking, relentless emotion is to seek the company of death himself. It’s trying to let out the parts of me I have hidden for so long and failing at doing that properly even here, let alone to people who I have helped let out those parts of themselves. It’s… I don’t even know what it is. I don’t know how to get through it, is all I know. But for some reason today I’m trying. I’m trying to plan and kidding myself that it might make things easier. I’m thinking of trying stupid, desperate things that aren’t as final as the stupid desperate thing that feels like the only way.

Nobody knows me at the moment.

Even I am beginning to find myself in the presence of a stranger, and that stranger seems to have squatter’s rights.

 

 

My hornets seem to be exploiting those squatter’s rights.