“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
– R. Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
In my mind, this post stopped at the end of that quote. In reality, I also almost stopped recently – wrote a final thank you card pleading for forgiveness, and a list of contacts, stuck both tear stained articles on the wall at the end of my bed, and prepared to curl into the darkness of whatever waited beyond daylight and moonlight. I could not see the wood for the trees. There comes a point when you are so tired – tired of hurting (physically and mentally), of thinking, of sinking, of almost dying, of being, that all you want is a break. And when life won’t give you that break, when it sees your white flag and doesn’t cease its fire… Your mind, the lone and weary soldier, pulls out the revolver that has until that point just been a comforting presence in your metaphorical waistband and decides that it has no option but to pull the trigger whilst the barrel is aimed at its own skull. The unpleasantness cannot take you alive. The pain is not one you can endure.
I am in a great deal of physical pain after my latest heart surgery, taking morphine and tramadol just to try and sleep through nerve pain caused by scar tissue sitting on top of a nerve. But my mind… nothing could numb that.
My revolver was medication. Medication that sat there, sparing me from further unpleasantness when I took it at the prescribed dose, but that any higher dose was also my revolver – deadly. Quick. Freeing. The knowledge of that was enough of a comfort to keep me going. There was a failsafe. I didn’t have to hurt forever. Just one more day. And then the next day, just one more – and while I couldn’t imagine it, I knew there would be a day where survival wasn’t a task, but something I didn’t have to think about. And then came the day I wrote that card, and made that list, and could not stop the tears.
I have been saved all too often lately by words. Words that came from places I didn’t expect them to, from people who understood me in ways I wished those closest to me could. First, my personal tutor at university (who I also almost died on last week, because my heart is an ARSE) – with one simple sentence about PTSD that took away the stigma my mind sharpened and used against itself, and completely transformed the way I saw myself. I used the support available for me. I asked for help I had been turning down for years. Then, the other night, a dear friend, amazing human, and creative soul behind this blog, who accidentally saved my life with words that found me in a place that nobody else (myself included) could.
And then I remembered the poem that begins this post.
The emptiness of oblivion is comforting, tempting, enchanting, but not a destination I am yet supposed to visit. I owe it to the humans whose kindness and understanding have been transformative forces in recent weeks, to move beyond its temptation, to carry on going wherever I’m going. Those people made me realise that feeling like this is not weak, nothing to be ashamed of, but understandable, excusable, human… and survivable, somehow. I made no promises to them anywhere outside of my mind, but I cannot betray them. I made promises to myself – to get this degree, to do something, to raise money to help fund research so that other people’s bodies might not drive them to the hell I have been to/through. And thanks to people (some of whom I have never met) I see myself as someone worth keeping promises for. I have a long long way to go before I get rest or respite of any sort, physical or mental, and I have to accept that, grit my teeth, turn off, and keep walking – sobbing and screaming and writhing in pain if that’s what it takes (also things that before I took as signs of my own weakness, and now acknowledge as a strong person doing anything and everything they have to but give in). It doesn’t have to be easy, and I know it won’t be. My situation is tough, it’s even recently been described to me as “crap” by somebody I expected to brush it aside. I’m allowed to find it tough. I’m allowed to hurt so much I can’t keep going. It’s ok to cry myself to sleep, to want to never ever wake up again. But these thoughts I keep inside are promises I have to keep. I have an unimaginable amount of miles to go before I am allowed sleep.
The way out of this is not six feet under, or wherever the wind may take my ashes. It’s through.
Agonisingly, impossibly, soul destroyingly (yes I know destroyingly isn’t a word)
No way but through.
I sat myself down and had a thought at myself (if that’s even a thing).
When you can’t run, walk. When you can’t walk, stumble. When you can’t stumble, crawl. When you can’t crawl, drag yourself. When you can’t drag yourself, roll. When you can’t roll, just hold on. When you can’t hold on, reach out. When you can’t reach out, scream. When you can’t scream, talk. When you can’t talk, whisper. When you can’t whisper, blog. If you have to fire your revolver, fire it into the sky. And through it all, play Bastille. It’s colder six feet under. It’s lonelier when your ashes have been dispersed by the wind. There will be far more tears if you let go, the difference is, they won’t be your own. There is no way to live this life, or to be a spectator to it, that does not involve hurting. And no form of pain is a choice or a flaw – it’s a limbic system and nocioceptors (hello inner biomed student) – unconscious, understandable, protective, logical measures. Don’t expect to live and not hurt. Don’t expect to hurt and not still find reasons to smile. Pain may right now be all you feel, but even if it is ever present, it is not all that waits.
Finally, I have been taught that it’s ok not to be ok. That’s the most valuable thing any lecturer has taught me, the most precious gift a friend has ever given me (thank you blogging human, you know who you are). Something I hope not to let go of. Something I will someday pass on.