It’s time for me to hibernate for a while. I think we all come to this at some point in our lives; we retreat.
I used to be one of the lucky people. I was part of a healthy, happy family and enjoyed a satisfying career with colleagues and friends. But a few years ago, my OH got sick with an incurable condition, and while this was worsening, I needed a series of operations. Raising a young family and juggling careers in between endless hospital trips was tricky, but somehow we held it together.
Then 2018 came along. I was still recovering from three ops last summer, and my OH was seriously ill, when we were told that a heart condition might run through our family, including our children. Cue eight months of hospital tests, during which time I lost two thirds of my working days and the option to travel. My writing vanished. My career foundered. The time I could spend with friends was diminished. The hours when I should have been sleeping were spent working and worrying. The anxiety suppressed my immune system; I contracted shingles, over and over. I lost weight.
And so I fought back. I hiked up mountains and hurled myself into lakes because the heights and cold are perfect remedies for worry: you have to focus on the present, and it’s harder to feel miserable when your body feels fantastic. The more I ran, walked and swam, the better I felt. But constant running leads to injuries, so in between, I spent my time volunteering at a little school that I love. I’ve helped there for years with the grounds, library, and reading in class. It’s a place of warmth and friendship.
Gradually, medically, things got worse. As the pain and fear levels increased, I started to do more: more running, and more helping at school. I clung to the healthy things.
However, volunteering is a limited, peripheral role, and I needed to work hard and belong (but couldn’t train to be a teacher because of all the hospital dashes). When a parent governor position opened up (a more inclusive volunteer role), I wanted it and applied – but as the elections progressed, I realised that another applicant (teacher) had more relevant experience. Parent governor elections rely on community votes: if I were to get in, this lovely little school would miss out on the better candidate. Miserably conflicted, I did the decent thing and withdrew. The school accepted my withdrawal, advised parents not to vote for me, gained their parent governor, then opened up a second, co-opted governor position, which they gave to a third candidate. I’d been right to withdraw: they didn’t want me at all.
Naturally, 2018 put this into damning but hilarious perspective: in the very same year that a dead – actually dead – pimp – yes, a pimp – who used to call himself the “Trump of Pahrump”, managed to be elected to state assembly in Nevada, I couldn’t get an an unpaid place on a school governing body that I’d supported for 12 years.
And, on the very same day, because this is how 2018 rolls, I was told I will probably need another, eighth, operation.
It was a calm moment.
This was it: this was the point where illness, injury and isolation finally won.
Illness and injury have isolated my family. I can’t build up my existing career or start a new one. The people I love are on the line. The people I wanted to work with don’t even want me for free.
What do you do when you’re beaten? On the floor, hurting and humiliated? I once did a post-op circuits class. Near the end of the session, I was too sore to stand but I figured I could reach the next exercise on my hands and knees. So I crawled. Everyone else was still standing, but then a lovely athlete bent down, grinned, and said, ‘When I first started, I had to roll to the next mat.’ And I laughed so hard my arms gave way. I finished the session, and I went back.
I’ve taken a LOT of hits now, though.
It’s time I went for a long walk by myself. Now would be a good time to be on a hilltop. Alone.
I’m stepping back from social media. I don’t have anything to say on Facebook. I can sit on Twitter, but what am I tweeting or blogging about? The fiction that I don’t have time to write? Volunteering in a school that doesn’t want me there? Running?
Why would I tweet about running, when I can just run?
I went to the hospital the other day. My heart is good, I was told, but not perfect. I disagree. If I had to pick one heart in all the world to either take me up mountains, face pain and fear, or to care for my family, I’d pick mine. It beats at 55 bpm, it’s strong and steady, I trust it completely, and my children know it. I wouldn’t change it, even if I could. It’s perfect for me.
And it’s going to take me running until I find somewhere far, far better than this.
[Update: for those of you who have sent kind messages, thank you, it means a lot. I will come back and catch up with you.]