I need to hide.
I used to be one of the lucky people. I was part of a healthy, happy family and enjoyed a great career with colleagues and friends – the kind of life that would be nice to imagine as “normal”. But then a few years ago, my OH got sick with an incurable condition, and I needed a series of unexpected operations. Raising a young family and juggling careers in between endless hospital trips was tricky, but 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. Time with friends was diminished. The hours when I should have been sleeping were spent working and worrying, alone. The anxiety suppressed my immune system; I contracted shingles, over and over. I lost weight.
And so I fought back. I hiked up mountains with my children and hurled myself into lakes because up there, you have to focus on the present, and it’s harder to feel miserable when your body feels fantastic. The more we 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 fear levels increased, I started to do more: more running, and more helping at school. I clung to anything healthy that was still within reach.
However, volunteering was a limited, peripheral role just when I needed to work and belong. I looked into teacher training but couldn’t because of the hospital dashes, but a parent governor position opened up so I applied for that. However, one of the other applicants had more relevant (education) experience than me, and I realised that if I were voted in, our lovely school would miss out on a better candidate. Feeling conflicted, I withdrew. The other candidate got in, but then the school opened a second, co-opted position… and gave that to someone else (in education), too. I’d been right to withdraw; they didn’t want me.
My role doesn’t matter; the kids are what matter, and if I’m no use then it’s better to be excluded than in the way. (Preserve me from being an unwanted committee member.) Still, had I been wanted, I would have loved to contribute – and to be rejected, after helping there for so long, said too much about my lack of worth.
Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, think I’ll go and eat worms.
Naturally, 2018 put this into damning but hilarious perspective: in the very same year that a dead pimp (an actually dead, actual pimp) – who called himself the “Trump of Pahrump”, managed to be elected to state assembly in Nevada, I couldn’t get an unpaid place on a school governing body that I’d supported almost daily for 12 years.
And, on the very same day, because this is how 2018 rolls, I was told I might 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 me.
I can’t build on 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 want me.
2018 reminds me of a post-operative circuits class. Near the end of the session, I was too sore to stand up but figured I could reach the last exercise on my hands and knees. So I crawled. Everyone else was on their feet, but one lovely athlete bent down, grinned, and said, ‘When I started, I had to roll to the next mat.’ And I laughed so hard my arms gave way. Then I finished the session, and I went back.
Yep, that’s what you need when life goes tits up: allegory. Said no one ever.
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? The career that I can’t reach? Volunteering in a place that doesn’t want me? Running?
Or I could just run?
I was in 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 take me up mountains, face fear, and care for my family, I’d pick mine. It beats at 55 bpm, it’s strong, I trust it completely, and my children know it. I wouldn’t change it, even if I could. My heart is perfect for me.
And it’s going to take me running until I find somewhere far, far better than this.
Pics: running into a gale at Heartlands (21st of 78 runners, 3rd of 38 females).
[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.]
Image attribution – Sunset