Don’t ask me how I’m doing. I don’t want to talk about how I’m doing. How I’m doing is too complicated to lend itself to brief, polite conversation. It’s been my experience that an acquaintance (oh look, “quaint” is in the middle of that word, how appropriate) who asks how I’m doing is only asking so I can be impressed by the fact that she remembers that anything has happened to me at all. She doesn’t really want to talk about it. She wants to have a conversation that goes one of two ways, with me saying either, “I’m better since [procedure]” or “[procedure] didn’t work so I’m doing [procedure] instead.”
Twice in the last week, two separate people have asked me how my “operation” went, causing them to unwittingly come across as obtuse rather than caring. (A nerve ablation is not an operation.) Since I cease to exist for them once I exit their field of view, they are unable to imagine that many other things of consequence might have happened to me since then, such that the nerve ablation has long since been dealt with and archived. And I, with too little thoughtfulness to spare these days, resent the fact that I’m expected to infer that they care when it is patently clear that they don’t.
The woman who asked me last night is the particularly annoying type who would rather complain about her life than get out of her own way. I think I’m better than her, so I condescendingly answered, “What operation? Oh, the nerve ablation. That was a month ago. It helped some.” The woman, discerning that I was not impressed, pressed on, “So that was the only option? To ablate the nerve?” (It’s not the only option, any more than setting fire to your house to get rid of termites is the only option, but none of the other options have worked.) I said that it was, and that it was necessary to break the pain cycle, and then I walked away. And she probably thought, “What a bitch.”
Fine. You can think that, you with your petty little problems like being tired all of the time. (Everyone is tired all of the time. Get over yourself. Eat something besides candy all day.) I am still very messed up in the head about what’s happened to me, which makes your lack of self-efficacy seem rather small in comparison. So don’t take it personally if I put you off, because the alternative is ripping your head off.
I am an a**hole right now, and I know it, and I’m not perturbed enough by it to do much about it. I lean on my horn in traffic and scream at my freezer when things fall out if it. I feel like the can in a cosmic game of kick-the-can, and anyone who happens to brush up against me is accused of kicking me even if he didn’t. I don’t want skin-deep sympathy. I want to be left alone to figure this out. I want to talk about it on my terms, not those set by polite society. I’m not ready to fart sunshine about this yet. So forgive me if I’m a little off-putting.
I’ve had to put huge chunks of my life off. For some of them, off as in never, rather than off as in put something off until later. My doctor is concerned that I will be going back to full-time student status next Fall; she thinks I might not be physically ready for it. She’s not pleased about the summer class I’m taking either, but if I have to stay in this apartment all day, every day, I will be more than a little off-putting. I’m only willing to put so much off at this point, particularly since my pain level doesn’t seem to have much of a connection to my activity. So I’ll just do what I did at the beginning of this past semester: drag myself into the professor’s office, explain my condition as briefly and explicitly as possible, and thank him in advance for his understanding. I will endeavor not to be off-putting while I am doing this.
I don’t want to be off-putting. But in putting off parts of myself, I’ve lost some other bits that were seemingly unrelated, like my friendliness, my gentleness, my willingness to let people be wrong about things, and my ability to stop every thought that forms in my head from coming out of my mouth. I can’t seem to pry those things apart from the others, which only makes me more angry and more off-putting. I keep trying to put boundaries and definitions on what’s happened to me, but it breaks through each new fence and exceeds each new description. It’s in everything I say and everything I do, and it’s resisting my attempts to push it aside, to keep it in its place, or to leave it somewhere and go off and do something without it.
Of all of the things I’ve had to put off, the one thing I wouldn’t mind a little distance from is sticky and obdurate. The only times I escape it are when my shoulder has to be numbed to allow a doctor to perform some procedure or another on it. The few times that’s happened, I’ve had a glorious 12 hours of pain-free, near-normal existence. But by the next day, the jailer has come rattling his keys and I’m back in my cell, the memory of my brief time out in the sun already fading.
Justified anger is a dangerous place to put down roots, but now that I’ve stumbled into it, I remember what I always liked about it. I get a secret little thrill out of having such a short fuse that people are scared of me. I enjoy feeling energy coursing through my limbs and veins, self-destructive as it is. After six months of being throttled by my powerlessness, it feels good to have some power back, even if it is only the power to cause harm. Of course, I will get tired of this at some point, and the energy will run dry, and I’ll be left feeling more empty than before.
But right now, it’s making me feel vibrant and purposeful, both of which have eluded me since before this all started. I’m not ready to let go of those things just yet. I’d like to put it off a little while longer.
Be angry right now. It is where you are in this painful and lonely process. I’m glad that you are not stuffing it. I’ll try not to brush up against you. I hate that you are going through this.
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