collateral damage

I haven’t wanted to write this post. I haven’t even wanted to start this post. My head is a mess. It was so thick with pain, with foreboding, with the fear that I would sink ever deeper into the morass of my mystery injury, never to be healed, never to be well again, that to have that verdict suddenly reversed has left me completely disoriented. Even though I had accepted my condition as permanent, what equanimity I had been able to muster only smoothed the surface; channels of sadness and volcanoes of anger still lurked underneath, threatening to break through at the slightest disturbance.

Now I don’t have to accept it. The injury, and the unpalatable future that accompanied it, have disappeared. As physically damaging as the surgery was, it worked. I can turn my head all the way around and look over my right shoulder. I can sleep on my stomach. I can sit in a chair for as long as I want (as long as I don’t lean back on my still swollen and bruised scar). I have pain, but it diminishes every day, as does the swelling and discoloration. I am restricted in my movements, but that, too, improves markedly with each passing twenty-four period, such that a week ago, I could barely move my arm at all, while this morning, I easily fed the furballs, fried some eggs, and lifted a full mug of tea to my lips.

And I don’t know what to do or think or feel about any of it. A hopelessly tangled ball of emotions now resides inside me where a coil of fear was formerly ensconced. Pale threads of gratitude and relief are lost among bright, thick yarns of rage, confusion, sorrow, and bitterness. I don’t know which strings to pull to try to sort through it. I don’t want to pull any of them. I’m still fascinated by the novelty of being able to sit with a thought or a feeling and not have it crowded out by pain and dread. I fuss and fidget, not knowing what to do with myself, what with all of that extra head space so recently vacated.

At first, I wanted to go out and do as many things and see as many people as possible. But now, I just want to be left alone. I want to enjoy being alone again. My pain and I, we had reached a tenuous detente; the injury had long since made us constant companions, and we were used to each other. Now the pain has abruptly vanished, and while I can safely say I do not miss it, I am once again challenged by being brusquely dropped into an existence I am completely unfamiliar with. “Don’t go back to the way you were before,” my mentor warned. As if I could. As if that were even possible.

I don’t remember that woman. I know how she looked, and acted, and even how she thought and felt. But I don’t remember what it’s like to be her. I can’t take the newly-emerged self that awoke from this nightmare and try to clothe her in that personality. It doesn’t fit. And even if it did, the personal growth that has resulted from this ordeal is one of the few gifts I can appreciate unreservedly, and I would have to let it go if I wanted to try and go back to the way – the whom – I used to be.

But I’m staring at an empty closet. I have no idea who I am, now. Because no more than I can be myself before I was broken can I be myself before I was fixed. That person was living a completely different life, and that’s not my life any more. I’m not disabled, just hurt, and healing. I’m not going to be in pain every day, forever. I am going to be able to do nearly all the things I did before this happened, if I so choose, although surprisingly, some of them are no longer appealing, even some of the ones I thought I dearly missed.

Most of all, I’m surprised by how weak I am, not just physically, but emotionally, spiritually. It has been so long since I’ve been able to expend more than a tiny amount of energy doing, thinking, or feeling anything. The injury is gone, but for some reason, the energy burst one would have expected as a result has not occurred. Perhaps it’s all going into healing; physical, emotional, spiritual. But in the meantime, I’m in this strange place of in-between, fixed but not well, unbroken but not whole. Diminished but unspent.

My anger is the only familiarity in this unforeseen parole. I huddle inside it, clasping it to my shoulders like a security blanket, and it manifests as crankiness, intolerance, and short-temperedness. But when I look underneath, instead of rage, I find a seemingly bottomless well of tears, of sorrow, relief, bitterness, confusion. As unconvinced as I was of a higher power while I was still unwell, my skepticism has only deepened since I was rescued. Life is not less random after the latest turn of events, but more so. The hard U-turn that occurred last Thursday has left me reeling. I simply do not understand how – or why – anything happens, ever, to anyone.

Most of all, I do not understand why this happened to me. Why was I one of those few forced to carry the burden of a mysteriously worsening injury, of chronic, idiopathic pain? And even more bewildering, why was my burden suddenly spirited away? I am certainly no more deserving than any other chronic pain sufferer; in fact, when one considers time logged, it’s safe to say I am far less deserving than most, not the least of whom is Momma Ape. The sheer meaninglessness of the entire experience is frustratingly vast. It’s as though I was a prisoner of a war that was unceremoniously terminated without resolution, yielding nothing but loss of life on both sides.

I can’t even begin to sort through how I feel about it. Friends are so happy for me – some even jumped upon and down when I told them the surgery had worked – and I know I should be happy, too, but I can’t get there. And I can’t explain to them why I’m not, even as I suspect them of wondering why I’m not ecstatic, like someone who has just won the lottery. Which is not a bad analogy, when you think about it. My life has changed for the better, utterly and completely, but I wake up every morning just like I did before. I can’t really tell the difference, at least, not yet.

The only shift I have been able to undergo is that I have switched my mental origin from a point of disablement to one of convalescence, and far more easily than I would have suspected. But the patterns of thought and behavior that lead outward from there still look like the ones from before, even though they don’t feel right any more. I’m aware – I have learned from this very experience – that I have to discard them before new ones can grow in their place. But how? And what do I do while I’m waiting for those new ones to develop?

Several months ago, I likened this stage of life change to a situation where I’ve fallen out of the litter that had been carrying me and been abandoned, and I’m suddenly exposed to the vagaries of a completely unfamiliar landscape. Perhaps the elements here aren’t as harsh as the ones from before, but they are still foreign, and lash and sting unexpectedly from apparently innocuous sources. So I must go and find a place to shelter, even if I don’t wind up living there. I can’t stay out here and wait for a tornado to drop a house. I need to get up off the ground and start walking.

I just wish I knew where.

About C. M. Condo

I am a late-diagnosed, high-functioning autistic living with chronic pain. I started this blog in March of 2014 as a way to try to process what was happening to me. It is my hope that by sharing it with you, we can both gain something, or at least learn something, from my experience.
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2 Responses to collateral damage

  1. christellsit says:

    Hmmmm … a good cry, or several are in order. Surgery alone leaves one tangled and ungrounded.
    Healing after the knife and general anesthesia assault cannot be hurried, so knows experienced Momma Ape.

    “Fussing and fidgeting” … I find I’m doing that and have done for long periods on and off over the past 20+ years. Whenever I have come to a place where pain is relatively low after years of the opposite, I don’t know what to do with myself but I feel l like I must “do” because I haven’t been able to “do” for way too long. But, then, how much am I physically able to “do?” And what, what, what activity will draw me in so I look forward to getting back to it each morning?” Dare I start a seemingly sparkling new hobby? Where in the house can I engage in it so I do not have to clean it up and put it out of sight until I can go back to it tomorrow or next week? What if I’m no good at it or simply don’t like said hobby? Am I well enough to commit to a class or to anything that requires a set schedule of attendance? Is it safe to make plans several weeks ahead?

    Of course, I’m not the person who I was before chronic pain became my unwelcome daily companion but I could say that even if I’d led a life without it. A large chunk of my life, when I would have been free to pursue almost anything I wanted, is gone forever. Would I have taken it for granted and let day to day “have to’s” become a priority robbing me of those precious years? I’ll never know.

    Ah, but I digress. Back to your current psychological discomfort, my mind still ping pongs ideas all over the place so I can’t get comfortable just sitting. And reading, though I really enjoy it, feels like a prize I must earn for “doing” something each day. And even now, that it’s been a whole year of something like stability, I still don’t know how to feel or how to act. There is no doubt that I’ve been making steady progress with only a few, albeit scary backward steps, fear lurks. in fact, fear underlies all of the above. Fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear that my best years are behind me, fear that this is as good as it gets … I can’t list them all.

    I suspect fear is fueling your extreme discomfort. But, one thing I do know is that it’s too soon to worry about everything you’ve described. You body has just been assaulted after years of being battered. Yes, the battering is over but the effects of those years on your spiritual, mental, and emotional life are immeasurable. So many things that you had counted on, that you enjoyed, that fulfilled you, that you loved were ripped away one after the other. Too many times when you thought things could get no worse they did … and devastatingly so. You had to create a new persona as each stage of your journey deprived you of more and more leaving ever more increasing pain to fill the spaces left by so many losses.

    It’s going to take a while. A bounce back is not possible but the slow unfolding of a life better than you can imagine will begin. Be quiet for now. Much is occurring deep inside and you are not meant to know of it just yet. It is difficult to not know how to be right now. That’s okay. Dwell in gratitude for this time of uncertainty because it means that the past is truly past. Love always.

    Liked by 1 person

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