The pain is no better.
I won’t say that it is worse. It may be, but I don’t want to go there.
At the behest of my physical therapist, I contacted the head researcher of my lab to let him know I would be out for the remainder of this week and all of next to recover from a recent setback with my shoulder. He was more receptive than I expected, although granted, it was over email, which means his initial, less-than-receptive response to the information may not have been communicated to me.
Be that as it may, what I didn’t communicate to him was that it has thrown into question not just how much I can work in the lab this summer, but whether or not I will be able to work there at all. It has also cast doubt as to whether or not I will be able to embark upon the PhD program in the Fall. And I need to make a decision about both of those things, and soon, because if I’m not there, the space will have to be filled, and if I can’t start the program in the Fall, then someone else will get to.
Most depressingly, it also defers me reaching my full earning capacity by even longer than it has already been deferred, which, as far as I’m concerned, is quite a bit too long. It has me thinking perhaps I ought to just focus my energy on the writing career and never mind about the PhD until I’m better.
If I get better.
How to keep that demon at bay? I know it takes longer for me to heal than most people. I know it’s still too soon to assume I won’t turn a corner some time in the next few months. But in order to get to that corner, I will likely have to eliminate all unnecessary activity from my schedule for the foreseeable future. Which means I’ll be spending a lot of time alone in this apartment again. And being in here, alone, with just my thoughts for company, is not good for me at all.
It makes me feel like I’m not trying hard enough. It makes me suspect it’s my own fault that I’m in this position, and if only I’d better adhered to what I was told to do that I’d be further along by now. It makes me feel guilty for being in a situation where I can do this without foundering financially, because that certainly wouldn’t be the case for most people. It makes me angry because I feel like I have been doing my best to do the right things, even though I haven’t been completely successful.
It makes me worry that I’ll never be able to find the right balance, and worse, that I’ll never be able to explain my inability to function at a normal capacity to someone in a way that he or she would understand. The head researcher has been generous, but I know he doesn’t get it. He’s an athlete, so he’s been seriously injured in the past, but he’s recovered. He’s not able to do all of the things he was able to do when he was younger, but who is? What he is able to do is be a workaholic, put in long hours, and travel all over the world for his career. And he perceives that to be more a product of his willingness to do so than anything else.
I wish I could explain to him that I am willing to do that, but that physically, I just can’t. I would love to be able to put in sixty hour weeks and maintain, like the other researchers in the lab do, like he still does. I wish more than anything that my physical capabilities matched my ambitions. I have this unflagging certainty that if only my body would allow me to do the things I want to do, I could be successful at any of the career paths that have been offered to me over the last couple of years.
But it won’t. And so I can’t. And I keep trying to find something I can be successful at, and it keeps eluding me. I’ve been able to find writing work, but not nearly enough to support myself long-term. I want so desperately to be a self-supporting adult, and the longer my body thwarts me, and the harder it is to elucidate a path that leads there, the more upset I become. And this exacerbates my pain, which makes my fatigue worse, and only perpetuates my inability to get any sort of momentum in the direction of healing and self-sufficiency.
And it is that, more than the pain, that is tearing me apart.
If it were just pain, if I could be in this much pain and still manage to get things done, that would be OK. And honestly, until my pain level gets pretty high, I can still manage to get things done; I’ve gotten good at that. But there’s a threshold past which I have to stop, because the pain gets so overwhelming that I can no longer concentrate on what I’m doing for long enough to do it properly, be that something as difficult as learning a lab protocol or as simple as driving my car to the store.
But I still feel like I should be able to do those things. It’s just pain, after all. Haven’t I been in enough pain for a long enough time to be able to compartmentalize it and get on with my life?
Now that I go back and read that, I know it’s ridiculous. I know people manage to function through some pain, but not this much pain and not for this long. It’s impossible. It’s a fantasy perpetuated by our aggressively individualistic culture that deludes us into believing that, just like on TV and in the movies, if we are tough enough, pain won’t hurt. And that if pain does hurt, and we let it slow us down, that’s a personal failing. It means we are weak. It implies that the reason we have slowed down is not because we are in pain, but because we are just whiners about it and lack the fortitude to pull ourselves together and deal.
In pursuit of this fantasy, that if I just stop whining about my fatigue and pain and pull myself together I will be able to do what I want, has gotten me into the situation I am in right now. This past week, I started trying to come into the lab every day. I managed exactly two days of that. By Tuesday afternoon, I was a mess. By Thursday, I had to relent and pull back.
How long will I be like this? I don’t know, and what’s worse, no-one else does either. And we live in a world where open-ended is inconvenient at best. “I can’t right now, but I will be able to later, I just don’t know when,” becomes “I can’t.” Because time passes and stuff needs to get done, and if you can’t do it, then someone else has to.
At some point, I fear, the lab and the graduate program will shift from “I can’t right now,” to “I can’t.” And I worry that will hurt even more than the pain, and for a very, very long time.