Last week’s pain crisis is now behind me. I’m still quite run down, and unable to do much which either arm, but pain is no longer crowding out concrete thought. Yesterday, the surgeon examined both of my shoulders and affirmed what I had suspected, which is that my recovery is going to be extremely slow, that I could continue to have pain and inflammation for up to year, and that it was possible, although too soon to tell for certain, that I would always have some pain and inflammation at that site.
For good measure, I received a cortisone injection under the “good” shoulder to try to calm it down. (Because heaven forbid I should get out of a doctor’s office without someone sticking a needle in my back.) I won’t know for a few days if it helped or not, but since it feels like someone whacked me with a baseball bat at the site where the sharp pain was coming from before, I can at least be certain he hit the right spot.
I am relieved, both by the pain reduction and the surgeon’s diagnosis. It’s one thing to be an unlabeled enigma on the fringe of clinical medicine, and another for a doctor to reassure me that, yes, what I am feeling is real, and while not normal, at least not unheard of. It’s as though he gave me license to be the slow-healing, fragile mess that I know I am. And it’s good to be able to reconfirm my disabled status, not because I like it, but because it’s so difficult to try to manage without it when I still need it. By this point, I’m sure I shouldn’t require external medical confirmation for what my body is telling me, but it helps immensely to receive it nonetheless.
Since it appears I’m going to be this way for some time, I have also decided I am not giving up on my graduate program just yet. I can’t possibly be the first person in chronic pain who wanted to pursue a graduate degree in research. And even if I am the first, I am certainly not going to be the last. If there is a way to do it, I will find it. And even as I am aware that I may be clearing a path through the wilderness from which I myself will not personally benefit, I have to at least try. I want this too badly not to.
So this is all well and good, right? There is a possibility that I could still undertake the PhD program offered to me, and I am choosing to pursue that possibility. So I should feel better, but for some reason, I don’t. Last night, while trying to meditate, I discovered that, despite everything that has happened, a deep-seated dread still lurks inside me, waiting for a quiet moment to roar to life and fill me with fear.
And it’s not a new fear, either. It’s the same fear that has been trammeling me since October 2013, when pain first came in and changed my life. It’s the fear that I am not going to be taken care of, that the world is not safe for me, and that no matter what I do, it’s not going to be enough, and I’m never going to be able to do what I want to do.
In an effort to soothe myself, I tried instead to think about all of the things I have to be grateful for – and there are many, not the least of which is that overall, I am in a lot less pain than I was before – but it barely made a dent. I’ve lost my connection to the inner peace I’d found a few weeks after January’s bursectomy and resection. I had assumed that I found that peace from inside myself. But if that were the case, I should be able to find my way back to it, and I can’t.
What probably happened was that I continued my usual pattern of harvesting it in my expectations for the future. Back when I seemed to be recovering so well, the future was bright and my mood was calm. Now that my future is so uncertain, the peace that I had tethered to it has come unmoored and slipped away.
I don’t know why this is so damned hard for me. Is it too much to ask not be harried by this deep-seated anxiety that settled in a few weeks ago and simply refuses to go away? I don’t want to have these expectations. I hate that uncertainty makes me so uncomfortable. If there were a way to flip a switch and stop caring about how or when stuff works out and just do what’s in front of me, I would flip it, believe me. But I feel it would require turning my attention away from my future, and I don’t know how to do that. Because what else can I turn my attention to? Almost everything I do points me in that direction. How do I not look at it?
It’s not that I sit in that fear all the time. In the short term, I can focus my mind on any of number of things; school, blog, background research for the lab. I can go about my business as though everything is fine and shield my demons as best I can from the people around me. But even if I refuse to give them mental airtime, they remain inside me, seething and coiling around on themselves, putting me off food and sleep as much as my pain ever did. And I know that’s
part a lot of the reason behind my persistent exhaustion. But no matter how much I tell myself – and no matter how much other people tell me – that all of this worrying is pointless, and no matter how many times I acknowledge my fear in hopes of releasing it, it simply won’t go away.
I’m stuck again. I know this isn’t healthy, being twisted up like this. But I don’t know what has to happen for me not to be like this. I wish I weren’t so reliant on some particular thing or another outside of myself happening to me to shake me out of this holding pattern, but it seems that my life-management skills haven’t really improved all that much, despite everything, and that the only way I am going to break free is if I stumble on another piece of good fortune. And considering my history, it could be a long while before that happens again.