A very well-known Canadian blogger and much-loved author is teaching a blogging course this autumn, and I am enrolled. Squee!!! Our first assignment (last week) was to write a letter – physically put pen to paper, compose a missive, slip it into an envelope, put a stamp on it and pop it in the post. It was a fun and easy assignment for me; I write lots of letters.
This week is a different story altogether…
We’ve been challenged to write a blog post about getting lost, a concept that was initially amusing to me: I know every corner of my town plus, living in a rural environment where roads are laid out in near-perfect grids, getting lost is nigh-on impossible. As I leaned into the topic a little, it became uncomfortably demanding. The fact is that today (and for much of the past summer) I have been lost in thought. Not, I promise, merely an adage or platitude, nor an avoidance of the subject – just simple, honest truth.
“Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”*
Today I am a citizen of that other place. I am in a private room for today’s treatment which should be a luxury but in fact feels like being in a cell – isolated and lonely. My bed, though, is divine; today I am in one of the new, plush, programmable beds with every type of electronic adjustment imaginable at my fingertips. It has one of the customizable inflatable mattresses which is beyond comfortable – it actually feels like I am being cuddled. Now if only it were also heated… (Too greedy?)
The soundtrack to my confinement is a combination of rhythmic beeps, electronic alarms, the sound of pumps and drips, the humming of my monitor screen and footfalls rushing past my door, each of those intermittently interrupted by my nurse checking in on me. These noises, her presence, are all reassuring.
Staring at the ceiling tiles is weirdly hypnotic; I’ve counted them – the whole and the partial tiles – at least a hundred times and made countless patterns from within their shapes. But then came the boredom. That’s when my demons awoke, I withdrew into my private world and the mental callisthenics began again. I was lost.
You see, underneath the bravado, the smiles and the seeming nonchalance I show the world, I am very scared. I feel that by now my health should be much-improved, I wonder why my medical team does not have better control over what is happening and, fuelled by these thoughts I imagine every possible worst-case scenario. Throughout my life, my health history resembles the waves created by an electrocardiogram – lots of highs points but just as many lows – which is why I understand so well how important good health is and, like a rug, how quickly it can be yanked out from under you – without warning. Yes, I am scared.
Now, just so you can appreciate the fullness of this situation, and as my best friend would happily tell you herself, I’m a worry-wart! I’m a master of assuming the worst, of borrowing trouble that may never exist and worst of all (in her opinion) I ‘turtle’ (withdraw into my shell) when I ought to be reaching out, talking, sharing. Fear does that; it is an extraordinarily paralyzing emotion and until a lasting improvement in my health occurs, I know I will be living scared. I am not (I think) a pessimist – I am forever confident that the doctors will work their magic and always hopeful of getting better. I’m just sick and tired of being ill and oh-so-worried about how long it is taking to effect a cure, and about the many what ifs.
When I am on the night side of life I get lost retreating into my own somber place which is why this beautiful, extravagant, private room is the worst possible place they could have stored me today. Alone I fret and worry and stew but with another soul in the other bed(s) for company, I’d have had a different, outward focus. I would not be lost.
I’m done with this more onerous citizenship. Here, in this bed, I am longing for the halcyon days of 2017 and ‘18 when I practically lived at Presqu’ile – cycling, kayaking, picnicking, swimming, hiking and taking thousands of pictures. Today those wonderful days feel like a lifetime ago. I miss my park; I am never lost at Presqu’ile.
I so badly want to switch passports, to leave the kingdom of the sick behind me and enter the kingdom of the well. I want to feel really good – all day, everyday – and to regain my strength (both physical and mental). I desperately want to escape this chamber and the air in here which has that unmistakably sterile, ‘bleachy’ odour. I long to escape outdoors, to my beloved park and its beautiful fresh air, to replace the hospital sounds with birdsong and frogsong. I don’t want to be so scared. Most of all, I don’t want to be lost in my dark, damning thoughts. I want to be found.
Writing this post was so “uncomfortably demanding” because there is far more deeply personal truth in these words than I typically share on my blog. Or anywhere else. Perhaps you’re thinking, what’s the big deal? My experience has always been that the world loves to cherish, protect, help and sympathize/empathize with average-size and tiny girls and women. Not so much when you’re my size (I am tall and I am fat). Ever since I was a young girl I’ve heard variations on a theme – “what’s a big strong girl like you got to be afraid of?”. I am also cursed with the ‘English Rose’ complexion. No matter how ill I’ve ever been my cheeks are always rosy and apparently I’ve always looked well and healthy – definitely not in need of others’ protection, assistance, empathy or sympathy. Hence my well-developed practice of turtling.
Caveat: ‘Though this post may read as me whinging and complaining, I am truly grateful for our Canadian health care system. I’m enormously thankful that Cam and I do not have to make decisions about my treatments based upon financial onus. Mostly, I am appreciative of and beholden to the kind, thoughtful and dedicated medical team that surrounds me and unfailingly provides tender, compassionate care. I am the luckiest one, this I know. I am also, in this moment, grateful for the private room and the closed door after all; I just realized my cheeks are wet and I’m thoroughly ashamed of myself for holding this pity-party.
I want you to be a little bit lost (or a lot lost) were our writing assignment instructions for this week. For me, being lost unexpectedly turned out to be an entirely internal exercise. The thing about getting lost is that you always need to be found or, existentially, find yourself. I am the luckiest one ever because my bestie is the one who always finds me. ‘Though I give her plenty of cause, she never gives up on me, even when there is no response to her telephone calls and messages. She is the one who seems to instinctively know when her intervention is most needed. She drags me out of the night side of my life – usually kicking and screaming – into the daylight which bleaches away all my worries. The light and, of course, her wisdom. Especially her wisdom. She finds me when I am lost. Always.
‘Til next time, y’all…
Ms. Sontag was an author, photographer, activist and filmmaker. I am currently reading her book On Photography – a collection of essays. The above quote is from her book Illness as a Metaphor.
Note: Rereading this post before hitting the ‘publish’ button, I am cringing, doubtful of the wisdom of writing – never mind sharing – these thoughts.