Sunday, February 28, 2016

On Mortality, Tenacity and Thriving

There's a 'thing' which enables us to live our lives on the assumption that we are going to live forever. Of course we know that we are going to die one day, but it's not a real knowing - we make unhealthy choices, we do foolish things, take unnecessary risks, waste so much time. Every so often something happens to jolt our complacency.

The first jolt happened to me in my final year of school: a sudden 'blinding light' experience left me without faith in god and eternal life, and thus started decades of depression. The sudden certainty that I was going to die. The End. Two years later, a friend made a choice to get in a car with her drunk boyfriend, and then died after a year of being paralyzed from the neck down. And so though the years. When I wanted a baby, but had miscarriage after miscarriage, I became deeply aware of the incredible fragility of life. When I found a lump in my neck, at a time when I was deeply depressed, the 'knowledge' that I was going to die was a freaky mix of dread and gladness - but it turned out it wasn't my turn.

After each experience, the awareness of death sits heavily on me. My shoulders bend over, my stomach feels like I've swallowed rocks, my skin fizzes with dread.

Then gradually acceptance of a kind starts to calm my shaky hands and heart. After a while, days, weeks, months, life returns to normal, albeit a slightly different normality. The enormous issues, the questions, the anxiety, the dread, the reality check, all retreat to a cave in the back of my head. Unfortunately, the retreat cave has become somewhat over crowded over the decades!

The last five years, since my last life-threatening bout of depression, has been an amazing time of learning and change for me. At that time, my inner stubborn bitch finally decided to fight the black dog that had spent decades snapping at my heels, trying to herd me over the edge of the cliff. I've been learning to find, and use, a whole battery of tools to help me stay up upright. As I write this, I have been reminded to straighten my back and pull my shoulders back, and just that small change instantly made me feel a teeny weeny bit better. I have learned that there is no magic wand available to me, just a scattered pile of magic glitter blowing around my 'house' every time a door or window is opened, and I have to gather as much of it as I can. One of the bigger clumps of glitter was the elimination of wheat from my diet - studies of non-celiac gluten sensitivity have shown that even where the removal of gluten makes no difference to gut problems, it still improved things for depressed subjects, and so it has proved for me.

The last two and a half months has been hard. Two months of intermittent tooth pain with several visits to the dentist before we worked out the culprit tooth, were follow by a bout of vertigo, and then topped off by the nastiest, most acute cold virus I've ever experienced. Being left with eyes that were very tired and not functioning well, and being urged to do so by a retired doctor friend, I went to see my doctor.


Yup, there it is again. That jolt, that awareness of my very own personal mortality.

And then the tiredness. I was already depleted by two and a half months of pain and nausea, and not eating properly - which has meant mostly a fruit diet, with occasional 'treats' of chocolate, which is soft and melts in the mouth without chewing and which is totally inappropriate for a diabetic. Add in this mortality jolt which, as always, sucks energy from me faster than I can suck the inside out of a square of strawberry cream chocolate. I'm tired. Just so fucking tired.

I can do this. I managed to become a gluten free vegetarian. I can become a gluten-free, vegetarian diabetic. I just have to crawl around the floor, with all the windows and doors open, and collect those tiny pieces of glitter. The me that is somehow more than this imperfect body, can thrive despite its inadequate environment.

“Start now. Start where you are. Start with fear. Start with pain. Start with doubt. Start with hands shaking. Start with voice trembling but start. Start and don’t stop. Start where you are, with what you have. Just... start.” 
― Ijeoma Umebinyuo

Outside my bathroom window a weed started growing in a crack between the cobblestones, next to the kennel of Bob The Dog. Because cobblestones aren't a priority for me, it was not pulled out. Under the cobblestones is sand and then hard clay. Not black, crumbly humus - just sand and clay. It only gets a little sun, and not much rain. It is protected from the wind. But still it lives. It did not just struggle, but thrived, and bore sweet, golden Cape Gooseberries. I can do this. I can be tenacious. I can be strong. I can thrive.

(But I might need a little protection from the wind sometimes, perhaps in the form of an occasional hug.)