Mending Mental Cracks
I’m recovering from a brain injury. But there’s more to me than that.
There’s a stillness, a calm in the morning after a southerly blows through. The neighbourhood birds are quieter, enjoying the peace and a break from the wind and heat. In my street, eucalyptus trees had their limbs snapped, the windows on my granny flat rattled through the blustery night. The morning bird songs are softer, gentler, I imagine they may be tired from losing their roosts during the gusty winds.
I feel like this, tired after a storm. Like I’ve lost the foothold on my perch for a while. The incessant nature of my brain injury and chronic illness, takes it toll on my sense of progress. I don’t know if I’m moving forwards, backwards, upwards or all around. Pushed and pulled each different way, healing is a like standing outside during a southerly.
For two years the winds swirled around me; multiple misdiagnoses, no diagnosis, travelling through no-doctor-limbo-land, unable to proceed, slipping backwards as months of no diagnosis compounded into symptoms worsening. Assistance materialised in alternative treatments from overseas: Canada, USA, UK and an integrative doctor. The winds began to blow me in the right direction.
According to the poster chart on my bedroom wall, I’m improving. I record my daily recovery, tentative baby steps, slow like a tortoise. The chart is there to give me a chance to see improvements and today the winds are calm enough for me to take stock.
In last two months, there has been a significant change in my symptoms; blood pressure normalising, increased cognitive stamina, less vertigo. Though I don’t notice these minute improvements, I see there’s more boxes coloured green than red, and though I see the good periods are stretching out longer and longer. On the chart I see there is an upward trend, anticipation grows.
I begin to picture my life after illness: the elusive state I’ve longed for and despaired over if I’d ever return to. I hope for a little more health, a return of wellbeing; I wish for a body no longer labouring to stay upright, pumping blood easily through my veins, a brain at ease with everyday life. I hope to swim, cafe, drive, work (and in that order, and daily).
Recently I read After the Fall by Dan Santat, an illustrated version of Humpty Dumpty. As in the nursery rhyme, Humpty had a great fall and he was put back together again. Afterwards, he was afraid to sit on the wall, in case he might fall again. Who could blame him, after the ordeal of being pieced together by all the king’s men, he’s had enough. I know how that feels.
I am afraid to fall. I am afraid the virus that inflamed my brain could return. I am afraid my brain could lose the functions I’ve painstakingly rehabbed back. The truth is, I’ve lived for so long in fear of illness, serious condition, I don’t know if I can return to the wall.
Eventually Humpty finds his courage and returns to the wall. I think he is braver than me.
You see, I still have cracks. My physical ones are mending, the mental cracks are still there. The cracks are my fear of life, fear of illness. The fear of the virus returning. The shift in perspective after a life changing illness. I’ve lost the ability to deny my mortality. Like Humpty, I’ve experienced the fragility of human life. I’ve seen the thinness of my shell, how easily cracks form. Unlike Humpty, though I’m not ready to face my wall. Not yet ready to trust life again after such a big setback.
In the meanwhile, I hope I find peace, like the birds who sing their morning song like any other morning. Though this particular day, they sound more joyful, they’ve survived the winds, now calm, they celebrate another day alive. The southerly left as quickly as it came last night. Some of my symptoms do the same, and I’m left in disbelief: is this real? I am well? A part of me unable to believe in my own recovery. The birds get on with their day, I hope I can do the same.
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