Lost Time

I’ve been trying to make up for lost time, haven’t I? I’ve been trying to play catch up in a race that is rigged by forces beyond my control and perhaps exists only in my head. A competition between myself and imaginary rivals with doubters and detractors watching from the sidelines. “I told you so” I cry triumphantly as I flip them the bird and take what’s mine. What is mine? The friends I never had in childhood? The high school I never graduated? The accolades I was never awarded? The bragging rights I never gave my parents? The income I never earned? The paintings I never painted?

Now that the surgeries where they cut muscles and removed bones were successful, I paint joyously and gratefully, I never thought I could have this back. But the joy turns to intensity and the intensity turns to anxiety. I paint furiously, forgetting I am still a cripple and pushing my body beyond its current capacity. I retreat guiltily, depressively as my body responds in pain and seized muscles. I fall into old habits of beating myself up for my failures in self-discipline and lack of wisdom and the inability to indulge my wild passion in more restrained measures.

I panic and sleep too much and eat too much sugar and ice cream and wonder how I’ll ever go Vegan and why the hell haven’t I managed to make myself meditate lately when I know it helps and why haven’t I gone for a walk and why haven’t I saved the Great Barrier Reef and now that I no longer have my disability as an excuse, what if I’m still useless, still nothing?

But my disability was never an excuse, simply an explanation and I’ve never been useless, never been nothing. I drag myself to a group meditation and spend the whole time feeling like I might start screaming from the panic attack I am silently experiencing. Yet, the facilitator speaks of compassion to our own emotions and of sitting with a gentle kindness with ourselves and though no words particularly stick with me this time, I find myself calmer at the end of the session. I start to notice what’s going on.

What’s going on is that I’m scared. Scared as my body heals that I will fuck it up and ruin all the hard work and money that has been invested into me. Scared as my body heals that maybe it’s too late to make a something of myself. Scared as my body heals that I will have nothing to offer. Scared as my body heals that I will lose the hard earned wisdom I gained from my chronic pain and disability. Scared as my body heals that I will hit a wall and still be disabled and lose the patient compassion I have had from loved ones.

It’s useful to put words to those fears because I can challenge them and realise that what they are about is that my life is in transition. A shift from one sort of existence to another but not a miracle cure sort of shift, rather a slow and ongoing changing without a knowledge of what the end destination might look like. Only now I have hope. And I guess maybe that’s what scares me most… I never want to lose hope again.

And so with these realisations, I hold myself in compassion because I’ve had these fears before, the first time I started to recover from a chronic health condition, only to fall into another. I realise the thing I need currently is not to suddenly fill my life with achievements and become obsessively caught up in my identity as an artist and the ways in which that can make me feel valuable and lovable but instead to remember the value of meditation, loving kindness, gentle compassion, human connection and a returned focus on self-care both physical and psychological.

This is not to say I am de-prioritising my artist practice, it is my passion and always will be but I need to bring these other aspects back into focus because I still have this disability and need to find sustainable ways to explore and work with my shifting capacities. I need to do this gently, kindly and I need to forgive myself when I stumble and struggle. This is better than before the surgery and for that I am grateful but this isn’t suddenly easy and I need to remember that and be kind.

Good News

(This is cross-posted from my Instagram where I have been most active lately. It’s not a poetically written post but it contains happy news about my thoracic outlet syndrome and I think this blog needs a bit of that.)

27629315_10157091515889278_6742667582300169976_o

Succinctness will never be my talent but my health stuff is going amazingly well and so I wanted to gush about that.

Before I got surgery for my thoracic outlet syndrome, I was feeling trapped in my body. After years of incorrect diagnoses, shitty experiences within the medical system and my disability and pain increasing with every year, I was feeling utterly alone, utterly dejected.

Four months after surgery (where the surgeons found I had the worst compression they had seen) and I’m actually starting to see real, tangible progress from the physiotherapy I’m doing. I’ve started lifting a half kilo weight and more amazing than that, two months ago I started doing a gentle rowing motion with a very gentle theraband, this was a HUGE deal because before I had surgery, even after a year of physiotherapy, I couldn’t do the row without pain. I simply wasn’t able to do it. But I’ve been doing it for two months now and a couple of weeks ago, I graduated to a tougher theraband, at which point I got tearful in front of my physiotherapist. She apologised for how long and slow this process is to which I responded “no, the thing you have to understand is to me, this is nothing short of a miracle. Before surgery, the idea of being able to do this exercise felt like dreaming too big” and it did… it seemed as out of reach as the idea of me walking on Mars. But it’s happening, twice a day I do twenty rows and it’s hard, my body has a lot of shit that needs correction… but it’s happening! It’s really happening! I’m improving!

Yesterday I drove almost two hours and I was only in mild pain afterwards. Today, I painted for almost three hours and though that was definitely pushing it too far and I need to not make that a habit just yet, for the first time in perhaps seven years, I wasn’t a broken wreck afterwards.

ret

Here’s a portrait I did of an Instagram friend in 3 hours. Ok, I was actually pretty sore the next day but I’m still excited about being able to paint for longer than I could before surgery

I will always have thoracic outlet syndrome, I will always need to keep on top of my physio and practice management strategies. But that’s ok because for the first time in such a long time, my hard work and discipline pays off! Do you know how much easier it is to keep pushing onwards when your hard work gets results? Do you know how much easier it is to look after your body when it isn’t in pain all the time? Do you know how much easier it is to get through the day when you can take a quick drive to the shops without it hurting? My brain feels so much clearer and my heart is opening with the joy of it all.

I am acutely aware of how lucky I am that the surgery for this poorly understood and rare condition actually worked for me. I am, in honesty, still in shock and every day, when I realise how much easier life is for the able bodied, my heart goes out to everyone who struggles against impossible, invisible enemies, myself included. I never believed I could be this lucky. Perhaps in a year’s time, I’ll be using a rowing machine at the gym. Perhaps I’ll be painting every day. But even now… I’m better than I had thought I could possible be when I lost every shred of hope last year. I am so lucky, I am so incredibly lucky.

(P.S this post is public because when I desperately needed TOS success stories, I couldn’t find any. Down the track I would like to make a website about it or something but currently I’m just focusing on my own healing. My second surgery is booked for April 10, I am still pretty nervous because it’s major surgery but I am not terrified like I was the first time.)