It’s very difficult to write about an experience when you’re still in the thick of it, and not even sure if and how you will be able to find your way out. But here I am, trying to talk about it lest I fall silent entirely and lose the ability to seek sense through words.
Let’s start with the obvious. I have not been a poster child for recovery from acoustic neuroma surgery. No one said it would be easy, but I was not prepared for the particular challenges and complexities it would unleash in me, and my own psychology, dormant or carefully managed for decades, suddenly exploded into crippling anxiety and debilitating insomnia.
I’ve scared people away. I’ve scared myself. I have had moments when I honestly have not been convinced that I can get through this. Suffering is not a relative term…suffering is suffering when you are the one to whom it is happening. I cannot describe my feelings. I have become unfamiliar to myself, unable to count on my usual resources and distractions. I am tired and tedious. There is a a shaky feeling in my core that almost never abates. Some of this is just necessary readjustment to all the vestibular disturbances that the surgery wrought, and I know people who have weathered it rather smoothly simply by being patient, resting a lot, and having faith in their body’s own healing.
Unfortunately, it has turned me into a basket case. I have gone to traditional doctors and psychologists, listened to meditation tapes, desperately tried acupuncture and massage and homeopathic remedies, shopped Amazon for goodies such as a weighted blanket, vitamin supplements, preservative-free eye drops, vile tasting tea, even an “anxiety phobia workbook”, gotten certified (it’s legal here) to enter a vaulted dispensary on a back street in the vain hope that a slim young man in dreadlocks would help me to find effective cannabis assistance, and tapped into my teachers’ retirement fund to hand wads of cash to a psychiatrist whom I fervently hope will lead me back to health. All I want is sleep, a re-set, the ability to wake up refreshed and begin the hard sustained work of physical therapy and healing. And in order to attain that, I have learned that I must first address my anxiety, which apparently is off the charts. It has a long history, this anxiety, but now, with me at my most vulnerable, it is at front and center stage. I have been at a low point in my life, and I really do understand why many friends are steering clear of me, and needless to say, I am depressed and discouraged, weak, shaky, uninspired, and at times in what I would describe as a state of despair.
Our nights have become like Groundhog Day…same old routines, same outcomes, over and over, joyless, despite the beauty of the world outside and the resilience of our bond, which has never been tested so much. One day I had the idea that I would just go to a hotel somewhere and give Monte a break from me. There was a place in Solvang called the King Frederick that sounded okay: inexpensive, near the next day’s physical therapy appointment, complete with a bathtub, a sauna, a queen bed, a big black square of television screen mounted on the wall. I pictured myself just going there, pulling down the blinds, resting, being elsewhere, maybe even getting some take-out Chinese food, maybe falling asleep to real estate tv, and I’d wake up and everything would be nice again.
Monte was appalled. There was no way that my escape to the King Frederick was ever going to make any sense to him…a mixture of scary and absurd. Solvang, no less. There I would be as the church muzak pealed outside, and the tourists took pictures of windmills, and the air smelled cloyingly of pastry.
But this is what it’s like sometimes. Even now, I’m typing this as the queasy “feeling” in my stomach flutters, and I wonder, at noon, what I will do with this day that should feel like a gift, not a trial. I won’t even begin to describe all the weirdness of medication, and how much that contributes to my anxiety.
And yet, there are those moments. The other day I had a familiar, fleeting sensation that can best be described as hopefulness. I don’t even know why, but it changed everything while it lasted, and unfortunately I crash-landed the following day after a night of no sleep, but I really did believe for a while that I am still in here, and that I would somehow be okay.
One day in my darkest depths, hiding in the downstairs room while everyone else seemed to be out and about enjoying life, the phone rang, and it was Nyuol, calling me from New York, and he described vignettes of Harlem to me that he could see through the window of his brownstone apartment. Kit and Beverly invited us over to their house last night, and it was perfectly okay with them that I lay on the couch, and didn’t say much, looking at Kit’s beautiful little pastel landscapes and sky-scapes pinned to the wall. Hilary-of-Wales thought of me and sent me a letter in the early hours of morning. Jan, who is going through a trial of her own, and I have been checking in daily and making plans about how we are going to rejoin the resistance when this is over, and maybe get our nails done too. A woman named Bonny I barely know whom I met at the On Being Gathering earlier this year sent me David Whyte’s newest poetry book. Some people still write to me despite getting no response, and my dear friend Dan sent me an email yesterday asking me to read Wordsworth’s lines composed about Tintern Abbey, and I have zoomed in on these lines…daring to hope:
While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years. And so I dare to hope,
Though changed, no doubt, from what I was when first
I came among these hills; when like a roe
I bounded o’er the mountains, by the sides
Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,
Wherever nature led: more like a man
Flying from something that he dreads, than one
Who sought the thing he loved.
The moon keeps beaming down on the hills, serene and oblivious, and I pedaled a short distance on my bike and didn’t fall over. Summer will come, and all seasons in their turn, and somehow I will be looking back at this as a hard time but one that yielded wisdom, compassion, and strength. I will give things away. I will laugh at the sound of the tea kettle in the morning. I will be kinder than I ever was before. And I will know that I have been loved and that for this reason alone I must not give up.
I’ve never been a big fan of the idea of a “bucket list” but I did have a few things that I wanted to do while still reasonably able-bodied…see the Northern Lights, that sort of thing. It’s funny now how simple my desires are. I have but one item on my bucket list for travel. I want to be on my daughter’s street in Oxford, stepping outside that familiar red door, with Monte and Xander, and it will be one of those early summer nights when the sky is still bright white at nearly ten o’clock, and we’ll be walking over to the Cowley Road for take-out, and afterwards, we’ll hug goodnight, and Monte and I will walk back over to Neal and Dot’s arm in arm, and the percussion of our footsteps on the sidewalk will punctuate the night, along with snippets of conversation from passersby, and in the morning Miranda will call and we’ll meet for coffee. I don’t really need to go anyplace else.