Followers of this blog will be familiar with the various ups and down I’ve experienced over the last months since I began writing, and friends and family of mine know about them from much before then, to varying degrees. So when I say that this last Sunday gone marks possibly the lowest point I can remember, it isn’t a remark I make lightly.
More than ever, this entry in the blog is a personal one – one for me to look back on in the weeks and months to come as I look back over the trials and forward to what may lie ahead and to be able to see that I’ve come through worse than I’m going through.
Smile through it was designed as a pithy phrase to help me remember that when it comes down to it, laughter really is the best medicine, and that taking the time to remember the levity and vibrance that life gives us can turn a perpective upside down. Through most of the things I’ve been through in my life it’s an ability to laugh at myself and situation that’s really pulled me through, and having family and friends who share my often bleak and black sense of the humourous that helps beyond words.
But sometimes, even though part of you knows that you can fix it all with a grin and a giggle, your body and mind won’t let a smile cross your lips; not the glimmer of a smirk or a corner of the mouth upturned.
This is how I found myself on Sunday night.
Sitting on the edge of the bed at half-past nine, four days after coming out of hospital to renewed hope and the excitement of a new car, I found myself fighting for breath with a new sensation of pain and exhaustion ripping through my chest and as I stared almost vacantly at the floor, I felt an overwhelming desire to give up.
It’s hard to reconcile the feelings of joy I had at escaping the confines of the hospital last Wednesday with the hurried turnaround once I reached home. Aware as I was of the fact that I was by no means fully recovered, I was anxious to get back to something – anything – which even vaguely resembled normality: being able to choose what time I did my drugs, being able to sleep for hours during the day if I so wished, not having treatment times dictated to me by staff with a dozen other patients to see.
What I discovered, however, is that home can feel like more of a prison than any hospital ward. In the same way that the four walls of my hospital room started to feel reassuring and safe, home began to feel like a well-decorated prison cell, with a world of wonders on the outside.
I’m exaggerating, I’m sure – home is never really a prison – but as the weather turned warmer and sunnier, I just wanted to be outside. Coupled with our recent automobile acquisition, my sense of adventure began to take over and K and I began to explore the bounds of my stamina and the car’s performance.
Had I been more disciplined with myself and stricter in keeping myself bed-bound upon my return, I doubt I would have landed in the position I did on Sunday night. But then, had I not landed there, I don’t know if I’d be on the up-slope to recovery I find myself on now. Sometimes you need to plumb the depths before you feel the benefit of the clean-aired heights.
Sunday afternoon took the biscuit, really, as K and I set out for a pleasant Sunday drive around the countryside to enjoy the spring sunshine and run-in the new car. After and hour and a bit of driving, I began to feel the fatigue creeping in and by the time I got home after around 2 and a half hours out of the house, it was pretty much game over.
What alarmed me, and what caused the moment of pause on the edge of the bed as I got myself ready to sleep, was the new sensation within my chest which burst into prominence.
Back in the days when Emily had her knackered old blowers (not the shiny new ones she has now), she used to write in her blog about her chest throwing hissy fits and causing enforced rests and lie-downs. I thought I knew exactly what she meant, having felt the overwhelming tiredness and sense of exhaustion after over-exertion. But sitting on the end of the bed last Sunday, I realised that I hadn’t even touched the sides of it yet.
I’ve had chest pain before, usually pleuritic, occasionally pneumothorax-related, but always of the same variety: a sharp, stabbing pain the side of the chest, usually around the lining of the lungs, where one can imagine a large chunk of infected tissue rubbing angrily against a chest wall which is struggling to keep it in check.
This, however, was something entirely different. This time it was a kind of internal stinging sensation which felt like the inside of my lungs had been rubbed raw with a grater and immersed in a vat of TCP. And unlike the pleuritic pain, there was no sign of it fading away with a few deep breaths.
As I laid in bed on Sunday night, with K lying next to me and sensing my discomfort and utter dejection, I tried to put into words what was going through my head. Sadly, I am not the same wordsmith orally as I am on paper, and in the heat of the moment, my vocabulary failed me.
I sat and stared straight ahead of me and desperately tried to recall a time when I’d felt lower – more hopeless and filled with sadness. For a second, a fleeting moment at my parents’ house in the build up to Christmas after my hospital admission last November entered my head, but that had lasted just a few seconds and this decidedly not so.
The truth was, I was tired. Tired of the fighting, tired of the same old stories, the ups and downs, the scrapes and pickups, the ever-turning and tightening vice around my chest. I was tired and I just wanted it all to go away. Nothing anyone could say could make a difference – something K seemed to instinctively know and chose to observe.
Then the strangest thing happened. As I sat and contemplated the worst of scenarios, I thought about my brother and what he’s been through. Not only the completion of 11 weeks of impossibly hard training and testing and fighting for the commando course, which he had just last week reached the end of and grasped with proud hands his Green Beret, which will go with him everywhere from now on.
But also the times he’s fought through everywhere else: through his year out in Tonga, when he so nearly gave up and came home after just a couple of months, but stuck it out and had one of the most remarkable life experiences anyone can imagine; through his year at Sandhurst, fighting through test after test, performing top of his class, but never letting anyone know how truly hard work it was; right through to his running of the London marathon last year on a few week’s training and the number of people he inspired to sign up to the organ donor register, all because he told them he was doing it for me: I still bear the medal he took home, framed on my wall with his inscription, “Live The Dream” underneath.
I thought of all of these things and I saw myself reflected in his eyes and I realised that I couldn’t give up. What kind of message would that send out to my friends, my family, worst of all my Godchildren, my two fabulous, wonderful young boys who I vowed nearly a decade ago to watch over, guide and protect in the name of God? How could I possibly decide that enough was enough, just because I was tired and it was hard?
As images of my brother washed over me, seeing him at his lowest points of the last 11 weeks, fighting for strength through everything and finding it within himself to keep going, I knew that I had to keep going too. What’s more, I knew that if my parents had passed on to him the ability to keep going and never give up, then I must have the same genes flowing through my body, too. If one of us can, I’ve not doubt in my mind whatsoever that the other can, too.
Sunday 1st April, 2007 will go down in my mind and my history as the lowest point I ever reached in my battle through life so far. But when I look back on it, it won’t be with pain or disappointment, but with a profound sense of pride and pleasure that not matter how dark it got, I was able to see the tiniest, remotest speck of light at the end of the tunnel – and I will make it there. Sooner or later.
PS – this has taken me nearly an hour to write in one sitting and, tired and emotional as I am, I’m not about to sit and reread it for typos. If I’ve spelled something wrong, that shall be as much my legacy as the rest of the sentiments in this page. Be well xx
PPS – following the above revelation, I discovered on Monday the quote which you saw posted earlier in the week, which blew me away because it basically said everything I’ve said in the post above, but in less than 25 words. Some people just have a gift for short hand, I guess…
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