Today I cried.
Not the “pretty cry” that I can have when watching an underdog sports movie like Rudy or a touching Hallmark commercial. Red-eyed, runny-nosed, body-shaking cry. I wasn't even in the comfort of my home. I was face-down, my eyes stuffed into the cradle of my physiotherapist's treatment table. I had just endured an especially painful treatment. It was a therapy that I can normally handle and even ask for more. But today was too much.
I've been battling with an injury for a few years which causes me constant chronic pain and prevents me from doing many of the things that I enjoy or would like to do. Eating at restaurants. Kayaking. Working out. Attending concerts. Going on a coffee date – or any date, really. Camping. Volunteering. Trying different physical activities like rock climbing, crossfit, hiking, beach volleyball, boating, snowshoeing, yoga – basically anything that comes my way. Before my injury all of my spare time was spent working on my physical fitness and in the kitchen. Now my activities are limited, modified, or avoided. My physical fitness is now dependent on low impact movements based on what my body will allow me to do on a given day.
I know what I must look like walking down the aisles at the grocery store; this fit looking man with the gait of an octogenarian. Sometimes wincing, but usually smiling, laughing, and enthralled by the ingredients before me. Sometimes I can hide it all long enough to get back home, and nobody knows.
Most of the time I am genuinely happy and positive, “the smiley guy”, and able to look on the bright side- able to see the opportunities that struggles bring. For example, this website itself wouldn't exist if I was still working, and I don’t know if I would have met Holley in the first place. Even if I were relaying this story to you in person, most of the time I'd have a smile on my face (though I might be hiding behind it – I tend to do that).
I’m in a dark place right now
I don't talk about this often, usually only to my multiple therapists or friends who are close to me, who I see on a regular basis. But I'm in a dark place right now. The last month has been blanketed in even more frustration and pain than usual. I haven’t been able to enjoy events and activities that even now I should be able to handle.
Every part of my life is affected: my social life, my ability to stand in the kitchen, dating opportunities, my financial status. As a result my self confidence and feeling of self worth have taken a massive beating. I don’t sleep well anymore. My pain tolerance is less. I snap at people, even friends.
If depression was a carnival, it's at the other end of town. I can hear the music and sounds of the people and games, but I can't see it. Thankfully I can't smell the greasy mini donuts from here. I'm safe from Carnies stealing my wallet.* Damn Carnies.
This slow wide spiral, which quickens as the center of the drain, draws closer… I'm far enough away that current won't pull me in. I've been closer before. I've known the fear of the speed of that pull near the middle. That place where I wouldn't be able to pull myself out without help. I'm not in those waters, but aware that there is a current here and need to watch the water.
Tears. The receptionist was nice enough to offer me the room for as long as I needed it. This has never happened to me. I must have stayed in there for half an hour. Part of that time was just breathing. Part of it was acknowledging my thoughts and frustration. And part of it was writing about this to you.
I usually don’t focus on these thoughts, these feelings. Most of the time they’re not on my radar. I rarely let this injury be a part of my identity. It’s merely something that has forced/enabled a change in my life (for whatever reason I've always felt this was a temporary situation, despite the slow and limited improvement that I experience, and many of the conversations with my healthcare professionals). I would prefer not to focus on it most of the time, but I feel like maybe I do need to let people know how difficult some activities or events are, and not just hide behind my smile (followed by hiding in my apartment for the rest of the week, unable to stand).
Also, this is a conversation that should be had more often in general. Until you've experienced it for yourself, you really have no way of truly understanding the emotional and mental struggle involved. As a pharmacist I was always aware and empathetic to the existence of these issues with anyone with a chronic or debilitating condition, but obviously that was more of a textbook knowledge than a true appreciation of how all-encompassing the mental impact can be.
This isn't me. But it is my experience today. I’m lucky: I know when I need to reach out for help, and I do when I need it, like this past month. I know what I need to do to look after my mental health (I’ll get into that another time). Thank you, all of you, for being in my corner. Thank you for listening, for being a shoulder to lean on, for your hugs, laughs, smiles, and shared meals. I’m lucky to have you in my corner.
*Yes, I did have my wallet stolen at a fair when I was younger.