When I was twenty-eight, I got sick. It was bad. I lost a lot of weight and muscle, so much so that walking became difficult. My joints swelled up and using my hands became almost impossible. My hair started to fall out. I was pretty sure I was dying. So, I saw a lot of doctors and underwent a lot of tests. One of them was a spinal tap.
Spinal taps are not pleasant and if you have hip or lower back problems, they’re worse. I was born with a hip defect; thus, the spinal was worse. It was, bar nothing, the worst pain I’ve ever experienced and I gave birth to a nearly eleven-pound baby. The pain from the spinal tap was excruciating. I didn’t know what to do with it. I was strapped down so I couldn’t escape, though I tried. I didn’t know whether to scream or pass out. Cognitive thought ceased. All I wanted to do was run.
That experience has been my pain benchmark ever since. Everything is measured against the spinal tap. It is my ten.
When I would share the story – because who doesn’t love a good pain and misery anecdote – I would tell people that the pain was beyond imagining. That it was unendurable. Except, it wasn’t. After all, I’m still here.
I ran across a quote recently that goes as follows:
Everything that happens is either endurable or not. If it’s endurable, then endure it. Stop complaining. If it’s unendurable . . . then stop complaining. Your destruction will mean its end as well. – Marcus Aurelius
I like quotes that lead to “ah ha” moments, even when those moments of insight come at your own expense.
Things you survive are not unbearable. They are not unendurable. It seems like they are, at times. It seems like they’re too hard, too painful, and too difficult to get through. You think they’ll destroy you. You think you cannot endure. But we do.
Sometimes, my anxiety feels like something I can’t endure. The pressure in my head is so physically uncomfortable that I want to smash my head into a wall to make it stop. The thoughts trip over themselves and swamp me; it feels like torture. I think to myself that I would do anything to make it stop and for years I did. It’s anxiety that drove much of my eating disorder behaviour. It’s anxiety that drove much of my self-mutilation.
But though I say the feelings are unbearable, it turns out they’re not. Because I’m still here.
They’re miserable and awful and they make me wish I was dead at times, so I’d never have to deal with them again, but they don’t kill me. They won’t kill me.
They pass. And I go on.
It’s a shocking realization. The misery, discomfort, insane panic, agitation, and horrible thoughts are not terminal. Not fatal. They’re awful but they’re also, as I’ve come to realize as I practice enduring and leaning in, as I practice avoiding destructive coping mechanisms, transitory.
They feel like they will last forever when you’re in them, but they don’t. They pass. And my life goes on.
If I had my way, they’d never return. Doing therapy, and reading the right books, and living in the right way should guarantee freedom from those emotions and urges but they don’t. To be honest, that kind of irritates.
It’s miserable and fatiguing and difficult having an anxious brain. But I can survive it.
*The illness I had in my late twenties was finally diagnosed. I had contracted parvo virus. It was a bitch.