Because My Head’s Not Screwed On Right

I’m unbalanced because my head’s not screwed on right. My BFF says she’s always known this but she didn’t expect it to show up on x-ray. No, really, it’s both a joke and why I’ve been so startlingly silent for so long.

Every intake or new patient form I’ve ever filled out included complaints about headaches, back and neck pain, and dizziness. And not one doctor ever paid any attention. As long as I can remember random bits of vertigo have been part of my life.

For several years I’ve had moments driving made me feel so dizzy I’d pull over, get out and walk and stretch and be fine again. These moments were rare enough I attributed them to fatigue, stress, low blood pressure or sugar. And they passed so quickly I never could really explain them. And then a few months ago it was suddenly debilitating to the point that I couldn’t even get my kid to school or myself to the student health clinic. Anything involving sitting made me feel like I was falling backwards or the ground was coming up to hit me in the face.

I couldn’t sit down to read. Or check email. Or even eat.

I don’t even know how to start the story of this miserable adventure.

I saw doctors. I saw an eye specialist. And it just kept getting worse. But I got stubborn about insisting that I can’t live like this and there really is something wrong with me.

Finally a doctor really listened and really started checking things. And… my spine in my neck is kinda messed up to the point that it causes neurological problems.

So now I’m attempting to fight it with physical therapy. Success is slow and mixed. Some days I’m mostly functional. Some days just holding my head up is so hard I can’t manage basic life. I’m enough better that I’m basically back on my feet. For the first really acute month it was so awful I had my mom and best friend come to stay with me in turns and when they weren’t here relied on friends, classmates, acquaintances to keep the kids and I alive. So there is real improvement. But I’m still not spending much time on anything non-essential.

I managing to not take any pain medication but I did use muscle relaxers for a few weeks at the worst of it. Pretty much everything hurts all the time.

PT referred me to acupuncture so I checked that out this last week. I’m not so sure the needle thing helped but he told me to eat cinnamon and veggies and that’s always good advice. It’s at least as sound as the first doc I saw who gave me the usual grad-student hysterical-woman treatment and dismissed it as stress and said to drink less coffee.

I’ve been really lucky so many great people have (and still are) showing up and helping me out. Friends and family, women from church, classmates have all helped haul my ass around town and gotten my kids where they needed to go. My department’s been generally patient and supportive. I’m surviving because all these awesome people have kept me alive.

I can’t say that I’ve found some deep spiritual meaning in all of this. I probably won’t ever be really cured. It’s more aiming for improvement and coping strategies. I now have a standing desk and a rolling back-pack. I spend nearly 2 hours a day on stretches and exercises. I’m logging everything I eat to check for inflammatory reactions. I did cut my coffee intake in half. One friend donated a new mattress. I make sleep a top priority. Newborn babies have my sympathy: when holding your head up is more than you can manage, naps and crying make a lot of sense.

So I don’t have any kind of meaning to make out of my misery. It’s not exactly an inspirational story. But I did realize that if I had to pick between being perfectly healthy and never experiencing helplessness or the everyday miracle that is having so many great people show up for me, I’d take the later. I’m not pretending this shit doesn’t suck or that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not an idiot: serious spinal problems aren’t exactly things that just go away. Even with excellent treatment it’s probably always going to be an issue. So the whole “get well soon thing” or “hope you feel better thing” sort of rubs me the wrong way. Positive thinking isn’t exactly my thing. I’d rather deal with reality.

Reality is where the real miracles happen. Reality is being incredibly grateful that I have decent health insurance and great community. Reality is living one day at a time, accepting how powerless and helpless our soft little human bodies are, trusting that God will provide what (usually who!) I need when I need it.

In the middle of all this my poor old car broke down. And guess what? People were there for me through that, too. I kinda fell apart for a moment there, feeling like not only was I broken (literally) but so was half my life. And… people still showed up. So that’s all I can offer you today. People still showed up. Not because I was fun and life was good. People showed up because I was wrecked and life sucked. That’s the miracle to remember.


Posted in personal essay, pondering | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

All The Stuff I’m Not Writing About…

…really isn’t very exciting.

It’s spring break so I thought I’d take a moment and reflect. But there’s not much to say. Kids. School. Rinse and repeat.

This grad school thing sucks up nearly all my time. A few times a week I have enough spare time to write 280ish characters on Twitter.

And it’s good. I thrive in the semi-structured environment of academia. But I’m also a little lost still. This semester is much better than the last one. There’s a lot of pressure and a lot of having no idea what I’m supposed to do or what I am doing. There’s never enough time for everyone and everything. Most days are a cross between a sprint and a slog trying to put out the fire in front of me. But I’ve also, bit by bit, started to find glimpses of a workable pace and scraps of confidence.

And I miss writing just to write, writing that doesn’t have to have a point, that doesn’t follow the rules. But there’s little time for this. Another semester is half over and all I have to show for it is a mountain of books and some unhealthy coping strategies. I don’t even have the energy to type up and post my reading logs here anymore. Too busy reading.

I guess that’s what makes Project Pursue a PhD interesting and challenging. If it was easy everyone would do it.

And then there’s the other stuff I don’t write about, the personal side of life I’m increasingly silent about, the slow processes of paperwork and visa applications, the kids who are old enough to want to keep their awkward adolescences private, the bitter political climate with it’s deeply personal injustices.

Sometimes I think about creating another space to write about these things, somewhere no one knows me, somewhere safe to tell all the truth. But then I don’t have time or energy left to do it.

Posted in personal essay, pondering | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Pieces of Home

I’m back in New Mexico. Today is day 5 of trying to reset my clock and live in my own timezone. My ambitious goal for the day is to keep my eyes open for the entire time the sun is in the sky. I even managed to stay in bed until my alarm went off at 6am. This is quite the accomplishment. I’ve been waking up at 3 or 4am, wide awake, only to crash at 10am and sleep half the day. My head and my heart are 8,000 miles away.

I was warned to expect culture shock along with the jetlag but so far see no signs of it. Maybe because I found myself on the other side of the world seeing pictures of Southwest saguaro cactus in the Middle East and hearing stories about New Mexico healers and talking about having a Breaking Bad set adjoining my backyard. Maybe because I grew up making regular and rapid cultural transitions. Maybe because I look more for similarities than for differences.

Mostly I feel sort of numb. My life here is exactly as I left it. I send my kids off to school, wash laundry, prep for another semester, clean the catboxes. Today I’m sitting in Flying Star on Menaul, tummy full of eggs and green chile, gulping coffee as part of Project Stay Awake. My life is exactly as I left it. But my heart is still 8,000 miles away. And the details of that are raw and personal. I don’t even know how to process that part, how to integrate it into my regular real life.

So I sleep. And read to my kids. And order my school books. And somehow I feel numb and a little lost and empty. I rediscover just how harsh and dry the New Mexico air is. I scratch until I bleed, my hair is no longer curly and thick, my sinuses over-compensate and my nose runs. But I missed the sun here, somehow in all my adventures I never really noticed how much stronger the high dessert sun is, even in winter.

I’m back home. And nothing has changed. And everything is changed. And I am at a loss for how to explain it. I hold all these pieces, these places, these people in my heart. And I don’t even try to fit them together, to find a coherent whole. I just sit with this fractured reality, this life in which my children, my family, my cats, my grad school contract, my houseplants, my books are in New Mexico and my favorite human, my heart, my partner, my love are in Qatar.

Today I drink too much coffee, enjoy the lonely company of a table for one in the bustle of a busy lunch rush, me and my books and my reading glasses and my laptop. I wait for a text from my sister. I listen to the chatter around me. I watch the traffic. But I don’t know what to say, what I feel, where I am. It’s all so… ordinary, so normal, so much exactly like it all was just one month ago, sitting in this same booth, combing through my final papers, trying to focus my head on the task at hand while my heart counted the seconds untill take off.

Here I am, home again. And in the midst of all these pieces is also peace. There’s a feeling that something in my world has been made whole and right. There is so much I cannot say, parts I’m choosing to keep private, moments I simply have no words for, things better held as secrets for the moment. And this leaves me confused and conflicted. But there’s also this feeling of calm, connection, contentment.

Home is where the heart is. And so my home is split in pieces for now. At the moment there is no way to bring all the pieces together in one place. And I have no choice but to live in this split, to accept reality as it is. I have pieces of  home. I came home simultaneously in more pieces and more healthy and whole than I’ve ever been. It’s a strange paradox. I feel like I fumble my words trying to describe this. It’s my impulse to try to make sense and make meanings. But I don’t really want to right now. Paradox has its own beauty and logic.

Posted in personal essay, pondering | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment