When it hurts

Today marks 365 days spent in Canada. While I celebrate this day, frankly it hasn’t been easy at all. Around the end of March 2018, I woke up with terrible pain in my forearms. It soon spread to my legs as well. At a point, I couldn’t walk to the bathroom without severe pain and my partner had to feed me as I couldn’t bend my elbow to feed myself. Several blood draws and internal imaging rounds later, we still don’t have a definite answer about what went wrong. Just some good guesses based on intense observation. I was forced to take time off work because of my illness.

 I haven’t been in a place to talk about the fall out of my illness, especially the mental health components and the fear of judgment that comes with sharing such news with friends and acquaintances. However, now I must, because I sense learning here that I must make available and social discourse that needs kindling. Also, it involves love, support and silly laughs, and we all need more of that. Don’t worry, it isn’t a tear jerker, the ending isn’t too bad, maybe because we don’t know it yet. I must also emphatically add, that falling ill has been one of the loudest wake up calls I have had to the immense privilege I have, to be well fed and housed, while not actively earning, to have family and friends supporting me. The unearned advantages of my caste and the wealth of my parents, have benefitted me greatly.

Since extensive testing did not show up any major illness, save a minor Vitamin D deficiency. Most doctors thought, I must have fibromyalgia. That is a pretty devastating diagnosis at thirty, but oh well, in the words of that greatly missed gadfly, Christopher Hitchens, “To the question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to reply: why not?” One thing that gave me hope though was that the fatigue associated with the medical life sentence, did not show up. I still am very unsure of this diagnosis. I was always up and about, except when overwhelmed by my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As soon as I could, I was swimming, the least impactful of exercises, and a great one to get me going. Impact is still painful, but not as bad as when I couldn’t take a walk or type a line, Today I walked all over the city, taking public transit at times, and here I am typing these lines out, though with regular breaks.

I want to talk about the times I shied away, made myself small, because of insecurities often stemming from a lack of ability to concisely communicate the nuanced nature of my condition. I do this in the hope that we humans feel less alone with these feelings, that discourse starts which makes these disabilities easier to talk about, relate to and get support for, that we stop beating ourselves up about terrible numbers thrown by giant uncaring cosmic dice, and that we might go on to accept ourselves and treat ourselves with kindness. So here’s to needing a seat on a crowded train because you can barely hold on to anything, but not knowing how to ask for it because you look young and healthy. Here’s to not being able to quickly explain that I can post on social media because I can type for short bursts but can’t sustain it to the levels required for a full time job, to wondering whether I owe someone an explanation for why I don’t use my voice instead, no I don’t, and I will not offer one here, just to make that point. It took me time to realize, I’m valid, even when I take time for myself to heal, even when I lean on my spouse, I’m still an active part of the unit, I hope it takes others less time to reaffirm their self worth when they need to seek help. I am also aware of those who need help and don’t get it at all, even in a compassionate nation like Canada where the society offers helping hands rather than talk about invisible ones. Sartre said, “Hell is other people.” I hope we don’t turn into our own hell, with that judgmental voice forever in our head.

I also want to talk about times of anguish, suicidal thoughts, the interaction of mental and physical health conditions that exist simultaneously and amplify one another, but that will take several more posts to delve into. Here I’ll just express gladness that when I thought it was all over, it wasn’t. While I thought I’d never get up from bed, there were days of punching out push ups with the very same arms and long walks along the sea, waiting, just a few weeks away.

Let me now talk about happiness, that feeling I get when I wake up and see my partner’s face, the knowledge that we’ll face it all together and still make our time on this rock in these decaying bodies worthwhile. Some fortunate fall outs here, I made peace with my family, or at least started the long process of healing. We have eight dogs in Bangalore, our family has grown so much, I have in the past months received more love than thought possible. I learned that swiping is less impactful than typing and hence started my love affair with my Huion graphics tablet, creating silly art that I am now going to share with all of you. I created in my head and with my pen, the character of a little girl with attitude I wish I had and nerdiness I wish I’d explored earlier. Hope you’ll check out my page, have some laughs and even hang out there to share your thoughts.

I want to say a big thanks to my family. My mother who has cooked nourishing meals for me, my dad who I am very proud of, for joining me in a journey of healing, along with our four-legged little kids. My sister for her patience and love through all this. Sidhartha, oh gosh, what can I even say about the support he’s given me, I know running out of words is cliché, but I really have, let’s just say, I never knew I could love someone so much. Varsha, for being that rock-solid backbone through all times, she’s one of the strongest people I have known and I have greatly leaned on that strength.

I also want to say a big thanks to my friends, everyone at Nirmukta who heard me vent and gave me unconditional understanding. Specially to Joy without whose advice and support I wouldn’t have known where to begin. I know I haven’t won an award to thank so many people, but for a person who could barely eat by herself in April 2018, typing this out is just an incredible personal achievement and I relish that.

I will in the future talk about the specifics that I feel helped my health, in coming posts. While I’m no doctor and certainly don’t advocate self-treatment, if you read up on repetitive strain injuries, you’ll know that doctors can only help to an extent, many non evidence-based practitioners are out to scam you, and a lot of help has traditionally come from sufferers themselves, in my case largely from computer programmers.

Hope you keep reading, and more importantly, responding with your thoughts and sharing this, so I can reach out to many others.

Published by

Gowri Thampi

Data Scientist, Blogger, Amateur Cartoonist, loves Python, R, Dogs and Books :D

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *