We never really know what people are going through. We make guesses; sometimes educated, sometimes speculated. But we’re usually oblivious to people’s private battles and victories. Last week I looked around a room filled with thousands of cheering, chanting people and recognised that all but one of them had no idea what I was achieving by just being sat among them. But then, they didn’t need to.
For more than two and a half years I have suffered with a vestibular disorder. To put it more plainly, it’s a balance disorder. The brain function that understands my body’s position has become hypersensitive and makes me feel like I’m moving all the time. There are countless different analogies I’ve come up with to convey how I feel on a daily basis. The easiest explanation is to say that I feel like I’m trying to keep still while on a small boat in stormy waters. That little boat never stops bobbing.
At the very beginning, I struggled to walk from my living room to the kitchen without practically sliding along the wall. Some two and a half years on, a very adjusted but slightly more normal life is beginning to take shape. The stories behind all the tears cried between those two mile markers are a book in themselves and, in reality, recovery is only just starting. I’m all too aware that I have a long list of tough challenges ahead, some of which may never be crossed off the list. But there are certain jigsaw pieces you press into the puzzle knowing they’ll form the link to something new and important. I accurately placed one of those pieces in position last Friday.
I’m sometimes embarrassed at how restricted my life has been since this illness turned it upside down. A disability that steals your independence is the worst kind of ailment. It can feel even worse when the thing holding you back is invisible. People quite naturally assume you’re alright because they can’t feel what you feel. If you also go out of your way to push through the bad days, they definitely don’t see it.
It was suggested by one of my rehabilitation team that I have recently been grieving for my old life. After a few years of blocking it out, I now feel its loss. It was also suggested that I make more adjustments in my life to gradually bring in more of the things that make me feel like myself. Last Friday night, I achieved something special.
My boyfriend took me to the WWE Raw live show at Cardiff Motorpoint Arena. Professional wrestling has figured largely in both our lives for a very long time and we bought the tickets months ago, hoping but not actually sure if I’d be well enough to go. As it happened, I didn’t just go, I also made it backstage for a while. That story is for another day.
The show was all the things that make me feel a million times worse. There were flashing and flickering lights, hordes of people moving around us, a hard and static chair without arms to push into, and most crucially, a wall of sound that made my head vibrate. Noise is one of the most disorientating factors of all. But still, I faced it.
We got aisle seats. I took my walking stick. I took ear plugs in case the blasts of crowd noise sent my head spinning and I leaned into Andrew when I felt like I was falling. The show and the company were also everything that makes me feel a million times better. Both were utterly brilliant.
There were plenty of moments where I felt so awful that, had they not passed, we would have had to leave before the main event. I was determined not to let that happen. The downside was that it took three or four days to recover. On Saturday I could hardly move for muscle pain and nausea. But there is an overwhelming sense of pride in refusing to let a disability keep you locked away from the things and the people you love. Only one other person among those thousands knew how poignant that evening really was.
Not for the first time, professional wrestling steered me well when I needed the most strength. It’s weird how that keeps happening.