Level-Up: Part 13

Every Sunday I record my health achievements and discoveries for the week here. To find out why I decided to start doing this, you can read an explanation in the first post of the series here.

New Year’s Eve is often unwieldy. If, on the whole, you’ve had a spectacular year, it might not loom as large. The goodbye is buoyant. If your previous 12 months have been a trial, the clock seems to tick faster once Christmas passes. It’s as if some kind of self-imposed judgement day zones in like a bleeping red light on a green radar screen. It’s like when your boss sends an email announcing they’ll soon be starting a new round of annual appraisals. It makes you twitch.

For those naturally inclined toward review, evaluation and self-criticism, 31st December holds a mirror up to mistakes or what’s lacking. It’s Valentine’s Day for the scornfully single, or National Sausage Week for the unhappily vegan. The easy answer is to fill your glass with something fizzy that’ll turn you tipsy enough not to have the brainpower to overthink until January 1st, by which point it’ll be a new year and your primary concern will be convincing someone to make you a greasy bacon butty. That’s the answer…if you drink. I don’t anymore.

Much as I tried to avoid it, New Year’s Eve lead me down a bad road. It compelled me to shine a fluorescent spotlight on my pre-counselling behaviour some six months ago and beyond. It replayed the hurtful and embarrassing things I’d said and done like tiny movie clips created purely for the purpose of making me wince. They made me feel like I still had so much to repent for.

In my defence, I had lost myself to my illness at that time. It wasn’t the real me. I said while going through counselling that the way my disability had made me feel and the way it dared me to behave was akin to having a blanket over my head. As soon as I threw it off or punched a hole through its stitching, it crept back over again and repaired itself. The further away I get from the way disability defined and controlled my personality, the harder those movies are to watch. The more I return to being my actual self, the one that’s kind and giving and hopeful, the more of a stranger that person is. Maybe as time passes and the monster I feel I sometimes involuntarily became as the result of my frustration and grief fades away, I won’t be able to remember those moments as clearly.

The positive side to such painful reflection is that I know with absolute certainty that I do not want to be that person ever again. You can turn it on its head and use it as a catalyst for moving forward.  It’s the reason I spend so much time looking for the bright side in every situation these days, even if it’s not immediately apparent what that is. It’s a game of Snakes & Ladders. Every time I manage to jimmy with a negative and stand it back up as a positive, I move my play-piece a few more spaces up the board.

What’s most pleasing is that with the help of the people closest to me and through sheer stubbornness, I’m lifting myself far quicker than before. I’m constantly noting these mentally. I had an enormous dizzy spell while getting out of the bath this week. I had to sit on the floor for a while before getting back in to finish washing my hair, then stumbled to my bed to lie down long enough for the spinning to stop. Terrifying as this was, I didn’t dwell on it like I might have in the past. Heat makes me dizzier and if I want to have nice baths I’m going to have to deal with it and remember to stand up a little slower next time.

Going for a short walk before heading home after a late afternoon appointment this week, I tested myself to see how far I could walk in the fading sunlight before needing to call my cab home. I stopped once, then decided to walk another five minutes before finding it too difficult to continue in the dark. That last five minutes lead me past a comic shop I didn’t know existed. So while I wasn’t feeling my best, I found something I’d never have seen without that discomfort.

While I was out walking in a storm on Friday I was feeling a little sorry for myself. The wind and rain bolstered me about and I was finding it difficult to walk. But, because I was out I saw a rainbow from the street. Do you know how long it’s been since I saw a rainbow from anywhere but from behind a window? Even feeling the rain on my face has its charms. When all you can physically manage is sitting, there aren’t many instances of standing in the middle of a rainstorm. It’s weird the things you miss when they’re taken away. (Continued below)

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I realise how nauseating silver lining people can be sometimes. Especially when you’re struggling yourself with something you can’t yet find your way out of. The inclination might be to either ridicule them passive-aggressively or approach them like delicate china dolls. To be so sunny they must surely be ignoring all that’s wrong in the world. There are those who choose to live in a bubble of perpetual happiness. But that’s not me. I don’t feel that I could be a writer without exposing myself to cases of injustice, for example. Some of the best ideas come from scepticism and from questioning people-pleasing easy solutions. I’d hardly have been so excited about adding Charlie Brooker’s I Can Make You Hate to my Christmas book haul if I were one of the forever-joyous brigade.

But what I’ve learnt about myself this past year is that my natural tendency to focus on what’s wrong and not what’s right is too intense to stay there for too long. Melancholy is too easy for me. It’s my default. So I push myself out of that mindset as often as needed. Probably more often than most people realise. Whatever damage my chronic illness has done, the past six months would have been in vain if I allowed myself to become angry and frustrated every day again. I never want to be under that blanket again. Because the real me deserves better than that. I like her a lot.


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