Level-Up: Part 22
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.
This past Tuesday marked the fourth anniversary of my illness. I can pinpoint almost to the second the moment my life changed forever. I left my office to head into the nearby city centre on my lunch break. I remember rushing, but I don’t really know why I was in such a hurry. I was always rushing back then; trying to get as much as I could out of everything. The quicker I got into town the more shopping time I had, I guess.
I flew through the sliding doors of Boots, grabbed a basket and threw a few things into it quickly. I headed toward the back of the store but I started to feel… weird. It wasn’t so much that the room was spinning, it was more that my body was rotating even when I stopped still to figure out what was going on. I looked around. Objects and people seemed to be swaying in my field of vision. I was terrified, but instead of marching up to a member of staff and asking for help I stood in the pharmacy queue. I think I figured that if I was going to fall over at least I’d be near the pharmacists. The robotic voice calling “Please go to till number three, please.’ has never sounded so welcoming.
On the brink of collapse, a first-aider guided me slowly toward a curtained cubicle and took care of me until I felt stable enough to walk to the taxi rank a street away. She told me as I left she was seconds away from calling an ambulance when she’d first grabbed my arm, such was the grey tint to my skin. I went back to the office, my boss drove me home and I didn’t return to my desk for five weeks. Even then I could barely make it around the building without tracing and gripping the walls with my hand. For a while I couldn’t even attend group meetings because just the simple action of people moving their heads while talking was making my head spin.
This was the beginning of what was eventually diagnosed as vestibular hypersensitivity, some 18 months later. It was the start of a journey that, had you told me at the time it would still be impacting upon every corner of my life four years later, I might have been too devastated to ever get out of bed again. I’m glad I didn’t know. There is so much to say about those four years that it would take just as long to tell the story. But what I can be sure of is that it’s changed me as a person.
For as much as it has broken me, it has also been the making of me. I had no idea how tough I was until I was thrown off the cliff and had to climb back up again. And I couldn’t even have a drink to steady my nerves, because I’ve had to go four years without alcohol, too. I don’t often give myself much credit for being a fighter, because it doesn’t really feel like a choice I made. It was just what I had to do to make it from today to tomorrow. But I really have had to battle this thing.
I am not the person I was four years ago. My priorities have changed. It’s a shame that it takes illness to bring to the fore what’s really important in life, but it has. I’ve never felt more sure about what matters. They’re not the same things they were in 2010. I didn’t enjoy the little things then like I do now. I don’t know if my anniversary daffodils finally blooming in the sun this morning would have made me smile as much back then.
I’ll take this as an opportunity to thank everyone who has supported me over the past few years. As I mentioned to my friends and family on Facebook this week, however hard this illness has tested me, the thought that some people have to do it alone without anyone to hold them up chills me to the bone. It’ll embarrass him terribly but I must say a very special thank you to Andrew who, especially during the early days when I was frightened, worried and exhausted every single day, propped me up in every way. At a certain point, I used to feel so regularly ill at work he would count me through blocks of 15 minutes so that I could say that I stayed at my desk that little bit longer. He started ‘Happy Tuesday’, where he would do a small but special thing to cheer me up every Tuesday so that I’d have something to look forward to when I felt there was nothing but illness from one day to the next. And for the millinillion times he made me laugh when all I wanted to do was cry, I cannot say thank you enough. Nobody, not even he, will ever appreciate how much he made things better when I was both literally and figuratively freefalling. He scoffs when I say that I couldn’t have done it without him, but it’s true. I’ll be repaying him forever.
I was dreading this anniversary. Probably because I’m still somewhat in shock that it’s been this long. And yet, I can’t quite remember a time when my body felt completely still. I can just about imagine how it feels if I close my eyes and really concentrate, but the thought only lasts a few seconds. I was sure that I’d spend the entire anniversary day crying, so I canvassed opinion on what I should do to stave that off. The conversation ended up with me on trains, in the city centre, shopping, having lunch and so on. I loved the idea of all that, but as the day approached and I realised I wasn’t as upset about it as I’d thought, I decided the best thing to do was have a quiet day by myself where I just focussed on my achievements in the face of disability and didn’t let myself be sad that it had happened to me.
I went on a walk to the shops, taking the longer routes and not the easiest. I went to the greengrocers I mentioned in Part 9 and bought myself some flowers. I went to the deli I visited in Part 1 and bought myself some cake and posh pop. I wore my Dean Ambrose shirt to fire up my fighting spirit. I had a lie down, played some Xbox, painted my nails and had a relaxing bath where I threw on a face mask. I only cried once.
In the name of getting in a proper shopping trip this week, yesterday I went to some easy access shops that aren’t in the city centre. I tend to avoid shopping alone in busy complexes on Saturdays because they’re invariably too chaotic and make me even dizzier. But I wanted to cross another thing off the list this week. Apart from at the end when my legs and arms started weakening, I did it. Here I am testing my wobbliness to the max in the delicate glass aisle of HomeSense.
Here’s to making it through these four years, and here’s hoping the next four will be a lot smoother than the last. Thank you all for everything. If I’m coming out the other side of this, and I believe I am, it’s only because you helped me get here. And I hope you’ll stick with me through the rest. Overall, it can only get better from here.