I’ve spent the last few years insisting that my worsening physical health isn’t impacting on my mental health; that maybe occasionally my brain will mistake not leaving the house for days at a time for depression and slump accordingly; that I don’t grieve for the abilities I’ve lost. I find denial a powerful coping mechanism, but one that only lasts so long.
It’s not that I never get a bit sad about losing my physical abilities. The other night I dreamt I had learned how to click my heels in midair (apparently it was to do with having the right – possibly magic – shoes), and woke up feeling rather wistful, despite not having been to a dance lesson in years . Social media constantly throws up reminders for me of what I used to be able to do – climb a mountain, walk a marathon, stay out all night, walk to the end of the road unaided… I tend to view these prior accomplishments without sorrow; I’m just pleased that I did them while I was still able to. Of course, if I’d known that everything would go so, so wrong before I hit 30, then I like to think I would have done a lot more. For five years in my adolescence I lived on a lake, and can count the number of times I took the canoe out on my fingers. As much as I wish I could go back in time and shake up my sulky 13 year old self into going outside on a bright spring day, instead of spending the day lounging on the sofa with a book, I know that it won’t change the now. At least I have done things, I think. At least I’ve been to places that I couldn’t manage now. I just wish I’d done a little bit more.
But it’s not the physical loss I struggle with. Whether as a result of fatigue, brain fog, lack of ADHD meds or a combination of the three, my ability to sit down and write something longer and more convoluted than a tweet has all but disappeared over the last year. I feel like I’ve hardly done anything in the realm of activism or awareness so far this year – which is slightly unfair as I did write one article and collaborate on another, but it’s hardly the height of productivity. Almost six months characterised by notebook pages and blog drafts with ideas, starts, first paragraphs – and no energy or drive to continue with them.
I have always put more value in my intellectual abilities than my physical ones. As a clumsy, easily-injured child it made sense. Not that I was particularly good at school either. My parents pushed me to work hard (I didn’t) and get good grades (ditto) and I’d throw myself into things that I liked and do the bare minimum with those I didn’t. This is what’s so distressing – I can’t throw myself into my passions as readily as I used to be able to. Thinking through fog I can get a few sentences down, then when I come back to it a few days later or when I’m next able to, the flow is gone. Writing my way through chronic illness and disability has been an invaluable outlet in the last 5 years, and has led to some amazing opportunities, and without it I feel utterly useless, my power centre taken away, my saving grace gone. My self worth is so tied up in my productivity, even my adjusted-for-illness productivity that without having something to be working on, no matter how small, I feel like I have no purpose.
The fog has lifted slightly today, so I’m taking the opportunity to get this down before I lose my train of thought or get too tired. I need to write more, I know this, and write more without worrying about form, readability, coherence. The important thing is that I do write my experiences down, not how well written they are. It’s another mental block to get past.