Seeing and Naming the Difficulty
Tonight I miss my hammock swings and warm afternoons. Some of this is just regular mid-winter blues. Most of it is the fact that I’ve been nursing sick kids, sick me, sick husband for more than three weeks now. Logically I can see that we’re wending our way toward being well. That has been true ever since last Saturday when a doctor finally listened to me and agreed that we needed antibiotics. We’re getting better, but it is happening slowly. Today we had a set back. Link somehow contracted stomach flu. (Howard’s flu did not have a gastrointestinal component.) No idea how Link did that since he’s not gone anywhere but the doctor’s office for more than two weeks, but he’s got it. We traded post-cough vomit for empty-your-stomach vomit. I just want him to be well. I want him to have his life back. Today is not that day.
I remember reading a section of Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, where the hero had been through a traumatic experience and was called on to describe that experience to someone else. The hero struggled with what words to use because it had been the hardest experience of his life and yet he knew that there were other people who’d been through even worse things. No one wants to be mid-lament, only to look around and realize that everyone else thinks you’re making a big deal out of a small thing. On the other hand, I’ve also had the experience of telling my story to an audience who then is so aghast at what I’ve been through that they then have their own grieving process because of my words. It is hard to know, in advance, how a difficult story will be received.
So the past few weeks have been very depressing and isolating for me. They could have been far worse. I was always aware that illness arrived with an expiration date. Whooping cough lasts 6-10 weeks, it is just that when you’re on week three of exhausted sickness, “only three to seven weeks to go” just doesn’t feel comforting. With the exception of the quarantined days, we were able to take care of ourselves. But I was far more tired and less focused than is usual for me. Howard suffered from flu and was even worse. I narrowed my focus, then narrowed it some more. During the first week of absences, I tried to contact teachers and collect homework. But then the kids were too sick to do the work anyway and I didn’t have the emotional energy to talk to more teachers. My well of sympathy tapped out to the point where my kids would need it and I had none to give. I let it all slide.
Part of me wants to qualify all of this by saying our lives were never in danger. And they weren’t, not really. Whooping cough is miserable but only dangerous to the very young and very old. Yet in those gasping moments when coughing has emptied my lungs and my throat has spasmed shut, my body was convinced it was going to die. For a minute or three I would alternate between coughing and gasping. Repetition taught me that I wouldn’t die. Logically I knew I wouldn’t, but adrenaline surged anyway, the body’s instinctive reaction to obstructed airways. I was shaky and weepy afterward. So were my kids when it happened to them. I would sit in my house and hear the whooping coughs resound from all over the house. I hated that sound with an adrenaline-driven vehemence. I can’t imagine what it would be like to try to tend a baby or toddler through those coughing fits. It could have been so much worse. That knowledge makes me feel like I’m just whinging.
But I am not. I am trying to record an experience so that I remember. So that when someone I know becomes ill, I can remember how much small kindnesses meant to me. So that I can remember what things I most needed and I can then offer those things. I’m not going to expect me to transform into an angel of mercy quite yet. We’re still recovering. I’ve still got to figure out what things I’m going to attempt next week and which things I will continue to ignore. because I can only do so much.
I’m also recording this, because there is no suffering Olympics. It is not a competition where some suffering is deemed worthy of sympathy and other suffering is not. I’m allowed to complain. I need to remember that, because I’m not very good at letting myself recognize my own negative emotions. I am allowed to complain when things feel hard, even if I think that someone else would be happy to trade for my hard things. It has been hard. It is still hard even though we’re on the way to being better.
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