I wanted my first remarks here to be bigger than a low, soft animal moan in the dark, but as a former coworker of mine said, “The perfect is the greatest enemy of the good.” So I’ll aim for good and hopefully wind up with readable. Yep. Start where you are old girl: that’s lesson number one. Go off into the corner and write it out 100 times. Just like this “You don’t need to do everything well. You can stop pretending that you know the whole tune. You can stop trying and just be for a bit. You haven’t just been half enough in this life.”
All right. So, what am I tonight? Sick, for starters. Good. That’s good. There’s nothing like illness to inject a saving measure of “F@ck it” into the muscles. Especially a killer headache like I have. Five days of this thing, all over the top of my head and down the neck. A coonskin cap of pain.
“And that’s your main symptom?” (For the record: this doctor seemed competent enough. Didn’t confuse “rabies” and “rubella” like the one I saw for my last round of travel jabs.)
“Well, yeah. And the disgusting taste and smell.”
“Ah, right. Describe that again.”
“Well, for the first couple of months after the infection, it was like cinders. But in recent weeks, it’s more like ash mixed with sour yogurt.”
“Like pus, you might say.”
“Well, that would make sense.”
“Yes, it would.”
So it’s, what, 3.5 months since I got that sinus infection? More or less 100 days since I’ve tasted or smelled anything properly. By sticking to my no-meds guns, I’ve cheated myself of the most fragrant time of year. I just hope that Levaquin™ and Nasonex™ actually have central effects, as well as side effects, so that when autumn’s leaves are down on the pavement, being ground into fragrant dust, I miss none of it. The older I get, the more convinced I am that time slows down—or maybe we just fit inside of it better—if we take note of its natural rhythms. A master time waster like me should invest in a telescope, a microscope, a penpalship with Bill McKibben…
One thing’s clear, the industrial strength ibuprofen has done bupkiss so far. And this neck thing is what sent me to the doctor in the first place. It’s funny–I’m always looking for connections, between words, images, people, phenomena, towns, species, all of it. And this doctor sits opposite a patient with two relatively unconnected complaints—sinusitis and neck spasm—and doesn’t ask any questions that might connect the dots between them. Maybe she took a longer, deeper look than I credit her with, and got it in one: “Your basic neurotic. Absolutely raging imagination. Presents with dysosmia, Googles it, and stresses herself into a 5-day tension headache thinking that she’s got a brain tumor or some sinister degenerative disease.”
Is that what happened? God, I hope not. I mean, I’m not that neurotic. The one stint of health anxiety I had ten years back was pretty well-grounded. Who wouldn’t have freaked out with all that pain? And the dodgy blood results? And the hairloss? (70% of it fell out. Actually wore a “hair system” to avoid stares. I found it in a drawer the other day, flat and surreal. A $2000 Halloween accessory…)
Sometimes, like with the hair, I feel I’ve come a long way. If I went bald now, it would suck, but it wouldn’t gut me the way it did then. I wouldn’t try to “pass” as a normally tressed woman by clapping some pricey hair spider on my head, or waste hours imagining the only alternative to be living in a cabin in the Ozarks where I could go unseen by human eyes and get my intimacy fix by letting birds perch on my bald pate. No. Sometimes I think I’ve made “progress.” And sometimes, like the other night, when I lay shrugging deep into my hypochondriasis, I feel like I’ve stood still, or even regressed. I have to remind myself that if I’ve let my life get pathetically small recently, it hasn’t been like this the whole time. I’ve lived in a bunch of different places—long enough, in all cases, to feel at home in them. I lived abroad for a bit; have traveled, if not widely, then respectably, and adventurously. I applied to grad school, won a couple fellowships, and am currently trying to write my doctoral thesis (ach…another headache). I’ve made some great friends. I’ve worked as an editor, have earned a yoga teaching credential (though I haven’t used it, and have let my practice go a bit). I’ve found Buddhism, read shitloads, and actually written a few things I’m fairly proud of (but not enough, not enough…in addition to which, I’ve published nothing. Nothing!). I’ve had four solid relationships (with a bunch of hilarious dates thrown in), and am still with J—so beautiful, warm, competent, fun, sane.
(Is “sane” the word? Maybe “well adjusted” is better. After all, I sometimes wonder if someone doesn’t need a little neuroticism, a couple of night terrors and bêtes noires in order to experience humanness fully. Or maybe that’s my problem, that I’ve never excised that goddamn Madame de Stael quote [I think it was de Stael; I was maybe 17 when I read it] from my worldview: that the only people worth writing for are the unhappy ones, because they’re the only ones who are thinking…)
So, yeah, well-adjusted J. These past few days, I’ve felt far away from him. As understanding as he wants to be about it, my depression throws him. “Well, I was pretty down during my divorce, you know,” he says. I don’t doubt it, and I hate to think of it for him. But it’s not the same.
M would get this. He’s been here. We met on a health anxiety support board, after all. Who would’ve believed it–two otherwise bold, laughing rationalists, meeting amongst all those freckle counting, hand-wringing ER-crashers. But we did. Not the love of my life, as I once thought, but my grand passion, for sure. Logistics ended it (for the best), and so much has happened since, I doubt we’d be able to speak without a simultaneous translator, but back then, we were able to get closer to one another than anyone else, precisely because we’d walked the same shadowscape with similar internal instruments; had taken some of the same photos, and laughed at the same things. I’d tasted his angst and he’d tasted mine. And tonight I miss that…
So, I'm off to bed now, M, but I raise what's left in my teacup (vanilla rooibos, with coconut milk) to you and yours and your collective good fortune tonight. I don't know you what you're about now; I'm guessing you and your awful wife are curled up naked in your piles of money, dreaming of your next vacation, when you can ignore one another in the sunshine. I just hope you're happy and not betraying yourself too much. After all, you made me feel more alive than anyone, right after a time when I felt well and truly dead. I drink to you, because tomorrow I have to start rubbing life into my own cold hands and feet. I drink to the understanding we shared, and hope that I can support myself half as well as we supported one another. Namaste.