I feel far more settled and at peace today. But it’s hard to really embrace it when I know it’s only happening because I hurt myself.
My father happens to be in the area this weekend, so I took a train to meet him for a hike in a national park. It was a beautiful day and I was happy to be outside, listening to the birds and the waves and remembering how it is to be part of the world. I was also assessing every cliff edge for whether or not a jump would result in death, but that’s just habit.
The only thing that put me off balance was, oddly enough, a fat little corgi named Mr Meatballs. We’d done the best part of a three-hour walk when we got stuck behind him and his owners on the track, and he was obviously exhausted. He was walking slowly, but with the air of somebody moving briskly and with purpose, and when his owners (who were largely ignoring him) got too far ahead, he’d put on a short burst of speed, trying vainly to catch up to them before his energy wore out and he dropped back to a slow, effortful walk.
Something about that really hit me. He was so tired and trying so hard but they were just walking off and leaving him. I wanted to pick him up and carry him, but I was quelled by the impropriety of picking up another person’s animal without their permission. I wrestled with myself, but settled for stroking his head and encouraging him quietly, until I could feel dad getting impatient and we walked on ahead.
Visiting the Hand Clinic yesterday was unsettling. After my experience with the Burns Clinic last year, I’ve come to learn that ‘clinic’ is code for ‘sit in an open uncurtained room with 20-30 other patients and doctors, your arms, scars and wounds exposed, answering questions about your history of self-harm, some people completely oblivious to you, some trying very hard to pretend they see and hear nothing and some leaning around the person next to them to openly stare’. It’s kind of like the dream where you show up to school with no pants on – you’re awkward and embarrassed but trying to act cool while you inwardly wish a teacher would show up and usher you into an empty classroom.
Since my hand still looks like a squished tomato, the doctors were concerned enough to send me for more x-rays and a CT scan. Even now, I’m pleased with the results, and ashamed of myself for being pleased. I broke 5 of my bones. They offered me surgery, but I wasn’t interested in even discussing it as an option, and I’m letting that be okay.
(I hate having surgery – when I had skin grafts to fix my full-thickness burns last year, they promised the surgeon was going to come and talk to me about where I wanted him to take the skin for my grafts from. And then they knocked me out, and I woke up with searing pain in my left thigh. I’d wanted it taken from my back, for a number of reasons: I didn’t want my upper thigh being regularly touched and checked; I live on the third floor of a building with no lift and could barely walk let alone climb stairs; and now I can’t wear shorts in summer, my only reprieve from the heat of long sleeved shirts. And I hate being in hospital – the last time, a male nurse got frustrated that I was frozen and couldn’t stand up, and took hold of both my thighs and tried to uncross my legs while I was panicking and sobbing and trying to curl into a ball, then hauled me to my feet and told me I was being inappropriate. It took me a month to stop feeling guilty and angry and twisted up about that.
So: no surgery, thank you.)
So instead, I have a temporary cast that will be replaced with a proper one once the swelling goes down. As expected, the responses I got from my family reinforced my belief that the worse the injury, the better. (“You have done a good job!” my mother texted back. “That must have taken a concerted effort,” my aunt replied.)
I got home from the Clinic around 1.30pm, to an email from R that sparked a furious response from me, and resulted in me sobbing hysterically while I scrolled through job ads. I decided that this was the last straw, that I don’t deserve to be treated this way and I don’t have to put up with it, and it felt terrible. My distress tolerance needs some work, but I just am not a person who enjoys being angry. It feels like swallowing poison and hoping my enemy will die.
So instead I’m trying to replace it with love. And all those spaces inside me that feel empty and lost and confused about how I feel and what I should feel; this isn’t the time to stare into the abyss, so I’m trying to fill them with love too. It just feels better.
I’m choosing to love R, by focusing on the many good things he’s done for me instead of the many hurtful things. I’m choosing to love my family, who don’t always say things that are helpful, but who are interested in what is happening in my life and almost always mean well. I’m choosing to love S, my doctor, who wants to know where I got my x-rays then tells me the details of some personal issues she’s having at the moment and says she’s ‘checking out with ethanol’ for the night, whatever that means – she’s out of her depth, but she’s still here and still trying. Loving Anna is beyond my reach right now, but I’m choosing not to send her a text: Five broken bones. Still hate you.
Hardest of all, I’m trying to give myself permission to love the care and attention I’m getting from the Jewish mamas and, more surprisingly, the two new female supervisors at work, all of whom want to bring me food and drive me to the hospital and pick me up and take me home to their families for dinner. I feel wrong for enjoying it, and fraudulent for getting it, because I did this to myself so I don’t deserve any help – I have to face the consequences myself. But I do love it, and there is no point pretending that I don’t. I can get mad at myself, and remind myself that I’m a 25 year old woman, an an adult who can take care of herself and is too old to be looking for a mummy, and I have a perfectly good mother anyway. And I can hurt myself more, to punish myself. Or I can step back, and let the little 8 year old girl step out, the one with bruises and trouble breathing and probably a few cracked ribs who never got to go to the doctor. And I can let her feel cared for. I am finally learning, too, that letting people help makes them feel good. That instead of making them respect me, turning down support just makes them feel rejected, and distant from me.
(Last year for my birthday, my mother wrote some little notes on the things she loves about me. It was such a beautiful gesture, but most of them hurt. I looked at ‘I love how independent you are‘ for a long time before I threw it away.)
Radio silence from the psychiatrist’s office, so I am going to start making calls again next week. I feel spoilt and petulant, but I am unhappy that instead of choosing someone who seems suited to me, I am basically in the situation of having to accept anybody I can get to see me. That will have to be okay. I want to find the right person now, and start getting better now. But sometimes you just have to wait.