I’m in an exercise class. Standing silently, waiting to begin. I’m irritable because I’m tired, and I don’t want to be here. An overweight lady with a head the shape of an egg and an ass the size of a small futon is talking about herself and what she’s been up to lately. The instructor is looking uncomfortable and I can tell she wants to start the class but doesn’t know how to interrupt the inane chatter about aqua jogging and other admirable exercise pursuits. An awkward smile passes between us and she cuts the woman off and we start.
This is an exercise class for people who need rehabilitation of some sort. There’s the lady with the egg-head with her mouth flapping like a sheet in a storm, and there’s a woman with more scalp than hair who’s clearly had some kind of stroke because she talks in a sort of mumble through which I can’t make out any words. And then there’s me. A 25 year old woman, wearing a pink Adidas sweatshirt and a blonde ponytail apparently feeling more fatigued than the jabber-mouth, and I’m wondering ‘how the hell did I get here?’
It’s a question I ask myself a lot. Where exactly did my life take this turn for the worse? How did I go from doing spin classes and lifting weights and riding my horse for three hours at a time to struggling to walk for 15 minutes? There’s no real answer to that except that it took two and a half years and yet it feels like just yesterday I was going for a three hour tramp and today the only time I left the house in the middle of a work day was to attend that rehab class.
I don’t mind people older than me. I’m interested in people, I like them. In fact, I make friends with people 20 years my senior more easily than I do people my own age. As self-pitying and pathetic as it may seem, I just don’t want to be in a class with people who are 60 years and over, trying to learn to be ‘normal’ again. It seems so weird that I’m in the same class as a woman who for whatever reason, self-induced or otherwise, has so much weight that her knees are buggered. I don’t belong in a rehabilitation class with someone who has had a stroke that has clearly left her very impaired. My level of denial about the reality of my health varies from day-to-day, so being on an equal par as people three times my age and obviously disabled really brings it home.
In the past two and a half years there have been many diagnoses, official and imagined by myself or those around me. Tardive dyskinesia was my first thought, and then multiple sclerosis, hypochondriasis (the winner for a while there) rheumatoid arthritis, reactive arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, undifferentiated spondyloarthropathy. At some point I probably thought I had HIV (that tends to cross my mind from time to time). And now, we’ve finally reached suspected Systemic Lupus Erythematosus.
But who really cares what the diagnosis is? In some ways, I do and I don’t. I do because that means I can get the right treatment and hopefully get better. But when I’m lying in bed, too tired to read or watch TV or talk I don’t care what is wrong with me. I just feel like shit emotionally because I feel like shit physically, and I wish that I didn’t feel like this anymore.
In the eight months and 29 days since I last wrote on my blog, I’ve done a horrible mixture of cry, grieve, be angry, be in denial, feel afraid, be anxious, feel hope only to feel hopeless, and attempt with everything I have to hold on to the life that I had made. In the end, I had to realise that I was too weak to hold on and accept that I’m 25 years young and too ill to do even half an hours work on my Master’s thesis per day. Sometimes accepting that life is unfair, that you never wanted this, or imagined this, but it happened anyway is all you can do. Because what choice do you have?
This is the human condition; finding ourselves in situations that we never wanted to be in. Whether it is a betrayal by someone we trust, a financial crisis or a mental or physical health condition that leaves us whimpering under the covers like a child afraid of the dark, the effect is the same. We don’t want it, we fight against it, and we grieve for it. Life is unkind, bad things happen to good people, no matter how many miles you run, vegetables you eat, charities you donate to, you will still face challenges, get sick, feel lonely, sad, miserable, lose people you love, hurt and be hurt. These are the facts of life. The sooner we can accept that life is at times hard and unfair, the sooner we can move on to more important things. Like living.