Healing – Heartbreak
Oof. Heartbreak. It’s a phrase and a feeling we're likely all familiar with. I've experienced heartbreak a few times in my life, but the most recent one – the heartbreak of my body failing me – was the hardest, and strangest to understand and sit with.
Using ‘heartbreak’ to describe the experience of my body failing me works because the journey is the same. It feels like a heavy betrayal, and it plunges you into the depths of doubting your worthiness, and your ability. Heartbreak is something you will always carry with you. Every experience you have, every person you meet, will all be slightly altered by your past pain. But heartbreak is also typically followed by joy. Big gulps of joy. Even in the depths of heartbreak, you can still find moments that remind you of what’s to come. Healing your body carries a similar weight with it – even when you’re flat on your back, feeling hopeless, there’s occasionally a sense of wonder as to what will happen next, and how this experience will further close the gap between who you are today, and who you want to become.
Since September, I’ve seen five different physiotherapists for a herniated disc and compressed nerve, all of whom treated me in different ways under different schools of thought. Throughout this journey, I would often take 10 steps forward, to wake up the next day 5 steps back. I would get really excited on the mornings when I would wake up feeling better, only to have a breakdown later that day when I would sneeze or cough, throwing something out of place. It was like that for four months, until something gave out in January. Like a relationship where both parties have exhausted all opportunities to fix it before finally throwing in the towel – it [my back] just wasn’t working anymore.
After heading home to my parents, and waiting for my back to get better, I grew frustrated as I started to realize I wasn’t making any improvements. I wasn’t sure if I should be resting, or trying to find treatment back at home. Not knowing how long I would be out of commission, it was hard to make decisions about next steps. Advocating for myself felt exhausting without knowing what I was advocating for. I felt betrayed by my body, and confused as to how something that is effectively 'me' could be so opaque and hard to navigate.
This frustration begot more frustration – and the worse it got, the worse I became. I was antisocial, angry, whiney, and hopeless. I would assert to my friends and family that I may not ever get better. Looking back, I think it was part self-doubt and part ruthless expectation setting. I hate disappointing people, and I also hate feeling pressure to ‘get better’ in a certain timeframe or in a certain way. During this time, I would often tell my mum ‘just because I’m feeling better doesn’t mean that I am better - I could wake up tomorrow and be a lot worse, and that’s okay – thats life’. I doubted my ability to get better, and I wanted to make it clear that this may just be a bad thing that doesn’t result in a positive outcome.
This frustration was its own kind of heartbreak. I was mourning the healthy, optimistic, adventurous, kind, and stronger version of myself. I had completely resigned to the false notion that ‘this was my life now’, and the belief that my life was just a series of never-ending red lights and one-way streets. I had lost all of my resilience in those frustrating weeks – another kind of heartbreak. I felt completely beat down, not just by this, but by the past year of my life. I had effectively, given up completely. And in giving up on myself, I had broken my own heart.
Feeling depressed, I spent a month in bed. I spent my time watching Netflix to distract myself from the pain and numb my mind. And when I wasn’t watching TV, I was on chronic pain forums searching for any glimmer of positivity and soaking up the toxicity of people one-upping each other about the severity of their situation. When I wasn’t on chronic pain forums, I was on Reddit reading about other people's’ drama and romantic misfortunes on /r/relationships. I was feeding my brain an unbelievable amount of negativity, and I had dug my heels in. I wasn’t going to be positive until I felt like it. On the topic of feeding – this was the first time in my life I didn’t have an appetite. If you know me, you know I love food. But the thought of eating was draining – as was the thought of reading. A lot of people said things to me like, ‘wow you must be reading so much!’. And now, I do read somewhat often. But for a month or longer, I couldn’t imagine reading a book. It felt too productive, too positive, too healthy.
That month was the most ‘rock bottom’ I had ever been. And it wasn’t just because of my back pain – in fact, it was a lot more than my back pain. My immobility was an unexpected excuse to let myself work through a lot of other negativity I had been experiencing in my life. Whether it was failed relationships, baggage about my career, resentment towards my past, or disappointment in myself, it all came out that month. It came out in conversations with my mum, in a million different Google Docs, in one-sided conversations with friends, and a never-ending series of internal monologues. It was akin to pouring peroxide in a wound and watching it bubble as the infection comes out – it hurt like hell, was disgusting at times, but it was the only way I was going to heal.
I learned a lot during this month of heartbreak. And the most important thing I learned was that no one is going to step in and heal your heart. It’s up to you to care about yourself enough to give yourself time to grieve, but to then pull yourself out of it and move forward.