One of the many lessons I have learned over the past few months is how self-centered an illness can make you. When you are consumed by your own pain and fear, it creates a hard shell around you. It disconnects you from the world and from other people. For months, I couldn't concentrate enough to read a book. The only TV I could handle was 30 Rock reruns. I had only the dimmest awareness of the news. As horrible as it is to say, I was so consumed with my own problems that I didn't even spend much time thinking about the Newtown massacre. Of course, I cried a little when I saw that picture of the terrified children filing out of the school. (It was the little girl in stretch pants who got me, as those are the kinds of pants my kid wears almost every day. To think of a kid in those pants being shot at, I can't explain it.) I developed stronger opinions about gun control, and for a couple days, I looked at my daughter and thought about the horror that those parents must face, not only the loss of their children but the thought of the terrifying way that they spent their last moments. And yet, while I was in the depths of my personal turmoil, all these things were only passing thoughts, momentary distractions from what felt like the only real problem in the world — my fucking leg.
Now that I am beginning to recover, I feel somehow hollowed out by the experience. There is an empty space that is no longer filled with doctors appointments and paralyzing fear and pain, and I have to figure out how to fill it up again. The past three months felt like an eternity, and I can hardly remember what I used to do with all that time and mental energy. What was all that stuff that kept me so busy?
I am so tempted to keep filling the space with my reflexive, self-centered worries. What does that twinge mean? What about that one? Am I going to reherniate my disc? What if I need another surgery and we go broke because of medical bills? Why is a new muscle in my back flaring up? What if it keeps getting worse? Will I be healthy enough for the trips we have planned in the spring? Will this screwed up back be able to carry me through the rest of my life? Maybe I should Google just a little...
But I am realizing a little more each day that it is time to start reconnecting with the world outside my own medical drama, time to start caring for other people as well as myself. Slowly, slowly, I am starting to remember what used to fill that space in my life. I am thinking again about my work, and my desire to make a difference with my career. I'm rejoining the PTA at Mia's school. I'm reading the newspaper. I'm reaching out again to friends. It even feels like I am relearning how to do the basic maintenance of life: balancing my checkbook, watering plants, returning library books, making grocery lists. These are things that, during that dark time, were simply impossible.
In many cases, I am still doing these things with a sense of emotional vacancy and bewilderment... "Why did I once think this mattered so much?" But I am doing them, and that is the first step. Maybe one day soon, I will finally unpack the suitcase I brought back with me from Mexico almost three months ago. It has been sitting in the guest room ever since, waiting for the day I am ready to reassemble my life.