So far, July has been a pretty low point for me.
The Tuesday before the 4th of July, I fell backwards down the stairs of a friend’s hot tub. It had rained earlier, and wet stairs plus wet food equaled me on the ground before I knew it. If you look closely, you can still see the yellow remains of a bruise on my right calf where it hit the wooden stairs. Thankfully, my tailbone and back took the brunt of the fall, and aside from some dizziness and a bit of a headache that night, I didn’t show any signs of a concussion. I knew from my experience having a back and neck sprain from a car accident that I wasn’t even hurt as badly as I had been then, so I did my best to rest and sleep, but didn’t think it necessary to pay $30 to see a doctor.
By the end of the weekend I was definitely on the mend, so I went to a cleaning appointment the following Monday where I accidentally hit the back of my head where the countertop jutted out after scrubbing a stubborn stain on the tile. I think most people have probably done something similar at some point in their life, whether it’s hitting your head getting out of a friend’s car which sits much higher or lower than yours or not noticing that the ceiling drops going up a set of stairs.
Normally, there is sharp pain for a few minutes, but then it recedes and everything goes back to normal, like when you stub your toe. Only this time, I had a dull headache for the rest of the day. When I made an appointment at my doctor’s office, the doctor said I inflamed my occipital nerve – the one which manages blood flow to the scalp. He gave me muscle relaxers to take at night and recommended icing my neck, saying I would feel better in 5-10 days. (I found out at the follow-up that apparently I had a minor concussion, though I thought he said at my initial appointment that I didn’t show signs of a concussion.)
By now, the pain has mostly stopped, but it flares up a bit in the evening, or in today’s case, first thing the next morning after a long day. Unlike at first, where I had a constant dull headache despite maxing up on Ibuprofen, now if I take something the headache will go away.
But two weeks later, I’m still not quite at 100%. A trip to the grocery store last week left me light-headed, and I spent most of the rest of the day napping, too tired to do much. I seem to hit a wall around 9:30 most nights, and can’t concentrate on work or conversations after that. Yesterday, I had more energy, so after a follow-up at the doctor, I went to a cleaning appointment, ran two errands, and then worked a shift at the store after lunch, a nap, and a bath. I think that’s the most productive day I’ve had all month. And today I woke up with my neck hurting, a signal that I probably did a bit too much.
When I was still at the point that I couldn’t hold up my own head without it throbbing, I am grateful I had people willing to come over and help me around the house a bit. Now I can do small things like put in a load of laundry or sweep the floor or water my garden, but larger tasks like cooking from scratch or running an errand that will take more than 10-15 minutes still often feel beyond my grasp. It’s hard for me to ask others for help, or to feel as though I’m not independent. I spend so much time taking care of others, but am not very good at letting others take care of me.
The doctor recommended trying to get back into a normal routine, especially to help my mental health. And so I am. But I’m struggling to know what that routine is when I don’t feel I can take on any additional cleaning clients, I have a new roommate moving in, and I just managed to finish revisions on a freelance piece I pitched last month due to all these health issues. I felt I was making a lot of progress last month in several areas, but now I am struggling to even catch up to where I left off, and it’s disheartening.
I am grateful that my boss at the store was sympathetic to my plight (perhaps because it is a small business and perhaps because she is struggling with her own health issues) and that the cleaning clients I have now are for the most part either long-standing (so we have established a certain kind of intimacy) or are old friends. I am also grateful that my sister is in a position to help me financially, to make up for the lost work these past few weeks.
A sort of duality has expressed itself as well, in dealing with all of this. In face-to-face interactions, whether at work, at the grocery store, or with acquaintances at events, there’s been a weird mix of shame and grief. I don’t want to rehash everything that’s happened, but to look at me, there’s nothing obviously wrong. Explaining why I’m not up to what I normally would be, or answering the question, “How are you?” is suddenly very difficult and oftentimes painful. It’s been hard to balance time with people that I feel I can be vulnerable around and not feeling isolated. It’s been a long time since I had this few spoons – probably not since the car accident that laid me up for weeks. I try not to think of all the events I’ve missed these past weeks because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to drive myself home after.
I also feel my ableist privilege strongly in these moments. For me, this is temporary. It may take longer than expected, but I will get back to my normal sooner rather than later. There are many people I love dearly who deal with chronic invisible illnesses, and I have caught only a glimpse of what is their reality all the time. While I struggle with anxiety and depression, I almost always have enough spoons to get most of what is necessary accomplished. Not now, when choosing between a trip to the grocery store or time with friends. Writing an article or cooking a meal. For at least a week, literally each task of the day required rest with ice on my neck and/or a nap. Now, I still take a nap every afternoon, but I can’t quite figure out the new spoon math exactly, and I’m often left with too few for figuring out dinner.
On the other hand, in electronic correspondence, a physical condition is a much easier way to explain why something is late. When writing an e-mail to an editor about an article or revisions, or to reschedule a work-related meeting, or responding to a publisher asking after a book review, it’s much easier to say, “I can’t do this right now I’m recovering from a mild concussion,” or even something more vague than that, than it has been to put off similar things due to a flare-up of anxiety or depression. Others are so apologetic and understanding in a way I can’t imagine they would be if I said, “Sorry this is late, I had a panic attack yesterday.” I lose no credibility for being injured in the way I might for being perceived as mentally fragile.
Anyway, that’s all to say I know there hasn’t been much activity on here this month, and this is why. I hope to be more on top of blogging and writing plays again in August. For the rest of July, I’m working on getting back in the groove, or finding a new one. Baby steps.
Also, many thanks to my dear friend Erin for her recent support of my writing on Patreon. The less I’m stressed about finances, the more I can write pieces like this one. It means a lot.