You may have noticed the cobwebs on this blog and a serious lack of Twitter interaction lately. Well, I’ve been in my personal version of hell for about four months. And I’m finally ready to work on moving past this and putting my life back together.
Step 1: Writing about it.
Before I even start with this post, let me thank you for reading and listening. This is the most personal post I’ve ever written, but I want to share what’s been happening in my life and try to pick some flowers out of the weeds. Which would be easier if there weren’t so many damn weeds.
“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
I have always loved this quote from E.L. Doctorow. It’s something that I believe to be unquestionably true, but it is also something I struggle with. Although I am a certified pantser when it comes to novel-writing, I am a planner in most other aspects of my life. I love knowing where I’m going and how long it’s going to take to get there. I like seeing the speed bumps ahead so I can dodge them.
But that’s not always possible.
I’m learning that. I struggled last semester with decisions about my future. I applied to extremely selective MFA programs, knowing there was a good chance I wouldn’t get in. Now, my plan is derailed. I won’t give up, of course. I’ll spend a year working and prepping applications to different schools. I decided to apply to selective schools because I would have regret not trying just because I was afraid of deviating from my linear track. That was hard for me. But I was able to make the leap because I thought I could see the worst-case scenario—a year off, writing, studying, submitting, preparing applications.
I was dead wrong.
On January 26, I took a blow to the head during softball practice. I was diagnosed with a concussion the next day. Not a big deal. One to two weeks, and I would be back to normal. But I wasn’t. Two weeks rolled around, and I was useless, functioning with the capacity of a four-year-old. I couldn’t leave my dark room. Couldn’t read. Couldn’t think of words (I'm not talking supercalifragilisticexpialidocious here—simple words, like carry). Footsteps sent me into an absolute frenzy, and the sound of my own voice was like a railroad spike through my skull.
What’s funny, looking back, is that I thought I was in pain. There was so much more coming. At this point, I was still hoping to be healthy and cleared for the second series of the season.
My team doctor sent me to a neurologist, who proceeded to saturate my system with drugs and insist that I “push through” debilitating attacks that would leave me unresponsive, curled in a ball for hours at a time. Let me be clear. I have never felt this kind of fear. What basically happened, was my brain wasn’t able to filter out things like the sound of my heartbeat, the feeling of clothes on my skin, people walking in the hallway. It was sensory overload, with everything attacking me, and my brain would shut down. When that happened, my body would go into survival mode—find a corner and curl up tight. I had absolutely no defenses. I couldn’t speak to tell someone what was wrong. I would forget how to breathe. I couldn’t make eye contact because I didn’t understand anything around me. And I was supposed to “push through” this.
The night after seeing the specialist was ER visit number one, caused by the medications that were supposed to help me.
After a week and a half of his “treatment” I returned home to Tennessee to see a different doctor, who promptly removed me from all the medication and prescribed rest and patience. I felt things might be turning around. The next day, I had ER visit number two. The next day I had my appendix removed.
At this point, I had attended two weeks of class, missed five, and had eight remaining. I had been able to complete only the minutest amount of schoolwork during my illness and was still unable to read or go out in public, including class.
When I was finally well enough to return to school, I was in pretty poor shape. I couldn’t drive. Going to class was a terrifying experience. I never knew when it was going to be too much and cause my body to shut down. I never knew when my legs were going to give out, and I would be stuck halfway between campus and my apartment, unable to walk. My parents and professors kept telling me, “You can take a medical withdrawal and finish later. You don’t have to put yourself through this.”
Here’s something you may or may not know about me: I am stubborn as hell.
I had already missed half a semester’s work. I couldn’t read. I could barely understand anything happening during class and couldn’t remember any of it. I could barely take care of myself, and there were many times I got stuck halfway up the stairs. Or worse, made it up and spent an hour unable to breathe. But I was going to get my degree.
Luckily, I have the best damn friends anybody could ask for. From sleeping on my floor when I was afraid I would stop breathing during the night, dragging me up the stairs, carrying me out of buildings when I couldn’t move, opening their homes to me when my roommates were conspiring against me (that’s another story and a pretty pathetic one). Those incredible friends and professors who gave me every opportunity to succeed are the only reason I was able to fight as hard as I did. Every assignment I completed, every paper I wrote, physically debilitated me. But I knew what I wanted. I had no idea how I was going to get there, but I had already lost my senior season of softball, months of my life, my health, my fitness, my identity. I was going to get that piece of paper.
And I did. To the last moment, everyone around me held medical withdrawal as an option. But I never did. I was going to die before I gave up, and let me tell you, I came pretty close.
Let me tell you something else.
I got straight As.
The fact that I am functioning right now is a miracle. The fact that I have a diploma and can write 4.0 on my future MFA applications is a product of exactly three things: determination, stubbornness to the point of stupidity, and absolutely incredible friends and family.
My mother put her whole life on hold. She lived with me for three weeks when we still thought I was going to get better before the semester was over. She protected me when I couldn’t move or speak. She held me hand when I needed it and stood guard when I didn’t. She gave me medicine, cold rags, and more patience than one human being should be able to muster. She got me over the mountain to Tennessee when I could barely ride in a car, sat through doctor after doctor, and helped me deal with all that comes with an appendectomy while struggling with severe concussion symptoms.
I would be dead if it weren’t for her.
So what have I learned from this experience? That’s the million-dollar question, right? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Anything is worth it if you learn something. Well, I don’t know about all that. If I could go back and not steal second on that play, slide to the inside instead of the outside, not get hit in the head, you better believe I wouldn’t waste a second saying, hell yes, I’ll take that do-over! But I can’t. So while I’m here, I might as well get something out of it.
What do I know now that I didn’t know four months ago. Four long, long months ago.
The last four months have been hell. I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone, not even the roommates who poured in more fire. But I am stronger, wiser, and grateful for absolutely everything I have. I am grateful to be able to get out of bed by myself. I am grateful to be able to write these words. And I am so grateful for the people in my life. You never know what you have until you lose it.
So if you’ve missed me, now you know where I’ve been. And yes, I’ll be telling this story. I’m thinking autofiction. Stephenie Dedalus, maybe?
In the meantime, I’ll be living my life. Because I still can. Because I fought hard for it. If I can make it out of that hell, anything else the world throws at me will be nothing but a candle flame.
What’s next for me? Who knows. But I’m ready for it.