I was kind of a tough kid. I wasn’t a bully, but I had a reputation where people knew not to make me mad. I didn’t start fights, but I always finished them. And I wasn’t necessarily what some might call a “confident” person, but I was brave when I had to be. Not the kind to leap without looking, but they were far flying leaps if I thought they would serve me.
And then one day I (quite literally) woke up a different person.
I was living in Chicago at the time and woke up with a horrible headache. I felt nauseated and disturbed, and like I was covered in fur. I had the odd sensation of something trying to pull or scratch at me. I was alone but the room still seemed too quiet since I lived on Division St which is just a bunch of bars lined up on both sides of the road and less than half a block from the subway, so it was pretty loud around the clock. Still I remembered being alarmed at how quiet it was and how sick and wobbly I felt.
I got up to go to the bathroom and wash my face and noticed in the mirror that my eyes weren’t right. My pupils were completely dilated, no white, no color, just black, like that old Bones Thugs video.
I remember feeling shocked and confused. I put a cold towel across my eyes for a minute and pressed but when I looked up, nothing had changed. I remember thinking I probably just needed to get out and get some air. I was living in the world’s tiniest apartment and even with the windows open, it could feel stifling.
I managed to get dressed and grab my backpack to walk to the library about 4 or 5 blocks away but as soon as I hit the street, something didn't feel right.
I became confused and frustrated. I felt like I was moving quickly in the right direction but everyone around me seemed to be moving extra slow. And everyone was walking towards me; I don’t recall anyone walking in the same direction as me. And there were no faces, just bodies that seemed to be falling to the side of me.
I knew something was wrong when I saw a woman walking a dog towards me. The dog was some kind of big , tall, lean dog with a large head. As we got closer to each other, the dog started to lower his head, back away and whimper. I remember the woman telling the dog to come on and as she pulled him along he howled at me as he passed.
I started thinking I was lost. And I felt so tired, I remember wanting to lay down right there in the street. I'm not sure when I made the decision to return home or even how I got there. I just remember waking up late in the evening, sprawled out and face down on the floor of my apartment, with my backpack still on my back. The next morning I found myself half way on and half way off the bed; to someone watching, I probably looked like I was praying. Maybe I had been. I don’t remember how I spent the rest of the day. I just remember waking up for work on Monday and feeling very beat up, with a few bruises to support the feeling, but otherwise I looked okay.
I told my co-workers about my experience and surprisingly almost all of them suggested some form of religious experience to explain what happened. And they all made it seem like it was a good thing. And since I was at a time in my life where I wanted and needed more than anything to feel God’s presence, I accepted their explanations. Looking back I can see where this was a HUGE mistake. I’m almost certain now that I was probably sick and should have gotten help.
My life was forever changed by what happened that day.
This was the start of my migraines, my vision problems (I sometimes can’t see out of one eye), gait issues (an unexplained limp and if I walk too fast, my body starts to pull to one side or the other) and some muscle spasms I used to have pretty regularly. I still get them but very, very, rarely and mostly in my sleep; they’re bad enough to wake me up or catapult me out of bed, but they don’t happen during the day anymore and I can go months without having them even though they do still occur and they’re painful.
Probably worst of all was how the whole incident in Chicago left me not only shaken, but also having to still deal with many of the painful and random side effects left me feeling helpless with arbitrary disabilities, and stupid for not having dealt with it better when I had the chance to.
And it was if all of that helplessness and stupidity seemed to take up the space in my mind where my bravery once lived and either smothered it to near death or evicted it entirely.
I started making decisions out of a fear-based logic, and what used to be a reasonable level of caution and action started to feel like downright fear and avoidance.
Eventually I started to feel angry: Angry at myself for not being able to quickly find a workable solution and for feeling like I had done something to somehow cause these issues. I never drank, smoked, or partied and despite my “tough” exterior I was always pretty much a nerd whose idea of a good time was a day at the library, the museum or art gallery, and if there was time, the Science Center. So even though I had survived the day, it was not without some casualties to my spirit and my soul.
The good news is that as the years have passed, I’ve increased my awareness of what I am doing “wrong” and when and why I’m doing these things. Having worked the last 9 years in Human Services around people that use terms like “different-abilities” and “strengths and ‘opportunities’” has helped me to see myself more as an okay person dealing with some odd challenges and less as a broken person that couldn’t be fixed. I hated myself because I saw myself as a weak person and there are few things I hate more than weakness. I viewed weakness as rolling in a pool of blood then jumping in a shark tank. And well, I still do, but what’s changed is that I don’t see weakness as being as much a part of who I am anymore.
That’s not to say I don’t still have my struggles because I definitely do, and it’s hard but I feel like now that I’ve fully acknowledged it, I can look it in the face, slap it around and let it know who’s back in charge. And that’s my main goal, or resolution if you will, for 2010 (besides buying a house and getting an agent).
It’s like I said, I don’t start fights, but I finish them. And it’s time to end this.
Songs stuck in my head:
(Love the tap dancing near the end)