See Me Walking
In three seconds, we’re gonna do it. We’re gonna get up, okay Nix? We can do this. Don’t think, just do. 3…2…1.
I force myself to slide my hand underneath me, pushing, peeling, forcing myself up off the floorboards in my bedroom. The dark droplets of my tears on the wood are the only evidence of my presence. Of my lowpoint. Of my surrender. Surrender to the pain, to the hopelessness, to the desperation. I’m only up for a few minutes, hunched over and head low, before I brace myself for another wave of pain, crumple over, and lay down again, resuming the familiar position on the hardwood floor. A harsh reality washes over me, and I’m forced to face the facts: I’m weak. It’s a sad realization, I won’t deny it, but it’s the truth.
I’m not strong enough to stand up to the pain. Not strong enough to admit I need help, or even just company. Not strong enough to stop the tears from flowing. Not strong enough to believe in something. Not strong enough to just. be. fine.
It’s funny, the things you notice when you try to focus on anything but the pain you’re currently feeling. With my cheek pressed against the cold wood, I can’t help but think of how grateful I am that I vacuumed the other day. My eyes trace the landscape of the tilted room, grazing over memories both new and old as they materialize before me. I see myself balanced precariously on my furniture, stretching to hang up lights while my best friends spot me from below. I see their eyes crinkle with laughter as I dance along to the music, goofing around as usual.
A red glow interrupts my memories: a car’s passing tail lights filtering through the shades, leaving refracted shapes rippling across the white walls. My eyes hypnotically follow the silhouettes until they vanish, leaving me once again alone in the dark, alone with my thoughts. A scary place to be, I don’t linger long. My gaze continues across the room, ricocheting from one memory to the next until it passes over an aged white frame that is almost just out of sight from my stagnant position. It’s a photo of me and my grandfather. I feel a wave of love wash over me. Then sadness. Then frustration. I looked happy then. I’m a happy person, goddammit. I want to be happy right now. I wish I was smiling.
No, I can do this. I was wrong. I’m not weak. I can do this.
I once again rise, determined to stand up. Determined to prove myself wrong. Determined to beat the pain. Determined to be strong.
Actually, screw God. How dare you tell me there’s a God up there, smiling down on me, while I writhe in pain below? Let me be very clear: screw you, God. I may consider myself weak at times, giving in to the despair and helplessness of my situation, but I also recognize my strength: not everyone can smile through pain like the pain I feel right now. Not everyone can face 15 different diagnoses and 27 different doctors and not give up. Not everyone can continue to fight, even after being told they’re crazy. I’d like to think I am strong because of that. I’ll be damned if someone dares to attribute my strength to a God that did this to me. Screw that.
For an atheist, the subject of God comes up quite a lot. Undiagnosed chronic pain will do that to you. I have no one to blame and no one to thank, no God to give reason to my pain. I’m not strong enough to succumb to the easy route; to finally concede and believe in something. Anything. Anyone. I refuse to believe there is a plan for all this or that I deserve this. I am twenty years old. This shouldn’t be my life.
Despite my vehement rejections, I believe faith is a beautiful thing; I won’t deny that. It’s just a beautiful thing that I happen to reject. Yet, I often find myself casting my gaze up to the peeling, glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling and praying for the pain to stop. I still routinely make wishes on my hamsa pendant that hangs off my neck, its gold curves and inlaid evil eye forever looking out, vowing to protect me. I am only human, after all. I can’t be perfectly consistent.
Now, wrapped up in my mother’s threadbare sweater, I draw on my strength. I will beat this pain. My grandma, Mona, always echoed to me, “This too shall pass.” I lean into the words, into the comfort of their truth. This too shall pass. I know it will. With each breath, I repeat the words to myself.
I sit up straighter.
I think of my parents and their perpetual love. I feel the warm glow of their affection and encouragement radiate through my room, filling the space with their strength, becoming my strength. My freckled cheeks raise and my lips turn upwards.
I think of my sister, my rock, and her unyielding support. I feel her unapologetic, true-to-herself badassness. I feel her courage course through me.
I tilt my chin up.
I think of my friends and their support, holding my hand through many a painful, bureaucratic phone call with doctors’ offices and hospitals. I see their smiles reflected back at me.
I swing my legs off the bed.
I think of my boyfriend who has stayed up with me, carrying me through some of the worst nights of my life. I see him as he’s been, in a place no one has been before, crouched down and holding me as I’m crying on the floor, showing me I no longer need to be alone. I feel infinite love.
My heart glows.
I turn inward, looking within. At the end of the day—end of the night—I know I can do anything. If I want to, I can. I was wrong before. I am not weak. I’m done trying to convince myself of that idiotic mantra I repeated to myself for fifteen years: I am fine. I face the truth: I am not fine. But I will be. I am strong. I can do this. My lungs fill with the crisp newly-fall air flowing through the windows. As I exhale, I will the pain to leave along with my breath, leaving only strength and determination behind. I slowly rise.
I am walking.
I am strong.