The physical signs were clear for months–the fatigue alternating with periods of insomnia, the joint pain and stiffness, the hoarse throat and much more– and even the emotional seem obvious to me now, the erratic oscillation from anxiety to depression and back again. But it was only when my mind felt threatened, when I started losing some of what I see as crucial abilities that define my identity in meaningful ways–my ability to concentrate on, comprehend and interpret text, to focus on challenging literature for long periods of time, to produce pieces of writing myself, to feel inspired to create and write in response to what’s happening around me and to me, to hear an argument and form a response, to actively participate in intellectual discourse–when these abilities started to weaken, and even disappear, is also when I finally took some action, saw a doctor, and began treatment.
Early on, my husband asked me how I was feeling, and I said, “Sharper.” I meant this as a positive thing, that my mind was seeming capable of catching ideas on its sharp edges again, or able to cut through a dense text or argument and dissect it, perhaps. But I found myself thinking also about the opposite of sharp, of blunted and dull, two words that also describe how I had been feeling mentally. I value that sharpness about myself, even though it is too much of a cutting edge, and I find myself deliberately sheathing it when to wield might also be to injure. But to have lost it forever? Unfathomable.
On one of those early days when I felt myself feeling sharper, I also overextended myself, jumping eagerly into blogging, grading, lesson planning, discussing poetry and then feeling extreme mental fatigue and headachiness. It’s not often in my life that I feel a kinship with pro athletes, but that day I did, so desperate to rebound after an injury to the most central part of myself, the part of me around which I’ve built my sense of self, a weakness that felt so threatening, much more than serious physical injuries I’ve sustained. When I’ve broken a limb or had major surgery, I’m frustrated that I can’t do everything I want to do, but I don’t question whether I’m still myself the way I have recently. It’s an incredible amount of patience that’s required, to let yourself heal enough to be fully yourself again.
I wouldn’t have written or published this post if I weren’t feeling better, but I still have a long way to go. I know I’m learning important lessons about paying close attention to my body, and about understanding when I need to push myself and when I need to step back. I know I’m very lucky that this disorder can be easily treated, and that I have the means to do so. I know it’s good to recognize what small adjustments I can make to my mood and health by being in the sunshine, listening to music I love, writing it all down, and taking long walks.
But even despite everything I know to be true, this feeling of being unsettled, disoriented, continues to linger, to cloud my vision and trouble my heart.
- Fatigue and Cognitive Dysfunction (jenlynn401.wordpress.com)