All is Not Well
January 7, 2020
My worst eye spasms since the accident. My worst headache since major surgery. My worst vision since I was a little girl suffering from ocular migraines. All is NOT well — and I am trying to figure out why my body is reeling. All is NOT well — in Mill Valley, as I lie here in the dark in crippling pain for hours, or in Iraq, Australia, Puerto Rico, Iran, most places sadly. All is NOT well — and has not been for months in an acute, unrelenting, inescapable way. Everything feels so surreal, including the fact that I even have the nerve or need to focus on my own woes at a time like this. But tonight has knocked me for a loop for reasons I cannot pinpoint, and thus cannot treat or address physically or psychologically. The horrific eye spasms, intense headache pressure and loss of vision (initially entirely, now only clarity) set in violently and suddenly just after dinner. Why now? Why this?
[Note: this is long, unfiltered, raw, and the only edit or even glance-over I made in all of what I wrote that follows…]
Perhaps because my body handles stress differently now — and I have been only just daring to consider wading back into the shallow waters of the real world, of current events, of news, of work realms in the past couple of days. Since the accident, not only am I unable to process, offload or deal in any even remotely healthy way with that which does directly affect me, but also bizarrely internalize and feel burdened by stresses, pressures and pains of the outside world and variables far beyond my control. These don’t solely plague me mentally, but have clear physical manifestations throughout my battered nervous and neurological systems, which I’ve noticed countless times over the past four months and tried, apparently unsuccessfully, to stave off.
For those who knew me prior to my accident, I was a fierce activist, a passionate doer, an advocate for justice, a vocal champion of causes in which I believe and have devoted time, energy, resources, even my life to, whether social, political, environmental, humanitarian or otherwise. For those who have only known me since September 6, 2019, this is who I was (am?). My days, priorities and focuses were forced to shift dramatically, needing to center near-solely on attention to, treatment of and healing for a body and brain that faced serious, complex injuries to a greater degree than any doctor could have foreseen during initial emergency care. But I’ve missed me, my involvement in what matters most, my ability to effect change, raise awareness, galvanize support, my capacity to understand, speak about and amplify critical issues, my passion for collaborating with and supporting like-minded individuals, collectives, organizations, movements.
While I know in my rational mind that I am indeed healing, and that’s a tremendous feat from day to day, I often feel like I’m doing nothing. I eat, sleep, breathe, read, write (thank goodness), text, stream TV or movies, see doctors, take medicines, do treatments, undergo tests, prepare food, clean up, putter about, accompany my mom on light errands, and sure, I’ve added certain procedural and value-based activities to my daily routine to make me feel a sense of accomplishment, add meaning or spark joy, but by and large, my days are devoid of the substance and purpose for which I live.
Since returning from what was supposed to be a calm holiday with my beloved family, which turned into two emergency room visits for severe internal bleeding, physical agony, rollercoaster emotions and multiple panic attacks, I’ve been laying low out of both desire and necessity… and feeling better, stronger, brighter, more like myself each day, something of a 2020 miracle. However with more major surgeries and procedures coming for both my face and teeth in two weeks, I am even more trepidatious about any such precarious possible progress. Still, I cannot, would not and will not deny that I’ve felt real glimmers of goodness — and I’ve acted upon many of them, realizing that only now in retrospect.
Without trying or thought or intention, I have let myself do what felt right — and it resembled elements of a normal existence I once knew. I picked up the phone when a friend called me yesterday… for the first time, and he calls multiple times each week without fail and also without expectation. He couldn't believe it, I couldn't either, yet there we were. I listened as he spoke, just as I did when I actually dialed into a board meeting today for one hour, only to listen distantly for a bit, realizing just how removed and disconnected I am. I’ve been deliberately out of the loop on almost everything professional of any sort, because I can’t handle additional stresses, commitments or work — not replying to email threads (or even reading most), not joining scheduled conference calls, certainly no in-person meetings, not asking for or being provided with updates of any kind for any project, venture, organization, business, initiative or the like. I broached the subject of making plans to travel with friends, albeit at far far off dates in the future. It’s not just that I watched more news and read more Tweets in the past couple of days than in weeks prior, rather that I consumed the content with greater weight and consequence. I tried new mushy recipes, grated new vegetables, sprinkled new toppings onto my plate.
Friends said I sounded markedly better, colleagues became excited, Twitter accounts I know and don’t know noticed the shift and welcomed the return of my presence, viewing all as positive indicators of healing and restoration of health. I felt that, having made all of these moves naturally without any deliberate thought. My body and mind were just doing their thing… which also included not sleeping for three nights. I tossed and turned with a seemingly inexplicable resurgence in discomfort, confusion, stress, overwhelming jitters, nothing that music, breathwork, meditation or my growing chest of newly acquired skills could resolve. While increasingly exhausted, depleted and wiped out, I brushed it all off as inconsequential, based on the fact that I wasn’t suffering from any alarming physical pains or psychological traumas and maintained a general improvement in disposition.
Up all night and taking only short naps during the day — growing tired of the books I’m listening to, done with bad (and even good) TV and movies, satisfied with the state of a room I’ve rearranged, sufficiently unpacked from my travels, with a fridge full of the ingredients I want, having texted countless friends and reflected on the past and coming year and and and — I found myself reading and watching more and more news, at a time when destruction is raging and tensions are particularly high all over the globe. I felt sad and anxious and upset and angry and worried and lost, all the while entirely helpless, which compounded the slew of heavy, troubling, negative emotions.
I read, saw footage, realized the magnitude, took in data, processed bleak predictions, felt the pain, feared and mourned the loss of life, habitats, communities, species, biodiversity, nature, resources in the incomprehensibly devastating wildfires across Australia. I read, saw footage, realized the magnitude, took in data, processed bleak predictions, felt the pain, feared and mourned the escalating violence between the US, Iran, Iraq, allies, proxies, regional players, global powers, militaries and innocent human beings. And then I read, saw footage, realized the magnitude, took in data, processed bleak predictions, felt the pain, feared and mourned the earthquakes shaking Puerto Rico in real time early this morning… which shook me to my core in ways I didn’t expect and can’t explain, even now. I am not Boricua and don’t have any family or heritage there, but the island on which I arrived in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, that welcomed La Gringa with open arms, where I made a home for nearly two years holds an incredibly special, wholly unique place in my heart. And a piece of it broke, like the ground, natural treasures, roads, homes, schools, churches, bridges trembling and cracking from quake after quake.
I couldn't bare not being able to do, deliver, show up for Puerto Rico. I want to do for Puerto Rico, for Australia, for Iranians and Iraqis and Americans in harm’s way. Yet I can’t.
None of this is thought through, well-composed, clearly articulated or even reread (a rarity, so please forgive errors, lack of cohesion, verbosity, general rambles)… this is my raw processing in real time. When it hit me tonight, the initial eye spasms gave me pause, then the headache crippled me, before the loss of vision rendered me helpless, sitting in the dark with hands cupped over both eyes wanting to stop time, to rewind, to fast forward, to escape. I finally regained enough strength, stability and will to shower, letting the warm water rush over my back as I crouched, still in the dark, still with my hands cupped over my eyes, still facing the same symptoms, still in serious pain without understanding or reprieve. After feeling guilty for wasting too much water, I eventually got out, wrapped myself in a towel that had been sitting on the floor but I didn’t even care, and crawled into bed without so much as brushing my tangled wet mess of hair — where I tried to sleep unsuccessfully, where I then began writing in attempt to make some sense of something, where I now remain pained and cold and in the dark.
How can I possibly talk about me right now, when rockets are being fired? When an entire region, even world is at risk of escalation of violence? When everyone aboard a plane that crashed just lost their lives? When a continent is burning? When people are sleeping under the stars in fear that their homes will crumble and crush them? When too many sleep without shelter, food and safety every night? I really don’t know. But I do know that if I don’t take care of me, there will be not be a me to do anything for anyone anywhere any time.
My screen is dark. My room is dark. My mind is dark. Like Puerto Rico engulfed by another blackout. Like the missile-crossed night sky in Iraq. Like the thick plumes of smoke over Australia. These are dark times, but I have to believe that we can somehow find light individually and together with and for ourselves and each other at this moment, tomorrow morning, tomorrow night, next week, and in the months, years and decades to come.