My head aches. The all-too-familiar sensation of heaviness and compression pervades down the left side of my skull. The usual pain throbs from the top left of my neck making my occiput tender to touch. Tension knots my shoulders. My spine feels rigid, my sacrum bruised, a dull sensation penetrates down my left leg. I’ve had a relaxing evening, a hot steaming bath, rubbed in some anti-inflammatory lotion to my aching muscles and taken some ibuprofen. This is my third night of enduring pain and I know that until I get myself to an osteopath, and allow myself to rest, sleep will be hard to come by.
It’s the beginning of the summer holidays for my five-year-old son, Theo. We’ve driven north out of London to the haven of my cousin’s farm. For me and my animal-loving son it’s a place of dreams. A menagerie of rare-breed farm animals set amongst fields of burgeoning fruit trees and bushes, and of vegetables ripe for the picking.
My warm-hearted cousin and her generous husband fill our bellies with delicious home cooking from fresh farm produce and seamlessly enjoin us in the best of the farm chores. We feed the piglets, collect eggs from the hens, pet the horses, play with the dogs. We fill punnets of rich juicy fruit from the laden cherry trees, blissfully savouring the taste as we go. We happily unburden the strawberry bed of plump ripe berries and untangle aprons over tea in the farm cafe. We coo over their ten-month-old son, smiling at his chubby cheeks and his huge endearing eyes. It’s a happy day of catching up and enjoying being, and I’m pleased that I’ve distracted myself from the pain. I enjoy a glass of wine for dinner. I feel it go to my head, as my voice becomes louder than usual, my conversation too free.
This is my third night of sleeplessness, and with each ensuing night the physical pain becomes harder to bear, my emotions more fragile, my composure more on edge. Let’s face it, I’m wired. Thoughts race through my mind as I frantically try to think myself out of this unbecoming situation. After over two decades of grappling with this pain, it angers me that I’m unable to manage it more gracefully, that I don’t know myself better than to allow myself to get into this situation again. This anger fuels the thoughts that race around my head, the blocked energy that stifles my body. I pull out my phone and listen to an inspiring talk, hoping the loving teachings of my spiritual teacher will ease my pain. They don’t.
By morning I’m so brain dead I feel like a zombie. Today I have to drive home to London. It’s only around a two-hour drive but it feels reckless on so little sleep. My son awakes early full of joy. I’m glad of the distraction but have little energy for play. I guiltily set him up on the iPad so I can treat myself to another soak in the bath. We come down for breakfast and I attempt to make tea for everyone…but I’m so tired and on edge that I can’t remember all the different tea requests. There’s only four of us! My head hurts with the huge effort it takes to think and do anything. Theo is lovingly swept out to join in with the morning chores whilst I go up to pack and make an effort to cry. I’m not good at crying. It’s not one of those things that comes easily to me. But I sense a need to release some of this emotion and try to encourage the tears to roll down my cheeks. My cousin pops in and we share a hug.
I potter over to the farm shop to stock up on food for the coming week. Farm shops are one of my favourite places to browse, and this is a great one. I choose some lovingly home-cooked meals, meat from their hand-reared animals and fresh home grown veggies. I pick out some treats for us and presents for others. I add these to some of the fruit we had picked the day before. It’s more than I would usually buy but I’m too tired to choose and I love to support this family business.
My cousin’s husband is at the counter and asks how I am. How to explain that nothing is really the matter though everything seems to be bothering me. I’m so fed up with not being able to manage my long-term chronic pain. Will I ever learn how to cope with it better? I feel disheartened by having a husband who works all hours at building his company, leaving little time for play. I feel lost after giving up my job to raise our son. Gone is the daily gratification of being good at a job that supports those with mental health problems, the comradery of being part of a passionate and talented team and of course the monthly pay cheque that goes with it. I feel misplaced and outmanoeuvred by moving to a different area of London, reluctantly swapping a much loved traipsing ground with a supportive community for somewhere that feels alien, yet where we can afford a terraced house and garden near a good school for our son. I feel worn down by managing extensive renovations whilst living in a building site and nurturing a toddler, with little support at hand and no one I know well close by. I’ve somehow lost me in the process. Tears well in my eyes as I fail to articulate what feels true. My words tumble out in a haze of fatigue and pent-up emotion.
As I start the car to leave, my phone rings. It’s my husband, Tim. He lovingly asks how I am and I don’t need to say much for him to know my state. We’ve been here so many times before. He encourages me to book into my osteopath as soon as I can. Then he tells me he’s had another dizzy spell. He collapsed on the pavement in central London and his colleague helped him into a taxi home. I know it must be bad. He’s due to present at an important meeting up north today and little would tear him away from that. Over the last few months his dizzy spells have been becoming more prominent, rising from occasional spells which he’s always had to episodes that happen multiple times a day. I encourage him to go to the doctor but there’s no way he can manage the ten minute walk to the surgery. He decides to call a cab to take him there.
This emergency is exactly what I need to pull myself together for the drive home. Tim is laid out on the sofa as we arrive. The doctor wanted him to go straight to hospital but he can’t face the bright lights and bustle of a busy Accident and Emergency department. He’ll wait until tomorrow. Typically he’d prefer to be at home to make sure I am okay. I make him tea, unpack our bags and look after our son, stepping into a new zone of energy I didn’t know I had. Despite the delicious food I’ve bought, Tim doesn’t feel like eating much. He looks grey, his slim frame shivering despite the summer warmth. When I come down from putting Theo to bed I catch him struggling to heat up some soup. He can’t stand without holding onto something. I sit him down and gently help him to his dinner.
After another night of little sleep, I go to the osteopath and feel an instant release as my joints are manipulated back into place. But I’m still fragile. I know it’ll take a while for the headache to release and to regain my energy after the gruelling few nights. Tim is laid out on our bed. He can’t stand without feeling dizzy. Our son regales us both with his effortless sense of play. It’s early afternoon by the time Tim takes a taxi to hospital. I’d like to drive him but we both know it would aggravate my neck, and one of us needs to be on form to look after Theo. We know it will be a wait but expect him back before nightfall.
In the early hours of the evening, he calls me. The doctors want to keep him in hospital overnight. They’re concerned that he has a large insect bite on his leg from a recent weekend trip to the New Forest and think he may have Lyme disease. They need to do a spinal tap, also known as a lumbar puncture, a diagnostic procedure which takes fluid from the spine in the lower back through a hollow needle, as well as various other tests to assess what is going on. I’m just in the process of putting our son to bed, and we decide it will be less disruptive for Theo if I stay at home. He calls his sister who’s able to come in to hospital, bring him a change of clothes and be there for him. We’re both surprised at the turn of events, but also pleased that after a life time of dizzy spells, they are finally being taken seriously. Perhaps we’ll have a reason for them soon.
To be continued…..
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