Being Sick feels like being ‘othered’ in a world of comfortable illusions suddenly made starkly visible.
A cache of potentials carried heretofore lightly in the heart, and mind, become indisputably redundant. Life narrows. But it does not end. Not before the realisation of this new state has turned from a dizzying, swirling storm…and settled itself into weary resignation. Perhaps occasional acceptance. A periodic fling with peace, not a long-term commitment. That’s for the enlightened few.
Strength and frailty lose their binary distinction. If you go far enough into one, you can touch the other. This is true.
The membrane of perception holding us each in our distinct selves is surprisingly malleable. If punctured it heals, though never quite the same as before. Sometimes a large gash inevitably leaves a scar. It’s the crater from a meteorite, the impact that cannot be undone. You find yourself shape-shifting and no-one is more surprised than you.
If it could be a sensation, becoming un-well should feel like an adrenaline jolt startling you awake. But it isn’t. No. It’s a sleight of hand. The apparent framework of reality goes on around you: people living, time passing, the seasons, socially sanctioned milestones of ageing. The world looks the same but make no mistake, you are changed.
Even you are fooled at first. Maybe it didn’t happen? Where are the aftershocks? Where is the mirroring back from your environment in recognition of what is happening? It takes a period of consolidation to internally integrate this imposed transformation. Tick tock. The storm rages silently while you try to read the stars, but you will find there is no way home. It doesn’t exist anymore.
Otherness pervades. It seeps through, contaminating every former sanctuary of your old life. People beyond the confines of your own skin haven’t witnessed the storm. They don’t know you’re lost, what you’ve lost. It’s everything, everywhere, because it’s you.
For a time you convince yourself that you can find your way back by choosing to participate in the illusion of beforeness. It’s a forgivably, seductive fallacy. You pack fresh soil into the crater, cover up the scar but there’s still a ball and chain clasped to your ankle. It’s so heavy and restrictive but if nobody looks down they won’t know. So smiling, laughing, it’s not just you who adheres to the refrain: ‘Just keep looking up!’ You may look ok, be ok, from the neck up… but you can’t escape what is happening.
To be more sincere with others you would need to bridge a mighty gap. You’re not sure you have the resources to undertake such a task. How do you begin to describe the storm? Is that what it was? You don’t feel sure. It’s more than an ill wind. More than grey skies. Perhaps a succession of lightning bolts, or sinking sand? No matter what you try, it defies definition.
So you don’t try to explain. Without explanation and understanding the social chasm can’t be breached completely. Your performance of your old self is a tacit consensus, for the purpose of comfort and continuity. It serves both you and them. You’re leading a double life rebuilding yourself from pieces of all you were before the storm and all that’s left. You’re the magician and this is the show of your life.
There are a few who come very close to knowing the chasm, from their own experience, but the alchemy between person and tempest is a special sort of recipe that produces results as variable as the circumstances and individual people involved. You learn that some things cannot be completely shared but this does not mean you are alone.
Reality and unreality reinforce one-another as you are repeatedly visited by vivid, tangible experiences you could not have conceived were possible. Their peculiarity nags at your attention so that you become preoccupied by uncertainty. It’s impossible to become complacent. Another binary melts into itself and you wonder what you know? What do you really know?
But you do know one thing: You’ve changed. You are a different you. Not better, not really worse.
You know another thing: Life isn’t concerned with identity constructs or plans, it’s wild and incomprehensible.
And you know more deeply now than ever: The love you hold for your life is utterly fearsome. It’s a white hot rope that blisters your palms as you hold on tight, an inferno of steely intent and deep seated resolve to not let go.
Maybe that’s the shift. You got broken, lost, drenched and whipped repeatedly by gusty changes so you could feel it: the full strength of your love for life.