Like a balloon with no air

This was incredibly hard to write. It is a collection of thoughts that struck me whilst I was in intensive care over Easter Weekend and the following week. It is incredibly hard to read, now. Thankfully, I am doing much better now. Today I am proud to say that I have not cried – not even one tiny tear. I have smiled today. Today I am doing better. There is a long way to go, and I’m definitely not the same as I was a couple of weeks ago, but today, for the first time, I’d be OK with saying that I’m fine. Not great, but fine. 

But sometimes life throws a curveball at you that’s completely unexpected. It winds you. Leaves you flat on your back. Destroys your confidence. And leads you to rebuild yourself, changed. And it is ok to feel angry. To feel powerless, guilty, upset, destroyed, broken. But you’ll get better, with time. It takes time, faith, and a lot of people that you love. Together, you’ll find a new way of living. And the sun will slowly come out again. I am confident that I will live every day to the full, knowing that no day is ever taken for granted. Life will be different, but it won’t be any less worth living, and loving.  


How are you today? They ask as if everything’s normal. Like they expect me just to say that everything’s fine. Because that’s what we do in Britain. We say everything’s fine. We say everything’s fine, but inside, nothing is really fine at all.  So I say I’m OK. And instead I ask whether it’s still raining outside. Because I can’t see the sunshine anymore, the streaks strained through the dust onto the sanitised wall. Yesterday there was a bit of sun. Today, they say, there’s none at all. Black clouds.

I could have told you that. Because I wasn’t really commenting on the weather.

Today I’m not fine.

I feel like a balloon without any air. A dying balloon, a mockery of its former self, sagging away in some dark corner, the life slowly seeping from it. The symbol of a joy that once was. Because everything was going great. The balloons were out in life. The spring time blossom was in full bloom. The sun was shining. I had just visited the University where I hoped to go in September. I had healed a broken friendship. I had made new friends, found new love. I was performing again. I said yes. I felt optimistic about my A levels. I could see a vague shape to the next months. It was like my life was full of shoots emerging from the soil, each on the brink of bursting into a new flower.

But it’s not the same anymore. Now those shoots have withered. Now I am like a balloon without any air. Now the black clouds are overhead. Thrown by a violent storm off the mountain I have climbed, I feel crushed, crumbled, curled in a ball in the pit of mud at the base. Winded, struggling to breathe, I stand and fall. I don’t have the strength to climb any way back up today. In fact, I don’t know when I’ll be able to take another step. My shadow laughs at me from the peak, veiled by the dark night. Ignore it. Move on. She’s just the shadow. The last remaining bit of who I was. Where I was. On top of the world. But she is laughing at who I’ve become, a withered drooping plant. She’s stirring up a storm. I cannot face climbing the mountain again.

How are you today?

Today I am struggling to be fine.

Would you not feel the same, if they told you that you had been dying? If they told you that your body had been eating itself for weeks? If they told you that you were in a critical condition? If they told you that your life would never be the same again? It’s critical ketoacidosis. You’re in intensive care. And you’re not going anywhere. When you do, you’ll be in chains.  Going back uphill. It would be easier just to give up now.

The nights are the worst. They bleed me. Poke me. Measure me. Drain me. Revive me. Feed me. Pity me. They look at the TV above my head. It tells them more than I ever could. I can’t move my head. I don’t have the strength to pull up the blanket, but I can’t stop shaking. Please help me, I scream. But no one can hear the screams. They’re trapped, circling incessantly inside my head. I can’t reach the call button. It mocks me. I’m thirsty, but I cannot drink. I can’t speak – the words don’t come. The nights are the worst. Alone. Dark. Scared

I don’t know who I am anymore. Why me? Why now? I am defined by numbers, units, doses, needles, carbohydrate counts. She’s the girl who almost died, they say as they walk past. Ward round. Judgement. They all stand there. Looking at me. Like an animal in a cage. The only one under 65 in intensive care. It shouldn’t have happened to her, they say. I look away to hide the tears. Because the pity doesn’t help. They can’t change it. They can’t do anything. The pity in their eyes kills me.

Today I’m not fine.

I’m the one who’s angry. Angry that I can’t break free from it. Angry that it’s me, and it’s here. Angry that I can’t seem to see past the night. That I will have to fight to survive every day. Angry that my entire future has seemingly been defined with the blink of an eye. Angry that I didn’t see it coming. That I don’t remember anything. That I will face medical complications for the whole of my life.

I’m the one who’s sorry. I’m sorry this has happened to me. To us. That you will always be worried about me. That every night there is a chance I might not wake up. That you will always have to ask ‘what if?’ That you lay awake last night, not knowing. That we will never be able to escape this. That I cannot eat without counting the cost. That life has to be planned to the second. That my life is like a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows, and that I can’t stop screaming.

I’m the one who’s scared. Scared of what could happen. Scared not of if, but when. Scared where I’ll be. Scared who I’ll be with. Scared that they won’t know what to do. I’m scared of going home, because then it’s just me and the monster all alone. Scared of going back to school and facing all the music. Scared that everyone will walk away. Scared of coping with exams and medication at the same time.

How are you today?

Today I refuse to pretend I’m fine. Today I am like a balloon without any air.

And I’m so sorry. I’ve been so caught up in my own whirlwind that I haven’t seen that you’re hurting too. This makes you angry too. It makes you scared. And yes, it is different for you. You can’t understand my fear. I can’t understand yours. But deep down, maybe both our hearts are grieving for the girl that was. She’s gone, we both know that. It’s a new girl who’s lying here, on this bed. They’re similar. But something’s changed. Hold my hand, please. Let us be together, alone in our fear. This is all my fault. I am so sorry.

They say I can do anything, I just have to find a new way. They say there’ll be light eventually. They say September is a long way away. I might still get there. But they don’t know that the man in the bed opposite me died last night. His name was Graham. They don’t understand that Death was here last night, so close I could have reached out and touched him. Right here. There was a sustained bleep and the anguished cry of his wife and children. That’s how I knew he’d been taken. It could have been me. Do you see? I close my eyes. The darkness can hold me for a bit longer. It seems fitting for this morning. Shut the curtains please. I don’t want to face the people today.

Do they realise it could have been me? They don’t know. You didn’t see. Whether you live or die here seems equally possible. It’s like walking on a tightrope with your legs shaking badly. Like you’re waiting to fall. And you don’t know who is going to be there to catch you. Or if there’ll be someone to catch you. No one could stop Graham from falling.

Darkness please hold me a little longer.

How are you today?

Today I am like a balloon without any air.

T1D

Advertisements

But I felt nothing.

As you may have noticed, I’ve been taking a break from writing. In fact, I’ve been taking a break from more than just writing, to focus on my health and my studies as I approach exam season. But I also needed to focus on my faith. I want to talk about some of the emotions I went through over the Easter period. It was a period which I found emotionally far more difficult than I had ever expected. For me, therefore, it was important to take a break and work out why I felt so broken at what should have been the most assuring and renovating of seasons. I had to take a step back and perspectivise. For the first time I had to actively seek to find the Easter mess-egg-es (excuse the pun!) that I had always taken for granted: hope, renewal, forgiveness and identity.

And I dug right down to the bottom of my soul
To see what I had inside
Yes, I dug right down to the bottom of my soul
And I tried, I tried…
But I felt nothing.

So wrote Edward Kleban in his lyrics for the musical A Chorus Line. Not, of course, that I am comparing the Cathedral life to a chorus line, though unfortunately it is a comparison I have, though unwittingly, made before: apparently the Spanish sentence ‘mi hermano es una corista’ does not only translate as ‘my brother is a chorister’ but also ‘my brother is a showgirl…’  What Kleban was getting at, however, about the pressure to feel something in a moment where one feels nothing, puts into words the detrimental and enclosing effects provoked by the mind’s consumption by such nothingness. He puts into words how I felt over Easer.

This year’s Easter will be forever characterised by one of the biggest spiritual lows I have had in a long time. As with any low, it was preceded by one of the best periods that I have gone through in a long time: I spent 5 days in Athens. Now anyone who actually knows me will testify to the fact that I am a bit of a Classics nerd. Maybe not the Classics nerd you think of, with the hand knitted cardigan and broken glasses who spends every spare second translating everything that he says into Latin. No, I’m a bit more fun than that. But equally I have just spent the last 10 minutes trying (though failing) to find Thucydides 4, the Battle of Pylos, inspiring. My mum would definitely call me nerdy. She often despairs at the fact that my brother and I, sitting at the dinner table, argue about what the aorist past participle is of πιπτω is, for example. She does not think such to be appropriate dinner time conversation. I disagree. But I digress.

Going to visit Athens was probably the highlight of my year so far. It was wonderful to escape the stressful life of London, and fly away to a sun-filled, ice-cream-fuelled city surrounded by every iconic Athenian monument. As with any tourist, we visited the Parthenon and the Forum, went shopping in the Plaka, and ate a ton of ice cream. We walked in the footsteps of those about whom we learn every day. Now as I turn to my Thucydides, I try imagine my bedroom walls dissipating, and me sitting on top of the Acropolis, looking out to the sea, awaiting news from Pylos, as Nicias did.

Our last full day was Palm Sunday. Part of me was sad to miss Palm Sunday in England – the small child inside of me yearned to see the one day of the year when moody lorry drivers on our bypass were stopped by police, making their distemperate (another one for the ‘my made up words’ dictionary – to mean the opposite of temperate) presence known by honking their horns vociferously, in order to allow a donkey to pass through to the Church.

But Palm Sunday in Greece came with its own unexpected beauty. Though we did not brave it into a full Greek Orthodox service, we poked our heads round in time to see the priest (complete with full length beard, of course) begin his chant whilst dousing the congregation in copious amounts of incense. If people in England complain about incense, they should try even standing in the doorway of a Greek Orthodox Church. The scent is choking. And suffice to say, I was too much of a germophobe to even touch the icons at the entrance, let alone kiss them, as one ought.

But was unique about Greek Palm Sunday was the sense of boundless community that went alongside it. Despite clearly being foreigners in our t-shirts, shorts and sunglasses (though we are not, as we were frightfully often mistaken for, American), whilst the Greek citizens bundled up in their coats, scarves and jumpers – it was only 27 degrees of course- we were part of their festival. Throughout the day people gave out palms (bright green fresh palms, not the dried dead ones that make their way to England) and orange blossoms, as they heralded the arrival of Christ into Jerusalem. But somehow it seemed they were welcoming our arrival too. We felt one in Christ, though our denomination separated us.

So returning to bleak grey England at midnight on Holy Monday was not so pleasant. Memories of cocktails in a rooftop bar overlooking the Acropolis, as the bleeding sun set into the blackest of skies, were long gone. It was rainy grey England, 13 degrees, and miserable. The question lingered in my mind over why I could not have stayed in beautiful Greece…

Life clicked back into place almost unrecognisably. Though restored and rested, the routine clicked back; it felt like we had never really gone away. Back to work, meetings, people to see, revision to do. The reality that the summer term was actually in two weeks, and that meant AS levels in four weeks struck. I had no idea what the difference was between βραδυς, βαθυς and βαρυς, and in four weeks I was meant to be translating unadapted Lysias. Things were not looking good.

From Good Friday to Holy Sunday, we hosted my mother’s twin goddaughters, aged 19. They had never been to London before, and so Good Friday was spent visiting all the major sites of London: Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey. We ate pizza and tried to embezzle as many free samples as possible from those outside Euston station who had clearly been told ‘one per party.’

When the sky turned black, I was sailing down the Thames on a Clipper. I didn’t even stop or notice.

And anyone can tell you that a day trawling round London as tourists is tiring. We got back and flopped into bed. Jesus’ death didn’t make an obvious appearance in the day. I didn’t have time to process it. I just slept. And I woke up on Holy Saturday with no sense of grief, emptiness or despair. It was just a normal Saturday, spent, I am ashamed to say, braving the doors of Hollister for the very first time with two teenage girls.

Until the evening. I was Stewarding at the Cathedral. I was reading at the Cathedral. A quick change and a fast run down the A3 and we were there. The nonchalance with which I had regarded Easter up to this point was brought crashing down to earth by a brutal building that bore the scars of all conflict, anger and distress. A building stripped bare to its core, to bricks and mortar, to its beating heart. A building shrouded in tears and which screamed of the pain of Christ’s sacrifice. And I felt ashamed. I could have done more. I could have committed myself to God over the Triduum. On the fast flowing river of life, I could have taken the time to stop and listen, to reflect, to notice.

And so perhaps it was of little surprise that, when the words ‘He is risen,’ were proclaimed, and the flickering construction lights blinked on to fill the darkness, I felt nothing. I stood up and read about living in Christ. But I felt nothing. I felt like the showgirl I had once described my brother to be. I was saying one thing, and feeling the opposite. I was looking out at a crowd with whom I felt as if I was in a constant battle. And I felt like I was losing. I didn’t know where I stood anymore. Surrounded by confirmands, amongst whom 4 years ago I sat, I felt incredibly lonely. I was calling to God to help me see, to help me listen, to help me feel. But I felt nothing.

Perhaps it was because I hadn’t had time to process death, I could never process resurrection. But even recognising this, I still felt adrift, and I couldn’t put my finger on why. Bishop Jo spoke of restoration, renovation and resurrection. In that moment I could see was desertion, desperation and destruction. I saw more goodbyes, more pain, more loss. I couldn’t find tangible hope. I couldn’t see myself.

But, although initially I could not recognise it, although momentarily shrouded, my strong faith was still there. I hadn’t faltered as I thought I had. Others could see the light of faith shining within me. And such reassurance from those around me meant little by little, I began to piece myself back together. I’ve had to learn all over again what it means to give yourself to faith, to trust, and to love. I’ve had to turn aside. And it’s only now, a month or more after that day that I can say I’ve re-found what I thought I’d lost.

It was partly to do with the busy-ness of the period that I failed to see the faith in my heart, and the faith at the heart of society. I was so busy that I didn’t have time to notice all that was going on. But as much as I blamed myself alone for how I felt, I now don’t think it was all down to that. If we define ourselves by what we didn’t do, we cannot see a way forward. I expect I had been subconsciously closing my heart to God for a longer time previously, as one thing after another brought unforeseen blows to my trust in my community. Over time, I had grown into an armour that prepared me for inevitable battle. I needed to let it go, and to fight with faith.

It took the lowest spiritual low to make me see my faith again, and to make me understand that neither I, nor society, can afford to lose faith. But perhaps most importantly, the lowest of lows made me see that neither can I lose faith, however hard I might try. It is a part of me which brings me life and hope, renews, restores and resurrects me. My heart is open to God, I can see, and I can hear, and I’m not ashamed.

If there’s one thing I could tell those confirmands I was sitting with, it would be that being Christian is rarely easy. People assume that with God everything is made easier. But sometimes trusting in God makes everything so much harder. And sometimes you don’t have the answers to why it seems so hard. You feel quite alone.

But even when life is harder than it ought to be, even when you cannot feel Him, God is still working within you. It might take you a while to see it, but it will be there. You are never alone, even in deepest isolation. Sometimes you can find faith for yourself, and sometimes it is those around you who show you who you really are. You will experience guilt and regret. But you will also experience love, support and hope. You will go through highs and you will go through the deepest lows.

This faith thing, it’s a massive journey. But you’re not alone.