Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Boil, simmer, salt, pour. Slice, sizzle, burn, combine. PASTA!

I think most kids dream about what they will be when they are grown.
A fireman; a cook; a tree; whatever sounds good. Simple or extravagant, we all played pretend. Oddly, I never played pretend with my dreams; never imagined I was in China or held any expectation for what it would be like. I just knew I wanted to go. When my best friend and her sister wanted to play pretend with me, we were pretend teachers. I was sure this was not what I wanted to do when I grew up, so when we got done with our pretend class and our pretend grading, we would go to the pretend bar for a post work pretend drink (shh, don't ever tell our parents). Naturally, I was the one who grumbled about the days work (the imaginary life was hard on a working girl).

Now I've lived out that dream though. I went to China, and of course I did the one thing I thought I'd never do: I taught. Your first day in the classroom is the worst. I taught 4 classes, each 15 minutes apart and each with different age groups and varrying in size. As I fumbled through trying to control the classroom (I mean "manage," of course),  I remember one distinct thought: Dear God. I'm fucked. I truly believed I was not cut out for teaching. But who would really feel good after being bitten and kicked, asking everyone to sit down and then realizing that they did not understand what you were telling them, nor did they care? Looking back I can think of a thousand things I could have done differently that first day of class, but only because I marched through day after day of being slaughtered by a group of 10 year-olds, did I figure any of it out. Marching through, this is the vital life lesson (yes, spoiler at the very beginning of the post, shame on me).

There were distinct phases that occurred after returning to America.

At first, physical recovery.  It took some 8 months in order to regain enough strength to rejoin the world of the working class (is this phrase too outdated to apply?)-- although many aspects of that illness still guard the option of "good" health, even years later. My thoughts at that point fumbled over the questions, what now? It nagged at me.  I built my entire life around an idea, and while I could say that I did accomplish some part of that idea, I did not execute the plan as expected; I had no intention of ever returning to America, yet there I was, home and sick (not to be confused with homesick).

So, after returning to the US and after spending months being mentally incoherent and physically deteriorated, some physical recovery set in.  I am finally out of the "DANGER ZONE" and well enough to start thinking about the future. But... what now?

Chronic illness doesn't dissipate with time. There is no cold medicine to bring your body back to the natural state it was in before you became ill (before the illness actually manifested, in some cases). I think this reality kind of lends to a negative state of mind surrounding chronic illness, and not just for those of us who have it, but also for those watching-- there is a label, a permanence, and a disconnect. Between our old self and our new, between our old relationships with our friends and the current manner in which we want to connect, the list goes on.

I tried to find some way to accept and rationalize my situation; I needed mental recovery, which was the next phase.  Close friends told me to keep dreaming, and not to give up. They were right. But the dreams that form when you have partial mental awareness and a level of strength that is significantly depleted as compared to your pre-sick-self, feel like pipe dreams; frantic grabs at normalcy. If I dont die, I'll go back to college. If I dont die, I'll be content with any life, a simple life, with living. Basic but fair.

When I began to recover, I found that everything I thought I knew had been wiped out. My entire life of experiences, blank. This is because everything I knew was based on a level of understanding very much tied to my physical ability. Something I completely took for granted, which I truly believe a lot of people do. But this is where that disconnect really causes a rift between you and those around you, and between you and yourself.

I spent a considerable amount of time grasping at past memories as if they could somehow define my current self. Maybe I can reconstruct my existence and then just pick up where I left off. But obviously, I could not. My body required pampering, constant rest, several-times-a-day-medicine. Nothing was familiar.

To further make things confusing (perhaps from my own panic-driven ignorance), I didn't seem to know myself, as though I had some kind of amnesia. Do I enjoy the taste of broccoli? What is my favorite color? What kind of music do I enjoy? I couldn't answer these questions, and was confused by the absence their answers. My memories faded into a hazy fog, my dreams choked me out, and even though I could think somewhat clearly (comparatively), I couldn't see for shit.

Now, I find myself wrapped in this reconstruction phase, which is probably a known state of humanity-- that we rebuild as long as there is life to rebuild with. Simultaneously, my consciousness, the present life that many have helped me to rebuild and that I continue to work on, doesn't seem to be aware that there are missing pieces of identity that lost their way back to American when I boarded that airplane in Dongguan. Movies I loved before ( I must have, I own them and watched them on repeat), I can't stand now. The constant desire to be with people swapped out with a more introverted thirst for silence. My current favorite is the sound of a ceiling fan, which must be the purest kind of silence-- you can only hear it in the thickest of quiet.

Recently deeper pieces, ones that all of me had forgotten, sneak back... sneaky little mother-fucking ninjas.

Standing (or laying down, if you know me better) in a life I have (again, received lots of help with) rebuilt, a life I love, pieces of my lost self seem to be several years late in their return to me (no doubt lost at baggage claim, but that is what they get for missing the flight).  And don't misunderstand, they aren't back on the shelf, sorted into their appropriate mental and physical bins. They are laying around on the floor of my apartment, unexpected. Yes, I trip on them. Walking from one room to the other, they lie in wait, to put me in my place; OUCH! where the ef did you come from and what ar... oh.. oh yeah.. You can go over here, thanks for bruising my knees. These puzzle piece, chunks of consciousness, bits of identity, roll in like they own me and wreck my autopilot with conflicting messages. They complicate the present, the idea of knowing oneself, and they make cooking really difficult.

Not a lot of this makes sense. But day by day I am going to march through, bruises and all, for the preferred outcome: a feeling of wholeness, despite the word "chronic" dangling over most of me; a feeling of connectivity, despite a rift that cognitively and physically inhibits socially perceived norms of friendship. I'm gonna win, even if it means a sweet little battle each day to get there.