Throughout my early life I wrote my pain on paper, and it seemed to help. I wasn’t conscious that I was dealing with it that way until an event in my early twenties.
One morning I woke up to get ready for work, and fell into my closet. Next I drove my little blue Fiat to work as if I was underwater, falling to the asphalt, eventually arriving bloodied and confused in the office.
I agreed to go to the hospital at the urging of my neurologist, who was concerned about these symptoms along with the intensity of my headaches and the fact that my naturopath had seen some unusual activity behind my eyes.
They took spinal fluid to rule out the most dangerous potential cause of these anomalies. My neurologist thought it unlikely but better to be safe.
It turned out to be true. I had spinal meningitis, and the next people I saw wore outfits akin to space suits. I stayed a month, and none of the doctors I saw could answer my simple questions: Will I live through this? Will I once again be able to complete sentences and think as well as I once did?
It’s difficult to describe the level of completely useless fear I felt when one after another answered, “We don’t know yet.”
At first, I was not allowed to sit up or stand. I had to do everything lying down. I would eat by rolling over onto my side carefully and using a straw. Though I was in the perfect posture for it, the one thing I couldn’t do was sleep. People entered hourly. There were lights, sounds, and people crying in the night. And there was pain and fear.
All the while I wrote in my mind. Affected cognitively, I couldn’t do much, but I constantly repeated the mantra I had been given by my meditation teacher. Over and over again, I would not only say it, but see it in my mind’s eye. I clung to those words like the lifeline they were. They kept me from drowning in my own fear.
Later, I continued, interspersing thoughts of purpose. “What did I want to do with my life when I was well again?” It took a long time for me to complete thoughts of any complexity, but I was gradually certain I would like to be a naturopath, one of those kind people who spent so much time to help me figure out what was wrong after a slew of doctors told me it was everything from an ear infection to my imagination. I will be a naturopath, I thought, and I asked my nurse for help sending away for information long before the eras of laptops, wifi, and cell phones. Snail mail was IT, baby.
While I waited to hear, I started to sit up again. I responded to cards with a line or two of text and a scribbled picture of the sun, heart, or a flower.
I wrote one line of feelings over and over until I thought of another line to repeat. They soothed my imaginings of the future.
I found out that I needed to do something else to fund the years of study it would take to become a naturopath. I thought I’d like to teach.
All this came together through thoughts that were pinned down to paper so they wouldn’t fly off into the stratosphere before completion. Slowly, I learned to complete sentences again. I applied to schools and wrote their essays with persistence. I struggled to stand and balance my body, and in a month’s time live outside of a hospital. I was a lucky girl who lived.
I did not become a naturopath, but I did become a teacher. I worked at it lovingly for a decade and a half.
Though I will always live with remnants meningitis left in my body, I know I would not be the person I am grateful to be today were it not for that experience and the time spent with myself, talking, whispering, and writing through the pain.