Categories
vulnerability

What pain is teaching me about time

Pain.

I had never really thought about this until I came through from my unconsciousness with blinding pain. ‘Where is my stomach?’, my boyfriend said I’d mumbled to nobody in particular in the mumbo jumbo slurred speech of someone who was still under the influence of anaesthesia.

Where was my stomach indeed?

Shalvah had read out every nonsense I’d said in the post-op room to me, and we’d laughed about it, but the more I think about it, the more I realize something new from that experience – my experience. 

I was getting to know more of myself through my wounds, through my scars, through my pain.

Before this operation, right before I had the excruciating pain from my hernia – when my outie was still really big, I think. I’d thought of my belly button as a scar. A scar that I thought came from the carelessness of the nurses who helped deliver me.

My belly button gave me my nickname in secondary school – ‘big dodo’, which translates to ‘big navel.’ I hated that nickname and felt embarrassed that I’d cover it up by wearing oversized T-Shirts, skirts up until my navel, and girdles that held my belly button in place and made it less obvious that I had a ‘scar.’

It wasn’t until late 2019 that I decided not to give a care about people’s thoughts regarding my outie. I was going to embrace my scar and see it as a part of me. I was going to show it off. And yes, I did show it off on my Instagram stories, photos of me in my workout suit, flanking my outie belly button until I felt the worst pain shoot through the insides of my stomach. No, this should be fine, I’d thought. It wasn’t the first time I was having abdominal pain.

But this was a different kind of pain. This pain did not stop. It choked me, and at a point, I thought I could not breathe. Was this an aftermath of covid? I booked a Bolt ride to the hospital, and one look at my belly button, the doctor confirmed my fears. ‘It’s an umbilical hernia. We need to take it out.’

Lying in the hospital bed, I’d wondered about pain, about scars, about time. This year has dealt me some numbers. 

Right from the call I got on January 4th, 2021 that I tested positive to Covid-19, to moving to the isolation ward to spending 14+ days with other covid positive patients, to losing my sense of smell and regaining it shortly after, and coming home to having the worst fever and losing my sense of smell again and wondering if this was it. 

There were a lot of questions. 

Was I ever going to get better? 

Was I ever going to see the outside world again?

Was I going to die? I mean, I’m not different from others who lost their lives to this deadly virus. What was going to happen to me, I thought as I downed the drugs recommended for me. 

When I think about pain, I think about my trips to the toilet at the isolation centre with my perfume, spraying it close to my nostrils, and willing myself to smell again. 

When I think about pain, I think about the pills I took during covid and the side effects I got from taking them. I think about the muscle aches I endured and the numbness that took hold of the left part of my body for over a week.

I think about the constant pressure on my left chest, the palpitations, and the nights that I stayed awake wondering if I was about to have a stroke, a heart attack, if my heart was failing, or if I was having a pulmonary embolism. Yes, I Googled my symptoms. 

I think about my early morning trips to UCH Ibadan, scared about the long queue and screaming at a doctor that I found strolling that I had an emergency and needed medical attention fast! I was having a heart attack, I said to him. I walked into the emergency quarters and had a chest x-ray and an ECG. Everything looked normal on paper, but what was this pain? What was wrong with me? 

I think about how shortly after I’d tested negative to Covid-19, I’d developed another cough, the worst, and wondered if this was it again. I think about the number of antibiotics I had taken before the sputum test results that showed I had streptococcus pyogenes and, I wonder if I’d somehow cursed this year and brought this entire ordeal upon myself.

I had thought so much about time and death. I used to be a part of a group that comes together every last Sunday of the month to discuss death, and you would think that this would have made me ready to be unafraid of death.

But, I have anxiety just by thinking about the thought of dying. I lost my mum when I was fifteen, and I am not entirely sure if I’d completely gotten over her death. My grandmother and great grandmother died around the same time last year, and my dad’s elder brother died last December.

I am not unafraid of death. I fear pain the same way I fear the thought of getting sick.

I am scared. 

My stomach hurts so bad I think it’s about to split into two, and my right arm is swollen and painful that I wonder if I’m having a DVT. 

My thoughts about time have shifted a bit from ‘with all the time we have,’ to never existent. Please, hear me out. I spent almost 18 days at the isolation centre, and those days didn’t feel any different to me. It felt like I was living the same day over and over again. 

Mike Quigley wrote, ‘Once you’ve stared death in the face, every day is a good day.’ These days, I am intrigued by time, and I think a lot about the question, ‘What is the time?’

Does time matter when we can’t do those things we used to do because of ill health, or God forbid when we are staring death right in the face? 

Then, the question, ‘What time is it?’ wouldn’t matter again, because, then, time becomes one long string of never-ending nows. 

I’m still trying to figure out time and why we say we don’t have enough of it. In my theory, time doesn’t exist, and yesterday is the mind as it remembers, and tomorrow is the mind as it anticipates – I’m not sure whose philosophy this is again. 

If this is true, I wonder if the mind ever survives time.

Categories
Becoming Failing well

Becoming Brave – Will you bring back the child in you?

“Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness and also the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging, and love.” – I stumbled upon Brené Brown’s work on vulnerability the other day, and I haven’t stopped thinking about the adult who was once a brave child.

We all started somewhere – the child grows to become an adult. I remember what it feels like as a kid who was never afraid to try out new things and who never thought to engage the idea that she might not get what she wants.

I wonder, sometimes, what happened to that kid.

I think we have to agree that children are the bravest of us all, because, do children not get to do new stuff that we introduce them to every time? Of course, they throw a little tantrum, but these are things that adults would not normally do. Children say ‘yes’ even though they aren’t ready.

Children aren’t a little bit worried about people judging them. They don’t hesitate to act, which I think can be a good thing, sometimes. Because in hesitating, we remind ourselves of all the things that can go wrong without remembering that things can also go right.

As a child, I owned a little provision store, and I participated in a lot of school challenges. I was the kid who entered offices asking for an interview and when they asked if she was not too young to work, replied ‘No.’

At what point does the fearless child become scared to perform in the society? Where did it go wrong? Maybe if we can point to a particular cause, then we can find the strength to move on to become the brave person that we can be?

Sometimes, I think my fear started when I entered university. Nigerian colleges have a way of instilling fear in you and making you believe that you are undeserving of where you are and should be grateful that you even have a score in your name.

But, this is not the time to point fingers. This is where we acknowledge our calling to reclaim our true selves.

Many of us are afraid of failing, and it shows in the way we give ourselves to our cause. We are scared that we may not be successful with our mission. We are afraid of the shame that comes with trying, we are terrified of the name-calling, of the guilt, of the tongue-lashing, of the fall.

We ask ourselves questions like – What if we fail? What if it is not worth it? What if we risk it all and we lose it all?

But what if we risk it all and win some?

What if we win it all?

What if, by delaying to take action on our call, we extend our suffering by going off the wrong path?

I think we cling to certain kinds of people because we seek something outside us – something foreign, kind, and possibly dangerous.

We want what we do not have – we don’t know what this thing is, yet we are terrified to think about it.

So, we follow the train and let it lead us to anywhere.

Sometimes we may not find what we seek until we’ve allowed ourselves to be pushed to the extremes.

Then we realize that perhaps what we’ve been looking for is what we’ve always had.

We recognize that we’ve not learnt to love ourselves, and in this understanding, we begin to find ourselves.

In defining vulnerability, Brené Brown said, “We cannot selectively numb some emotion. You cannot say, ‘Here’s the bad stuff, here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these. I’m going to have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions

And I think this is one thing that separates the child from the adult – the ability to give themselves wholly. Even though sometimes, we forget that children have feelings too, they aren’t afraid to embrace their vulnerability. Untainted, they love with all of their heart. You scold them, and after crying, they come back to you. They fight with their peers one instant and are ready to make up and play the next minute. Kids are the most vulnerable – they meet new faces every day at school, and most times adults act like they are too young to understand, therefore making them feel as though their feelings won’t matter until they get to a certain age.

Kids are braver than we think and are always acting, but how do you, as a grown adult, in a constant state of navigating through stress and depression, work yourself towards taking action on your goals?

Brené Brown answered:

“and this is what I’ve found. To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, VULNERABLY seen. To love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee, and that’s hard. To practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we are wondering ‘Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this, this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?’ Just to be able to stop, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, “I’m just so grateful,” because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.