Sunday, 15 April 2018

Pain is soul destroying

11 January 2016: My gallbladder was removed. I had eight gallstones, each the same size (the size of a dice).

My pain started in September 2015. I was a matric teacher and marking trial papers. By November, my condition seemingly had worsened. I had applied earlier in the year to mark matric papers at the end of 2015, but because of the pain I couldn’t go. I was diagnosed early in December with having gallbladder stones. December (the holiday month), I was crippled with pain. Doctors were on leave. The first date when I could see a doctor was on the 8th of January, 2016.

In April of 2016, I returned to the doctor. Something wasn’t right. I still had severe pain. A series of tests followed. The process involved a sonar and CT scan, a colonoscopy screening exam and many blood tests. I even went to my gynaecologist. The final diagnosis was made at the start of 2018: perhaps fibromyalgia. The pain is everywhere. I keep saying: They simply don’t know, do they? They seem to be guessing.

To this day, I still have pain. The intensity can wax and wane throughout the day. Some days are so amazing that I hardly notice the pain. On other days, I can barely breathe. It’s not a quality life. I have always suffered illness at the hands of Stress, but I don’t think the problem I’m experiencing now is related to stress. I can say this because it’s not the first time that I’ve had to deal with physical pain. I have even suffered severe migraines in my life.

I've noticed that I can teach until approximately 11 o’clock in the morning. After that, the discomfort affects my concentration. I can’t sit. I can’t stand. I can only focus on breathing. What truly amazes me is that on any given day, whether the pain is intense or less noticeable, I can still climb the stairs, carrying a pile of paper or just my pencil bag, and still stand in front of a class motivated to teach. I spend many hours on my feet teaching passionately regardless the circumstances. The most important instrument in any classroom is a motivated teacher. When I’m busy with what I enjoy doing, I can get through it. I think that deserves some kind of medal! 

Pain pills: I don’t go there. Most of them don't work anyway; they only dull the pain or knock me out (and what good am I when I'm unconscious?). The thing is, I want to monitor the pain. I feel that I need to be on top of this game. When I experience pain, I become aware of my strength and that's when I learn best how to carry the pain. Everyone can relate with the fact that pain insists upon attention. It is real. Being my reality, I need to know what is causing it. So, there’s really no point in trying to escape it. I can numb it, but that won’t cure it. Instead of running to pills, the best thing for me to do is to find a position in which I can comfortably lie down and try to sleep. Sleep never comes, but the pain eases enough for me to get up and carry on.

By now, my brain is aware that I have to live with this pain. Yesterday was bad. Today is worse. Why? I had to stay behind at school on Friday for detention duty. I only got home at five o’clock. As always, when I am suffering (in silence), the angels come and bless me. On Friday, I was blessed with a group of 40 beautifully well-behaved children and a loving, considerate friend and colleague, Joekie Lessing. What a breeze it was. Detention was nothing to fret about.

I can only hope that tomorrow will be a good day. The new week begins and I have to teach the extremely difficult poem: “To learn how to speak” by Jeremy Cronin.

I want to go and see a general internist as soon as I can. The search for the cause of all this pain must continue.

Few things a doctor does are more important than relieving pain… pain is soul destroying. No patient should have to endure intense pain unnecessarily. The quality of mercy is essential to the practice of medicine; here, of all places, it should not be strained.” Marcia Angell

Monday, 9 April 2018

Fifty shades of me


Colour definitely influences people. I have an affinity for black. Yes, I’m not ashamed to say that I wear black a lot. I also like grey and brown… and navy. Wearing black has brought judgment, but in no way was I ever crippled by it.

I was 20 and a student teaching in Heidelberg. The teacher in the classroom where I was assigned to work was a new widow. At the end of the first week, she was up in arms. I was, apparently, too young to wear black and grey and brown and navy. Well, that was the content of my cupboard and my budget was non-existent. I had no other colours to wear and she had to deal with it for two weeks.

Teaching in black has educated me in many ways. Some of my colleagues, parents and learners played the roles of style coach and psychiatrist. What I learned from them back then was the following: I was too young to wear black; I was considered rebellious or evil; I was a member of the Goth subculture; and I was suffering from depression. I was even told to see a psychologist. While each encounter offered me the gift of greater self-awareness, I remained quite comfortable wearing black.

Just to be clear, at the age of 52, I seriously couldn’t care less what people think about the clothes I choose to wear. Actually, I’ve never worried about it. I hate shopping. I really do. I hate spending money just as much as I hate shopping. When I have to buy clothes, it’s a challenge that I do not like. Because I have a myriad of decisions to make on a daily basis, I see no point in deliberating over the colour of my clothes. I enter the shop, find whatever I can that’s black and comfortable, and I’m done. It’s probably ten minutes of my life that I’ll always regret wasting.

Make-up, perfume, fashionable outfits, shoes and handbags to match the dress, and jewellery have never impressed me at all. I don’t even have a handbag with all the goodies that most women carry around with them. I just up and go! It’s quite easy for me to be able to move around without the baggage. It’s liberating. Now, before you start psycho-analysing me about that let me tell you about my hair. That’s the whole purpose of this blog entry.

For the past three or four months, I’ve been attempting to grow out the grey. It just felt like the natural thing to do. I was tired of dyeing away the grey. Now, as I’ve mentioned, colour definitely influences people. The criticism I got for wearing black isn’t anything near to the maddening criticism I’ve been getting for walking around semi-grey. Suddenly, I’m too young to be grey. I’m supposed to be colourful so that the learners will enjoy my lessons more. I’m ‘letting myself go’ (… to which I must add, when have I ever not let myself go? … because isn’t it me who spends so much time making other people happy that I’ve become invisible to myself – to such an extent that the very people who judge me are now telling me to stop helping others and start focusing on self-care and self-love and self-enrichment?).

I think the fuss is really all about how I’m doing it. You see, I didn’t go to a hairdresser to have my hair coloured grey – the fashion trend of late. I chose to do it naturally. I honestly think that dyeing my hair doesn’t define me. People fear aging. I don’t. I’m happy to be 52. I’m happy to be grey. So, excuse me if I say, it’s my hair, my choice and my life. If I want to walk around with grey hair, let it be. No-one in Africa has died because of it.

When it comes to criticism, being as sensitive as I am, I’ve learnt to be resilient. I know that another person’s perspective is his/her idea of reality, and reality is merely a persistent illusion. Imperfect perspectives about my hair’s colour don’t have to affect me at all. Why? Well, as humans, we are conditioned to start dyeing our hair in our thirties to disguise the natural process of aging. From this disguise we shape our identity. Subconsciously, we live and express this identity and form our own perceptions of what reality should be; hence, we feel younger. If other people deem it necessary to feel younger, so be it. That’s not my reality.

I can live with fifty shades of black (clothes) and grey (hair). I’m okay! This simply means it’s not me who needs psychotherapy, is it? Well, not about black and grey… yet!