PC: Frederic Agius
It is four in the morning and I am exhausted.
I took a muscle relaxant and two Sominex sleeping pills and I still can’t sleep. Now I’m just groggy. The deep, aching, and burning pain in my legs and lower back leads to a constant cycle of tossing and turning. Sighing, wriggling out from under the blankets, checking my phone. Watching the time slip by. Sleep is at least a reprieve from the pain and it seems I can’t even have that now.
My fibromyalgia body is at war with my anxious, ADHD mind. With no distractions, I’m naturally drawn to the pain, acutely aware of how it twists my muscles, gets my legs jerking like a dog who’s dreaming. Except I’m the dog that’s been left outside on the porch, tied to the kennel while the neighbour’s dog barks and growls all night.
I worry a lot. My therapist told me to keep a journal before he abruptly left me to my own devices. I write everything down but still, the future haunts me as much as the past. Here are some of the recent ‘what ifs?’
What if Covid-19 crashes the economy?
What if I can’t keep up with rent and end up on the streets?
What if I can’t assimilate into society?
What if chronic pain means I’ll only have enough energy for work and nothing else?
What if my chronic pain makes me so intolerable no one wants to spend time with me?
What if I’m abusive in the future because the cycle of abuse dictates abuse survivors have a high likelihood of staying victims or becoming abusers themselves?
What if I never find love?
What if I’m dying?
And so on.
These fun hypotheticals are often peppered with traumatic or embarrassing memories of everyone who has ever hurt me and anything I’ve ever done or said to hurt someone else. A greatest hits, if you will. Which has culminated in the belief that I am, in fact, a horrible person undeserving of love and all my achievements.
Still, life goes on. Some days are ‘good’ pain days and some days are bad, utterly intolerable, or make me contemplate suicide. On those days I barely leave the bed, order over-priced takeaway, and need a foldable chair to sit on to do the dishes. If I need to do more than one task a day, fibro decides to play Russian roulette on whether it will allow me to both swing by the shop to buy almond milk and write my coursework. Most days it doesn’t.
Deadlines creep forward. My friend on the course keeps telling me how hard certain modules are, how May is almost over and we’re running out of time. I laugh and shrug my shoulders. Pain has made me apathetic. I cannot will myself to care about academic achievement—something I once valued so highly. It’s hard to give a shit when you’re struggling to see a future for yourself doing what you love.
Maybe that’s just the anxiety and PTSD talking. I just need to take antidepressants and crawl into bed again. Except I can’t sleep and it’s driving me crazy. My schedule is non-existent, I’m up all night in pain, might pass out around three or four in the morning and then I’ll have to sit through a groggy check-in with my doctor or support worker, grin and bear it and describe my struggles in excruciating detail. Listen for the veiled judgment when they hear nothing’s moving, that I still haven’t started writing that essay or story. But the doctor won’t treat my ADHD, he said three months ago I’m doing so well without medication, that meds are addictive and I should try aromatherapy. The same advice apparently applies to chronic pain.
But I’m not exhausted by the pain or by the panic attacks. I’m exhausted by life. I am worn down. I am close to giving up. Or rather, I am both extremely hopeful, creative, and driven and then devastated, angry, and suicidal. One step forward in my life is three steps back. You think you love someone and they turn out to be a narcissist. Over and over again. Your step-mother’s a narcissist, your sister, the guy you thought you liked who was just love-bombing you. Your dad might be one, too. And he was the person I was trying to salvage in all of this, the one good person I still wanted a relationship with. But he used to blame me for my own insomnia, my own pain, and my feelings.
I remember being so depressed and exhausted as a teenager, waking up achy each morning. Perhaps the early signifiers of fibromyalgia. But my dad and my step-mum would always say it was because I was on my phone all night. Then they would demand I do a ridiculous list of chores all before they got home from work. So I’d go to school and then I’d come back and do chores. But I’d never do the chores right—even after picking each individual strand of cat hair out of the carpet--so they’d accuse me of not doing them at all. And then I’d have to do them again. My back and legs would be in so much pain I’d crawl into bed at night and not be able to sleep. So the cycle continues.
Then in my first and third year of university, I became practically nocturnal. In my first year, I lived in halls. My window was right below the front entrance so I had the full force of the drunk screaming of freshers stumbling back from nightclubs. Including the iconic line, ‘you’re the best Asian in the whole of Derby!’ By a drunk girl laying in broken glass in the middle of the road, dragged up by her reasonably sober and embarrassed friend. The flat below us had constant parties, often banging chairs on the ceiling—our floor. Then there was the time when the two boys I lived with (who always stole my food) woke the rest of us up to wild hollering and banging on our bedroom doors like the police. One of them got into my housemate’s room and climbed in bed with a traffic cone. I cooked spaghetti bolognese and ate dinner at 5AM. Those were surreal times.
In my third year, I worked early mornings at a bakery, the worst job of my life. My shift began at six in the morning but it took forty minutes to walk there, in pitch darkness and I had to be awake at four in the morning. But the shifts were never consistent so neither was my sleep. Most nights I didn’t sleep at all, just rolled in and did my shift until 10AM then went home and collapsed into bed. My manager was constantly pushing me to pick up more and more hours despite being at university and when I told her ‘no’ over and over again, she threatened me with warnings and cautions and forced me into it. I missed a lot of my last year of study because I was now working basically a full-time job and my only days off were the two I had for university. Even then, she would try and talk me into working non-stop weeks. I should have walked away sooner but being an abused young adult, I had learned to shut up and take it when people imposed their will on me.
I remember becoming so overwhelmed I had a sensory overload in the middle of a hectic Black Friday shift. Our shop was chronically understaffed and their policies meant they thought two people could run the whole shop together. A sandwich maker and a server. But the sandwich maker had two hundred sandwiches to make in two hours. And I had to call them away every time I needed help with a big queue, which was every ten minutes. Sometimes I’d shout and shout for them and my managers would just pretend not to hear me. I remember just freezing, oven, and toastie maker beeping like crazy, sausage rolls burning, hot chocolate all over the floor, customers demanding discount coupons for having to wait a whole three minutes. I just turned my back on them, leaned on the counter, and clenched my teeth. When my manager finally reared her head, she cursed me for the state of the shop and reminded me that she ran a tight ship and that if I couldn’t handle the job I shouldn’t be working it. At the end of the shift, I clocked out, changed out of my uniform, and cried in the staff toilet.
I missed my university friends so much but I desperately needed the money. The hunger for stability and safety coupled with the crippling exhaustion and pain paved a comfortable combination for a would-be abusive boss. And I just rolled over and let them fuck up my education. That’s what I hate the most about myself, how willingly I give up on things.
So I know exhaustion well. I know what it is to stay up 72 hours straight and then roll up and smile while watching Studio Ghibli with friends. I know what it’s like to be so tired you can barely function but at the same time, being unable to sleep. To feel guilty for not being able to produce, create, consume enough—books, TV, writing.
I am, after all, a machine--constructed by my parents to be the perfect worker. To be valued only for academic achievements, only for monetary success. I think that’s the biggest reason I can’t sleep. I’m defective. They missed the part where they beat the emotions out of me. So I lie awake heartbroken and scared and worried and longing and lonely. I think about how I might never see my friends again. How I might never cope with a job. That my misery will dim my compassion, that any man or woman who would ever want to sleep next to me would take one glimpse at my withered body and be repulsed.
I worry that my life will not be worth living and I, as with everything, will just willingly give up.
Maybe it’s time to put these thoughts to rest. Perhaps I’m just exhausted.
About The Author - Sarah Loverock
Sarah Loverock is a writer and MA Creative Writing student from England. She has a passion for writing, history, folklore, and all things spiritual. She hopes to work in a museum again or in the Arts when she finishes school. She was previously published in Streetcake magazine and is available on Twitter @asoftblueending
PC: Jeanine Leblanc
My Three Toxic Best Friends
I don’t like PCOS. I don’t like that I tire out easily and that during some of my really bad flare ups I can’t make it around both the neighborhood and the school. That I have to wear a patch on my skin that leaves behind a sticky residue when it is gone. That I am stuck with the patch because I am some of the unlucky few who gets nauseous with all of the oral birth controls. That it caused me to lose some of my hair before we realized what was wrong with me. That I may never be able to have kids, and part of me is relieved at this and part of me is devastated. That I think the PCOS is leading to endometrioses and I am furious about that because it seems out of everything in this world my body is the one things I have the least amount of control over.
I don’t like bipolar disorder. I don’t like that my mood fluctuates from happy to sad faster than it takes me to decide on an outfit to wear and, I only wear 4 different outfits for each season. That I can want to cry and curl up in a ball for no reason at all. That I want to eat the whole entire bag of chocolates and never get up again even though I have plenty to get done. That it worries my mother as she sits and says “maybe I need to go to Valley” and I respond no because I don’t want to go to a mental hospital. That my bipolar gets worse at the end of semesters and has caused me to have to withdraw from school which causes me to feel like I am stupid and worthless.
I don’t like my anxiety. That I am afraid of things that are never going to happen, like me single -handedly causing the world to end. That I am afraid to drive my car because I might somehow cause harm to someone else. I could care less if I’m hurt or not my life isn’t important. That when I was at UGA I stopped eating because I was afraid the food would somehow go down the wrong pipe and I would die. That in the pictures of that time I’m so skinny I don’t even recognize myself. That it causes me to lose sleep and stare at the wall for hours on end as I toss and turn praying to whatever God is out there that I could have some peace. That I never enjoy anything because there is always something to be afraid of or something that I worry I should be doing.
I hate that nobody knew what was wrong for the longest time so they did test after test and pricked me with needle after needle, butterfly and quick gauge and you never know how much those butterfly needles can hurt until a nurse digs into your arm searching for a vein. That I had doctor after doctor tell me that I just needed to exercise more and that my own dad is a doctor and he failed to diagnosis me. That I suffered for years and was not diagnosed until I was 22. That there is no cure for any of my conditions. That I have to take pills and explain to people that I’m not crazy, but yes, I go to therapy. That I somehow have several conditions.
I don’t like being sick.
About The Author - Caroline Hood
Caroline Hood is studying English: Creative Writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and hopes to go on to obtain her MFA. She lives with PCOS, anxiety, and Bipolar Disorder. She enjoys writing about these topics to help raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with them. She hopes that her writings can help her readers feel that they are not alone.