It's hard, this recuperation business. I'm caught between two devils- crushing fatigue, and a maddening sense of being useless. I'm constantly fighting the dual meanings of 'invalid'.
I start the day fully aware that I'm the noun form. I am, indeed, an invalid. The exhaustion, regardless of how many hours I slept, leaves me in no doubt. I have a terrible time waking each morning. I want nothing more than to stay curled warmly under the doona for another ten minutes, or hour, or- what the hell- why not all day? That's the legacy of radiotherapy- an enduring, alluring coma-state.
But I know that if I don't get up, I won't ever get to the compulsory 'exercise' segment of my day; I'll lose the will to care about staying alive. And then I'll descend into the depression that's just out there, on the edges of my consciousness, waiting for me to slip up. You're just watching your life go by, it whispers. Why bother?
So up I get. Onto the Wii, working out as actively as the tightening radiation burns and my fear of lymphoedema will allow for an hour or so. That much of my day is scheduled, valid, necessary.
Then, after my morning Tablet Time (mineral and vitamin supplements: all valid for survival purposes), begins the 'what shall I eat' portion of the entertainment. Ideally, I need to lose a bit of excess avoirdupois to help keep the Freeloader at bay for as long as possible. For all that people tell me I look fine, I know that I'm carrying unhelpful lard. My best chance of sloughing it is to be careful what I put in while I'm committed to working out.
So I might grab some fruit. Maybe some yoghurt, though since chemo anything that's vaguely processed and the least bit sweet leaves a vile metallic after-taste in my mouth. (Shh. I can't bear plain yoghurt. Yuk. Yukitty-yuk-yuk-yuk. And don't preach carbs at me, either- I'm not a fan of the heavy breakfast. Can't do it. I have lots of food-related 'can't do's since chemo.)
And now it's maybe 10am. My activities thus far have been all in the interests of staying alive, and I feel like I don't even know my own name. I don't recognise this person who can't get up and, when she does, concentrates exclusively on exercise and diet. Once upon a time, I used to spring out of bed when the alarm went off, dress, grab something or nothing to eat- who cares?- and fly happily out the door to be useful to someone. Once, to a full-time job nurturing the next generation of musicians. Lately, to fill a yawning gap in some poor director's childcare roster at a moment's notice. To reassure parents, smiling, that their children are well looked after. More than all that, to strive each day to make a small child's world a better place.
That's where the point of my current existence starts to seem questionable. I start to feel the force of the adjective: invalid. For the rest of the day, there's a vacuum awaiting me. Nobody expects anything of me. I am not helping anyone. Nobody has a better day because I was there.
I am leading an invalid existence. Pronounce it as you will.
Unless I have a staying-alive appointment, there's nowhere I have to be. There's plenty to do around the house, sure, but I know that anything I start may be suddenly curtailed by the onset of another bout of radiotherapy-exhaustion. I know that by 3pm or so, I'll just want to put my head down again and sleep, and that will be brought forward by any heavy work.
The old me I'm searching for needs more than that. I've never been satisfied to be a housewife. I feel a need to make my existence felt in that small window of alertness, and sweeping the floor or doing the dishes just doesn't cut it in my internal measurement system. Neither does recreation; I'm bored to death with books and magazines and puzzles and DVDs. I just want to feel like me again.
I want to matter, the way I used to.
But mostly, I don't have the brainpower to do it anyway, and I certainly don't have the physical strength. I have to be content with dropping the odd comment into a parenting thread on Facebook, and hoping that it matters to someone. Chatting to my Early Childhood colleagues, and hoping that I help someone straighten out a problem that's troubling them.
Writing the odd post here on the Freeloader, and hoping it makes someone feel less alone.
At some level, I realise I'm just battling a label that I don't like. Somewhere in my past, I had lazy thrown at me. More than once. Many times. It wasn't fair then, and it's not fair now: I know that. But our psyches are peculiarly unkind when it comes to letting go of baggage- especially when we're tired. Especially when we've just been through eight months of hell.
Lying around chatting on Facebook, reading novels, doing Sudokus- it all feels lazy to me. Lazy should be my friend right now. Lazy should be helping me get better. But all it's doing is sitting on my left shoulder, whispering poison in my ear. Get up. Be useful. You're wasting time again.
It's all nonsense. My brain knows that. But my subconscious is a different matter.
My subconscious made me stop outside the childcare centre the other day, and consider going in to tell them I was available to work again. My brain put paid to that in thirty seconds flat, thank heavens. Turning up for work and having to go home again halfway through a shift would hardly enhance my reputation. My brain knows that I only have half a day in me at most, not to mention the risk of some dear child elbowing me in the radiated chest and causing me untold agony.
So I sit here trying to convince myself that it's okay to just rest. I sit here watching my life go by, minute by dragging minute. I try to remember how I felt during chemo, when it was so hard to believe that it would ever end. This too will end: my brain knows that.
My subconscious is a different matter.