Monday, May 13, 2013

Nerves of Steel and the Gaining of Them

There was a time when I wasn't tough.

There was actually a very long time when I wasn't tough, but let's not turn this into a commencement address, shall we?

I grew up in a middle class family, my father had (still has) a very good job and when I was twelve, mom went to work as well: I got (most of) what I wanted for Christmas and my birthday, my glorious mother had a policy that if my brother and I could behave in a store we could have one treat (needless to say we were very well-behaved), when the Scholastic Book Fair came to school (and mom wasn't working it), we were given a blank check and told we could buy one computer game, but as many books as we fancied.

I could be accused of being spoiled. If I hadn't had the mother I had, who recognized how easily her kids could turn spoiled and always kept us a couple steps from that line or pulled us back when we did wander over it, I would have been. I'll tell ya'll the American Girl story sometime, promise. I didn't need to be tough. Until I did.

I'm lucky in that when my Trigeminal Neuralgia arrived, I was already being toughened up. I left home and lived on my own, learning to budget what money I had, make my own decisions about what to eat and when, be responsible to get to all my classes on time and pay bills. I felt in control and learned I'm smart to live on my own and not rely on other people to make sure I do what I need to. This intensified in Portland, living across the country from basically everyone I knew. Suddenly, I needed to sell old clothes if I wanted to buy a new dress. I had to schlep two totes bags full of books a dozen blocks to Powell's if I wanted to buy one new book. This made me very critical about buying only what I knew would see plenty of use, instead of whatever I wanted at first glance. I picked up odd jobs as I could get them, never able to stay at them long. I cried when I told my mother I had applied for food stamps and then refused her offer of help (she doesn't have much to give). If I was going to fail here, I was failing on my own. Suddenly, I felt strong, strong enough to let my pride go and admit I could get help I needed.

I was told time and time again that I was brave to move all the way to Portland, where I knew practically nobody. This came mostly from people after my savings dwindled far enough that I had to move home. I sure didn't feel brave, I was scared as hell.

Then came the Trigeminal Neuralgia: The Revenge (I'd had a bad spell in Portland, but nothing like my current pain level. 7 as compared to 12). It is well-accepted to be the most painful condition to have. Which I can attest to wholeheartedly. I'm a rare case having had no trauma to set it off beside being decades too young. A nerve (possibly two) in the right side of my jaw have been compressed by something and so it sends pain signals to my brain whenever the lightest touch (even a breeze) triggers the affected area of my face. And oh what pain signals it sends. At its worst, my TN has literally driven me to the floor, made me draw blood from my arms as I dig my fingers in trying to send off other pain signals (this doesn't work), makes me cry and scream my voice away. It is the only thing that has ever made me completely serious about ending my life.

Trigeminal Neuralgia is called 'the suicide disease' because the pain is so excruciating, many sufferers offed themselves to get away from it. I have TN and let me tell you, my lieblings, its nickname is well-earned. I had to ask a couple of my People (Mark, who knew what to do and Mimi, who knew where everything was) to take away all my sharp pointies and long cords. Fare thee well, jump rope and house keys. But I got past it. I got past being admitted to the hospital because I couldn't eat and could barely drink anything. It's still there and my two best bets right now is brain surgery (though a very small one) that should keep it away from decades, possibly for the rest of my life. I'm scared to death, but I know I can do what it takes. I'm tough now.

I attribute all the strength I've cobbled together to my friends, real and fictional. The real ones (this includes my amazing mom and perfect grandma) showed me by example how to be tough even while being generous with what little they had. They were always there for a late night call when I was in my Dark Room to reach out a hand and pull me back over the threshold, even if they didn't know they were doing it. The fictional ones, the ones on my TV and in my favourite films, songs and books, did much the same. They made me a Torchwood agent, an honorary Winchester, a Mockingjay, a Companion (this applies to two fandoms), a Nerdfighter, a Newsie. By making me believe I could be like them...I was. I could say 'yes' to things that scared me, I could talk my way into and out of bad situations, I learned princesses can fight and witches can be good, I could face the worse pain I'd ever felt.

Breathe through it and ride it out, I've gotten through it before and will again.


  1. Love this post. Of course now I'm trying to figure out which shows the "Companion" relates to...

    1. I can tell you or you can figure it out yourself? :)

  2. Thank you for writing this, Beth. I do believe that you will help other people, just by sharing your story, and they will draw strength from you.