I have had the strangest couple of months, probably ever. It’s been so weird that at times I haven’t understood myself at all. My mind has entertained thoughts that seem like they belong to someone else; I have done a couple of things that were completely out of character, and often, I have lain awake wondering what on earth I’m doing, and why.
I blame two separate but connected things.
The first is the book I’ve been working on for around eighteen months now. It tells the story of Edith, a woman who meets and marries a successful older man when she’s barely out of her teens. Her husband is controlling and abusive and he makes her life a misery. I have been immersed in this world for hours a day, every day, for over a year. I’ve watched documentaries about domestic abuse. I’ve read my share of suspense and thriller novels to get a feel for the genre. I’ve carefully crafted my characters until they feel like living people. The book has heavy themes, and a narrative that is personal to me, although my life is nothing like Edith’s (thank goodness). When I worked on my recent revisions, I saw some stuff in it that brought up feelings I wasn’t sure I liked feeling.
The second thing is my health. Lately, I’ve thought a lot about dying, both soon, and at a much younger age than I anticipated when I decided to have kids. My husband and I have spent all of our spare time at hospitals and doctor’s offices, as they work hard to figure out what’s wrong with my heart. I’ve lost the innocence I had… the sense that everything is okay with my body. I think most of us go about our lives without thinking too much about what’s going on under the covering of our skin. Who wants to picture their heart beating, their blood moving, all of the intricate mechanisms that need to happen for us to stay alive? Not me. But I don’t have the luxury of denial any longer. As each test result arrives, a small portion of my confidence is stripped away. I’ve landed in a scary place, where I don’t really trust my body to work at all.
These two experiences happened concurrently and as a result… I have felt very unlike myself. When you get to be my age (40 next year), you assume you have the basics figured out. At this point, I really thought there wasn’t much about my personality that could surprise me. I have been through traumatic things before, have grieved before, have experienced illness and fear. But I have not had to lie in a bed for six months, with only my rambling thoughts and my manuscript to keep me company. Or had my life ruled by tests and appointments. Or had my body constantly touched and hurt by strangers.
What I’m trying to say is, I have surprised myself. The way I’ve responded to this process has been both typical (retreating into myself, not eating, gnawing anxiety), and… strange. I’ve had a strong urge to get my affairs in order, say the things I need to say to people, and not put things off any longer. Not really for any morbid reason (although the thought is there), more because my health has become so unstable in the last six months that literally nothing would surprise me. I don’t know what the future holds, and so I feel almost manic in my desire to cross things off my list.
I am, and have always been, a very careful person. I don’t have a lot of friends, but the ones I do have are stuck with me for life. I’m slow to get to know people, naturally quiet in social settings, and not too keen on being vulnerable. I’m also a perfectionist and can be unforgiving when I make a mistake. So what’s a careful, controlled, moderate, type of person to do when she finds herself throwing caution to the wind?
I don’t know the answer to that. My instinct is to run away but for some unknowable reason, I keep leaning in. The only thing I know for sure is that if I can be honest, both in my relationships and my writing, then no matter what happens, I’ll have no regrets. And when you’re sick, you think a lot about regret. I know that you can’t fake writing. Readers are like bloodhounds when it comes to the truth; they can smell insincerity from a mile away. The same transparency should apply to the real world, too.
So that’s my survival strategy for the coming months. My way of navigating the uncomfortable uncertainty that I have no choice but to live with. Be honest, in everything; even if it’s hard.
And also, be kind. Especially to myself.