Theme: When something changes – good or bad. A twist of events, an unexpected turn of events, a change in the wind, weather, love, whatever.
Written by Sharon
On New Year’s Eve, I got chicken pox. I have always liked to do things my own way, but second-time pox at the age of 34 was pushing it. What was going on?
Housebound and poxy for three weeks, I had a lot of thinking time between gorging on Scandal and Agents of SHIELD. Doc, after establishing I’d had the pox as a toddler, had asked if I had been under a lot of stress recently. Turns out, my immune system had been shot to pieces. I’d even started getting all sorts of weird allergies. The experts agree that when you get sick in this sort of unexpected way, it’s because your body has been breaking down for years.
I’m writing at night, determined to finish before midnight, for I’ve learned that sleep is absolutely essential. It sounds obvious, but when you don’t sleep for, say, a decade – on and off – you lose your common sense, your grip on what’s what. I’m not saying I had lost the plot; I’d just lost my way. My last good sleep was when I was working in Japan, over ten years ago. Perhaps it was that real futon. Perhaps the world is carefree in your early 20s. I never really got ill, being one of those hardworking, hardy sort of people. And then – I stopped sleeping.
It started during my Masters, part of being a postgrad. But I pushed and pushed myself. I worked part-time throughout the full time program, had a social life, traveled, volunteered. By the time I handed in my thesis, my right eye was literally bleeding from all the sleepless nights and stress. My eyelids may have been pleading to close, but I was walking six feet off the ground. Elated, I’d done all I’d set out to, despite my body paying the price. In your 20s, you feel invincible. Nothing can touch you. The bleeding eye healed, but I failed to learn.
I’m also obsessed with time and want to squeeze as much out of life as possible. Finding satisfying work is important to me, as we spend so much time doing it. From intern to project manager to editor to filmmaker to writer, my quest to find the right role ended up giving me insomnia. Maybe career swapping and country hopping are indulgent ways to spend your 20s, but it has all been part of my learning process.
Capped by an extraordinary year in Los Angeles, I moved 11 times in as many months. Lots of bizarre stuff and energy vampires in my beloved city of angels, but that’s a topic for another day. As deadlines approached, my coffee-and-chocolate diet was hardly unique, but didn’t provide the nutrients my body badly needed. Not to mention multiple personal and professional commitments, and simply catching up on everything after working three full time jobs for two years, before starting at grad school – again.
Enough. It’s exhausting even thinking about it. At last, identifying as a writer, I was happier than I’d ever been, but I was killing myself, slowly.
Within a couple of days of seeing my doctor, my body was covered in over 400 spots (I had three weeks to count them). The first days were agony. I could barely move without involuntarily moaning in pain. It’s not melodrama – I have a massive threshold for pain; did I mention my bleeding eye? Even the pain to sit, to adjust my sleeping position by inches, to change my clothes, to go to the toilet, had me in tears. And then, my disfigurement. I’m covered in 400 scars. That initial shock of the ugliness made me cry, too. Would they ever heal? Time will tell, but thank god for camouflage makeup.
They say the definition of insanity (or is it stupidity?) is to do the same thing, over and over again, and expect a different result. I was supposed to learn from the bleeding eye. Then the allergies. But, no, I was stubborn and arrogant. And there I was at 34, sitting in the doctor’s office, my face covered in pink spots. He had to suppress a grin – I give such a serious, quiet sort of impression that even the diagnosis of “chicken pox” seemed sort of silly. But I have to laugh. “Did you and Angelina go to the same pox party?” one friend quipped. “Auntie Sharon’s enemy is the chicken,” proclaimed my small nieces sitting in Nando’s post-pox, eating in revenge. Adult chicken pox is ridiculous.
I also have to be thankful. My New Year’s Pox was like a reset button. After years, I had rest. I had time to devote to family – being unable to leave the house for three weeks was a wonderful thing. I’ve realized, though I fixate on the passing of time, you need to be alive to experience life. My common sense has evidently returned. I understand that your health is your wealth. I take on less and no longer sweat the small stuff (well – I do my best). I’m particular about who I spend time with. I pop all sorts of vitamin and mineral supplements, eat better, exercise more, drink less. The weird allergies have gone. And I sleep.
Sometimes worse experiences are the best experiences and vice versa, they all roll into one. There’s a Taoist philosophy that things are as they are, neither good nor bad. Those scars might fade, but I’m OK if one or two remain on my face, where I’m forced to see them every day as a reminder to take care of myself. Because if you don’t, who will?