Chronic illness from behind the door.

Close your eyes, take a deep breath. I’m taking you on a journey through chronic illness. With me? Good.

Imagine you’re in prison. You didn’t do anything wrong, at least not that you know of, and you don’t know why you’re there. All appeals have come to naught, and you have been told to accept that you will be in prison indefinitely, perhaps forever. Accept it or not, this is where you are.

Now imagine your cell. You are alone. The ceiling is not high enough for you to stand up, and the room is not wide enough for you to lie down. The top is covered in spikes, the walls are made of broken glass and grit, and the floor is jagged and lumpy. The door is cast iron, and has only a small iron grating at the top, which you cannot reach without scraping yourself against the sides. There are sounds, constant high-pitched white noise and crackles that invade your brain and stop you from forming or following your thoughts. You’re bombarded with smells so intense you want to vomit. The lights above your head are blinding bright, and they flicker and hum. Your prison issue clothes are impossible to remove; a tight band around your chest, throat, waist and temples, and nothing else. There is a tiny frosted window, also woefully out of your grasp, through which, if you were able to crane your neck to see, you would be able to spot your old life; the one you shared with friends and family, your hard-earned career, your savings, your sex life, everything. You can’t reach out of it, and nothing reaches in.

You try to sleep. At times, it’s all you can do to stay awake, you try to fight, but you are weighed down with stones and wet blankets. So you sleep, and when you wake, you feel worse. You curl up in a ball and you sleep again, but it doesn’t help. Sometimes it feels like the more you sleep, the more pain you are in, but at least it passes the time. And then you cannot sleep. No matter how hard you try. You beg for the sweet release of 20 minutes REM, and you are denied, over and over. You’re ready to break.

Sometimes a warden brings you food. Sometimes he throws a bucket of tepid water through the grating at you, and sometimes you get a fresh rag poked under the door to wipe yourself with. You never know when or how often these things will happen. Sometimes you go days, even weeks without any help.

Every now and then, you get lucky. The walls retreat a few inches, and you are able to stretch out. The ceiling rises, and you stand for a moment. The floor becomes smooth, even cushioned, or the warden throws you a pillow. The sensory bombardment softens. A good friend passes you a cup of warm tea through the grating and smiles at you. You feel almost at peace for a spell. And then, as unexpectedly as it came, it goes again. You’ve been here for months, years maybe, perhaps a decade or two. You start to forget who you are, where you are, what you are, how you’ve survived so long in this hell.

And then without warning or fanfare, shock of all shocks, someone opens the door. You weep with joy, you shout, you wave your hands in the air, and then you run for your life. You shoot out of your cell so fast that the door is left swinging on it’s hinges. You sprint, full pelt, for your old life. You hug your loved ones, you laugh, you sing, you try to make a little scratch, you start clawing back everything you lost while you were locked away. You rejoice.

But some time passes, maybe a month, maybe a week, maybe an hour, and you realise that you aren’t quite free. You look down, and you notice there’s a bungee cord wrapped around your leg, and you don’t know how much tension is left in it. The further you run away, the tighter the cord gets. You carry on for as long as you can, but eventually, it snaps with a great boom, and drags you, kicking and screaming back to your cell. And everything is as bad as it was before, maybe even worse. The thump of your body as you reel back against the sharp walls and hard floor hurts so much that you feel like you might just stop breathing.  You’re inside again. You think about what you’ll do the next time the door opens, whenever that might be. You wait, you tolerate the pain, you try to pass the time.

But you don’t know if the door will ever open again. You hope it does, but even if it does, in the back of your mind, you wonder if perhaps it wouldn’t just be safer to stay in the cell next time, or just wander a few feet from the door, so that the snap back doesn’t hurt so much. You can’t help but wish that one day the door will open, and the cord will be infinitely long. Do you dare to dream of putting this all behind you?

You’re trapped. You didn’t deserve this, it isn’t fair. And as if it couldn’t get any harder, the warden and his friends stand outside the door, day and night, telling you that you’re a liar; the door isn’t really locked, that you could leave anytime you want. People you know stand at the window and ask you why you stay, and then turn to their cronies and say “Surely it can’t be that bad in there?” You scream at them that they don’t understand, but they don’t hear you. You rattle at the door handle, and nothing happens. You know the truth.

(I was going to write a paragraph or two explaining this post, but I don’t think it needs it. And I don’t want to. I shouldn’t have to qualify or excuse my experiences. Read it, understand it or not, that’s your call. But stop standing at the fucking door trying to figure out why I’m stuck.)

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