Scratching the Surface

The past couple months have been a bit of a whirlwind: moving, birthday, leaving my job, and starting grad school. In the movies, the start of an adventure is much the same. The take-off is rocky, you are introduced to a whole new set of wacky, lovable characters, and then set forth on a life-altering journey! But the movies don’t typically take into account week eight of the journey, where things are harried, the main character hasn’t really adapted yet, and the destination is still eons away.

What I have entered, my wonderful readers, is the training montage.

This is where life gets particularly tricky. Sure, motivation is still somewhat high, the stakes are clear, and the goal is evident, but the path is covered in fog. Or, better yet for my personal metaphor, the lens is still covered in scratches. You see, fog dissipates.

For the past week, I’ve been experiencing a growing headache. Light was becoming a burden again. That glaring friction in my left eye was returning, searing into my pain threshold and blurring my vision. Some of my worst fears were creeping back into view as pain and light sensitivity seeped into my daily routine: Wake up. Lie face-first into my cold, dark pillow for at least half an hour. Take Tylenol. Rinse my eye, and lie there for another half hour praying away the thick pain of a migraine stabbing through my left eye. Get up for a few hours to try and get work done. Repeat.

This has been getting worse each day, and the brutal memory of years lived this way have quickly found their way into haunting my every step. Is it starting again? I think, Is the inflammation back? Is the pain back… for good?

There are so many of us who live this way. Walking to MARTA last week, my knee felt funny, and I worried the rest of the afternoon if the winter would be rough on my joints this year. What if the Remicade stops working? Even on days when life is relatively normal, those tiny worries sink their teeth into our thoughts, raising our adrenaline and heaping on the allostatic load. Cases of adrenal fatigue in patients with autoimmune disorders–really any chronic illness–must be high. For years people have cautioned me to relax, to stop worrying, to take a vacation. And yet, I find it exceedingly difficult to meditate, and taking a vacation from one’s own mind is relatively impossible.

This morning when I awoke, the pain was worse than ever. I had wasted most of yesterday curled up in bed, and the fear began to set in that everything would stay just out of my reach. First career choice? Gone. Chance at a “normal” life? Zero. And now this, grad school, my most yearned-for and inevitable-seeming life goal–would that be snatched away, too? Replaced by another round of years spent hiding from lights behind sunglasses, losing my hair to Prednisone, wasting two to four hours every day to that insatiable monster called Pain?

And then it occurred to me: Change your lens.

Severe scarring on my eyelid means that I have to wear a bandage contact lens to keep from getting corneal scratches. And much like the pain of a scratched cornea or intense inflammation, a small nick in a contact lens begins with the feeling of an eyelash lodged beneath one’s eyelid. Add the uneven surface of my own eye and the ease with which my eyes become inflamed, and that small annoyance can mimic great “discomfort.” Sure enough, as soon as I replaced my bandage lens with a new one, the pain began to evaporate.

Like changing a scratched lens, it can be helpful at times to shift one’s view from his own blurred perspective. Fear of pain, fear of loss, fear of failure, and fear of loneliness are all scratches that blur our vision from time to time. They can create lasting scars and cripple us for life, or we can upgrade our treatments and change out our lenses. Even a scratched cornea heals with time. And–as I saw recently on the streets of Atlanta–even a man entirely blind can find someone to help guide his way, tapping along the sidewalk with her own stick in sync with his and chattering away merrily.

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