Catherine Gracey

Living Life, One Misadventure At A Time.

Three Years In The Game

on April 8, 2013

Before I began studying architecture, my body had found an internal balance. My life still felt restricted in many areas, but I was not having dramatic flare ups of pain. Stability was a fantastic feeling, and it came with seductive ideas about trying new things and pushing my boundaries.

Within the first week of returning to university, I had a list of aches and pains nearly as long as when I first destabilised myself. It was bad – a sit down on the floor and cry level of bad – but I reduced my course load for this semester, got some treatment in Melbourne, and pushed on.

Over the last few weeks, I have been seeing a new chiropractor in Canberra. He has tried a new technique with me. I don’t entirely comprehend how it is supposed to work, but it seems to be primarily focused on teaching me to relax muscles and reduce the tension in my body.

After a few weeks of this, I am back to sitting down and crying. There must be some progress, because instead of sitting on the floor to do it, I am now making it to the couch. Sarcasm aside, I have to mark this one as a bewildering failure and try something else.

I find my various aches and pains very suspicious. People don’t just hurt without a reason, and moving her arm should not reduce a grown woman to tears. I don’t appreciate waking up in the middle of the night with large portions of my body numb and half frozen. Pain is sometimes the only thing that keeps me awake during the day after a night where no amount of sleep will provide me with proper rest.

A constant refrain from well-meaning people over the last three years has been that just I need to get my head in the game. If you have ever suffered from chronic illness or pain, you will appreciate what a singularly unhelpful and damaging statement this is. My head spends a lot of time in the game; unfortunately it tends to take my body with it, and that’s when the trouble starts.

Today is a bad day following a bad week, and I am forced to confront a demoralising question: can I afford to keep my head in this game? Architecture is a long and expensive qualification, requiring three years of full time undergraduate study followed by two years at masters level. At best, I will be 35 when I finish. Biology suggests that I also need to have my family within that time, and pregnancy is hard work. If I can’t find someone who can tell me what causes my pain, those years will probably stretch beyond my comfort level.

Is this qualification worth the risk of crashing my body again? Will architecture provide me with enough satisfaction and fulfilment to make all the tears and painkillers worthwhile? Am I likely to earn an income sufficient to pay off not only the course but the medical treatment it will probably require? Will I even be able to work at the end of this?

The problem with all of my questions is that they require crystal ball answers. Every medical professional I meet is convinced that they have the solution to my problems. I was assured that I would be strong enough to return to full time employment two years ago. Despite all the optimism and effort, I am treading water without further progress.

While the obvious game is my education, the main game is my health. This is the one where I am struggling to maintain my focus and push on. I don’t want to keep my head in this game. I want to stop playing, to just feel normal again. That might be too much to ask for, but I would sacrifice a lot if I knew how to have it.


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