“I feel my life start up again,
like a cutting when it grows
the first pale and tentative
root hair in a glass of water.”
Jane Kenyon, “Here”
Small crises are triggers for me.
The largest crisis I’ve had and all its accompanying emotions are embedded firmly in my neural pathways.
For the past seven days my daughter was fighting a nasty virus. It started a week ago, and on the same day I started having horrible tooth pain. We have been in survival mode for a week, and for much of that time I felt I was in some strange, ulterior universe.
Each day I was sure she was getting better. She would wake up looking more like herself, maybe sing or play with her toys for a while. But by three or four pm each day, she’d start looking lethargic again, her fever would go up, and the virus would manifest itself in some new way. One day it was a sore throat leaving her in tears, another ear pain which turned out to be a double ear infection. Another night she broke out in hives. And another the infection in her ears apparently led to pink eye in her eye.
There were many late night calls to the on-call doctor and three trips to the doctor’s office. I was calling upon all of my coping mechanisms to manage my own anxiety. I had to tell myself that this was a much smaller “crisis” and that this would pass. Even so, it started to feel presumptuous to think she might actually be getting better.
Finally, after about six days, I started to tell friends and family that were checking in on her that we had turned the corner.
The phrase “turn a corner” was popularized in the mid-1800’s with regards to passing around the last corner of a race. But sometimes before you turn a corner, you don’t even see that corner coming. It’s just that you find what seemed like it would have no end- is now behind you, in the past. It’s like that with sickness and with winter- the corner, not sharp but impressionistic, blunt. It is perhaps even like this with larger losses. Though it feels there is no marked turning there, just a going forward, a distance, a line– a steady convalescence is eventually marked by bouts of joy, contentment, the implausible recovery from trauma and then…the rest of life.
Turning the corner takes time and therefore patience. There are many unknowns, even with the help of doctors or experts in whatever ails you. Medicine and life are both more art than science. “I’m not seeing anything on the x-ray,” said my dentist. “It could be a combination of things. Why don’t you see if it gets better?” “It’s tricky to tell if it’s viral hives or an allergy to the antibiotic,” said her doctor. “Why don’t we stop the antibiotic just to ease your mind.” There are many questions and not as many answers. While waiting to turn that corner or even to see that the corner in your circumstance exists:
- Keep a sense of humor. Even while Audrey and I were in doctors’ offices and she was covered in hives, we still found things to laugh hardily about.
- Choose a focal point in the future- something to look forward to after this has “passed.” While waiting for the Benadryl to kick in and relieve her itchy hives, Audrey and I dreamed about going out for a dessert platter including tiramisu and tartufo (two of her favorites)and dressing up like we were in Downton Abbey. The book, “No Sweat,” that I mentioned in a previous post suggested this kind of motivation to get through difficult things and since introducing it to Audrey I’ve seen her use it on her own as a tool in difficult circumstances, “Hmmm…what can we do when I’m all better?” she asked while waiting for the Dr.
- Rely on friends. It’s isolating to be in small crises. It helps to be in touch with people from the “outside world” who can support you and give you encouragement when you’re wearing thin. Though we didn’t see too many people over the last week, technology came through for me. I had plenty of friends checking in via text and phone. I felt supported.
- Take breaks, and have a distraction. When you can’t see the corner, it’s a good idea to pace yourself. You don’t know how long you’re going to have to keep that adrenaline running, so don’t. Even though I had my moments of panic, at night while I watched Audrey sleep, I was also binge-watching a Korean drama on my computer. It was a great distraction, and a great mini-future-focal point at the end of each day that I could look forward to.
- Stay in the “What is,” not “What ifs.” Once your adrenaline is going, it’s so easy to let the unknowns lead you into all of the “what ifs.” What if I need a root canal? What if my tooth/gum pain is related to my cardiovascular health? What if she is having an life-threatening allergic reaction to the antibiotic? What if her ear drum bursts? Stay in the what is. We are here, now. She is resting comfortably. We will go to the doctor tomorrow.
- Do the next thing that needs to be done. Call the on-call doctor if it makes you feel better. Do whatever the next logical thing is for you to figure this out or get through your small crisis, and turn your corner. Those are the things that are in your control. So many are not.
This turning is very different from the peripetiea turning in literature, the sudden and dramatic reversal of fortune for the hero or heroine. We adore that fairy tale archetype, I believe, because it is deeply embedded within our collective consciousness by the Creator himself. But no, the turning the corner, and most of life’s ebbing and flowing, is not dramatic. It is rather quiet. “If you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you – you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness,” says C.S. Lewis. And then when it is quiet, and you feel your life “start up again,” as Kenyon so beautifully writes, take your time. Convalesce, as they do in Austen novels, until you get your strength and momentum back. There are many more corners to turn.