I spent a recent Friday at my alma mater, celebrating the centennial of the school of journalism where I got my degree.
I saw my former managing editor there, and all he could say, over and over, was “You look so good. You look like you feel so much better.”
I’ll admit I’m still pretty bitter about the way I had to leave my dream job, so it gave me a little bit of satisfaction to tell him that yes, I look better on the outside, but on the inside it’s still the beaten-up wreck that I’ve been for some time now.
Actually, all I really said was I might look better, but I am not.
I left my job, more dead than alive in 2006. I spent the next three years pretty much in bed asleep, catching up on that rest my doctors had told me I needed since 1974.
You never catch up. The deep dark circles under your eyes may fade a bit, your eyes may lose some of the haunted, pained pinched look, and for minutes at a time you may be able to feign that old energetic look, but the second people look away, the real you returns. Your daily allotment of energy only lasts for so long and you have none in reserve.
I spent a week resting, getting ready to fake my way through that one day, from the morning greeting sessions through an evening cocktail hour. There were buses to get us from a few events but there was still a lot of walking. By the time it was over and I faced a quarter mile walk from the student union to where I parked, I was exhausted.
The worst part is the walking isn’t what really wore me down, though my back hurt and part of my right leg was numb. It was keeping that outer facade in place, a smile on my face, burning energy to look like the successful freelance writer/blogger I tell people I am.
Emotional energy burns at about three times the rate of physical energy and there was no down time in the day, so I was burning that candle at both ends.
The truly frightening thing was at midnight the next night every nerve in my upper spine fired at will in a continuous burst. I’ve never felt pain like it. It was like someone had set my back on fire and was skinning me at the same time.
I couldn’t move. I was sitting up in bed, motionless, with tears running down my face, screaming for my husband. He had to sit in front of me while I panted out what was wrong. He turned his back to me so I could agonizingly point to where it hurt. He got the big gun pain patches out and put one over my spine.
I sat without moving for 30 minutes until the pain finally subsided.
To anyone who doesn’t know me, they would see nothing because pain, like all those other diseases, is mostly invisible.
I was horrified at how exhausted I was. There were a few days where I never really got out of bed. I was never awake for more than a few hours during those days.
It scares me at how deep I had to dig to get through that one day and the price I paid to do it.
It took another week after that event to start feeling like I had regained some strength.
Was that one day worth it? Oh yes. I saw people I hadn’t seen in years, made a few new friends — one in particular with the some of the same problems I have.
It was fun to relive those college days with the tough professors and the tales of life since college. It helped to share career advice with students who have yet to step into the real world and take some of their optimism in return.
Would I do it again? I wish I would say yes, but from this end, probably not. It was a high price to pay and I don’t know how much more I can take out of that energy account and get out in one piece.
For the record, I saw my doctor and she knows about the nerve episode. I’m getting new spinal X-Rays soon.