I know what fatigue is. I know the feeling that consumes me after a 20 mile run in the morning, where my legs tingle and muscles spasm and twitch, where a fog of sleep clouds my thoughts and a weight descends upon my eyes. It is undoubtedly a fatigue, but one marked by an equal sense of satisfaction.
I know what soreness is. I know the feeling of taxed muscles that strain against the need to rest and recover for the next run, that pull against each step forward and an abdomen that is shocked with discomfort in something as simple as a yawn or sneeze. It is a soreness, but one that converts into strength.
I know what frustration is. I know the feeling of wanting to get out and run, but remaining hindered by an injury or forced rest day, the desire to throw all good advice out the window as each runner that isn’t you goes casually trotting by. It is a frustration, but only a fleeting emotion that is immediately erased when the forced rest resolves itself the next day.
These are the, now laughable, considerations of distance running….very much unlike the same considerations related to cancer and the post-surgery experience.
I thought it would be good to get out of the house today, to see friends, to enter back into the real world for the first time since I entered the hospital on the 22nd. Where before I went into surgery I found myself highly reclusive, protecting myself from the misunderstanding of friends and strangers alike, I now thought it would be good to reconnect without the concern of surgery weighing down upon me, though admittedly harboring a new and more serious concern to come. Still, a bike-related event was going on downtown and instead of staying in bed all day while I actually had the opportunity to get out, I thought I’d show up and see if I would run into some friends for a much needed distraction.
I also thought I could use some coffee.
My dad drove me North to drop me off and I promptly fell asleep in the car, worn and fatigued from….well…I don’t know. Maybe a lack of food energy, maybe post-surgery issues, maybe too much sleep? I’m still trying to figure all this out.
I stepped out of the car, still consumed by a powerful weight of tiredness and fatigue….actually, lethargy more aptly describes it….a lethargy weighing down upon me, and I walked towards the event. I felt in a haze, taking precarious steps on the uneven bricks, trying not to shock my abdomen with too much force or rub my shirt against my still tender skin where the incision was made. I made my way inside the city market to find crowds of people waiting in line for various small restaurants, their voices echoing loudly throughout the cavernous building. I searched for a dedicated coffee stand, but didn’t last long in my search and decided to head outdoors into the relative quiet.
I immediately came upon a gourmet coffee truck, but unfortunately they were not yet open for business. As I walked away I ran into my first acquaintance and started up a short conversation, but no sooner than we said a few words, the coffee truck generator fired up and completely drowned out any attempt at an easy, normal volumed conversation with it’s offensively loud motor, filling the air with an abrasivness far beyond my tolerance zone. I cut our meeting short and left the area to find coffee elsewhere.
I started walking to the typical chain store up the street when I was met with a festival directly in front of the door, complete with bounce houses, music and the type of parenting that often frequents downtown carnival-like events. Mothers screamed at kids who seemed oblivious to their tone, probably well-adjusted to the normalization of their anger and heavy-handedness. I just couldn’t take it. I immediately did an about face and found myself walking back to where I came from, but continuing on to another shop up the street where I was sure I could get a simple cup of coffee without hassle.
On the way strangers smiled at me, trying to invoke a smile back, but I could muster nothing….and I felt bad about it. The discomfort in my belly dominated my emotions and I simply couldn’t reciprocate my usual demeanor.
I made it to the coffee shop, ordered a small coffee and sat at the window, staring blankly out the window as I counted down the time when I could take my next pain pills, knowing that might help me as well. I started sipping on the coffee, hoping my caffeine deprived body might respond well to the influx of false energy and I would be lifted from my lethargic state, but I struggled. I took out my Christopher Hitchens book and began to read, hoping to distract myself from the fatigue, the soreness and the frustration I couldn’t seem to shake, but after a handful of pages, I realized something deeper was going on.
I was a mess.
This wasn’t distance running fatigue. This was something deeper. There was no sense of satisfaction or accomplishment underlying my tiredness, but only a need to move about as little as possible. Even after a full cup of coffee I couldn’t shake the fatigue and imagined the relief I would get from laying down and closing my eyes, which unfortunately was not an option in this environment. Even after 19 days post-surgery, my body is still consumed by the trauma of the experience and I can’t bring myself to find value in movement, stay energetic or even find the will to carry on a conversation. I’m just spent, completely. All I want to do is lay down, in the face of needing to get as strong as possible for the upcoming chemo treatments.
This also wasn’t distance running soreness. As the hours ticked away and I counted down the time I had to take my next pain pills, I could already feel the overall sense of achyness and discomfort throughout my body. It’s a combination of the soreness you feel while laid out with the flu, coupled with the more pointed pain of muscle spasms that grab your weakened body and contract you into a temporary paralysis, topped with a skin sensitivity that makes just shifting positions an annoying procedure. I feel compelled to both wean myself off the pain pills and yet take them ceremoniously if only to keep me at a base level of functioning.
This isn’t distance running frustration. There is no definitive timeline of a forced rest day or an estimate of recovery from injury. This is indefinite. The recovery is indefinite. The return to running is indefinite. And the general confusion about what it means to heal from surgery is completely darkened by the variations in how each individual responds. I simply don’t know when I’m going to feel better. I WANT to see friends. I WANT to eat without restriction. I WANT to have conversations that aren’t mired by fatigue, negativity and the desire to simply be alone, away from the volume of the world, protected in a half-life of sorts.
This is not how I live. I value a life in exclamations. I value a life of movement and excitement, of losing sleep for the sake of experience, of depletion over surplus, so right now it doesn’t feel like I’m living my life at all. Im pulled from my previous desires against the confines of my new reality, and I’m going to struggle in figuring out how to balance them as I recover from this process. It’s going to take time, unfortunately….I know this…but with each passing day of passivity and lethargy, it feels like I lose. I don’t want to be that person who finds comfort by taking the easy way out, by simply staying in bed, but I CAN’T be the person that throws caution to the wind and enters the world only to find I’m not ready, not ready to deal with the noise, the desperate identities, and the overall insults of humanity.
Right now, I can only take solace in the awareness that although I can’t be out in the world just yet, and that although I’m feeling confined to the bed, I at least don’t WANT to be that person. At the very least, in NOT WANTING to be that person, I’ll be ready to get back to a life of exclamations when the rest of my physical and emotional self catches back up. I’ll have to hold that awareness close for the time being.
And to my friends, I apologize for my lack of enthusiasm and frustrations that may have been directed at you lately. They are not intentional. I’m just having problems handling anything right now….whether they are conversations, texts, phone calls or anything that involves an unprepared effort on my part. Again, I apologize and I hope this passes soon. Thanks for being there regardless.