Some days are up – I feel so positive, so alive, so happy that (especially considering the thoughts that were racing through my mind just post-crash and before results were in) I have basically a happy ending – while others I come crashing down to such a low that I sometimes find myself even wishing that on that evening I had died.
It’s a horrible thing self-pity. Because it’s partners in crime are loathing, hatred and even self-harm. I don’t mean physical harm (though those thoughts have passed in my mind as well) but more of the emotional type. Mental abuse. On yourself. And it’s a vicious cycle, because the more self-pity you feel, the more you go off at yourself for even feeling so self-pitying. After all, what right do I have to feel sorry for my state of affairs when there are people in Haiti who have lost everything? When there are people commemorating the anniversary of the worst bushfires in recorded Australian history? When there are people I know how have just recently lost their 7-year-old son unbelievably suddenly to too-late diagnosed leukaemia? What he hell is wrong with me? I have it all. I walked away. I have injuries, sure, but my son is just a little bruised, I can still watch him play, I will be here to watch him grow up. My career plans are completely in the shitter for the year, but really, in the grand scheme of things, does that even matter? Is comedy even important? Is any of this really important ? Is it?
And so it spirals into an attack on myself – what kind of person am I, what kind of horrible, self-obsessed, narcissistic and ungrateful whinger, to even dare lick my wounds when what I essentially have is a happy ending.
Because I do.
I’m still in pain, but my spinal cord is intact. My shoulders and my back hurt, my neck aches and I have constant pins and needles in my arms – and sometimes my legs – which at their worst feel like cramps. With the meds,I can deal with it, it’s now, almost three weeks on, that it’s finally bearable: sometimes I think the worst part of it is just the constantness of it all. It’s unrelenting. The tingling first appeared two days after the accident, but it was sporadic, with no discernable rhythm. It would come and go, and occasionally my left arm would go completely numb for about twenty minutes. Now I no longer have the complete numbing sensation but the pins and needles are more intense and in both arms 100% of the time. The doctor – after viewing my MRI results – thinks this is because my nerves have taken a very violent lashing in the jolt of the accident and that the symptoms could last even six months. Six months of constant pins and needles. Can I do that? It seems a small penance given that I get my son intact, my life continuing and so on. I can do it. I can.
I can finally start lifting Cassidy again. He has been so out of sorts since this whole thing began – going from waking perhaps once through the night to five or six times. The sleep deprivation is starting to get to me. I’m on Valium. I’ve cut right back on the initial dosage, only because it was beginning to make me feel like the walking dead, but hot damn if I don’t keep my temper now with all things child-related. Seriously. I’m not endorsing the stuff, but all I can say is I’m totally getting now why it was the drug of choice for the 50’s housewife.
They’ve also started me on anti-depressants. I don’t know if they’re working. The second day after I started I felt amazing – not physically, just mentally, as though the fog had lifted and I could finally see some sunshine streaming through – but the next day was a hard crash back to the ground. I just feel so helpless. I can’t perform: on the stage or at home. I can’t keep on top of anything house-related. I can’t properly look after the kids. I tried homeschooling for one morning and it took me a grand twenty minutes to realise that I just cannot do it. Thus, Ella and Caleb are now at our local primary school. The transition has been surprising – I would have thought Ella would have had the most dramas settling in as she can be a little shy in big groups, but she has taken to it like a duck to water, and it is Caleb (usually unbelievably social and quick to make friends in any place) who is struggling to adjust. I’m giving him the same encouragement I offer myself: just take it one day at a time.
Yesterday was my first day alone with Cassidy at home. It wasn’t as bad as I’d dreaded. Being able to at least focus my attention on him keeps him happy, though he’s still extremely clingy since the crash and I indulge him too much by lifting him up – I woke up this morning and my back felt much worse. I shouldn’t really be lifting him at all, but when he’s upset, he’s also cutting a tooth on the bottom gum just to throw everything in there in one big hit, and when I know he’s also gone through a huge trauma having to deal with me not being myself in the aftermath, I just can’t help but give in to him. I have to get better at this.
The saving grace in all of this of course, has been the amazing people around me who have held me up when I have fallen, and – well, without belting out a Bette Midler ballad – have and are making sure that I get through this and that I know I’m not alone. My sister has been unbelievable – as much as I know and have always known that she loves me, she really has gone above and beyond the call of duty, from driving me to umpteen doctors, hospitals and while doing so, making sure she takes the back route so I don’t have to revisit the scene of the accident itself before I’m really ready, to making phone calls and chasing up admin details (why the hell is there so much paperwork involved when shit hits the fan?) I can’t even begin to complete the list of things she’s done.
People I don’t even know have brought us meals. Friends of friends have emailed through advice on insurance, physios and other nuggets of their experience in navigating the beaurocratic nightmare. My sister-in-law Mary has driven me umpteen kilometres to drop kids to childcare, then stayed with me during darker days to keep my head above water. My brother James didn’t even blink before making the big mission down to Brisbane to pick me up and drive me back up the Coast, then took me out to their favourite café for iced coffee on a particularly tough morning. My darling mate Ash rocked up on day one post-accident with an entire meal prepared for the whole household with whom we were staying. Jem and Sam gave up their bedroom to us and made it clear not to stress about outstaying our welcome. Corinne came over, baked, washed and got house stuff sorted. Tamsin went and bought me loads of fruit to help fight off the effects of too much Codeine. Kath researched schools for the kids and got the ball rolling before I’d even given it a passing thought. I’ve received flowers, messages and words of support from people I would never have even expected. The kids stroke my back and hair with their gentle little hands to help me feel better. My hubby gives me hugs, words of encouragement, and puts up with what must be like living with J-Lo if she was a coked-up Hunchback. I could go on and on, but it’s getting a bit ridiculous. This is how supported I’ve felt: that I can describe it using a word like ‘ridiculous.’
All these people, and so many more, all putting their hands up to let me know I’m loved and most importantly: not alone.
Re: Melbourne Comedy Festival. I have run the full gammet of emotions on this one. My first post-accident conversation with Rachel, my Producer in Crime and mummy extraordinaire and just general all-round one of my favourite people in the universe, went something like this…
Rache: “So, um, is there any chance that you won’t be able to do the show?”
Jen: “Well…(big big pause)…oh God, Rache, I just can’t even bring myself to consider that right now.”
Jen: “I know I should, I just…to be honest, it’s the only thing keeping me hanging in there right now.”I
Rache: “Fair enough.”
By the next time we spoke, things had developed – I had been referred for a CT scan as the pins and needles hadn’t eased up, the results had showed abnormalities in two discs, thus I was referred for the MRI and suddenly the doctor was talking the possibility of surgery and needing referral to a neurosurgeon. To put things mildly, I was freaking out.
Jen: “I have no idea what’s happening.”
Rache: “It’s okay.”
Jen: “If I have to have surgery, then I don’t know. I have no idea of when or what the recovery is or anything. I just don’t know…”
Rache: “It’s okay.”
Little did I know at the time but Rache was already on the case, contacting the Comedy Fest to find out what the deal would be if I was forced to drop out. She very kindly rang my hubby to discuss the options, knowing that at that point it was just something I was not in a space to contemplate, let alone discuss the finer logistics of.
Then at some point in the ensuing days, it began to dawn on me that this wasn’t just a ‘recover in a week’ kinda thing. Maybe I’m a bit slow (blame the Valium: I do) but I guess after that first night, once I got the clear from the x-rays, I kinda had it in my mind that I’d be sore for a week or two, but then I’d bounce back and be my happy self again. It never really occurred to me that there could or would be longer-term implications. Add to this the fact that my mental state was rapidly spiralling downward
My Melbourne Comedy Festival show was the biggest event of this entire year for me. This would be the first time I’d performed my full-length show – the one I developed in Canada at the Baff Centre and launched in its newborn form at Calgary Fringe Festival at Loose Moose Theatre – in Australia, and I couldn’t wait to show it. 23 shows in three and a half weeks. Intense. But so exciting. To say I was anticipating this with the eagerness of a rabid dog about to eat something – rabidly – is a massive (and weirdly worded) understatement. But because of the sheer intensity of the undertaking – taking the whole family down with me for the whole time , no less – I knew I had to be at my absolute physical and mental peak to do it well. I’d been working out every day. I’d been rewriting the show weekly. I’d been working on my vocals. And together with Rachel, we’d been plugging away solidly at what we considered a very organised and well-put together promotional plan.
But at some point over that week where words like ‘abnormalities’, ‘disc bulges’ and ‘surgery’ were being thrown around like scattered dreams, my feelings mutated from being completely gutted even thinking about the prospect of cancelling the show, to being utterly nauseated at the thought of trying to go ahead with it.
I finally admitted it. It sucked. I cried.
But this was reality.
The show would not go on.