It has been nearly exactly a year since my last blog post, and I’m so sorry! I’m the worst blogger! It’s because exactly a year ago today I was in recovery from surgery, and further emergency surgery, involving my face and head; surgery which I’ve already recounted in two previous posts: “Two Faced”: Living with Parry Romberg Syndrome and the last one Bride of Frankenstein. This is the last time I’ll mention it on this blog.
On this day a year ago I was lying in a hospital bed in an uncomfortable haze, not only because of the surgeries but because of the awful service/treatment at the hospital – which I’ve tried to forget. One example is the image below of someone else’s blood on equipment they expected me to put my face onto! The less said about that the better…
Anyway, as someone who works closely with the dead, the latter post focused on the fact I was thankful to those deceased individuals who’d donated their skin to various blood and tissue banks, because parts of those cadavers had been used to rebuild me, like The Six Million Dollar Woman. I mentioned there’d been some complications so I was rushed into emergency surgery just two days or so after the initial procedure, but that’s where the story ended as I was focusing on my book – Past Mortems – rather than blogging, and focusing on getting better. The truth is, it’s a year later and I’m still not better… but I’m fighting to get there. And as I fight I realise I’m thinking more and more about life, learning more and more about death, and walking a slightly different path from the mainstream death ‘phenomenon.’
You see my surgeon inadvertently damaged my infra-orbital nerve during that second emergency surgery, while he was trying to rectify a fatal mistake from the first, leaving me with pain in my face which he told me would last not months, but years. (The image shows the nerve and the area of pain felt when damaged). Twelve months on I’m still experiencing it, still waking up with it every day, still going about my daily business with it, and still trying to sleep every night with it. Nerve medication given to me those first few months afterwards made very little difference; certainly not enough to warrant me filling my body with unknown and unfamiliar chemicals after two huge operations had left me oedematous and nauseous, so eventually I just stopped taking it. But there was a problem: as time passed I was still in pain – literally like a bear with a sore head – and I was angry. Not at my surgeon, because these things can happen: every type of surgery or procedure has a risk associated with it. But I was angry with everything and probably, in particular, myself for opting to undergo it in the first place, questioning my vanity and more. So in order to dampen the pain and dull down that anger over the course of the next few months I irresponsibly mixed numbing alcohol with other pain medication, causing outlandish reactions and unpredictable, self-sabotaging behaviour. PRS comes with its own mental issues and I was very stupid to make them worse myself. This came to a head when friends of mine – who’d previously advocated support for those with mental illness – didn’t consider my behaviour a type of mental illness and I was deserted.
But the thing about life is there is always a plan. I wanted to be a mortician and write a book, and be on TV, and spread the word about death and pathology from the age of 8 or 9 years old, and with focus, hard work and dedication I achieved my dreams. I’ve always believed that things happen for a reason and I had to believe that – as low as I felt – this had happened for a reason too, or I would never recover. I was still angry so I sought help for that, and I constantly thought of the verse “I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air.” (This is the KJV version of the 1 Corinthians 9:26 passage, but you can see more versions here). I realised I had to stop running without direction from the pain, and I had to stop being angry at everything and nothing. I had to stop ‘aimlessly beating the air’.
So I started boxing, as soon as I had the go ahead. It doesn’t really matter to me if I get hit in the face: it’s already wonky and I’m already in pain so it’s the perfect sport! I got more serious about my weightlifting, I started endurance training using the hilarious running app ‘Zombies, Run!’ which is free and I recommend to everyone! I was never a runner before but now I’m frequently hitting 5K at the weekend, circling around my favourite graveyard, sometimes sprinting from imaginary zombies chasing me, and leaping over branches or misplaced stones. It seems that for me – someone who has worked with death all my adult life – I feel a peace in graveyards when I’m alone, or when I’m at the museum where I work, in the silence and surrounded by the deceased. And I’m beginning to consider the reasons why.
But I also feel focused and I feel stronger, as though if I was running away from Jason in a cemetery in the ‘Friday the 13th’ films he wouldn’t catch me and I wouldn’t just fall over for no reason like so many horror movie characters do. I’d be the Final Girl. The only one who could tough it out until the end credits.
Being in constant pain taught me that suffering is a part of life: either let it get to you or embrace it. Use it. Channel it. There’s a reason Friedrich Nietzsche said “That which does not kill us makes us stronger”. I’m not the only one suffering: the recent events in Charlottesville, Sierra Leone, and any news story on any particular day put my personal little struggles into perspective. So even though I thought I’d lost everything over the course of the last year I realised I’d lost barely anything except dead-weight: whether people, thoughts or behaviours which were simply holding me back. By pulling away from popular groups I was regaining my own identity and questioning my reasons for doing what I do in the first place. (A near-death experience will do that to a girl!) Why DID I want to work in the death industry from such a young age? What do I want to DO with the knowledge and skills I’ve acquired so far? What’s my PURPOSE outside of work: just to Instagram and Tweet death facts? What’s my purpose HERE? What’s ALL of our purposes? Perhaps there’s a second book in the making, who knows 😉 Life isn’t all about social media and social acceptance. I was working as a death professional long before Twitter and Facebook were familiar on the lips of everyone, and I’ll be working towards my future goals and dreams long after their popularity wanes. And it will – remember Friends Reunited and My Space? Barely!
It’s absolutely wonderful that death is so much more in the media now and there are various groups promoting it all over the internet. I feel a sense of “Some of my work here is done” although of course many people have been involved in its mass discussion. But I want to focus on moving up the ranks in academia. As a Technical Curator of a pathology museum I’ve had to push against certain academics in order to make progress more than I have the public, for example. And many of those academics are male. We need women in real positions of educational power to balance the scales, and I’m happy to say that a lot of my new role focuses on teaching and creating modules to this end. I’ve had no time to blog while promoting a book. I’ve had no time to record YouTube videos while working on an MA, something that’s been a dream of mine for years. But I will! It’s fun and a great way to keep all my research and inspiration together.
Going back to running away from Jason, I think about the ‘end credits’ a lot more now, and I already thought about it a hell of a lot before! It’s something we will all experience (if you’ll indulge me in this metaphor for death.) I think about our existence and constantly research all human interaction with death, including my own. Philosophy, psychology and religion all have a bearing on both sex and death, which is what this blog (and my academic work) is all about. For now my validation isn’t coming from what groups I belong to or how I look. No more surgery for me, no more chasing ‘likes’. Only fighting to feel better, fighting to make my dreams come true, and fighting to be the Final Girl.