This is the chair where I’ve been living since Thursday. We go back a few years. I got it from eBay for $30 a number of years ago, and it’s been dragged through house moves and stashed during homelessness and followed me around all over Adelaide. A comfortable chair is desperately important when you have a chronic pain condition. Doubly so because with the fibromyalgia I have lost the ability to regulate my body temperature (this is common with many chronic conditions such as MS). This impacts me by causing deep pain in cold weather and heat stroke in warm weather. When I’m particularly unwell I move into heatstroke when the temperature is over 30, which happens an awful lot in South Australia. Many of the places I’ve stayed in only have air conditioning in the lounge, so if I want to stay out of hospital I have to sleep there through heatwaves. A comfortable chair that opens nearly flat is essential. I’ll still be horrendously unwell with fever, shakes, vomiting, weakness and so on, but under a wet sheet and if I can keep some fluids down it means managing at home which is generally much kinder to me.
I’m currently bunking in my chair because I have to sleep with my head elevated or the pressure in my sinuses gets intense and makes the pain worse, and I also have more problems with bleeding. It’s on its very last legs though, one arm has actually fallen off and is only held on by the fabric. It groans and creaks and is very difficult to put up or down… I’m half convinced that one night soon it will simply collapse under me and skewer me on terrifying springs and coils and inner workings…
I’m struggling to manage the post op pain. This morning when I found myself in tears despite ice packs and a slushie and ibuprofen, I relented and took 3 mg of codeine. It’s been enough to take the edge off and so far no hallucinations so my liver must be hanging in there.
I’m so aware of the veil of civilisation that buffers me from the anguish of my conditions. How fortunate I am to have a soft chair and a padded mattress and access to surgery and pain relief of sorts. Born into a poor country or an earlier time I would simply be a statistic, chronically ill, completely incapacitated by pain, finally killed by infection. Here and now, as deeply frustrated as I am by my limitations, I’m alive. I’m able to put some things between myself and agony, to stuff a wool lined chair and a box of antibiotics between me and the void. My life is full of relationships and books and art and using what I have to try and make the world a better place. I’m connected to my community, and I have a sense of the future. There’s so many other timelines where Sarah doesn’t make it this far. She kills herself at 10, or in a suicide pact at 19, or overwhelmed by intense dissociation, disability and loneliness at 23.
I’m still here at 31, trying to figure out how to be a good Mum with my disabilities, a loving partner, a loyal friend, an artist. My world has stopped completely while I’m so sick, I can’t manage my business or work on my assignments or visit my friends or clean my house. I live in this chair, blessed by visitors and the kindness of friends and family, utterly dependant and mostly helpless. But it is not meaningless. It is not about the limitations. I love and am loved. I’m touched by fire, kissed by darkness. Pain weaves itself through my life with the darkest of leaden threads and the brightest of red screams. I’ve also known ecstasy, wept with joy, been given gifts I can’t possibly repay, known the passion of laying with a woman who loves me, and the simple contentment of holding a child who feels safe in my arms. It’s been a full life, and I value it. Pain takes a lot away but it doesn’t take everything. It exists alongside quiet contemplation and the heights and the wilds and the little pleasures. It can be part of a deep experience of life.