This is going to be my first large journal entry written here using voice dictation software to spare my hands. I am used to expressing myself through typed word and find dictating to a piece of software awkward and difficult. I need to push through this though because in the past I used to find writing to be such a fantastic processing tool and since getting RSI I have missed it immensely. While I get the hang of the software, the tone of my writing will probably be strange, possibly incoherent and quite rambling. I am doing this for myself and so would not hold it against anyone who took one look at all this and decided not to read it.
In my mind there is a certain degree of shame I feel when complaining, I imagine a voice (mine, yours?) saying that my problems are self-created, that I have no fucking right to complain in a world of far more misery than I experience in my own silly little life. In a sense, it is true, my problems are minimal and I think it's important for us to always remember that about the things which trouble us because it keeps us humble and reminds us that the world is not ours alone. However, the shame I feel tends to send me spiralling into an ever deeper depression, one where I feel pathetic for not being stronger, better, whatever, so tonight I am going to practice the fine art of having a good old-fashioned whinge.
I have had RSI well over a year now. When I first started feeling the discomfort, while doing the video editing that was my day job, I suppose I tried to push through it for awhile… just like everybody does . I don't really remember trying to push through it for very long, what I do remember is being shocked by how quickly my hands, wrists, arms started feeling worse. The feeling like carbonated soft drink fizzing along my arm, the way my hands went numb and I panicked. What's the best thing to do when you panic about a physical ailment? Why research it on the Internet, of course! The horror stories about permanent nerve damage and ruined lives terrified me, I remember calling my partner while he was at work and bawling my eyes, terrified I had ruined my hands.
My partner, such a good man, calmed me down. I went to the doctor who diagnosed me with carpal tunnel and told me to get wrists splints and painkillers from the chemist. I took a few weeks off work, I figured that would be enough time for me to heal, after all the injury only seemed to be recent.
It wasn't carpal tunnel. My doctor was an idiot, one of those people who would not admit their ignorance even when it effects other people’s lives, instead they bluff their way through things to the point where she would have had me undergo expensive surgery that would probably not have even helped my type of injuries and in fact may have exacerbated them. I won’t waffle on with boring details, long story short I found a hand therapist who diagnosed me with tendinitis, I saw her for about four months. Then I saw an osteo and now I am seeing a different hand therapist. I am also about to embark on an eight week course with a student in the Alexander technique. I have damage to my radial nerve, ulnar nerve… ugh, boring details.
The thing people don't understand is that there is no exact cure for RSI, in fact it's still not understood entirely. So the healing process is kind of a trial and error type thing… An expensive exercise in trying many different options, trying to decide which things are worth investing time and money in, both of which tend to be precious and scarce resources.
The thing people don't understand is when they look at other people's lives and think they know the solutions to their problems is that outside perspective is different to lived experience. The thing people don't understand is that their well-meaning suggestions often unintentionally feel like accusations, the unspoken message being “the solution to your problem is simple” the implication being that I am either stupid, lazy, useless or a combination of all three.
During this whole time, I have not been working. Finding work where I don't use my hands too much is tricky, depressing and can feel overwhelming. I can't even drive for long periods of time, even short periods can be difficult or impossible on an especially bad days. Probably, maybe there is a job out there for me but finding it has been tricky especially when I have a panic attack while navigating the catacombs of seek.com.au, my hands twinging all the while.
So I am financially dependent on my partner for the time being because no I do not qualify for the dole or anything, I would have to become a permanent resident and to do so we would have to pay a lot of money and wait two years. I repay my partner for this support by doing the things I can do - cooking, cleaning, domestic duties that mean he doesn't have to stress when he gets home and because he just had a stressful year at work, I am told that this help has been much appreciated and he does not resent my financial dependence upon him.
But nobody likes being dependent on another person, it's an incredibly vulnerable feeling, and one that deeply affects your sense of self-worth.
And it means our freedom is limited, it means I haven’t the money to spare for art supplies. See, the thing is, if I want to continue to have a sustainable art practice, I can no longer do little drawings and paintings, I need to work big but big is expensive… so I have to wait, wait until I have a job, wait until we have the money to spare…
And we have been waiting for me to heal. But I'm not sure I have healed at all. People tell me I should take a break, stopped going online, stop making art. Just stop. It is easy for them to say that and it should be simple but here is the thing…
I grew up on the Internet. This is the place I would go to in my darkest hours, this is the place where I can hide away yet reach out to people at the same time, this is the place where I have constructed my identity. And art? Well, without art, to be perfectly honest and lucid… I don't feel as if I exist, I don't feel as if I have a point, a meaning, a reason. Without art, I truly feel as if I am nothing. I guess you could call that passion, perhaps dependency, perhaps sickness. I hate to be melodramatic but sometimes when people suggest I give up my art, it feels as if they are suggesting that I should shrivel up and fade away to grey, beige, empty, nothing.
But ok, a break is not giving up these things… Simply leaving them behind for a while or practising moderation. But how does that work? And what do I do during the breaks? And how long do they last? The breaks are empty periods for me, unable to do the things I love, to channel my energy and passion into these things, I find myself falling into a frustrated, resentful sort of depression.
And then people make more practical suggestions… Get a job, exercise more, take Prozac, you'll feel better! You know you will! Because we live in a world where weaknesses is not tolerated, sadness is not allowed, man the fuck up already.
But you know what? I'm in mourning. When I was deeply depressed teenager, the thing that helped me pull myself out some very dark places was the dream of being able to spend a lifetime making art… And of really, truly achieving personal greatness with my art. Over the past ten odd years I have worked my butt off on that dream, I moved away from the country and to a big city for the dream, I worked so fucking hard for that dream.
And the sick irony is that my hard work might be what has damaged my arms and hands so badly.
So yeah, I'm in mourning, mourning for dreams I might have to let go of to some degree, mourning that I may not be able to shoot for the stars. Is it wrong, is it egotistical that I truly wanted to achieve incredible things? Is it pathetic, spoilt, snivelling, stupid of me that I feel so deeply depressed at the prospect of having to readjust my goals?
It probably is but it's also how I feel. I am working on readjusting my goals, learning new management strategies, realigning my passions… Trying to find a way forward, to learn to cope with this in a healthy, functional manner.
But for awhile, I really truly feel like shit. I really do. Maybe this makes me pathetic but aren't we all kind of weak and pathetic in some way? For awhile, I need to have times where I cry almost all day and feel incredibly, immensely hopeless, frustrated and useless . I don't know when I will heal, I don't know if I will heal, what I do know is that I will probably never be able to create art for nine hour stretches of immersive, passionate loss of self ever again. If I am to be healthy, to some degree I might have to let go of one of the biggest loves of my life.
That is not going to happen overnight so please excuse the melodrama in the meantime. Thankfully, I confine the excesses of my depression primarily to spaces such as this. Those who know me in real life are always shocked to hear I often struggle with depression as apparently that does not translate in “real life”.
Ultimately… yeah, it's just RSI, everyone gets RSI. Most days I cope, my partner tells me he's impressed by how well I cope so I guess I'm actually doing okay. However, there are days when it does feel like the end of the world, it really does and I'm a bit sick of feeling ashamed for feeling that way. It's 2AM, my eyes are puffy from crying and fuck it, I'm going to just post this because I'm entitled to my fucking vulnerabilities. Hell, I think I’ll go watch this TED Talk for the seventh time and feel better about myself:
Yeah. That helped. I think. I think I should probably sleep.