Within hours of posting my previous post, I began to suffer abdominal pain. Not being keen on doctors, hospitals, and Western medical procedures generally, I went to bed with pain- killers and a hot water bottle and lived with it for approximately 18 hours (hoping it would pass off of its own accord) before finally surrendering and submitting myself (at 10pm) to my local Accident & Emergency department on the advice of our GP’s out of hours service. It turned out to be appendicitis, I was admitted at 4am to the Acute Medical Ward, and had an appendectomy on the morning of 5th November. In the UK this is Bonfire Night, one of my favourite nights of the year, but unfortunately I could experience nothing more than my own kind of internal fireworks, and they weren’t very pretty.
Since then I have been recuperating slowly. Very slowly. My philosophy this last year or so has become one of looking for the positive aspects of any experience. Invariably, with hindsight, we can see how apparently undesirable experiences are actually of benefit to us in some way, and I like to bring hindsight forward as quickly as possible, frankly so I can just feel a great deal better about the experience I am having while I’m having it, and lessen the suffering. Intense abdominal pain both before and after the operation made finding positive aspects particularly challenging – really, how could being in agony, and having all my plans derailed, be of benefit to me? I took about 5 days (i.e. my entire hospital stay) to start getting there.
Talking to friends about the experience, I realise I have been describing it with two driving-related metaphors. At first, it was “being run off the road by a juggernaut” (victim mentality). More recently, “hitting a tree at a 100 miles an hour” (a little more responsibility implied). Both of these are relevant to the positive purpose (as I see it) of my appendicitis, because for the last four years, all through my PhD, I have consistently described myself as “driven”. Part of me was doing the driving (no-one else was doing it, for sure) but there’s a sense in which, being “driven”, one is clearly a passenger… as became obvious once my PhD was handed in, because I had gained so much momentum I simply couldn’t stop.
So life stopped me. My body stopped me. And as I began to pick up pieces of my work in the recovery process, an hour here and and hour there, I was able to see more clearly what was really important, what I needed to prioritise, and above all that I needed to say “no” to more things, and be easier on myself. Instead of trying to focus on four things on once, I am currently focusing on one – my talk at the Globe on Sunday for the Shakespeare Authorship Trust. I am the final speaker of the day, which is an interesting position to be in, and I intend to make the most of it.
Best of all, thanks to my appendicitis, I am no longer driven. I am doing the driving, at a more leisurely pace. And I’m allowing myself to stop every now and then, stretch my legs, and enjoy the view.