It is nearing three months since I had my right leg amputated below the knee. I should have kept a journal. I want to remind myself on days when I’m not feeling great and I’m complaining of hay fever or mild asthma or aching joints – the symptoms of which are irritating and put me in a bad mood but are, on the whole, tolerable – that at my worst I was a pathetic, sobbing mess who regretted, absolutely, signing the consent forms for surgery. The details are already fading thanks largely to the complex cocktail of drugs I was on to control pain and to trick my body into feeling everything was fine.
There is no point in trying to explain what I’ve been through. Suffice it to say, it continues to be a most surreal experience. It doesn’t really suffice though, does it? It’s like writing a story, then refusing to continue beyond the first paragraph. Why would you bother? Trauma narratives tend not to focus on the actual trauma; or if they do, there is a strange, disconnected quality to the narrative. Have you noticed that? I don’t believe it’s an avoidance tactic. Rather, I think it’s a problem with the limitations of narrative itself.
Human beings are wonderful storytellers. We have been for millennia. We tell stories to fill in the blanks, to share our point of view, to remember and to make sense of ourselves and others. When something happens that doesn’t fit any familiar narrative – a traumatic experience – it exists on its own. There is before and after and there is ‘the event’. Trauma doesn’t fit the narrative. It cannot be easily explained or described in any way that would make sense to an outsider or even to ourselves. It’s difficult for our own brains to process trauma, which is I think why it all ends up a bit of a jumbled mess; no beginning or end, no rhyme or reason.
Trauma, in my experience, exists on a loop outside of ‘real life’ rather than as a linear progression. You only have to look at World Wars I & II to know that, even on a global scale and with the benefit of generations of hindsight, trauma – whether collective or individual – makes no sense and can never be properly processed in any meaningful way. You have to get past trying to understand it and move on, or risk being caught yourself in that trauma loop.
I’ve had about the same period of time pass now where I’ve felt comfortable and am getting about quite well, as when I felt utterly hopeless and helpless and desperate to have my leg and my life back. I knew, really, that I would reach this point. Even when I could think of nothing else except that I had made a terrible mistake, I knew that I had made the right decision. What’s that word that means the psychological conflict that comes from holding two opposing ideas in your head at the same time? Ah, yes: cognitive dissonance. That’s right. Thanks Google. The point at which I subconsciously knew that I was getting better was when I began to complain about minor irritants and ailments again. Bloody hay fever. It’s giving me such a bad headache tonight. Terrible.