I am 39 years old doing the family shop at Waitrose, finding myself suddenly incapacitated at the check out desk, unable to move. Literally, I’m standing there with a queue behind me, knowing that I have to reach out my arms to hand over the money and yet totally incapable of doing so. Everything has gone into slow motion, like watching myself in a movie but impotent to help. I don’t know if it is a few seconds or longer because I’m in an altered state, like stepping outside of time.
I return back at a physical level as the cashier says something, looks at me confused and I blurt out that I’m paralysed and can’t move. Not my legs nor my arms. Nothing. I ask for help, words falling out of my mouth like they are not connected to my body. I assume I pay for the shopping, but I don’t remember what happens next. It’s all a blur. My body is totally frozen and rigid, nothing is working.
Somehow I am carried out of Waitrose, put into a car with a kind lady I’ve never met and taken home. She helps me into my house as I can barely walk or hold myself up. Shock does strange things to you and words don’t explain the whole overwhelming process. I am terrified but totally numb and hyper alert at the same time.
Once home, sitting alone at the kitchen table, I manage to ring my mother and tell her that I’m in serious trouble. Luckily, she promises to come straight over to help, without asking any questions. I am really frightened but I’m also disassociated at the same time, which is a saving grace so I don’t go into panic. Knowing my mum is coming over, I get through the next hour or so, though I have little recall of this. Shocked out of my skin, I think I put down the phone to my mother and remain in the seat until she arrives.
I know that I’ve been suffering from some ill health issues, because I’ve had peculiar warning signs with achy legs and excess mucus, plus I feel rather strange and without energy at times. I decided as a result to take a much needed six month sabbatical from work because I knew I was exhausted and burning the candle with two young children and ongoing stress. The plan was to have some free time, to enjoy life, play a little more golf, meet with friends and be less driven.
Fortunately, I have absolutely no clue that my invincible days as an a super achiever are suddenly at an end, since I assume this weird problem with my body is a short lived affair.
There is however, a more unconscious part that is deeply worried because of some basic medical tests I undertook, as well as being de-stabilised by mystery symptoms, that keep turning up, but since my brother as a doctor has told me it’s of no consequence, and since I have recently been given a clean bill of health at my gym club, at this stage, I don’t imagine there is anything seriously wrong.
However, with this dramatic incident at Waitrose, at some level I know different. I’ve been catapulted into an intense drama and it’s all I can do to stay present , waiting for my mother to turn up. I’m even holding my breath as I type this, because it’s always hard to return to this particular day and remember what happened, even after so much work on myself. It is hard to remind myself to breathe in the here and now, and not to fall back into how my world was devastated on this fateful day at the supermarket, and how nothing, was ever the same again after this.
It’s fortunate that after this tragic experience, I remain immune to what might happen in the future and forced into a moment by moment situation, to simply manage my physical condition. My parents live an hour and a half away, which means that in only a couple of hours I have support, can go to bed and trust that the children will be well taken care of. This is all I need for now and is such a relief, so I can surrender and allow my body to really rest.
I don’t know what I would have done without this, my husband has a high powered job, often travelling away at nights and my children are only seven and four, full of zest for life and with endless school activities to manage. It’s a blessing that I don’t know that this debilitating state will last for months and then go on for years. All that matters, is that I have help for the children in my emergency state, and that my parents are willing to stay over as long as is necessary.
In reality, the days and months pass, doctors and healers come around but no-one is able to help. I can hardly eat anything since my digestion has shut down, my adrenals are burnt out, so I am wired and tired all the time, unable to ever feel rested. It is like being a weak geriatric, with a dreadful case of flu and as if that isn’t enough, feeling hungover and poisoned at the same time, despite having drunk no alcohol at all.
I start out with the curtains closed, unable to walk a few metres to the bathroom, my nervous system blown to smithereens, unable to hold the children or read a book because the brain fog is so intense. It is a living nightmare and forces me kicking and screaming back ‘home’ to my body and sensations, without any choice at all.
Years later I write a poem to try to encapsulate what this experience is really like:
What does your body feel like everyday?
Does your energy run out, your legs give way?
Do you know what it’s like to be out of control?
And to dread falling back into a gaping black hole?
What is this pain that locks both my knees?
Cramping them tight in a vice-like freeze
Legs crippled by spastic braces
Gripped with terror of Medusa like faces
Tight jaws clamped over rage unspent
Neck restricted, not saying what was meant
Muscles tensed, too scared to rest
Hyper alert ready to face the next test
Stomach jammed not ready to let go
Multiple gripes too frightened to show
Boulders crushing down on a sad, heavy chest
Gasping for breath, not eased by rest
Wading through treacle, legs like lead
A once glamorous life that now is a dread
What is this terror hidden so deep
That paralyses my child so she just weeps and weeps?