In my early teenage years whenever I was bored (and attempting to avoid homework), I'd sit at my family's communal computer and wait for the animated screensaver we had installed to pop up. Sometimes I would let a good half hour slip away watching a shipwrecked, disheveled cartoon man fighting to survive on a deserted island while awaiting rescue. I watched him catch fish for food and climb trees to collect coconuts to drink juice from. I watched his fruitless attempts to build a life raft from washed up planks of wood leave him drained by disappointment. I felt his frustration when he couldn't get a fire going. I saw the SOS messages sent out- desperation packed in a bottle and tossed into rough seas, with a smidgen of faith that the cries for help would reach populated shores.
Whenever a plane happened to pass over the island, I watched this cartoon man's hope soar as he jumped up, waved, and welcomed the possibility of rescue, only to have it plummet with the sadness of still remaining unseen. The days were long and lonely. Sometimes the sadness and disappointment got the better of him, but despite the harshness of the sun's heat, he kept picking himself back up and letting the hope of being rescued one day wrap tightly around his heart. When it seemed he had exhausted all options, he would sit and dream of a life free from the limitations the island imposed. In the dark of the night he would lay down and stare at the stars, believing for a better day.
As I sat down to put pen to paper the other day and attempted to empty my mind, the memories of this screensaver flooded back. In that moment of contemplation, I realised that what played out on that computer screen, metaphorically speaking, describes what life with chronic illness is like a little.
In the pitch black of night, stormy seas have rendered me shipwrecked. Now I'm stranded on an island with day time temperatures akin to the sweltering Sahara, lost in bleak and dismal emptiness. I feel lonely. I feel scared. I feel hopeless. I feel disconnected. I feel depressed. I feel isolated. I don't feel like my life has purpose and meaning on this island. I am just doing what I have to do to survive and get by. I am barely living. The mundaneness and monotony on this island is terribly unfulfilling.
My ship lies broken in pieces half submerged by shallow waters, a constant and frustrating reminder of its uselessness. I try and build a life raft but I keep getting splinters. I try to keep on going but I can't keep the planks of wood together. I try to get myself back to normal life, but my plans and ideas keep sinking. I feel so stuck. Am I ever going to get off this island? When am I going to be able to get back to normal life?
Just like cartoon man pinned his hope on a passing plane, I too get my hopes and am let down. I hope that a new drug, a new diet, or a new doctor will be able to throw me a lifeline. Though time after time I am left bitterly disappointed. Sometimes my cries for help go unanswered. Sometimes people passing by are too busy to notice that I am struggling and need some extra support. Sometimes the bad days get the better of me. The loneliness, the frustration, the pain, the exhaustion- it just gets too much.
However, when things start looking bleak and my heart is overwhelmed, I hold onto hope a little bit tighter and dream bigger. I explore and discover new things. Exactly like that cartoon character who I sat intently watching all those years ago.
So, I sit and I dream of a life free from unrelenting pain and crippling fatigue. I dream of all the things I will do when I'm finally better. I dream of travelling, writing a book or two, getting a degree, starting a business, falling in love and having a gorgeous country wedding.
I dream of setting sail again, getting back on course and heading off on wonderful adventures.
My ship may have sunk and it may seem as though there is no escaping this island, but help is on its way. Help is out there somewhere. Someday soon, I'll have a brand spanking new ship, but until then, I just have to sit in the sand, be patient and keep on dreaming and believing.