Annie sang about “Tomorrow”. Everyone talks about “Tomorrow”. Everybody waits for “Tomorrow”. It’s “only a day away”… Right?
But what if tomorrow never comes? And if you think is has, it’s probably just an illusion. One that shatters really easily as soon as you let your guard down. When you’re vulnerable to attack.
I thought “Tomorrow” had finally come. I had what I had always wanted, and thought I had found some peace. I thought I was now far away from the Lewis Carroll-esque madness of Wonderland.
But… no. I was not.
I was a moment from being pulled back down that rabbit hole again… and here I am. Again. Living in that same fire-and-brimstone, crazy, bizarre, seriously-gone-wrong hallucination even Tim Burton couldn’t imagine. The one that is oh-so-familiar, because I’ve been here before. In fact I lived here for many years. Way over a decade. And now I’m back. Hello “Wonderland”. My “Tomorrow”… and every other day after that.
I am hurt (falling down fictitious, imaginary rabbit-holes to a form of tripping hell apparently hurts…), I am confused (who wouldn’t be…?), I am scared (same again), and there is apparently no way out (…great). After two and a half years of living in it, after being away, free to live my own life in “normal-ville”, my “old home” is now more of a stranger to me than perhaps it was when it was new.
Have you ever left home, gone away for many years, then come back and not really known what to do with it anymore? They’ve changed some of the roadways. There’s some new areas, new buildings, new and expanded sectors of real-estate – where there were once fields, there are now homes with families long living in them, new shops where familiar ones were, or you just don’t remember your way around anymore. It’s a place with a huge culture difference, even a language or accent/dialect difference.
As you can guess, I’m going to say returning to “Wonderland” is very much like that.
And what exactly is “Wonderland”? It’s a dark place where your worst nightmares come true, where unbearable pain is constant and consistently agonising (whether physical, emotional, or both), where the incredible and unbelievable (in a bad way) happen, where there are catastrophic events exploding over and over again, where if there can be a set of events that can ensure the worse that happen, it absolutely will. It is a dark and abstract place that doesn’t feel like your life, and yet – somehow – it is.
The only way to survive living here is to keep your hope close and your cynicism and wariness closer. Where you expect the worst, and maybe hope for the best… or at least something that isn’t the worst. And sometimes it’s where you’ve got to simply expect something literally unimaginable: This is the place where “imagining the worst” doesn’t even come close to what actually ends up happening. You cannot relax for a moment – letting your guard down is a chink in the armour. Then it will get you and take you down into deeper darkness again.
To (hopefully) many, this sounds over-dramatic. Catastrophic. Probably even bizarre. But it really isn’t when you’re living it. There’s a strange life some of us have to lead where pretty much nothing goes right. Ever. I call it Wonderland – because it’s as cold, dark and trippingly-bizarre as the place in the books. It’s a place of nightmares where nothing seems real, and that it really all just a dream you are going to wake up from. Any time now. No, really. You will…
It’s the place where you live those real nightmare every day, and you can never wake up because you’re already awake. Where everything has been taken away from you, leaving you with nothing. Just a crumpled ruin on the floor left in pain and still being kicked. Where the moment you think you’ve managed to run away and escape it, it sucks you back in.
The first time round, I was a child with (as I now know) undiagnosed Asperger Syndrome, severely bullied at school, living with a family going through its own excessive, and quite frankly cruel, trauma and turmoil. It was a long, complex, agonising, confusing and heartbreaking 15 years of my life, which was added to the first 11 years before of simply being “difficult”. What happened after that age was simply impossible and (not an over-dramatisation in the least) incredibly traumatic. Even to point of being treated for PTSD by the time I was 18.
I was labelled “Depressed” and everything was left at that. As if it was the magic word and it was the beginning and the end of everything. It didn’t come close to even touching on what was actually wrong, and I wouldn’t know for another 21 years what was actually going on. In fact, this “diagnosis” only compounded the situation and only made everything so much worse. It included drugs and therapy that was highly inappropriate, no support for what was really the problem, and ongoing despair because nothing seemed to work to “fix” it. No matter what I did, I never seemed to get any better. It wasn’t until I discarded everything that I presumed that I should do and did what I wanted to do that I started to get somewhere helpful, and to a place where I felt a lot more comfortable with myself, even if it wasn’t exactly perfect or completely “fixed”. It was still so much better than it had been before.
Coming out of that just before turning 30, I thought I was going to be “home free”. I was climbing out of Wonderland. I was living better, with a exciting and interesting new career I was damn good at, that I worked by backside off for, and with a sort-of new family of my very own. Even a new dog. It was too good to be true. I even wrote about how great things where going in my (handwritten) diary. It was my last entry of that year. And it was too good to be true.
Because then Wonderland called again.
And when the darkness calls, when it beckons, and you don’t comply… Well… It comes and finds you to drag you back in again, even if you are kicking and screaming.
It was October 31 2013. Halloween, of all days. Samhain (pronounced ‘sow’inn’) is Pagan New Year. And what a New Year’s present it was that I received. Early in the morning I was walking the dog with my roommate and best friend in the park. This is the day where he was subjected to an ongoing ferocious attack by another dog, actually instigated by an well-known and unstable dog-walker/owner (no-one knows which) – I actually heard her call the dog to attack mine and I was horrified.
My friend and I were left to the two dogs fighting, whilst the other person literally ran away. It took maybe 15 long minutes of ferocious dog-fighting to get the two of them apart – and my friend took away the other dog (who once was taken away was back to normal, since it he was only doing it on command). I was left with Soul (our dog), with him injured and me being able to no longer breathe. The ambulance was called because we both presumed it was an asthma attack (horrible, but run-of-the-mill, as things go). But they got this strange look on their faces and told me it was not asthma and that I urgently needed to see my GP – who saw me right away after I explained what had happened and what they had said.
I was stunned to find out it indeed was not asthma. Oh no. Life is just not that simple. It was sodding pneumonia. Right at the onset if it, which is why I hadn’t been massively affected, with symptoms that I had assumed was just down to asthma. This wouldn’t have been such a complicated matter if this wasn’t also the very same week that – on top of my dog being savagely attacked – my friend and I were moving apartments. To the other side of London. Due to this illness, I managed to wheedle a few days off work to move house and try to deal with the pneumonia whilst packing boxes and sending them across the city. I had the antibiotics, I had taken the dog to the vet (straight after seeing my GP), and had very ignorantly presumed it would all right itself out in the end.
When we arrived at the new place there was unpacking to do and an injured, freaked out dog to deal with, who also needed walking in an unfamiliar area and living in a new home. At the same time, I was also expected back at work after just a week because there was an “emergency” there, along with vital things to do that no one else was trained for. I walked the dog every morning before work and then made my way on the 3+ hours’ round-trip journey to work from my new place, which included getting a bus, then the tube, changing tube lines, then getting another bus. Each way. And squeezing in a 7 hour working day as well. So to say I got absolutely no rest from the minute I was diagnosed and onwards was an understatement. In fact, I had not done so much at once for several years… let alone whilst being unable to breathe properly with a temperature and constant, quite violent, coughing fits.
I had drastically underestimated the severity of my illness. It is almost needless to say that it just simply went downhill from there. I gave my body not one moment of true real rest or respite to recuperate from the illness… so it just got worse. Out of hand. My body basically started breaking down – instead of being allowed to get better, it simply deteriorated. It couldn’t get better, so it just got worse. Every day for two years it deteriorated, each day being worse than the next. The awful decisions I made began a terrible chain of events that sent me on a downwards spiralling tailspin I could never recover from… and that is something I will always have to live with for the rest of my life.
Consequently, I was dragged back into Wonderland. Only I couldn’t really be kicking and screaming because I could no longer actually particularly move. My life as I had known it was over. Now the nightmare really had begun. Wonderland beckoned once more, and I had no choice but to fall down that terrifying portal-esque rabbit-hole again.
A Life In Wonderland…
Fibromyalgia was my burden to bare for my choices. My choice to stay employed. My choice to return and help out at work. My choice to look after my new house. My choice to keep earning money to pay the new (much higher) rent, along with the bills. My choice to look after my dog. My choice was to support my friend by walking the dog on my own because my working hours weren’t set and hers were.
My choice was not to look after myself.
So Wonderland called.
Living here again has been heartbreaking and terrifying. One by one I lost everything I had as I descended into the rabbit-hole… my career, my mobility, my dignity and self-respect, my mind… then finally my best friend and my home.
I was effectively sent home to live with my parents again, like I was regressed to being a small child, because they were the only ones who could look after me. My father was only part-time employed (after retirement) and my mother a nurse, so she had the perfect background and skills to help me. I required almost round-the-clock care because I could no longer do most things for myself – much to my immense frustration and despair. I was 35 and was having to live like a toddler again… and one in complete and constant agony. It was – is – quite frankly, humiliating, heartbreaking, and soul-destroying.
But that is what Wonderland is. That’s what it’s all about. There’s no sunshine, bunnies and rainbows for you here… this place is about breaking you until you have no more to give, and yet still absolutely expected to be carrying on with the fight.
Giving someone with hyper-sensitivity to pain from Asperger Syndrome Fibromyalilga, of all things, is just cruel. It’s like locking two mean adversaries into a single, small room and locking the door. Without looking back and throwing away the key. You can guarantee they will not play well together whatsoever. The reaction is explosive and the destruction is absolute. They will not agree and they refuse to even agree to disagree. Ergo there is nothing but chaos and turmoil… both of which are also great arch-enemies of Aperger’s. There are no happy endings to be found here… nothing left but ruination and rubble from the war inside. Everything is destroyed, and there is simply nothing you can do to rebuild it no matter how hard you try.
So, I have no job. Not much mobility whatsoever (but I’m working on that). An existence that involves living every waking second in extreme pain (and that’s before trying to move). I lost my home. I lost my best friend. I’m living with my parents. I am alone. I lost most my memories and half my mental capacity and focus from the pain and medication. It’s now difficult to remember and learn new things, to focus, to concentrate, to even cope with new things. I have suddenly found it so difficult to focus on reading for the first time in my entire life. The pain in my hands makes if difficult to type or play games. I can no longer sing, play piano, or think of music. It feels like I left everything behind back on the “surface”, before falling down the hole. It feels like I have nothing, and I have lost everything.
Well, there is, regardless, a flip-side… Wonderland takes away everything, but in that it also teaches you a lot of things.
When you are forced to live in the dark, you learn to see in the dark. You learn to adapt. You learn to prepare for the worst, and to expect those things you feared the most to become reality. You need to have the will to survive, or you die in there. Every day is a lesson learned, a new way to survive, to learn to live in Wonderland, in the nightmare you cannot believe can be real, despite actually living it every day… hoping every day you get to wake up from it… and never doing so. Where you wake up from nightmares into another one. Where the darkness and despair never really goes away.
Somewhere in this mess, I have learnt who – well, what – I really am… I discovered all those things I went through as a child, and even when I was all grown up, was down to my having Asperger Syndrome. At the very least it complicated matters that were already complicated, if it didn’t cause them directly. Discovering and confirming this fact that I otherwise never would have found without this… disaster… has brought at least something positive in with it, taught me a lot about myself, acting like a candle in the dark. One I can see a little with, so I don’t feel quite so… lost and alone.
However, this small candle gives cold comfort in a world where nightmares and worst-case-scenarios are not just real but actually “normal”… It’s literally where my greatest fears and waking nightmares have happened, where those worst-case-scenarios I had imagined were candy-floss and kitten-fluff in comparison to what really happened. I can’t walk. I can’t really move much. Some days I can hardly breathe, all from the pain. I have nothing left of the life I once had, and I’ve been ripped apart from almost everything I used to hold dear. A small candle cannot extinguish that kind of pitch-black that fills the air around the world I am now forced to inhabit once more.
This life hardens you. Even when you’re weak, you are not. You never give up because you can’t. If you do, then it will take you down to its greatest depths of obsoleteness and despair… which by then most people can never fight their way out of. So you keep fighting before you get there. Some of us were born to struggle. To fight. To slay demons. To be warriors in the dark, fighting frightening, strong, and terrifying shadows whilst being broken by utter and complete heartbreak. It wants to see how much you’ve got, what you have to give, how far it can push you, how far it must to go break you. Then when you are broken beyond repair, it sees whether you can still drag yourself up and fight on. Regardless of the pain you are in. Regardless of the burdens you bare, and of the pain inside.
Victim or Victor… it wants to see what you decide.
A snapshot in time – Moments before it all went so wrong: The final diary entry before everything crashed and burned around me…