The thing you don’t hear about surgery is that it counts as trauma. Probably because the whole “cut open the body and fix the squishy things inside” part is bad enough. I haven’t experienced surgery myself, but hearing other people’s stories and poking around in medical science articles gives me some idea of what surgeons and their patients go through. It’s possible to be too weak to undergo surgery, and man alive, some of the procedures out there are scary.
For instance, there’s a procedure for children who suffer from a certain kind of debilitating, brain-damaging seizure. It involves disconnecting or even removing half the brain. I mean, come on. An entire hemisphere of gray matter – I’d be terrified I wouldn’t be me anymore. How is that possibly a good idea? At what point could that ever sound like a thing I’d want to do – or allow done?
But then you read the stories of the ones who have. It’s rare, thankfully, but I read an article about a girl who went through it at 15. She suffered from up to a hundred seizures a day, debilitating ones. She had pain, every day. She couldn’t be alone because someone had to catch her if she went down. She was on all kinds of medication and her nerves and muscles were damaged from the overload. She and her mother looked at the risks, and when it came right down to it, to be free from the pain and fear of seizures was worth losing half a brain.
It worked. She’s fine. (The brain is a wondrous thing. The remaining half rewires itself to take over for some of the lost parts.)
It seems that the way to face surgery is to be convinced that it’s better than the alternative. Surgery is trauma, but trauma isn’t deadly. The disease might be.
A dysfunction of the spirit is a lot the same.
There are many reasons why I developed the thick and ugly emotional walls that, until recently, ringed my heart. At the base was a fear of pain. There were plenty of other things: pride, confusion about this whole social-interaction thing, various wounds inflicted over time: nothing too unusual. I’ve got no one to blame it on besides myself. Nobody tried to make me a Stoic. Nobody beat me for being emotional. Nobody told me to hide who I was. Nobody said anything about walls. I simply didn’t want to be hurt. Which sounds ridiculous, and I have no excuse. All I have is a reason: I feel things deeply. Which is great for sympathy, and the way I can get all the way to ecstasy from things like music, but isn’t quite so fun when it means taking everything personally, or carrying other people’s pain around. So I built walls.
The scary part is that I only half knew they were there. Other people noticed. I was told more than once that I seemed standoffish or proud. Some years ago, it occurred to me that I could be intimidating. But I only vaguely knew why, and I didn’t know another way to be. I didn’t get how bad it was, and I didn’t dare risk learning otherwise. I didn’t tell people what was going on in my head. I didn’t tell them how I hurt, or was upset, or lonely. I didn’t tell them when I was uncertain or afraid. I didn’t tell them about the massive gaps in my understanding, partly because I didn’t know about some of them, partly because I was afraid of looking stupid. I was afraid of being pitied, or dismissed, or people being disappointed in me. I was afraid to be hurt.
God doesn’t let us get away with things like that forever. In my case, he presented me with something else entirely, and let me figure out the rest on my own. (He really does know me.)
Last year, after talking with my parents and reading a book on the subject, I got tested for – and diagnosed with – Attention Deficit Disorder. Which doesn’t seem related, does it? Only I came to see that for an introvert, understanding and connecting with other people takes a certain amount of attention. Which I was short on. A few months on medication and the world started to look different.
It’s like when you take apart a puzzle, or a machine, or anything that hides its parts. You peel them back and suddenly there are connections you didn’t know where there. Things were affecting things I couldn’t see before. Disparate mysteries answered each other. Now I could read my friends while I talked to them, hear them react, and respond to them on the fly. It was wonderful in many ways: this whole new language opened up to me, the one made up of suggestions and inferences and all the other things we don’t actually say. But it also revealed to me a humiliating self-portrait, one where I kept everyone out and lived alone in a shell.
My heart was sick from bottled fire and weak from starved friendships. The walls had to come down.
Thing was, I knew it would hurt.
The stuff we do in our hearts becomes part of who we are. We lean on it and build on it and depend on it. It’s us. Those walls were me. They were what I understood, they were how other people knew me, they were how I functioned. I was terrified at what kind of person I’d be if they came down. I feel things deeply, and I was afraid if I took down my walls that my sanity would come down too.
God is good. He sent me a friend who can handle gushing and who needed a friend herself. I have parents who are willing and eager to help. And there is God himself, always on call, always present. ‘Cause I tell you what, it hurt. It very much hurt. It hurts. It’s humiliating and weird and scary, taking down old habits and old thoughts and old foundations, and trying to build healthy walls, the kinds that have doors and windows, and not going way the other way in carrying everyone else’s problems, and not doing a nosedive into self-pity, and not panicking or overreacting, or catching myself when I do any of those things and learning how to stop, and being honest and clear and open and humble and willing to be an idiot and take risks. And letting it hurt.
I’m a long way from cured. I probably won’t ever be in this life. Surgery is trauma and I’ve got a lot of recovery left. But things are getting better. God is patient. The disease would have had me callous and alone with a dead heart. Pain is worth the cure.