Living back from the Edge

When you’ve been to the brink, to almost-death, to you can see it from here without binoculars, it changes you.

In the beginning, it is overwhelming. The world is overwhelming. In the beginning, I was regularly brought to the brink of tears by a perfect pepper, by the sun shining through a leaf, constantly reminded of the astonishing miracle that is living. In the beginning, you're just happy to be alive. Each day is a gift you receive with gratitude, the knowledge that you almost didn't have it, almost missed the rain, this moment of your cat purring on your lap, this opportunity to talk with someone you love. In the beginning, you live in the now, not just because you're still recovering and gathering strength, but because the now is all there is, filling all your senses.

And then you start seeing your life not just in days, but weeks, too. You get a little stronger, you start making plans with friends for a week or two down the road, knowing that you can. Knowing that your body will support you instead of sabotage you. And every day is still a gift, a little less intensely so, because life has started coming back, everything you didn't do for so long because you couldn't now gets on your radar and you start dealing with the minutia of your life and even that is joyful. And still, almost every day, you'll marvel at your ability, at still being alive, at paying your bills, at getting your own groceries again and although the world no longer stops quite so often while you reel with the realization that you are still here, it is never far away.

More time passes and one day, you find yourself being needed, not just for a few hours or a day or two, but for months and there, within this helping of another, lies another miracle. The miracle that you can. That for the first time in years, you're helping someone else, is useful, able - able to do so much more than you knew you could and when you have time to stop and think about it, you are overwhelmed all over again, remembering too clearly when you couldn't and when you thought you never would again.

And then a few years down the road, it's barely April and you've started your Christmas list, you found yourself a job and your life is almost normal. You're moving fast, the weeks and months are whizzing by and you have plans. Not just plans for later in the week or the end of the month, you have plans for the summer, there’s that Christmas list and you've even vaguely considered dating again. And it is terrifying.

Before, if it went bad again, it was if not exactly OK, then in a very real sense OK, because you had held your sister’s children, watched other kids you love grow into fine young adults, seen the world, really seen it, seen the beauty and the mystery. But now, now that you have plans, open-ended plans, it’s no longer OK, because you have things to do, you’ve invested in the future, have things you wish for.

When you were living in the moment, each moment was enough, was all that mattered, but now that you live not just now, but also many moments from now, the little voice that chants “what if I fall off the cliff again tomorrow, what if... what if... what if...” and the thought of losing this life you’ve built again, losing possibility, is overwhelming, but in the other way. The way that comes with a panicked need to hoard what's become precious to you, hanging on tight to everything, forgetting that life is only life if you let go.

And you try to remember when you got your life back, how you promised yourself to not live in fear again, but it was easier then, when the world was so new, your life was so new. Now, in the present, you can still connect to the miracle, the tears of joy still come if you think about it, think about your second chance, but somehow, you’ve become so normal again that you find you’ve made assumptions about the future. And you have no idea how to trust that future when it’s only been four years since you thought you didn’t have one.

And then, after a week of flailing about, you get your arse kicked by a good friend or two, enough to rattle your brain out of the panic and you hear another little voice. A new voice. One that says “what if you don’t fall off the cliff? What if the meds give you decades?”.

I’m still reeling at the thought.


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