"When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed into a monstrous vermin." Strong opening line of a modern classic: Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis, of course.
Okay, I don't feel like a monstrous vermin, but on the bad days of this I do feel unutterably changed, transformed most unpleasantly, and rife with horror. Some days are more like that than others in regular daily life, of course. There's a reason The Metamorphosis is a seminal work. But discovering that it's possible to simply wake up one morning half-deaf with the world spinning about relentlessly? That gets me far closer to the condition than I've ever been before.
When I was about 12, I decided for my summer project that I would read all of the classics. Okay, so my literary eyes were bigger than my stomach - no surprises there. I wasn't quite born reading, but awfully close. My parents taught me to read by the time I was 3, and from A.A. Milne at that tender age on there was no stopping me. By 7, I was whitewashing fences with Tom Sawyer and the trajectory continued apace. (I never even saw a Dick/Jane primer until I stumbled across one in a school library when I was in 5th grade. I still remember thinking it was one of the weirdest and funniest things I'd ever seen. But I digress.)
Of course I did not remotely have a grasp of what "all of the classics" actually meant, but my version was all of the books extant in my mom's bookcase at that point in time. Which included Camus' The Plague, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, War and Peace, and some 30-40 other seminal titles. This, I felt, would be a reasonable summer's project.
[Now might be a good time to mention that all that early reading, and something about the way my dad taught me had resulted in my being a super, super-fast reader (still am, but nothing like my lightening youth) and rather precocious both in aptitude and ideas. (Yeah, I know. You probably already figured that out. Ha!) Even at that, however, it is true that my list was a trifle ambitious.]
I know that I got through The Plague, though of course I did not really understand it. (Well, duh. Show me a 12 year old who really "gets" existentialism or absurdism and I'll eat my hat. I'll eat your hat. I'll eat the Cat in the Hat's hat. And speaking of Dr. Seuss, more Wiki knowledge that is totally new to me? A radio drama, combining Metamorphosis with Dr. Seuss was broadcast in 2012 on This American Life. Which. Boggles. My. Mind. Let us all just stop for one moment and really think about that, shall we? My, oh, my.) At about 30, I re-read the existentialists and thought I got it. Today? I don't think I have to re-read anything to feel quite solidly that I'm getting it. Oh, yes. I am getting it. I have to. I'm living it.
(Digression: Reason umpty-squillion why I love the H.O. Watching the game today, and on comes an ad for "Survivor: Blood vs Water" or some such nonsense. As he hits the mute button, he scoffs. "Survivor. HA! We don't need your stinking show, we are playing Survivor for REAL over here!" He cracks me up, and that's a good thing.)
But I buckled down as soon as school was out that summer, and I read Camus, and I read The Metamorphosis, and I'm not sure what-all. (Amusingly, the Wiki now tells me that Camus' mother was half-deaf. Life is full of funny coincidences.) I do remember planning to save the Shakespeare for last, as his complete works made up such a large volume, even in microscopic print on onionskin-thin pages, that it did daunt me a trifle. But the tome that took me down was War and Peace. Not even the whole book - just the introduction. I never made it past the explanation of Russian naming conventions. Which went on For. Ev. Er. and seemed mind-blowingly complex to a 12-year-old American girl. (Which clearly makes it Tolstoy's fault I never got to all of Shakespeare. Hey, this is my story. I can blame whomever I like. HA!)
Wiki also tells me that Camus did not consider himself an existentialist, and wasn't all that comfortable with himself as he was oft-described: a philosopher of the absurd. I'm not in a position to argue either point, but I sure as hell am feeling both existential and absurd in this whole process. I'm glad I'm not a giant cockroach, of course, but on the bad days of this, I'm looking at the what-ifs: what if this condition never gets better? Can I live with that? How will I live with that? How will I maneuver? How on earth will I find the strength within to co-exist with the banshees if they never leave? The Wobblies? They terrify me the most. I could almost live with the hellish soundtrack and hearing loss if the world would just stay up-side-up and down-side-down.
One doesn't want to despair, of course, or wallow, or live in doubt, but there's no getting around the question completely. I want improvement, I hope for improvement, I believe I can have improvement. I know healing is possible, I am trying multiple approaches to healing, and many, many before me have had great improvements, and lived with whatever their outcomes are. I have hope, I have faith, I have belief. I have a great doctor, I have wonderful love and support. I have more maneuverability than many in my situation might. I have many people sending prayers, and good ju-ju and all of the positive vibrations in many forms. I am exceedingly grateful for all of these things.
But ain't nothin' 'bout any of that makes any difference at 4 a.m. when the world is still spinning, and the wailing banshees calling through water are still mixing it up with the Deliverance banjo players in my left ear, and my right ear is aching from the overwork and onslaught of being responsible for all of the real sounds, and performing the simplest tasks all day has been fraught with the sheer exhaustion factor of threading through the noise and the spinning, and I am tired, so, so, so tired. And frightened. So, so frightened. "The long, dark, tea-time of the soul," Douglas Adams, another favorite author, called it.
Hope and faith are daytime creatures. Gossamer of wing, floating on love, and positive thoughts, and the bright lights of sunshine and happiness. When doubts and fears crawl in from all sides, evil little cockroaches scuttling about looking for any purchase they can find, they are creatures of the night. Feeding off of the dark, the silence (well. Relative silence these days...), they delight and cavort in the hours no one else is up to call, to write, to hold one's hand while the tears fall.
Lonely nights. We've all had them. When whatever ills you have, or might have, or fear, swell in size, ravaging through all the hope, faith and love you've managed to muster up. Or been given. Or both. These are the real monstrous vermin, and they are legion some nights. Even some days, because there are a lot of them, and at some point, some of the little bastards find a nook or cranny and set up residence. Then we set battle against them again, but that also takes energy. I'd forgotten this part about serious illness and strife: the exhaustion. True for so many ills, and really a big deal in this fine kettle o'fish.
Of course, it could be far worse. I could have had a massive stroke; I could have been paralyzed; I could have been told I have some horrific disease with just months to live. Or I could have woken up a cockroach instead of just battling metaphorical ones. Which all goes to prove, if tangentially, that good literature soothes the soul at any age. Those are words I can live by. Now pardon me while I go read something mindlessly funny. There's room for that in the world too, and sometimes I think laughter is not only the best medicine, I think it fights the monstrous vermin as well as anything can. David Sedaris, I'm coming for you!