Well, not actually triffids. I’m not even sure what triffids really are, other than overly aggressive people-eating plants. This may be all I need to know. I am quite sure, though, that you’d never expect one to pop out from behind the hedge in your front garden and start asking to have a piece of your arm for their dinner.
When I wrote my research proposal
last year around five thousand years ago, I added in an optimistic 2 weeks of padding into the timeline for random illnesses. Illnesses that weren’t meant to be random at all. They were meant to be vaguely possible episodes of a light cold or two, where I might want to sit in front of the heater with a quilt and a pillow and an excellent book all day long, leaving only to refill the pot with more tea. Everyone knows you can’t fight a cold without tea. Possibly I would also watch another episode of the Winchester brothers, but let’s not belabour the point.
They just were not designed for triffids.
Here’s what happened. I went to bed Monday night feeling fine and woke up Tuesday morning with a paralysed arm. Well, not exactly fine. My shoulder had been painful for weeks, which I put down to sitting on a couch and writing a thesis all day. Wasn’t that. Was my immune system attacking the nerves that run from neck down through my shoulder for no apparent reason. There was a rumour they may have been staging a protest against rising financial inequality as represented by the Auckland housing crisis, which, lord knows, is enough to put us all in a bad mood from time to time. Or maybe it was the gluten they dropped on my head as a baby. The cause remains unclear.
Do you know how often you use your arm in a day? A lot. You use it to reach into cupboards, to turn steering wheels, to lift clothes over your head. To do up buttons and brush teeth and shampoo hair and fold washing. To feed yourself. To type, to catch falling crockery, to hug people. One paralysed arm makes everything very, very, slow, and surprisingly exhausting. Just getting dressed could trigger another bout of nerve pain which would take hours to subside. Days.
Not exactly the light cold or two of my pre-thesis planning.
Three months later, my arm is still partially paralysed, I still suffer nerve pain, though things are improving. It’s likely that the affected muscles will never regain their full strength, but I can live with that, even if it has dashed the Olympic ambitions I’ve never actually had. What I couldn’t live with in the beginning, though, was the idea of being forced to abandon my thesis. I’d worked so hard, for so long, to get this far, to fall at this late stage through the whims of some errant nerve pathways was unbearable to me. But I was exhausted and in constant pain and just wanted to close my eyes for a few decades and rest. As much help as my supervisors could offer me, as much extra time as the university could grant me, neither they nor the doctors I consulted with could promise I would get well enough, quickly enough, to make my extended deadlines. I just had to wait, and hope. And wait.
Here’s my point, well I would point if I could move my arm. There is no shame in finding yourself attacked by triffids. They’re uncontrolled, and uncontrollable, whatever form they may take. Poor mental or physical health, financial difficulty, bereavement, accidents, relationship breakdowns. They’re unavoidable and inopportune and, yes, sometimes can derail your current plans without warning. They can change your perspective, change what’s important, and they can change the options available to you. But likely they won’t; there’s a lot of help available to get you through. Ask. Always ask.
I will be able to finish that thesis, with codeine in one hand and the fortitude born of a fat student loan in the other. Even if I could not, I would not count it a failure, but a coming to the end of a success. No triffid could take from me all the things I have learned. And I know I would have been able to make new plans one day, or even return to these old ones. And I would carry into those changed plans everything that had gone before, none of it wasted. They are all a part of the story of me, welcome or no.
Though? I might invest in some anti-triffid detection devices for next time, in order to avoid as many as I’m able. Zen acceptance is all well and good, no doubt, but I’d much rather do without meeting another any time soon, if it’s all the same to you.