Sarah Jane Doe

Category Archives: Anxiety

What a difference a day makes

sarahjanedoe and Kelly in Ubud

‘What a difference a day makes’. I wonder who said that first or if it’s just some ancient, amorphous truism? A sort of collective, hive-mind blendy? Because even back when life was cave and tundra, every day was different. People still woke up, broke up, got knocked up, knocked out, got high, felt low. Some days are dramatically different from the ones before. Car crashes. Windfalls. Breakages. Breakthroughs.

This past week I started writing a post titled ‘Today is the Greatest’. I was so busy having my Greatest day that the post didn’t get finished and, by the next day, things had swung unexpectedly toward the Worstest. Then whoa, back again.  Big week. I’m quite tired from all the difference a day makes (note the ‘from’ not ‘of’. Never ‘of’).

So it’s been a sadistic kind of treat to watch it happen to someone else, even if it’s my much adored sister-in-love, Kelly. She arrived a week ago from the middle of winter in the middle of the night to the middle of a new country and the middle of my health crisis. Probably not what she’d expected when reading about my sunny, happy, blissed-out life here in Ubud.

I reacted to my fast-improving health and the 100% increase in loved ones from home by attempting to have about four Greatest days in one. I met her at the airport with a cool-ass driver and an ice-cold beer (a tradition started by my brother for all new arrivals to the island of Bali), whizzed her to a luxury hotel, woke her about six hours later for breakfast at Sea Circus followed by sugar cane espresso cocktails on the beach at Ku De Ta and a ride in Tanky, the vintage Mexican VW, up the winding mountain road to Ubud. All before midday. Sounds great, right? Right. But I was still nauseous, she was jet-lagged and the rice paddies were all being burnt back so that a thick wet haze of stale smoke hung over everything.

I decided to fix this by applying a liberal dose of Yoga Barn in Ubud. As soon as Kelly fell from Tanky’s sweet, rattling embrace I marched her down Jalan Hanoman in search of inner-peace. This is the busiest street at the busiest time of the busiest part of tourist season (turns out I Rumpelstiltskined myself during the whole amoebic dysentery thing. I woke up to find it was school holidays in Australia and the whole of that island had moved to this one, en masse. I even ran in to the girl who serves me at my local bakery, Dench. She recognised me right away – apparently my North Fitzroy hangovers look sama-sama to my almostdiedovers. Classy.) and, ergo, it was pretty busy.

Whole chunks of footpath on Jalan Hanoman are missing, with drops ranging from mere ankle-breakers to lose-your-relatives in pungent, watery depths of tropical mystery-mess. You need to dodge dogs, their poo, their chicken friends, and the motorbikes they chase, as well as looking out for various things – corners of signs, burning sticks of incense, odd bits of temple – waiting for the chance to take a chunk of scalp or nick an eyeball.

After twenty minutes of this, walking single file with me shouting out commands to enjoy oneself and see how amazing everything is in Ubud, a querulous little voice behind me asked ‘So, ah, you find this relaxing?’. I was surprised to admit to myself that I did, or at least I had up ’till now. I’d re-set. Forgotten my initial fears of death and dismemberment on Jalan Hanoman and couldn’t see it as anything other than the Happy Path To Yoga Barn. How could I help Kelly to feel this too? I shouted at her some more and forced her full of treats and yoga. By bedtime, I’d run out of ideas (and my throat was sore).

The next day, I came upon Kelly in a sunny, quiet little street in a cafe she’d found her way back to by herself. She was curled up in an egg-shaped rattan chair with a giant Murakami book balanced on a cushion and a large beer perspiring gently on the table in front of her. She looked up at me from a post-yoga puddle of limber limbs, smiled like the sun, and announced she intended to order cake. I couldn’t resist asking if she ‘found this relaxing’. What a difference a day makes*.

*Note: I’m certain this will become the title of a terrible movie about the power of positive psychology and the endless randomness of Western-asshat life, probably starring Tom Hanks with some small earnest child coming-to-a-plane-near-you, so before it does, let’s get it out a bit more. It feels truthy and important.

 

 

Throwing up is hard to do

Fresh ginger and Leatherman multi-tool

See this picture? Yeah. Two days in to some nau-sea-sickness, I took this picture to document my beautiful, natural Ubudian recovery. I had fallen, sure, but I was on the mend. At that stage I liked to think the fall had been a controlled descent. I did my best to lie down gracefully with my feet elevated after throwing up my bright green salad lunch and a double-cold-pressed-cashew-milk-coffee in Alchemy, wherein my super-cool author lady luncheon companion Sarah did me the supreme honour of turning promptly from willowy, hilarious glamourati into level-headed-mother-of-young-child-used-to-dealing-with-vom, and arranged an immediate and graceful evactuation of the premises.

I went home and vomited a lot more. I’m not a vomiter. It’s hard for me. Takes a long time. I spend hours adrift on the Sea of Nau before the main event. A day passed. I began to get extremely thirsty. My lips chapped. Every swallow of water made the sly promise of staying down only to collect into enough volume for a high-velocity torrent a few hours later. I took the anti-emetic Stemetil that I had wisely packed for a tropical excursion (despite only having suffered ‘traveller’s sickness’ three times in fifteen years and countless trips overseas) and threw those up too, until none remained. Thirstier and thirstier, I looked at the rattan ceiling and composed impassioned correspondence to the manufacturers of Stemetil suggesting fundamental changes in their delivery method. Topical lotions, single-use-syringes, fast dissolving wafers. Eye-drops. Lip-balm.

At the point where my eyes had begun to shrink into their sockets and my pee was clinking into the bowl as crystals of uric acid, I summoned the fortitude to look at my swimming computer screen and Google ‘how keep watr dwn f ur dyin’ and the wisdom of the internet responded with ‘small spoonfuls water’. The internet also delivered a truly terrible story of two Canadian sisters who had just died in their hotel room in Thailand and – because I catastrophise, especially when ill – I went down a black, black hole of what-ifs that only ended once I remembered I had repatriation insurance so at least my pale little body wouldn’t cost anyone money to ship it home.

Then I cried. Well, I tried too, but I had no water for tears. The internet said this phenomenon is followed shortly by death. I screamed (whimpered) for my housekeeper Nyoman, who came in tut-tuting with a flask of boiling water and some ginger and rosella tea. He changed my sheets and cleaned my bathroom with surgical attention, and sent my clothes off to the Ubud Eco laundry, because y’all might remember from previous posts about my first world problems that the toxic-avenger smells of the detergents they use in Indonesia make me gag even on a strong stomach.

I started to feel better. Determined to Definitely Not Be Ill Like Losers Who Aren’t Real Travellers And Such, I took myself on a small quivering excursion to Bali Buddha, where I bought some organic ginger. Once home, I remembered I’d packed my favourite multi-tool, the Leatherman aka ‘Leathery’, and peeled the ginger and took this smug picture of my clever, natural, grown-up approach to wellness and self-sufficiency.

At about 3 a.m. (nothing good ever, ever happens at 3 a.m. unless you are on your honeymoon) I had a seizure. Before I could think what to do next, I had another one. As it subsided, I realised my body was so indescribably freezing that I needed to get extra blankets, jeans, my leather jacket – possibly lie under the mattress itself – all things which were not possible because my limbs were now suffering intermittent spasms like the aftershocks of a powerful earthquake that I had no option but to ride out in cold, dark terror. I thought about the Canadian girls and I thought about my family and I thought about how nothing like this had happened to me before and I thought about how human I was and how small I was and I called for my Mum in my head and I said the Boy’s name aloud to prove I was real and then I passed out.

Was this overly dramatic? Hilarious in hindsight? I’m not so sure. I don’t think I know where the edge is with illness anymore. I do know I woke up. A day later. On my back. In a watery gruel of feces. Cheeks plastered with vomit that I was very lucky not to aspirate. The pain in my muscles and bones was like nothing I’ve imagined in the realm of natural illness. I was surprised they could bear my now 52 kilo frame. This, along with the sudden plummet of core temperature, spelled dengue ‘bone-break’ fever to the admitting hospital, but no rash developed so they didn’t test for it. There’s a current outbreak and the only treatment is ‘fluids’ anyway. They sent me home.

I got worse. I went back. They tested my blood for bacteria. They tested my poo by handing me a pair of disposable gloves and a plastic jar and asking me to ‘shit in my hand’ and wipe it in the container. The toilet was dirty, the walls were peeling. They offered to hospitalise me and I responded the best way I knew how. I threw up on their floor and went home again. On the way home I checked my phone and the picture of the ginger and knife flashed up. It looked like my intestines and what was happening to them. It became totemic of my failure and misery. It made me throw up to look at. It made me throw up every time I thought about it. I tried to delete it and failed at even that.

Over the next five days lots of people helped me. I emailed the test results to my two mates who happen to be a boyfriend/girlfriend trainee-doctor-duo who tag-teamed a long distance diagnoses and prescribed the magical tummy-bomb Flagyl that worked overnight. Despite enduring non-stop nausea of the kind documented by my pregnant friends that made me swear with every wobbly breath that I’d never allow myself to get knocked up, the fact that one of these doctor friends is going to be a pediatrician also made me swear to have children just so they can get sick and I can take them to her.

The Boy called my sister-in-love, who went straight from handing in her final essays for her postgrad on-something-too-complex-for-me-to-understand to a medical center, where she talked a doctor into the codeine and Stemetil not available in this country. She got on a plane with them and arrived expecting to nurse me instead of hang by the pool in matching bikinis as planned, without so much as a shrug. Every member of my family who knew, every friend at home, every new friend in Ubud – all of them flooded my online areas with goodwill and love. Thanks all. Thanks and thanks and thanks.

And sorry I didn’t respond. It’s just that throwing up is hard to do.

 

Living a fantasy

Now that my blood consists more of antibiotics and anti-mucoids than cold and flu germs, a walk past this little stationary shop here in Ubud filled me with heart and purpose: I’m here to write! Yeah! Fist-pump! Back to the room, dig out that manuscript, on with the show!

Many of you are writers so you’ll know that wonderful feeling when you pull out old work and look at it with fresh eyes and delight yourself. Hungry for this sensation, I put a tissue up each dripping nostril, turned the fan up to causing-the-woven-rattan-ceiling-to-tremble level and told the warring Asiatic squirrels in the coconut tree to keep it down, or else. Then I settled in to immerse myself in my own brilliance.

This is what I read. ‘Exposition, exposition, exposition, quip, exposition, exposition, cliché.’  Notes, notes, notes, ‘Filler, exposition, exposition, cliché, filler, exposition, exposition.’ And repeat.

In case you don’t believe me, here’s an example of just how bad things currently are. The names of my two chief evil-doers are Karl and Darius. I might as well have called them Cruel and Devious and been done with it. Our hero? Bastian. Last bastion of hope, freedom, and terrible punning nomenclature. I could cry (I may have cried).

For a life-long lover of quality fantasy fiction, this is pretty terrible news. After deciding I didn’t have the energy or implements to kill myself (I also like my housekeepers so much I hate troubling them for extra loo roll, so corpse removal would really be a whole new level of imposition) I read on to see if anything could be salvaged. Around page 87, one  of my appallingly named characters finally stops being a caricature and becomes a character. My sigh of sheer relief was fulsome enough to give the squirrels pause and this writer a glimmer of hope for the next few months of work.

Still – ouch. What happened? My only comfort is that the very first part of Game of Thrones wobbles in the same way. Lot of good versus evil, a direwolf for every child, exposition, exposition, cliché, exposition – and then good old George R.R. Martin seems to forget that that he’s setting things up for a ‘Fantasy Series’ and lets his characters run free. To, I would argue, the benefit of all mankind.

Shippey, my favourite Tolkien historian, writes that successful world building happens when the author stops giving us backstory and prescription and simply offers us a ‘corner of the eye glimpse’ of the world they’ve created – the kind that intimates that all sorts of complex events and histories have occurred; that fabulous cities exist, and people have loved and lived and died in them. For reals. It’s going to take some serious time for me to do this. Meanwhile, a little help from my fantasy-loving friends would be hugely appreciated. Names. Some masculine, some feminine. And it will be the last thing I beseech-th of thee-th*.

*Note: by ‘last’ I mean until I need help naming everything else and then move on to help with the religious-exclamations-occuring-in-slang-speech-of-the-currently-unnamed-eastern-most-city.

I can haz party?

i-can-haz-party

I’m going to a party. A big party. The kind of house (luxury villa *cough*) party you see in the movies – hosted by DJs who’ve flown in to Ubud with their friends and followers and models and drivers and the models’ luggage and drivers for the models’ luggage. I’m not on the door per se, but my brother is (of course he is – from about three different directions) and I suppose I could pass for some kind of agency chaperone for one of the youngest beauties if there’s any trouble. Anyway, it’s great news because I LOVE PARTIES. Parties are boss.

I have been attending and enjoying parties my whole life. Ages three to ten were particularly hectic. My brother and I were on the exbrat scene, and we hit it pretty hard.  It was always tough to calm down during Monday nap-hour after Primary Colours 101 or Macaroni and Paste: Drying Times, when your head was still full of the action, the music, the sweets, the games. You gotta put a little distance between you and that Canadian kid, you’d tell yourself, his reading level is so not where it should be. Yes, he plays the tambourine like it’s Bowie to his Jagger, but that’s not enough. When the Korean twins celebrate their fifth, they aren’t gonna mess around with the guest list and you know this. Start saving your Great Work! stickers for them and hey, check out that Play-doh they’re always snacking on. Shared diet tips are a great in.

Sometimes I confuse how much I truly love going to parties with having a party, and I say things like ‘let’s have a party!’ and then I do things like invite people to have a party. Crazy, right? Because suddenly I’m having a party. And I can’t be allowed to have parties. This having-a-party thing attacks me so often you’d think I’d learn not to do it but, unfortunately, it’s still happening. If you are ever invited to one of my parties (if that’s not already all of you reading this, stick around a few days) here are some tips to help us both get through one.

Don’t arrive early. (Or on time. Or close to on time.) Startled and trying to cover it with false bonhomie, I will scream your name so loud that your family members in other states and countries will flinch and shiver and worry about you. I will then steer you around my house/other unlucky venue for the next hour while I apologise for everything in it; for its lameness and its poor lighting, for the cleanliness and quality of the substrate and garden tap, and I will insist you are going to have a shit time and I’ll apologise for this too. At the same time I will fixate on various guests you may know or have heard of who haven’t arrived yet and insist to you they are definitely coming, and perhaps we should call them every few minutes – call their friends, their boss, the police, check for downed bridges, whatever – to make sure they are seconds, seconds away from coming to your aid.

Don’t arrive late. I will believe I forgot to invite you and I’ll invite you another sixty times using all of your numbers and devices and a carrier pigeon with a razor sharp beak. I will also send the police to check for you and I will further torture the already-arrived guests by having them search the internet, emergency frequencies, and satellite imagery from weather monitoring stations to establish for certain that there are no downed bridges.

Don’t arrive. If you come to my party I will forever believe you had a terrible night filled with the kind of insufficient heating/cooling/ice/music/drinks/food/games/dancing/conversation/hook-ups/lighting and lolly-bags that will make you think I’m bad at parties and, ergo, a bad person. To save you the further awkwardness of ending things first, I’ll have to cut you loose the next day and we’ll never be friends again*.

*Note: in this case ‘again’ means until I forget I can’t have parties, which is usually such a short duration of time that you won’t have noticed we aren’t friends anymore. This is actually great because I like to have parties and I’d SO love you to come.