(Artwork by Zoe Shier @chadwick_zoe)
I used to get these pains on the left side of my neck.
They were horrible, absolutely debilitating. They came over with no trigger whatsoever and completely floored me. I couldn’t do anything else than lie in bed with a heat pad and painkillers and pray for it to go away.
The pills didn’t help. Neither did hot water bottles, heat-generating creams or massages. It was like someone was hitting my skull with a hammer. All I could do was to lay still, wincing and crying until it finally subsided. Between the bouts of pain the area from behind my ear to shoulder was sore and rock solid. Multiple people point out that I walk with my shoulders towards my ears.
Once I started having the neck pains it felt like I’ve always had them.
But I remember the first time I had it. I must’ve been touched by the frozen draught while walking out despite my scarf. Once back inside the pain quickly overcomes me.
I expect my boyfriend to be caring and tender.
He isn’t. He gets angry with me.
He says I did it on purpose.
I don’t know did he ever see the connection but he never had much patience towards my pain. To him they were an inconvenience. The pain would mean I was no longer fun. Pain would cancel plans, push me further away from him, underneath the duvet. I would often be wearing one of his huge cardigans, accompanied by a scarf and a deep heat pad underneath. I looked like a combination of the Michelin man and Rupert the Bear.
I would ignore the warning label and insert the pad right against my skin. I could only feel it if it burned. Everything else was first rays of early spring sun, too far to feel anything more than a distant hue. It was as if that triangular-shaped area behind my ear had undergone necrosis. It was a separate body part.
I would change the pad the moment it stopped burning. I’d go through a whole packet in a day. The glue would leave rectangular residue on my skin as I shuffled around the flat miserable.
Not very sexy. He keeps telling me.
How can I expect to keep him when I’m being so impossible?
He never called after equality on this matter. The pain was definitely mine. I was chained to it like a mother to an unwanted child. I had come to have something that was deeply shameful and was expected to take care of it. It was my problem, my responsibility. I had to be the one to sort it out.
Not only did I have the pain but also the pain of having the pain. I felt like a failure each time. I didn’t know which part of me hurt the most: my neck, my chest or the bottom of my stomach with a sinking feeling.
I’d tell myself off. No wonder he can’t stand me, I’m just useless. At one point I was having the pains so often that I forgot what it was like to not to be in pain. It was like whizzing down a huge slide that you can’t get off from once you’re pushed on your way. All you can do at that point is to hold on.
I never want to speak to my ex again but if I could somehow convey one message to him, I would like to tell him the following:
After we broke up the pain stopped. I’ve never had them since, not once.
The mind is a powerful thing.
Now I see things differently. It’s so clear, so easy to follow my steps back to that first day. In hindsight it’s easy to track me back underneath a duvet. A couple of years ago I would’ve behaved different upon discovery. Now if I could, I’d lie down next to the person in an oversized cardigan. I’d wrap my arms around her.