It was almost a year after I stopped injecting interferon into my leg muscles that I got the bruises. I can’t believe it took that long.
By the end of November 2013 I was no longer doing weekly injections. The first thing to start to disappear was the blocked and foggy head, but the most obvious place that needed healing was my thigh muscles – these were so sore. I used to get shooting pains, little knots that were very tender to the touch, general pinchy tightness that was much worse when I lay down…
2014, then, was all about bringing my thigh muscles back to health. I massaged. I stretched. I heated. I relaxed (I remember a face-down spread-eagled posture where in the first few minutes I’d get crazy twitches in various places in my thighs, then it would calm down and I’d feel them releasing).
Eventually, this led to spontaneous bruising down the outside of my thighs where the shadow is between bone and muscle (the bruises had come from the inside). Small round bruises spaced out in a line, like Orion’s belt. I guess this wasn’t exactly a good thing but was certainly a significant step in healing. My thighs didn’t hurt so much after this and started to get stronger.
In fact, in September 2014 I felt quite strong and healthy – I saw my GP at some point and seemed to be good – then I started my Diploma in Counselling, which just got me all tense again for the next 8 months. I was still not right, particularly having problems with bad poo (sorry – there really is no better way to put it), was quite stressed and chasing all the diet red herrings.
Nothing definitively sorted it. I was still weak, bad at walking (terrible balance and coordination), had sore hips…so I continued with various stretching, strengthening, and heating because I thought that tight muscles were the problem.
In April 2015 I woke up to the fact that the counselling course was wrong for me and that becoming a counsellor wouldn’t be a good career move. While it’s a fascinating field and I developed so much self-knowledge and excellent communication skills, at the time I was looking another way: Obsessed with speaking Spanish, I had been unrusting what I’d learned as a student then forgotten. And I was spending a lot of time trying to sort my body out.
Work and career were generally not interesting to me. I was dissatisfied with what my life had become and what the imagined future held if I stayed on the path I was on. It’s clear to me now that the dissatisfaction was actually about all this underlying health stuff I wasn’t really addressing. I was displacing my frustrations with my physical incapacities onto other life areas.
And my physical incapacities were many. During this time I was suffering from incredibly disruptive continence problems, inability to walk well, and not great mental clarity. I know now this was all part of the Great Purge: the process of my body getting rid of long-held fungal overgrowth, metabolic waste, and excess fluid. At the time, I put it all down to stress and a hangover from the intense awfulness of 2012.
So I finished the first year of the counselling course and withdrew (with relief and excitement). I went to the USA for a couple of weeks (great but again marred by continuing physical problems). I got back and started planning to move to Mallorca! Like you do.
There wasn’t a lot to keep me in Sheffield. I’d always wanted to live abroad and the timing was right. I was looking for a new start, fresh opportunities, and had some notions of noodling around among the olive trees, writing and looking at the stars. The idea was to just go, not have a plan, put myself in the way of opportunity and see what happened.
Why Mallorca? I don’t know. I’d barely been there – a few days in an exclusive hotel tucked away on a rocky coast and a week in the capital, Palma. I knew it was where a lot of pro-cyclists did their training. I figured it would be a different, more interesting, place out of the holiday season. I wasn’t even aware that Spanish is not the first language, nor that it has a significant population of rich foreigners. I didn’t do a lot of research.
But off I went! I left my flat, put my stuff in storage, packed up four suitcases and got on a plane. Fuck!
Even though I felt physically stronger, I still wasn’t right. But I was determined that a new place meant a new start to the next chapter in my life and I could leave all this in the past. Unfortunately, life had other plans for me…
Bailar en la Cueva
After my initial two months of enthusiasm wore off and the reality of living in a dark little house in a tiny hamlet in an isolated valley on an island enslaved to tourism kicked in, I realised I really didn’t want to be there.
I had struggled on for a bit and tried to meet people and get involved in where I was. But it soon became apparent that in my physical state and without a car, I couldn’t get anywhere and actually there was nowhere I wanted to go.
Yet I was committed to a rental contract on the house, so I couldn’t just move on. So it seemed obvious that it was, in fact, a good opportunity to drop out of life and focus on sorting my health out. I had savings to live on and barely knew anyone. I could shut myself away!
So that’s what I did, more or less. The only people I might see in the week were Monica, my lovely kind next-door neighbour, for coffee and Swedish biscuits, Rosa in the village for some language exchange (that usually turned into her philosophising at me for an hour), Carmen for my weekly Spanish lesson, and a Skype with my London friend Kate.
I couldn’t really concentrate on anything, so my writing projects went out the window. Language study too. The main task of the week was doing the food shopping. I was applying for jobs in Barcelona or Valencia and not getting anywhere. Otherwise, all my physical and mental energy was spent on figuring out what was going on with my body.
It was utter hell, quite honestly, but it was really valuable. The first step on the long road to sorting out 15+ years of health troubles that I’d largely ignored. It seems now like I was supposed to go there and withdraw from life, like my unconscious knew it needed to happen and made me do it. Some friends have likened this period to the montage scene in a film where our hero is in training, preparing for the big showdown (think Rocky, Terminator 2). So here is a small montage, soundtracked by Jorge Drexler’s song Bailar en la Cueva.
Alison rides her clunky mountain bike against the traffic out of Sóller to the crossroads. The street is narrow and slightly uphill; she is weak and wobbly, nearly crashing into the old ladies that she passes.
Next leg of the journey home is to the small stone bridge over the dry river. Citrus orchard to the left, yappy dog to the right. She checks the mirror at the bend where the chain came off once. After the mirror, her strength fails as the incline increases. But the stone seat on the bend at the little bridge awaits as reward.
Energy and determination renewed a little, she hits the third section. It starts a bit flatter but she is really pushing those pedals by the top. A car coming means moving to the side of the road and loss of momentum. So the final part is done walking, trudging past the row of parked new Minis towards the steep chicane that signals the start of Biniaraix proper.
Pushing the heavy bike uphill is hard work for a body that can’t. She stops frequently on this last hill to try and recover some strength. When she reaches the door to the house, the bike is unwieldy and difficult to get in. She collapses prone on the mat, sobbing with the effort.
She cannot shake this sacrum ache, an ache so deep it suggests something wrong with her very existence. Getting drunk is the only option. But the rum doesn’t cut it. She dances around the kitchen in the futile hope that movement will change it. It doesn’t. So she curls up in bed and lets the janitor of sleep come to tidy the pain away.
Wandering down lemon tree lane to alleviate the boredom and get some sunshine. The low, narrow wall is perfect for straddling, though with nowhere to support her back she can’t do it for long.
To pass the time, Alison uses a Spanish vocab app on her phone, reads a little, wanders up to the bridge by the gate to the posh house to admire the tiny wildflowers. It’s beautiful (and an excellent source of free lemons!) but uncomfortable and it’s not long before she’s driven back to her cave of a house by some urgent physical need.
This was more or less my life for 4 months. Sadly, the montage isn’t followed by our new, improved heroine winning the fight. Not yet anyway. Not for another four years or more. But four years where the real transformation happened.
So Mallorca was an awful experience. I never want to go there again. Strangely, though, it never occurred to me to return to the UK. I’d left and that was that.
But then again if I hadn’t lived in an isolated rural location in the middle of the Mediterranean, maybe I’d never have moved to Barcelona (t’estimo), I’d never have dropped out of life like I did and faced my physical problems like I needed to, and I’d have always been wondering “what if….?”
Next: It’s not MS