Category Archives: Life

Confessions of a Bibliophile #2

A year ago today, my husband joked that I couldn’t possibly stop myself from buying books. I told him I could… if I really wanted to. Our light-hearted argument ended in a bet – that I would refrain from buying books for an entire year. I had a point to prove. I was totally in control of my penchant for buying more books than I could read… wasn’t I?

I started out strong on my marathon of willpower and didn’t buy a single book for four months. I started using the library (what a novel idea!), borrowed books from friends and took books from my own shelves that I’d been meaning to read for a long time. Friends and family sent me books for my birthday in March and this also helped.

Then one morning in May, I drove to an unfamiliar library (to write) and walked straight into a book sale! I felt betrayed; libraries weren’t supposed to sell books!

I couldn’t help myself – I browsed. I thought, ‘I won’t buy anything, I’ll just have a quick look.’ Uh oh. Don’t look at candies in the window, unless you’re prepared to buy them. I convinced myself that I’d never find these books, in such excellent condition (for only $1!) ever again.

My husband raised his eyebrows. I told him this book-buying splurge didn’t really count – I was sabotaged!

I wiped the slate clean and continued my marathon of willpower… until October, when I was sent an online book voucher. I couldn’t waste it, could I? So I ordered a novel and paid the difference. (Oh the rush of glee that flooded my dried up, bookish soul when the parcel arrived a week later!)

Then I received another book voucher. Totally not my fault. Again, I couldn’t waste it, could I? So I grabbed two books from the shop shelves and paid the difference. (Oh how I missed this book buying therapy!)

Then several friends launched debut books and I had to support them by ordering a copy, didn’t I? It would have been unkind not to. And anyway, I was well into the spirit of spending in the lead up to Christmas and, well… it didn’t really matter that I bought a few books for myself, after such a long time without, did it?

Okay, so I think maybe my husband won the bet but for a bibliophile, I think I did pretty darn well. One day soon my pride will heal. The point is that I learnt a lot.

I learnt I didn’t need to buy so many books all the time. And the savings were significant and useful.

I rediscovered the great well of books at the local library, which I’d somehow forgotten about (but now make use of once again).

I discovered that true book-loving friends are generous in their loaning of books.

I read many books that had been sitting on my ‘to be read’ pile for far too long and that felt mighty fine. (Who would’ve thought that I already had multiple shelves of unread stories under my very roof?)

The forced self-control to refrain from book buying was uncomfortable and difficult – I often argued with myself – but the end result was that I now have greater control over my book buying habit. Before, I couldn’t say no but now, I can.

Would I take on this challenge again? No thanks.

I’d love to hear about your book buying habits so feel free to share by commenting on this post.

Happy reading for 2018!

P.S. You can find Confessions of a Bibliophile #1 on my Instagram account.

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Letter to a Friend About Mental Illness

Dear Friend,

You’ve often said to me that nobody is normal and we all have our problems. I completely agree – and I appreciate your efforts of trying to make me feel acceptable – but I think that perhaps you don’t really understand.

It’s true that everyone has their issues; we’ve all experienced traumas; we’re all broken. What we share in common are our human natures and the whole range of human emotions. What we are less likely to share in common – diagnosed or not – is mental illness.

Someone who is sad may say they’re depressed when they have no clue what real depression is like. It is not sadness – it’s worse.

Someone who is particular might say they’re OCD about something when they have no real understanding of the brutality of the disorder. In its most destructive form, OCD is oppressive and relentless.

You lack motivation? Sure, everyone does but do you know that tight grip of depression that feels like 20kgs of weight strapped to your feet? You can’t move, no matter how hard you try.

Someone who is feeling stressed from having too much on their plate may not truly know what real sensory overwhelm feels like – that state where your anxious mind meets a barrage of overbearing stimulants. The result is internal chaos.

You say you feel anxious. Everyone experiences anxiety – true – but not everyone understands the extreme stress response that comes in the form of a panic attack. It is truly awful and can be extremely hard to prevent, even after all your best efforts.

Someone whose brain has checked out for the day due to busyness, may not know what real dissociation feels like – that state in which you lose all sense of yourself. In fact, you don’t even know you’ve ‘left’ and so have no idea when you’ll be ‘back’.

Someone who feels lonely for a spell maybe doesn’t understand the feelings of abandonment and despair that you have to deal with as a person with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

These examples are just a few of the ‘not so ordinary’ issues I – and many others – have to deal with, on a regular basis.Whilst BPD, depression and anxiety don’t define who I am, they follow me everywhere. They are more than mere labels, simply because I have to live with them day in and day out. Relief is hard to get.

BPD, depression and anxiety – like all mental illnesses – are serious and can’t be equated with all manner of human nature and human experience. (Did you know that the most common reason why people engage in self-harm or attempt suicide is to escape unbearable emotional pain?)

So sure, no one is normal. Normal doesn’t exist. But one person’s ‘not normal’ is different to another person’s ‘not normal’. And mental illness is the most debilitating ‘not normal’ out there.

So now that you understand the difference between the things we share in common as humans and a few of the symptoms of mental illness, dear friend, please stop comparing me to everyone else and telling me that my suffering is no different.

Perhaps you will never fully understand, and that’s okay, but I’d really appreciate it if you continue to try and as you try, be careful not to dismiss the gravity of mental illness.

Love Jodie x

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KSP WEEKEND

I was given an amazing opportunity, by the Katherine Susannah Pritchard Writers Centre (KSP) and Laurie Steed, to join Bindy Prichard and David Allan-Petale at the Short Story Retreat held last March at KSP in Perth. Why? Because the third winning writer of the competition pulled out and a space opened up for me.

I didn’t realise, when I accepted the offer, that I’d have to overcome three challenges if I was to get the most out of the retreat.

Challenge number one was the medical cum political saga I had to deal with the week of the Short Story Retreat. If the medical powers that be hadn’t finally allowed me to swap malfunctioning medical equipment with new equipment, before I was due to leave on the Friday, I wouldn’t have been able to attend KSP. It was a hard week on a number of fronts but thankfully, I left home with working medical equipment in tow.

Challenge number two was overcoming the anxiety of separation from my husband and son for two nights after a stretch of bad depression.

Challenge number three was the dreaded ‘imposter syndrome’. Maybe because I was initially not offered a place. Maybe because I was the only ‘officially unpublished’ writer in the group. Maybe because I didn’t feel my writing was literary enough. Or maybe just because I’m hypersensitive and often feel unworthy of rewards like this.

Had I earned my place at this KSP Retreat? Apparently I had and boy did I soak up every blessing poured out to me that weekend – just like a crusty sponge.

For the first time, I was privileged to receive one-on-one feedback with an editor. And not just any editor – the one and only Laurie Steed. (What an absolute gem he is, particularly within the WA writing community.) Laurie, who also often climbed to a higher step on his career ladder via ‘lucky opportunities’ that landed in his lap.

The weekend was intense for me, not just mentally, but also emotionally and physically. I had become so unaccustomed to taking so many study sessions in such a short amount of time. By Saturday afternoon I think all I was giving back to Laurie and my peers was a questioning stare with a mouth slightly agape.

We had a lot of fun over meaningful conversations, food preparation in the tiny KSP kitchen and a few too many glasses of red wine. Dave even broke a chair as we watched the sun set from the gorgeous KSP grounds – haha!

By the time Sunday rolled around and we had read our stories in front of a small audience, I felt like I was saying goodbye to family. I was the last to pack up my cabin, hand in my key and as I waved goodbye to KSP, it was with much reluctance and a tear in my eye.

Thank you Laurie, Dave, Bindy and KSP for your wonderful company and this amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity. I will never forget it and I’ll never forget you all and everything you gave to me so willingly from hearts of true generosity.

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Are you a human-being or a human-doing?

You have been created as a human-being, not a human-doing. Your worth is based on everything you are, not on everything you do.

 

It’s not a new year anymore

It’s so easy to get caught up in the busy rush of everyday life, isn’t it? During the early part of the year, we tend to dive straight into achieving new goals and zoom along, sometimes at a whirlwind pace.

It’s March now… maybe it’s time to slow down a little and admire the sunflower that opened up just for you in your garden.

Achieving so much is great for the ‘doing’ part of our ego – the part that wants to achieve and feel good for it, the part that wants to please others and be commended.

But while you’re busy constantly doing, what’s happening to the ‘being’ part of yourself? Are you giving it any attention?

 

What am I talking about?

What do I mean by ‘doing’ and ‘being’? We live in such a go-go-go world that we’re always focussed on what’s next on our list of things to do. This is what I refer to as our ‘doing self’. It is purely task orientated.

Our ‘being self’ isn’t focussed on all the doing. ‘Being’ is about resting, loving life, recognising who you are and what you’re like and being okay with that. It is people focussed, not task oriented.

 

Stop

I’ve long battled with ‘doing’ and ‘being’. Having lived many years with a chronic illness, I’ve had to face the challenge of not physically achieving as much as my brain wants me to. Life lessons have impressed upon me that ‘being’ is far more enriching than ‘doing’.

If you’re anything like me, it’s hard to stop doing and just be, most of the time. You might get bored instantly or get fidgety. It takes practice to master, but once you have, your happiness will increase exponentially.

‘Being’ fits in with ideas about mindfulness. I’ll talk about this topic more in future weeks. Meanwhile, I encourage you to find some time to just sit and think. Maybe put some classical music on, maybe enjoy the sound of silence. Perhaps do it at the beach, or maybe on your couch. Maybe meditate (watching your thoughts drift by). You don’t have to do this practice for a long time, to start with.

I truly believe that being you is more important than being busy. Slow down a little, unique soul, you’ve been working hard on all your doing.

 

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ON THE ROAD

I’m excited and embarrassed to confess that next week, my husband and I are renting a deluxe motorhome and taking our four-year-old down to Esperance (South of Western Australia) for six nights.

Excited, because we’ve never had a family holiday, never camped in a motor home and never ventured further south than Albany. So it’ll be an adventure. I can’t wait to create fun memories with my favourite boys.

Embarrassed, because it seems like a very Grey Nomad type of thing to do! We’re usually known for our ‘tenting’ style of holiday.

My husband and I have always talked about doing a year-long trip around Australia, when our son is older. I guess this holiday could be a small foretaste of what that might be like.

After this trip, I’m guessing it’ll be hard to lower the camping standards to tenting again. And I’m guessing I’ll want to buy a motorhome.

Do you enjoy road tripping around Oz? Have you been on a long journey with a young child before?

Please share any camping stories you have, I’d love to hear them :o).

 

 

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Geek, nerd or ‘other’?

I finally got around to watching Firefly last month, for the first time. The series was strange but great. Firefly has attracted geeks galore, as you may know. Many movies and TV series have attracted geeks and I’m also an avid fan of some of them.

I’m going to Comic-Con in April (with the same girlfriend who dressed up with me to see The Force Awakens), which has been on my to-do list for a few years. Comic-Con attracts geeks too, and I’m geekily excited!

Nerdy? Maybe. Geeky? Maybe. Or maybe I’m both. Or neither. Yes, there are differences, as this article explains: http://www.wikihow.com/Tell-the-Difference-Between-Nerds-and-Geeks.

I actually don’t care what category I fit in. Geek and nerd have always been derogatory terms but in this Big Bang Theory era, we’re actually becoming more ‘cool’. And if I’m wrong, it doesn’t actually matter anyway.

At school, I always worked extremely hard to get good grades and to generally just succeed in life. My school friends affectionately called me a nerd, because I got A’s for most of my subjects (except sport, of course).

Other peers called me a square and I got teased with the L7 sign a lot. In the 90’s, the definition of the word ‘square’, wasn’t what the dictionary says.

I never thought I was a nerd, because there were plenty more people with fewer social skills and much more intelligence than me. And I hated math and science. I wasn’t cool but I wasn’t uncool either.

I always tried not to be a square, because I was ashamed of caring so much and trying so hard. Unlike a nerd, I was semi-social and not 100% introverted.

I still put 110% into everything I put my mind to. I still care about getting the absolute best results out of myself that I can. But I’m not as much of a perfectionist now – I’ve learnt to loosen up a lot. (Back when I was young, perfectionism and OCD just about tore my brain apart.)

Nowadays I’m surrounded by nerd and geek friends who I absolutely love to bits. They bring out the little inner nerd and little inner geek in me and I love them for it.

I realise now that I’m neither nerd or geek, and by definition, I’m not a square either. I’m just an enthusiast for all things. But you can call me what you like, I don’t mind.

Cool? Not really. But I reckon the geeks and nerds are the ones who make life most interesting and most fun.

 

 

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Literary Idols

Literary Idols

During a recent conversation, a friend asked me which authors inspire me the most and how. Here’s the answer to that question…

When I was very young, Enid Blyton captured my imagination with her Magic Tree tales. So fantastical and brilliant were her creations that I lived in these bizarre worlds for days on end. I loved to escape into the magical places she’d crafted. For me, Blyton’s enchanted tales were so adventurous and so believable that it was easy to tune out to everything else around me.

As I grew a bit older, I became interested in Roald Dahl’s tales. His unusual stories, where the main child character was always the champion, amused me no end. I found his writing was funny and a breeze to read. The antagonist was always someone so wretched that I wanted to get to the end to discover his or her horrible demise. By the time I grew out of Roald Dahl stories, I had read everything he’d ever written for children.

I then moved onto Paul Jennings. The quirkiness of this author’s plot lines and his bizarre characters completely drew me into his strange tales. In every one of his stories, I was compelled to solve the mysteries, and I loved discovering their answers.

By late primary school, I was enjoying a phase of horror fiction. My Goosebumps binge lasted for a while. The hardly-scary children’s stories by R. L. Stine appealed to my interest in terror and all things grim.

A. Montgomery was another favourite author at this time. I frequently ‘chose my own adventure’ and went on multiple versions of discovery within a single story. The mystery and novelty of these stories kept me hooked for some time.

As a young teen, I found myself engrossed in the works of Isobelle Carmody. Her Obernewtyn Chronicles had me charmed with the dystopian fantasy / post apocalyptic genre. (I also began to appreciate huge-arse books!) Carmody creates such believable fantasy worlds, deep characters with multiple dimensions and gripping plot lines. Her stories explore philosophical notions and the very soul of humanity.

In high school, I also discovered John Marsden. I found myself easily able to connect with his Australian stories and characters. Marsden’s tales deconstruct harsh realities and plunge right into human chaos. It was from reading this author’s books that I began to form a real attachment to characters in stories generally, and I grieved if they died.

As an adult, I’ve read countless novels and am inspired by numerous authors. Gillian Flynn is high on my list of revered artists. I love her gritty, crafty plots and her sharp, evocative writing style. She writes scenes with such efficient use of language. Scenes that make you want to throw up while simultaneously keeping you transfixed, turning page after page until the end. I know of no other author that can delve so deeply into the mind of such disturbed characters and write them with such accuracy.

So where do these inspiring authors leave me? They leave me with a hope of creating my own excellent stories. Stories that transcend the ordinary standard out there and soar to heights yet unreached.

If I can convince my readers to suspend their disbelief, no matter how absurd my story world is… If I can take my readers on a magnificent adventure full of mystery and discovery… If I can infuse my own quirkiness and make my readers smile… If I can create multidimensional characters that stand the test of time… then I will be a happy writer.

If I can shed light on, and create hope about, harsh realities… If I can make the boring old familiar topics of thought fresh and interesting again… If I can write with grit and precision… If I can keep my readers hooked and wanting more… then I will consider myself a successful writer.

Now that’s a long bill to fill, but I wouldn’t want the challenge to be any easier.

The best novels are always the result of the hardest challenges. I know, because I’ve been lucky enough to meet a couple of the literary heroes I’ve mentioned here.

 

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The Spoon Theory

I’d love for all of us to stop judging others on what they do and don’t achieve in life, whether they’re ‘normal’ or ill, or whether they’re ‘like us’ or not. Here’s why: we all carry a unique and limited number of ‘spoons’ to use each day. Let me explain.

The Spoon Theory is a genius analogy coined by Christine Miserandino.

The theory is especially relevant to me because I have a gut condition called Chronic Intestinal Pseudo Obstruction. This illness, along with depression, anxiety, a moderate pulmonary stenosis and an underactive thyroid, affects how much I can and can’t do on a daily basis.

The Spoon Theory is a fascinating, simple concept about the limit of physical resources a sick person has. By physical resources, I mean energy stores, muscular strength, the quality of sleep I’m able to get, and bodily malfunctions.

Anyone who sets out to understand the Spoon Theory will benefit from knowing about it, not just those with an illness or those who live with chronically ill people.

 

Time to read

I’ve shared the above two links, hoping you’ll read them now, before continuing with this post. Even if you consider yourself healthy and ‘normal’, please still look at them.

 

More than just a body

As well as the physical capacity of a person, the Spoon Theory can also be applied to a person’s mental and emotional reserves. It certainly applies to all three aspects for me, as I struggle daily to maintain homeostasis within my whole being.

In this age when depression is more widely and openly discussed, and there is greater public awareness about mental health issues, I think this is an important point to remember.

 

Spoon supply

Each day, week, month, brings with it a varied amount of spoon supplies. Life is ever changing and for me, there are rarely a reliable number of spoons at my disposal each day.

If I’ve had more sleep, I have more spoons to use. If my body is being less symptomatic, I have greater concentration and more energy. If my son has been well behaved, I have more mental space to be mindful and keep my depression in check (resulting in a lower likelihood of depressive ‘slumps’). This can also apply to people who are quite well.

So many elements in life use up one’s spoon stores – not just illness. Relationship issues, children, work and many other things take away from each person’s supply. Sometimes those ‘other things’ deplete a person’s spoon supply so much that it leaves them with no spoons to use for him- or her- self at the end of a day.

 

Effects of The Spoon Theory

Maybe, given my medical condition, I aspire to achieve too much, but I’m determined to experience as much as a motivated healthy person in this life. I’m ambitious in spirit but poor physical and mental health has always limited what dreams I can realistically accomplish.

Because of the Spoon Theory, I’m a lot more okay with my limited capacity than I used to be. Discovering the theory brought some freedom into my life. I was able to lower the lofty height of ‘the bar’ I’d always set for myself.

My loved ones have all read about the Spoon Theory and it’s really helped them to manage their expectations of me. This has resulted in a happier, more relaxed Jodie. The funny thing is, when I’m feeling so well supported, I can generally give more back.

 

Got a spoon?

And that’s why I’d love us to stop judging others based on what they do and don’t achieve in life, whether they’re ‘normal’ or ill, or whether they’re ‘like us’ or not.

Everyone has their own number of spoons. Everyone has their own capacities and weaknesses to face, and strengths to deal with life’s challenges.

Why don’t we start thinking about whether we have a spare spoon we can lend to someone (sick or healthy) who doesn’t have as many as they need?

Being given a spoon is one of the greatest gifts anyone could bestow upon me. Thank you to everyone who has ever given me one of their spoons. I’ll always be grateful.

 

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Dumb Things that Happen

The clock is ticking. Time might be my enemy today.

I notice a couple in their SUV, pulling out of a driveway. I wonder if they’re nice, normal people and then decide to take the risk and ask them to give me a lift.

I’m really hot and tired by this stage and I’m worried about getting back to my sister’s house in time to make my appointment, which is an hour’s drive further north than I’ve already travelled.

Today, I have a medical appointment at a hospital three hours north of where I live. I left home early with my three-year-old, in a luggage-packed car and plenty of time on my side. I’m about to get the quickest answer to prayer I’ve ever received.

Let me back up for a minute.

I’ve driven to my sister’s house where my son and I are staying for two nights. After dropping my son off at his Granddad’s to be babysat for the day, I park on the lawn, unlock the front door, drop my handbag (with everything in it) inside the front door and return to the car to unpack.

I’ve taken everything out of the car and piled it up outside the house.

I grasp the lever on the front door. It won’t move. A feeling of dread plummets into my tummy. The door has made a vile move against me on this busy, hot day and self-locked. The bitch!

I pat my hands around my jeans pockets, searching for my mobile phone. I have no phone, car keys, nothing. They’re all in my handbag inside the house. A whispered curse escapes my lips. Of all days, this cannot be happening today!

Panic turns into quick thinking and I start knocking on neighbours’ front doors until I find one who’ll not only open their door to me, but also let me use their phone.

I call my husband. My husband calls my brother-in-law. My brother-in-law calls me. He’s in Perth with the spare key, working. The only other spare key is with my niece and she’s at school. Fortunately, the school isn’t too far away.

I have to leave everything (including my unlocked car and several valuables) and walk to the school. Well, that’s where I think I’m going.

It’s 11am, 33 degrees celsius and I’m already feeling too hot. I’m puffing, I’m scared of burning and also worried about passing out (I have a history of heat exhaustion).

The school feels like a light year away. I’m not even sure I’m heading in the right direction. After about ten minutes, I discover I’m heading in the wrong direction and turn around. And that brings me back to the couple pulling out of a driveway in their SUV.

The couple clearly thinks I’m strange but respond kindly to my request for a lift and take me to my niece’s school. I thank them repeatedly then wait at reception in the air conditioning while the key is being retrieved from my niece in class. I’m feeling impatient but try to relax.

The key is finally in my hot little hands and I start walking back. Two minutes pass and I’m already completely over the heat so I squash my pride and employ my hitchhikers thumb. Another risk.

No one stops. I hope someone is going to pick me up and take me back to my sister’s house – not some unfamiliar place to slaughter me. I try not to think about all the possible things an evil person could do to me.

I’ve been whispering prayers in my head up until this point.

This time I literally pray out loud for the very next car to pick me up. Two seconds later, a car approaches. The driver stops and invites me to sit in the passenger seat. There’s a cute Chihuahua in the back seat. The nice old lady drops me back at my sister’s house.

I unlock the house door, again, go inside, drink copious amounts of water and tear my jeans off to cool down. I still have time on my side. I’ll make it in time for my MRI appointment at the hospital after all.

Far. Out!

 

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The night of the alien

Once upon a time, in a hospital far away, there existed a 13-year-old girl whose life was surrounded by a sphere of mystery and desperation.

The girl’s name was Jodie. The girl was me.

I can’t remember all the details of my history, which is annoying. I’m guessing my memory is patchy because I had intense experiences, permeated by high levels of emotion.

I’ll try to recollect one especially peculiar scene for you…

This scene unfolded during a time when I was debilitated in hospital. My abnormal body had produced an abscess where a jejunostomy tube had been removed from my gut wall. Why did an abscess form? The answer is unknown.

I was lying, supine (as I often did) on my plastic mattress bed, watching TV. It was an average night on the teenager ward at Princess Margaret Hospital. I was reasonably happy because the dressing around my gut ‘hole’ had been fashioned by a skilled nurse. The dressing was secure, so stomach acid wasn’t burning my skin, as it so often did during this particular admission. It was a pretty ordinary hospital stay.

Then average changed and the ordinary got real weird. (Not that I wasn’t already familiar with all sorts of weird…)

Stomach acid began to seep under the expert dressing and sizzle away at my epidermis. The ostomy pouch secured over the hole (for drainage) puffed up with gas. I sensed impending doom.

When weird things happened to my body, as they did on semi-regular occasions, I felt astonished. But this time, I said, ‘Woaaaaah, check this out!’ to my mum who was sitting nearby.

We knew something was quite wrong when the pain started. Mum rushed off for a nurse.

The nurse, who tailed my mum back, loved grotesque human secretions. (Nurses are generally curious, fascinated creatures.) She took the ostomy pouch off. A foreign, disgusting smell filled the air.

What happened next was almost like the alien chest-bursting scene in the movie, Alien (or the rip-off version in Spaceballs). Funny thing was, I didn’t order the daily special.

What erupted out of my gut wasn’t an archetypal alien… But it was green, it was slimy and it was definitely disgusting. My adrenaline level soared. I stared at my tummy, grimacing, as if it were someone else’s bodily dysfunction that I was observing. It bubbled as it exited, like a creature moving of its own accord. The mass discharge happened in a matter of seconds.

Straight after the alien had slimed out of my gut hole, all covered in mucous like a baby – it burst.

The first thing the nurse said was, ‘Coooool!’ All I could say was, ‘FAR OUT!’ My body had produced this. It was surreal to see the abscess on the outside of me, after it had been causing so much trouble inside me.

What followed was a decent clean up effort and animated talk between medical staff. The best thing, after this episode was that I was free, for now, of physical pain. Finally, I had my jejunum back. Now, hydrochloric acid wouldn’t leak out, over my skin and torture me.

I may not have slept so well since The Night of the Alien.

 

 

 

 

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