Invisible Disease

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The night before I left my attic bedroom, as I folded my last t-shirt and zipped up my duffel bag I suddenly felt some anxiety creep into my chest. 

 

I’m in Ottawa for two weeks, I’ll be fine. I assured myself, ignoring the nudge.

 

Before the pandemic, I rarely left my house. I worked part-time as a server at a restaurant and always rushed home to lock myself away in the comfort of four white bedroom walls, utterly consumed by my art. When the world shut down, and travel became restricted, I was gifted with the opportunity to live part-time on Vancouver Island as my family was to be split between the east and west for a little while. 

 

For six months, I’d mastered keeping to myself in my travels and getting to where I needed to be, brushing past the virus that was infecting so many across the globe. What I didn't realize is that my intuition wasn’t misplaced before this flight. It was trying to ease me into the waters of what I was about to experience.

 

What if I get sick? I asked myself the next morning a few hours before my flight, as I always did. I brushed it off of my mind as I caught the first flight out of Victoria and flew right into a world of my greatest nightmare.

 

As the plane lifted off the ground and I found myself back in the clouds, I was fuelled by this sense of spontaneity. I was about to go on my second awe inducing road trip across Canada, a last youthful adventure with my hometown friends before the start of a new chapter in an ocean side city.

 

 

A few days before the trip, I woke up with a strange heaviness. I was exhausted and found it difficult to get out of bed. I sat up and the entire room became hazy and blurred. I ignored the warning signs my body was giving me, collected myself and made my way down to my car to head over to the studio. As I pulled onto the highway, the dizziness passed and was replaced by a cycle of thoughts running through my mind. 

 

Maybe if I had just eaten more this week. Maybe if I had gotten some more sleep before this release. Did someone on my plane have COVID? Maybe I'll just pass if I eat something now. I'll just go to sleep earlier tonight. Why won't this dizziness go away?

 

When I got in, guitar strums filled the room and the speakers echoed my vocals. I was in a trance, so thrilled and excited about the song. An hour later, my symptoms came back. I closed my eyes, hoping to wake up from this strange glitch of bad health, but it wasn’t going away. 

 

Homesickness started to stir within me and I became really scared. The excuses I had told myself that morning quickly started to slip through like water in my hands. When I got back, I immediately found sleep. I came to, a few hours later and felt even more lethargic. I called my dad and sobbed on the line for an hour. 

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After releasing my single "Mess" about the loss of my mom, I thought my body was alerting me it was time to slow down.

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I thought that because of how many all-nighters I had pulled working on the music video, my recent fluctuation of weight and stress induced disordered eating that this was a clear result of mental and physical exhaustion. I had stretched myself out thin. Without any respiratory symptoms or any airline alerts of any kind of COVID-19 the day I flew, the possibility that I had been infected was extremely slim, but not impossible.

 

I convinced myself that I was going to be okay, that this was another obstacle of life and that I just needed to rest. But as my anxiety loved to remind me, I was halfway across the country, a road trip was on the horizon and for unknown reasons, my body was shutting down. My survival instincts and unhealthy coping mechanisms kicked in full force as my condition declined and instead of taking a time-out to heal, I was obsessively entranced in the idea that all I needed to do was get home.

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lake louise, alberta

 saskatchewan

banff, alberta

Long stretches of highway made their way into view, I would close my eyes and try to keep my composure. As conversation and light banter was being made throughout the day, I was unable to speak. Thoughts would pass by me and I was too tired to say them. I listened to music as I stared out the window, trying to gather every kind of strength within me as I'd be thrown back into another fit of silent pain.

 

I tried to pretend, but I couldn't truly hide that I was in complete and utter misery.

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As the sun started to set, my body would start to shake. I found myself awake until dawn in some foreign hotel, looking around the room as it was spinning around me. My muscles ached and fatigue overcame me, I cried softly so I wouldn’t wake anyone. Night after night I was unable to find more than a few hours sleep. After the third night without sleep or any sign of healing, the monsters in my head returned and I felt myself start to slip back into a depression.

All I could think about everyday was how much I wanted to be home, and how all I had to do was survive the day to get to the next hotel room. The highways, the drive thrus, the gas stations and the beds of white linen, all blurred together in a fever like dream with only small glimpses of clarity. 

When we got to Kenora, a small town north of Lake of the Woods, I tried to find answers in the hospital. As I was triaged and moved through different exams rooms, a nurse came in to do my bloodwork and asked me to hold pressure on my arm. I placed my finger on a cotton ball and pushed down. “What a beautiful ring!” The nurse said, as she noticed the ring I wear everyday. “Where did you get it?” 

I immediately bursted into tears, and she gave me a sympathetic look with a hint of confusion of why this question would suddenly upset me. “It was my mom’s.” I said, whipping my tears away quickly. “She passed when I was little.” The nurse looked at me and gave me a look of I’m sorry and said my results would be in shortly. The door closed behind her and I broke down. In an empty exam room, in the hospital, in the middle of nowhere. 

 

I realized that since I had started promoting and recording my song about loss, I hadn't yet let myself completely grieve. Releasing that song for me was more than releasing music, it triggered an awakening inside me and I came into confrontation with myself and this unknown illness was a manifestation of just that. 

 

They moved me around and finally made me wait for my results in a small supply closet room. I sobbed quietly in pain, going over how I could possibly explain to anyone in my life the mental and physical trials I was now experiencing when there was not yet any physical evidence of it at all. How do I look at a room full of people I care about and tell them that I feel absolutely alone in their presence and it has nothing to do with them? Everyday I tried to find a sliver of comfort in unfamiliar places and the travel that used to bring vibrancy to my life, I knew now was now making me more ill. Five hours later my blood work came back great, I was told that there was nothing abnormal going on here. That maybe I was suffering from chronic fatigue and malnutrition and that with time, it would pass, but they were throwing guesses in the dark. I sobbed outside the hospital as I called back home to update that they had released me and I could continue the trip. My parents were so relieved and excited about the news, but all I could think was, 

 

If there’s nothing wrong with me, why do I still feel like I’m dying?