On Feeling

Friends you often ask how I am feeling, whether the pain/numbness has gone away after the surgeries. The simple answer is no. Or optimistically, not yet. In fact, the feeling of numbness on my head (“you numbskull!”) and the left half of my body sometimes feel worse on crazy days.

I realize this is an oxymoron: “the feeling of numbness”. 

How does one feel numbness?

Numbness for me is experienced as a sensation of heat and cold simultaneously. The way the touch of ice can seem to burn. It is also experienced, as “pins and needles” or a constant electric buzzing, especially from my head down to the fingers on my left. This too is a meeting of opposites, as this “pins and needles” is an intensity of feeling yet a loss of more complex sensations. Often, the numbness is an aching, tiring stiffness, and on bad days, a heaviness and weakness in the muscles.

During his depression, J would tell me that he could not feel anything - a numbness too. Of course he was not referring to physical sensation. He told me he did not feel like himself and feared he had “lost himself” forever. He also could not feel any joy even with things he usually enjoyed. By that he was also telling me even my company could not cheer him, and that ate into him. But there were brief respites God allowed: when we were able to enjoy a song, a dance, or a silliness together. In these moments J would be assured that he still was himself, and I would think, yes, we can pull through. If you are suffering from depression, I can appreciate because of J that to live each day not feeling “anything”, yet feeling the pain of losing your sense of self, is most difficult. To have an illness others cannot see is a lonely thing. But as with any other illness, depression can happen to the best of us. It does not define you, the complete you. And like any illness, there can be a path to healing and recovery.

My neurosurgeon (he’s a great guy) cautioned me that nerves take a very long time to heal, if they do. When I grew anxious about the sometimes intensifying numbness I felt on bad days, he grounded me with these questions - besides the loss of sensation, have I actually lost my sense of balance? dexterity and real strength? Or worse, function? When I answered in the negative, he assured me that my condition had not worsened, and to trust the healing to God - and time.

God probably knows that all the parallels between “feeling” as physical sensation and as emotional life, won’t be lost on a literature student like me. And so this numbness in the left half of my body is akin to the loss of my better half (as if J wasn’t my more-than-half, or that cliche, my everything). This constant buzzing of the nerves, akin to this intensity of feeling so alive, only because one is too aware of what/who is dead. There is a healing for sure, as promised in Jesus, but the healing will be for a lifetime.

Friends, of all these, there is one parallel that I find most real and hopefully, encouraging. When the numbness is very intense, besides aches, a feeling of weakness sets in. Yet when I force the muscles to work against this feeling of weakness (Go pick up the pace, straighten the body, relax the shoulder, take deep breaths and march up those stairs without aid, woman!), most of the time, I can!

Sensations can fool you with an incomplete truth, as with emotions. Feeling weak is not the same as having no strength. Our feelings are real, intense, and sometimes so urgent and confounding, they overwhelm us. But we are - in all the richness and complexity of life - more than what we feel. More than what we don’t or can no longer feel


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