I left my home in London, England, at the beginning of March this year with the intention of healing myself. (My emotional Self, that is.) And so far I think I’ve done a pretty good job of it.
For the first three months I worked hard at addressing both recent and past traumas, which had led me into a rather dark and depressing place by the end of 2013 – to a place low enough to believe that I needed a drastic change in my life. In fact I needed a complete overhaul: a reassessment of my whole life from A to Z, from my job and daily routine, to where I lived, to my priorities, my beliefs, my dreams, my goals, my feeling about my place in the world, my relationships with others, and also, my relationship with myself.
I knew before I left that the first step to achieving clarity on any of the above was to learn to love myself. And to do this, to really get to know myself, accept myself and then try to let go of all the fears, resentments and anxieties holding me back from happiness. I went through a process of grieving, acceptance and most importantly, of listening to and caring for my own needs. And somehow, I did find myself, and I liked what I found too. OK, loved ;)
Somewhat even more miraculously, I learnt to love life again, and to feel that I had a pretty important and positive role to play in it. There were a good few weeks in fact, when I was so in love with life that I was positively glowing from inside-out, my eyes sparkling, my face tired from smiling all the time, my belly hurting from laughing, and my heart, bursting with love.
I should note that while feeling on this high, emotionally, mentally, and spirituality (an unexpected byproduct of all this self-love), I was in physically great condition. I was practicing yoga almost every day, walking a lot, dancing, and even hula hooping. I’d never felt and, dare I say, looked, better.
But somehow over the past month, I have taken a series of knocks – physical ones that is, and quite serious in nature. First, I fell off a motorbike and badly cut my knee and foot, leaving me hobbling around for weeks, unable to even wear shoes as the deep cut on my left foot took seemingly forever to heal. Then, just last week, I stupidly stumbled down the stairs in the dark after one too many drinks, twisting the same already injured foot so badly that I fell in shock to my knees. (Perhaps it’s a good thing I’d had a few drinks as I probably would have fainted with the pain if not! #everycloud.)
More hobbling commenced, but this time even more agonising and arduous as my ridiculous fall came at pretty much the worst time: just hours before my friend and I were set to travel by bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap. And we had no choice but to leave that day as our Thai visas had expired.
Just picture this: Me, hungover, staggering along dragging my club foot behind me, carrying 30kg of baggage, including a yoga mat and a hula hoop, barefoot, sweating like a beast in the midday sun, my nose also sore from the spontaneous piercing I’d had the night before, desperately trying for three hours to get across the notoriously corrupt Thai-Cambodian border in the least-scammed-way possible….
It was NOT a pretty site.
But, I soldiered on, and we made it to Cambodia. The day after I hobbled around Angkor Wat in high spirits – enjoying the final day with my friend before she left for Australia. And for the next few days after that I did very little physical activity, trying to rest my foot as best I could.
One week later though, and my foot still swollen and very sore, yesterday I finally admitted defeat and went to the hospital. Turns out it’s broken.
The whole experience was horrible. First of all I was told the price for the initial consultation: $145. Erm, say whaaaat?! And that didn’t include x-rays, which obviously I would need, being the whole point that I was there. (Thank god I have travel insurance.)
Then I saw the doctor. He prodded and poked me, sent me off for x-rays, then pointing at the image on his screen, confirmed that it was indeed fractured. He said I needed a cast.
Suddenly I felt like a child. ‘Just joking, it doesn’t hurt anymore!’ I wanted to exclaim, and then run down the corridor and back outside to freedom. I really didn’t want a cast. ‘I won’t be able to do yoga’ was my first thought (after wanting to run away). I won’t be able to go on the Vipassana retreat in Thailand, which I’d been planning to do, starting on 1st August. I won’t be able to go to Koh Phangan and see my yoga teacher and friends there before I fly to the US in four week’s time. I won’t be able to leave Siem Reap, or even my depressing, windowless hostel room, without some effort. I won’t be able to do much, actually. For three weeks.
‘You’ll need crutches’, he said.
By this time the tears were welling up. I was embarrassed at crying in front of four or five nurses, the doctor and various other administrative staff (perhaps that’s why it’s so bloody expensive: they hire someone just to walk you from one room to another!) But I feared there was no going back now I’d opened the floodgates.
‘Shit, shit, shit. There must be another alternative,’ I thought. It’s not that bad is it? ‘Well, at least you don’t need surgery’, the doctor said. Surgery?! I hadn’t taken this seriously enough at all.
I tried to think positively and rationally as the various nurses and doctor put on the cast. But I felt heartbroken. I’d been suppressing these tears for a while, I realised. I wasn’t just crying about my foot. I was crying about my stupid mistake which had set me back from the plans I’d made to do some positive work on my mind and body (in particular, the Vipassana retreat). And I was crying because I felt helpless, scared, sad, and lost: all the feelings I had managed for the most part to escape over the past four months, and had hoped, maybe foolishly, I wouldn’t have to feel again.
But then a series of small incidents, or synchronicities as I like to call them, occurred that helped calm me down and change my perspective.
First, while sitting inside the hospital trying (and failing) to figure out what to do next, a good friend whom I hadn’t spoken to in weeks messaged me on Facebook. I told her what was going on and she gave me both the sympathy I needed, and lots of practical advice to deal with the situation. She’s a Yang girl – very grounded – which was just what I needed at that moment to balance my own Yin tendencies, which had my mind buzzing with one negative thought after another and my emotions all over the place.
Thinking more practically, but still very upset, I went outside to call my mum and, through my tears, asked her to please transfer me some money to temporarily cover the $600 bill they’d presented me with. I looked like a right state sitting outside the pristine modern hospital (clearly built for tourists based on its extortionate prices) blubbering down the phone. Then, in the midst of my meltdown, a cab pulled up next to me.
I watched as a number of paramedics suddenly appeared to help lift a limp and unconscious teenage boy from the back of the car, wearing only his underwear. They carried him quickly into the building by the side entrance, presumably to the emergency ward, no time even to get a stretcher.
A Khmer woman, who I presume was his mother stood, wide-eyed, watching him being taken away. She was barefoot – perhaps because they had been in such a rush to get her boy to the hospital, perhaps because she doesn’t own any shoes. Certainly, she was not wealthy. Her clothes looked dirty and old, and through the expression of shock and fear on her face I saw tired eyes – the eyes of a woman who’s worked (too) hard all her life.
Watching this scene I stopped crying, feeling embarrassed that I was upset over a silly mistake, which doesn’t hurt all that much, isn’t life-threatening, and I’m told will be healed in just a few weeks. Her boy’s fate looked far worse. I didn’t want her to see my tears.
Then she caught my eye. And she smiled at me – not an enthusiastic grin, but a knowing, sympathetic smile – that of a mother who intuitively understands your pain and your grief. In that short moment, I felt blessed. And grateful. And sorry for her. Neither of us said a word but I hope the encouraging, empathetic look I sent her back was of some small comfort too.
I said a little prayer for that boy and I went back into the hospital to pay the bill for my foot and get on with my life.
The remainder of the day presented a further series of signs that helped to restore my faith that life was not against me, and that I would in fact be OK. Such as the very kind tuk-tuk driver who took me home, stopping at a pharmacy on the way, and driving ever-so-carefully over the many pot-holes which line Siem Reap’s poor roads; the sweet young boy who works in my hostel, who on seeing my now much-more-visible injury, brought my dinner to my room and told me to ask him if I needed anything else at all; and the English girl who stopped me to ask what had happened and to wish me well.
And at the very least, I’ve gotten a blog post out of it ;)
So what is the lesson in all of this? Gratitude.
I came on this journey to heal my soul; I hadn’t bargained on having to heal my body. But you never know what life will throw at you. Everything is a lesson – an opportunity to learn more about yourself, to assess your life and the direction it’s taking, and to be present in the moment. And no matter how bad a situation feels at the time, it can always be worse. There is always something to be grateful for.
I may be stuck in a windowless room, but at least I have a room.
I may be alone, physically without my friends and family, but at least I have friends and family.
I may not be able to use my foot properly for the next few weeks, but at least I have a foot. (Many in Cambodia do not.)
In the tuk tuk home I started writing this blog post in my head, as I often do when I get an adrenaline rush and a ‘light bulb moment’ about something. Then, I started thinking about what kind of yoga postures I’d be able to do with my cast on and imagined doing them on the floor or bed in my room. I wondered if I could get a blog post out of that, too.
Perhaps this happened so that I can stay and write, and work, I thought: get my head down while my body heals. Perhaps it’s because if I was in Koh Phangan instead, there’s a high chance I’d get Dengue Fever, as many of my friends currently have there. Perhaps there is another reason which I haven’t figured out just yet. For sure though there are lessons to be learned: lessons aplenty. But maybe I’ll discuss those at another time.
For now I am just grateful to be alive, to be well, aside from this blip, and to have the support of the people who love me, even if they are not physically by my side.