The long long tail

The accident happened more than seven months ago.

There are times in the day, especially when I’ve had enough sleep, when I feel almost like my old self. I still think (often!) about how lucky I am. It could have been so much worse. I’m alive, I’m able to work, I can do a lot of things I used to — although not all.

I’m no longer following the regime I did in the early days. Now the goal is to slightly and consistently push at the limits — work as many hours as I can, be around as much noise as I can — to find the edge where I get exhausted, where I just can’t do it anymore, and then to rest for a while, and try again later. It’s satisfying and a relief to see that being able to do the work is coming back: the older, more integrated stuff sometimes almost as if it never left; the newer, more freshly learned things slower to return, but there. (I remember when I couldn’t read an academic article or even understand all my email. That is feeling farther and farther away now, thankfully.)


What counts as “rest” is different now too, and hard for me to really understand, let alone explain. I know it means quiet, and not too much light, not too much sensory input, but that can be hard to find in the outside world, like a workplace. (It can even be hard to find at home, especially as a parent.) And mysteriously, although I can sit in a noisy cafe or restaurant and tune out the background noise enough to talk with a friend, if I am in a room with colleagues and hear them talking around me, it’s too much — as if these real people who are familiar to me must be paid attention, from all directions, all at once. The places near work that I thought were peaceful, where I used to go at lunchtime to sit quietly, are too loud/too bright/too busy, and give me a headache, or that having-to-solve-math-problems feeling I still get from a lot of music. The sound of rain on the car roof, the gentle “white noises” that are supposed to be so relaxing, are the opposite now. It all adds up, and I get more and more tired as the day goes on, no matter what I’ve done to try to get away from the overstimulation. Sometimes wherever I am I’m overcome by a need to get home, and there is nothing else I can do that will help me to feel better.

The rate of recovery is feeling even slower now. This is the long long tail of it, I guess. Maybe it will be months more before I can go out to see a band play live again. (I don’t want to think about the possibility that it might be even longer, or not happen at all.) There are still types and frequencies of sound that make me feel overloaded and anxious immediately. I still stutter and have to search for words, but not as often. I still find myself forgetting very strange ordinary things, like to put the filter in my Aeropress before I add the coffee, but usually only on mornings when I haven’t slept well.

I’m doing much better than I was.


Manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground, The British Library.

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