Sinusitis: A Metaphor
Let me tell you about symptoms: whether you’re learning to decipher the sloshing of the fluid in your sinuses or the stinging of the thought-swarm inside your skull, you will experience similar things
I am woken up by the sound of my own laboured breathing.
It’s Bangalore winter morning and my sinuses have decided that it is time to stop functioning correctly. I inhale and my breath comes to a jerky stop somewhere around my voice box, the way a cold shower makes you seize up and gasp when the water first hits you.
In time, they begin to bear down on my jaw with an ache like gritting teeth against recurring, flagellating thoughts of how, just how it is possible that it has taken me over three hours to convince myself to sit upright in my own bed. They turn vicious, lashing out at the very structures that support them. The ache of their self-loathing travels up to my temples, encircles my eye sockets, spreads digging fingers over the burning bridges of my brows.
I was told that it was dust. So I vacuumed my entire life.
Didn't matter. The pain came back.
I was told that they’re aggravated by the cold. I began to sleep under blankets with the fan switched off. Still they swell up at a moment’s notice, like the tired tear ducts of someone who has already cried twelve times for absolutely no reason today. My sinuses behave the same way as my brain—disobediently—causing me the most discomfort at night, when the darkness brings with it a special kind of throbbing, and in winter, when I convince myself to do whatever it takes to bring some warmth into my bed, even if the hollowness in my chest will still be there in the morning.
My sinuses have taken me to hospital after hospital. The doctors probe my face and ask where it hurts. “There,” I say, “There, yeah, there, too… Just, everywhere, it hurts everywhere,” which is also what I told my sister when she asked why I kept calling her sobbing from the tub in the office bathroom.
I take a multitude of scans that show me where the inflamed tissue is, how my sinuses have glitched out and become barriers to their own healing. Devoid of an exit strategy, they’re like cauterized rivers, left to pool, left to go rancid.
At their worst, they produce a pain so constant that there is no other way to respond than with acceptance, by becoming blank backdrop and stillness. I run out of excuses for why I’ve lost the motivation to do anything more than stare at the walls of my own room.
I’ve done everything I should have, taken the medication, listened to pep talk after well-meaning pep talk, and still, it hurts. Still, there is a constant weight behind my eyes and life is grey and slow and blurry, like somebody poured wet cement into my skull and let it set.
The doctors tell me there’s no permanent cure for it. “It’s a reaction, and we don’t know what you’re reacting to. We can drain them, but it will just come back when you have another reaction. All we can do is treat the symptoms.”
Let me tell you about symptoms: whether you’re learning to decipher the sloshing of the fluid in your sinuses or the stinging of the thought-swarm inside your skull, you will experience similar things—the distinct urge to sleep until everything stops hurting, a quiet, creeping enjoyment of the very fact that there is something broken inside you.
Because sometimes a piece of your own body will do exactly what it should not do, and it will feel unavoidable. Like breathing. Like hoarding a sickness inside your own self because it’s lived within you for so long that kicking it out feels wrong. Even though it never pays rent.
Even though it absolutely trashes the place every time it comes to stay.