It is the moment I get up from the wooden breakfast table looking out over a tropical beach, wind whipping and fish visibly rushing to meet a couple of anglers, that a flash of searing pain rips through me. I’ve been breakfasting with my friend who is gigging locally and visiting from down south, near Brisbane. She is a talented, emerging songwriter and performer. The word ‘emerging’ always calls to mind an army of blue face Picts, rising up from the forests of the Lowlands of Scotland, but in her case, they would be singing friendly ukulele songs with catchy melodies. She is excited to share the news of her duo’s recent performances and their new E.P. in the mix. I love her boundless energy and enthusiasm and it’s catching because I bounce up out of my chair, lean forward to kiss her cheek, and this is when I feel a sword strike through my back and pelvis. A nurse will ask you, how much out of ten on the SUD, Subjective Unit of Discomfort, scale is your pain? I have a high pain-threshold so unless I’m screaming, I don’t usually consider pain to be important. For a second or two, I am in 10 out of 10 white I-want-to-vomit pain.
There was the time when I was learning how to muster cattle in the outback and I endured a spiral fracture as my finger was caught up in the reins of a bolting horse. Later, Neil tapped it hard with his finger and when I didn’t shout in pain, he pronounced it not broken. But I’ve hypnotised the pain away – I said. When the finger started to go black I sought an X-Ray and discovered the fracture. It was only then I realised the power of my own mind in pain reduction.
Neil is a nurse and I know what he’s going to ask me. I also know that anything above 5 is drug-worthy and I want to say “it’s a fucking twenty” as I scrape myself off the edge of the table. I’m not a drug-taker by choice. Sure, when I was in my twenties and thirties, I dabbled — you know, middle-class girl living a big-city life in London. It was practically on offer, but of course I never inhaled! And here I am at 51 (am I getting old?), my first bout of back pain and all I can think of is I want the hard stuff and I want it now! No luck. Instead, I succumb to a dreary routine set up by my nurse husband of hot showers, applying a cream that smells like something has died at the same time as heating up my spine and the usual over-the-counter painkillers.
In my other life, I am a clinical hypnotherapist and Master Hypnotist (trained by the Hypnosis Motivation Institute, Tarzana, as well as other institutions and other Master Hypnotists). As I’ve just mentioned, I can reduce pain. It’s not rocket science but focus, dedication, and hypnosis which leads one to be able to reduce physical pain without painkillers. I work my magic and my pain reduces by about 50% as long as I don’t move, so of course, I don’t move. Well, if you call lying on my bed with a wooden bed-desk straddling my chest for my iPad Pro, iPhone and TV remotes not moving, I’m not moving. I will always find something to occupy myself, something to do, read, watch, play — even if it’s people — watching on reality television, (that’s my excuse anyway). Time for me to get busy and work on something creative. If Frida Kahlo could paint on her body-casts after her operations, I am sure I can scribble in a notebook. Here is something I’ve not thought of before now. Pens are designed to work with gravity. My first challenge of the day, if you don’t count the fact that I can’t stretch far enough to wipe my own arse, is to find a pen that works upside down. What in Australia we call a texta — in other words, a felt pen — is the answer. Everything I now write is thick and slow on the page. I agree with myself that sludgy penmanship is better than no penmanship at all but I am keenly aware that perhaps the work produced is as sludgy as the ink itself. Also, reaching out like a Tyrannosaurus Rex proves much more difficult than it looked in my head twenty minutes ago.
I find myself contemplating my own predicament. Apart from spending the last year at my desk writing a memoir for someone and not exercising, I suspect there may be another reason why my muscles have gone into spasm, protecting my central nervous system. Two days before, instead of being bored, I had posted several unusual questions online for my friends to answer. Questions like “Have you ever borrowed/stolen a garden gnome from a garden?” and with a nod to a David Sedaris essay I had just read, I asked “When was the last time you met with a monkey?” Perhaps I am obtuse but I didn’t necessarily want to know the content of their answers. I wanted to see how they would respond, using imagination or being literal? The majority of my friends answered literally and gave me an insight into their vacations or extraordinary adventures including at least one monkey. Most satisfactory. A few replied with highly creative answers which made me laugh. Then there was that one response. The one answer which I think may be the cause or the trigger of my back pain.
“I don’t know where you are going with this?” came the answer
and I replied, “I just want to get to know my friends a little better.”
At which point, I repeated the question.
Now even though I know you want to know, I can honestly say there’s no point getting into the nitty-gritty of it all. I socialise within a very tight-knit group and live in too small a town to cause ripples. (Pause and reflect). Oh, bugger it — witness my ripples. This particular friend had thought me to be a racist/bigot as the question about a monkey was interpreted as a question about my islander, emerging-songwriter friend! WTF! Let me repeat. WTF?
I was raised in Zambia, South Africa, and England. I don’t think I noticed I was white until I went back to England at the age of 9. I was made aware of the disgusting, shameful attitudes that drop from the lips of racists when I lived in South Africa from the age of 11. When my mother fought to provide an education for non-whites. I have lived in a regime of evil that spawned hatred and death to people, tagged either by ethnicity, religion, politics. Sadly, the list was not a small one. It’s bad enough that someone can describe another person in this way, but to me, the fact that someone might think that I could use such terminology and reference shocked me to my core. Two hours before my breakfast at the beach cafe, I was so rocked by this accusation my whole body shook and I cried. Should I have not used such a question? Should I have anticipated possible misunderstandings? Now, my answer is simple. If it’s not in my head, how can I prepare for it? How could I have seen that someone would think such a thing and someone amongst my group of friends? Of course, being civil, a case of misunderstanding was quickly established and the two parties, one being me, resolved to move forward in our friendship.
This is where difficulty rears its not insignificant head. My friend was sorry if they had offended me, check, but was still glad to have said their piece. Their ‘piece’ is the ultimate detail causing me grief and now, anger. Why glad? In their assumption of my supposed disgusting behaviour, had they not labeled our mutual friend by default? Who then had the problem? I am nearly convinced that my body decided to protect my spine, my backbone, my central nervous system when under ‘attack’ that morning. When accused of using heinous language and harbouring bigotry and racism, my brain descended into sorrow and my body responded in angry protection. The physical pain I felt was equal to the disgust and fear I once experienced when I lived among injustice and evil in my childhood during apartheid.
Now, I have to lay on this bed and rest my sore back. I have to focus my mind in self-hypnosis to reduce the pain and I have to think happy thoughts. A beautiful breakfast by the Coral Sea and my friend in her successful singing duo will do. The day will continue. My lovely husband will patiently attend to me and at some point, I will have to find forgiveness for ignorance? For fear? For a lack of faith in me? I can only hope they are fighting some inherent bigotry of their own upbringing and although I am moving forward, I fear my trust is stained by this event.