It was meant as nothing more than chit-chat. A question asked in an elevator to break the silence for the 30 seconds it took to make it to the gym for physiotherapy.
‘What do you do for work?’
I felt the now-familiar wobble when the topic came up. A churning in my stomach. A stab in the chest. A tremble of the lower lip.
I mumbled a quick, simple answer and shook off the looming darkness. My focus was on recovery. I couldn’t think now about what I had lost out on. I needed to get back on my feet so that I could get back to doing what I love most.
My regular physiotherapist, Liz, was on holidays and I was being looked after by two or her very lovely colleagues. They hadn’t yet met teary Ruth. Few people have. But over the course of the next hour, they were going to get to know her better than they might have liked.
It came up again during the session.
‘What do you need to be able to do to get back to work?’
Cue the breakdown.
Because that’s when I realised that my career was probably over. At least, the career I wanted and had worked ridiculously hard to build for myself.
The day after my spinal surgery, I heard back from a job that I’d interviewed for. It was the kind of job that comes up once in a lifetime and people only dream about. It was the kind of job that I had only dreamt about. Yet here they were, telling me that I was the person for the role. The cogs in my brain kicked it up a gear. How would I make it happen? How would I fast-track my recovery? How could I take this job when nobody was able to put a timeline on my rehabilitation?
The job couldn’t wait indefinitely and my future was indefinite. With a disappointment that I had never before experienced, I watched the job slip through my fingers.
My heart was broken, but my spirit was intact. I was strengthened by knowing that I’d gotten there. I’d made the right impression once. I would do it again, in time.
I held myself together.
Until the next time.
I’ve spent the last few months trying to move into a different area within my industry. I work in film. It’s competitive and unforgiving, but I was making headway. I was going in the right direction. It all came to a crashing halt when I ended up in hospital. Two weeks after the op, when I’d just about come to terms with missing out on one dream job, the text came in.
My heart shattered.
It was from the man I’ve been dreaming of working with for years, and had been plaguing for the past six months or more for a place on his team. Here was my opportunity. There was a spot opening up. Starting Friday. Did I want it?
There was nothing I wanted more.
My reply was the most difficult text I’ve ever sent. I could barely see the screen through my tears. I couldn’t believe I was missing this opportunity. It physically hurt. More than my wound or the hangover from my surgery. My mind drifted to future opportunities, to wondering if there was ever going to be a chance to work with him again. Would I ever be able to run around a film set? Would I ever be able to handle long days on my feet in all sorts of locations? Navigating hilly terrains or muddy fields, racing between studios and trailers and offices. 15 hour days, constantly moving, never resting. Loving every moment of it.
I buried it all somewhere deep in my mind so that I wouldn’t have to consider the probability that it was all over.
Until that day in physiotherapy, which was a lot less physio and a lot more therapy. I couldn’t hold it any more. The tears and the frustration and the absolute devastation flowed unrestricted until I reached a different kind of exhaustion to the one I usually feel after a session.
Back in my bed, as I sobbed silently, I drew the sheets over my head to fake some kind of privacy. I mourned not for the useless legs or feet or ankles. I didn’t cry for the strength or the body functions that had been taken from me, but for the life that I have loved and a loss that was going to take a much, much longer time to come to terms with.