TRULY, MADLY, KIDNEY
This time next week I’m going to give my husband one of my kidneys – the left one or the right one, the surgeon hasn’t yet decided. Whichever one it is, it’s pretty amazing, yes. But brave? I don’t know.
I’ve spent most of my life in some kind of cowering fear. Neurotic describes me fairly well. A good deal of all my mistakes – in love and raising my children and raising myself – have sprung from these irrational fears. In varying degrees I’ve suffered from anxiety since my first attack on a bus when I was 18 – it was the classic case: heart-thumping out of my chest, dripping with sweat on the outside and parched on the inside. All for no apparent reason. No trigger: just me. And my genes – non-specific nutbaggery runs in the family.
This little personal tic blew up into a form of post-traumatic stress disorder after series of personally terrifying events, which I won’t talk about here, except to say that facing a couple of very real fears didn’t give me much insight into my mind – it just sent me right over the edge. At my worst, I couldn’t get out of the house to pick my kids up from school. I was too paralysed with fear to drive the car. On one particularly heart-breaking occasion, one of my sons was talking to me and I couldn’t hear him for the pounding in my head. That still makes me cry.
Anyone who has never experienced anxiety and what it can do might dismiss all this as a first world problem, self-indulgent rubbish. Don’t worry – part of me agrees. Despite coming from a long line of Nervous Nellies I often wonder, if I wasn’t so privileged, would I have been such an over-thinker, such a catastrophiser? It’s academic, though. Anxiety is with me and it’s with me to stay. Unfortunately, for all that it is a load of hyper-confabulated crap, it’s very real.
I spent a long time fighting it – about eighteen months. And I was fortunate to be able to do it without drugs, by sheer luck having found a therapist happy to take that path with me. I was, of course, terrified of the drugs! A combination of counselling, talking things through, and techniques designed to challenge or interrupt my anxiety cycle worked for me. Slowly but surely, I got back in the car. I got on top of it.
Then, just as I began to feel really great about life, and really comfortable in my own skin and brain, I met and fell in love with my darling Dean. The timing and poetry of it all could not have been more perfect. He was my sweetest reward for all my hard work on myself.
From the beginning, I knew Dean had a glitch in his system, though. I knew he had a genetic illness called polycystic kidney disease. It was a faintly ticking time-bomb, an illness that would inevitably lead to his kidneys going on permanent strike, but something we thought was at least a decade off – if not two.
Then, in March 2013, Dean became suddenly and terrifyingly ill. No rhyme or reason to that either, just the luck of the draw, and virtually overnight that was it for the kidneys. One day they were muddling along; the next day kaput.
And that’s about the length of time I needed to think about the idea of slinging him one of mine. And the oddest thing occurred in that moment: I felt no fear. None. Well, despite the barrage of tests I had to undergo, I’m fearful that somehow my kidney will be defective, that Dean will reject it or it will make him sick. I was out of my mind with fear that one of my tests would come back saying I was dying of cancer or that I was really an alien from the planet Ergamom and it was time for me to leave Earth. All that sort of barking bullshit. But as for the personal overthinking rubbish of ‘am I doing the right thing?’ – nada. Not one second of doubt.
Perhaps, seeing Dean in the Intensive Care Unit on the precipice of death, I’d reached some kind of threshold of fear, some kind of psychic overload. I prefer to think that something might really have shifted in me, not to obliterate my anxiety but to allow me to embrace it. To recognise my own courage as a good thing, and something that’s been with me all along. To love, to create children, to live is to be courageous – every single day. We are all heroes to the people who hold us dear. But this gift I’m giving to Dean isn’t entirely selfless. I’m putting up a fight for what I want – one I’m fairly desperate to win. And I’m allowing myself to feel a bit joyful that, by taking this risk, I get the chance – a very real chance – to have my husband back, restored to reasonably good health.
Or maybe it’s just love after all, and I’m grown up enough, and practiced at it enough these days to give it without thinking too much about it. It doesn’t matter why, I guess. I’m bloody well doing it anyway. Next Wednesday morning at about 9am, the Magic Kidney Santas will be delivering that special piece of me to my darling. Bless them.
So please wish us luck – and have a merry, merry Christmas yourself. Have some big, fabulous, fearless joy in your bonbons one and all.