From the book Underwater: When Encephalitis, Brain Injury and Epilepsy Change Everything.
Moods can change quickly.
Let’s go back to six months after my illness.
I felt excited about finally being considered seizure-free and being given permission to drive again. I felt energetic, like a teenager getting my first license. I felt ambitious, like a kid at Christmas. I felt respected as an actual adult again. I felt I was improving, similar to when I was released from the hospital. I felt free.
This time, I didn’t steal the keys and drive without permission. This time, I knew where to go and what to do. This time, I was in control.
I drove to the sandwich shop and parked in a clear place that would be easy for my limited memory to recall. I walked through the door and in the restaurant—then began shaking. Not because the line was long or the temperature inside was cold. I suddenly felt out of control. I was afraid. I knew I would not be able to place an order.
The first official order I’m placing post-illness, and I couldn’t adjust to the stress. Panic attacks had not been part of my life before.
I stood, staring at the line of people ordering lunch. I looked at the menu and could read none of the words. Reaching for my keys, I wanted to leave.
But I didn’t.
This was my chance to come ashore. To resist reluctance. To fight though the powerful current of fear and doubt. To push through by choice.
I got in the line, putting my shaking hands in my pockets.
The line was slowly moving toward the front, and my tension continued to grow. I was sweating.
Again, I considered leaving. Maybe it was too soon for my solo attempt. I would have many more chances.
The words on the menu seemed to be in a language I didn’t know.
The people all around me looked like fictional characters in a movie like “The Truman Show.” I was the only one not fitting in. They sat at tables eating, acting as if ordering lunch was a normal task. They engaged in dialogue with calmness and confidence, two traits I’d recently lost.
I was near the front of the line.
It was almost my time to order. This should be simple.
Pre-illness and post-illness Chris have this in common: no surprises related to food—order what you like; get the same thing each time; don’t risk disappointment.
But nothing felt common this time.
With only one person in front of me, I had fifteen seconds to depart.
No one would know why.
But I would. I always would.
So sensing help from a greater power and stubbornness from a man who hated to lose, I stayed. They asked for my order. Without realizing I was remembering, I placed my order. Without looking at the menu I couldn’t quite read or the food I might request incorrectly, I placed my order.
Underwater, I came ashore.
I laugh now each time I eat in a sandwich shop. I still order the same sandwich the same way. I request my full order as if all ingredients were turned into one word I might remember: six-inch turkey on wheat with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, oil and oregano, with plain chips and a water.
How did I remember? Why is such a small thing to others such a huge thing to me?
I can’t remember if I ordered to eat in or to go. I can’t remember if I enjoyed the meal. I can’t remember what else I did that day. But I remember embracing the tension. I recalled what fear and panic and desire to escape feel like. Maybe all those prayers for me had worked a little, but it took fighting through my fears to experience the answers.