If you have a severe, long term illness, you've almost certainly learnt a skill I learnt. Maybe you have other reasons for learning it.
As the long, long needle is thrust deep, deep into your spine or head or chest, you go to that other place. As your heart fails and you drift away, you mutter a few words to your soul. "I will be or I will not."
As the anaesthetic seeps into your blood and you wonder "Will I wake up?" you remind yourself from somewhere else that sleep is sleep. Either way, you won't care.
As the tube goes deeper into bowel or nose or vein, you step out of yourself and look on impartially. The other you starts a chat or shows you images so beautiful you forget. She is tough and true. When you tell her you might die, she nods and agrees. "We all die." she reminds you.
When you think you can't bear any more, she reminds you that you have to.
When you scream "I can't" she replies "you will"
You drift above yourself and learn to not be there.
In time, you can do it at will. Every new ordeal, every new unbearable is just another moment. The other you appraises the situation coolly, detached from the here and now. "You are small, a little life. This is just a blink of time in a life amongst billions of lives."
And you go to that other place and you wait.
Mostly you have learnt to wait in peace, because peace gives you the best chance of survival of all.
I often think of the skills chronically ill or disabled people can bring to the world.
We learn to survive. We learn to do it in a world often ill equipped to deal with us and unwilling to empathise with us. We learn to be reasonable when all we want to do is scream. We learn to endure when most would believe endurance impossible. We learn to believe in ourselves when no-one else will.
But this gift of detachment, this ability to stand aside and judge ourselves with cool appraisal has been troubling me lately.
Sick and disabled people often live as "the other" they are used to looking at the rest of society and stripping away the "can't" and the "won't" and the "too scared" and the "too selfish"
Surely, it can't only be me that lately finds herself more and more detached, watching the last gasps of a crumbling corrupt order? That sees debauched Roman emperors or megalomaniac monarchs or precarious empires?
Daily, like a parade from history they line up - disgraced politicians, power-crazed media moguls, criminal financiers, greedy businessmen, corrupt police chiefs, despotic dictators, the head of this and the CEO of that on rape or corruption charges. Expenses cheats and tax evaders and Ponzi scheme charmers.
Their day has come and gone and they can't see it. Their own greed and selfishness and stupidity has gobbled them up. They had it all, there, in the palms of their hands and like every time before, they gambled it all away.
Got just a little too lazy, just a little too weak. A little too bloated and comfortable. Forgot they were privileged and started to believe that they were special. Forgot that they were lucky and started to believe that they were entitled.
The daily me fights them and tries to expose them, but more and more, the other me watches them from a distance and sees them for what they are. More and more I wonder if we really need to do anything at all but watch them crumble.