By Katie O’Leary.
Working in the film industry I often find myself examining my life and choices through the lenses of film and pop-culture. We all search for answers to the universal life questions of, “Why do I carry this pain inside of me, why is this happening? How do other people deal with it?” For most of my formative years, movies were my escape. My family is more conservative than most when it comes to analyzing our behaviors or even the past – so I look for other ways to understand.
I do see a therapist and of course her guidance and support from her weekly sessions helps tremendously. But sometimes, there are moments in life we cannot immediately share in a clinical appointment. The visual storytelling a film can express will sometimes bring answers to the forefront of my mind – and remind me of the life and choices I am forced to live with.
A few weeks ago, I was watching Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring. When Frodo and Gandalf are discussing Gollum while inside Mines of Moria. Gollum is of course chasing after them in hopes of stealing the ring. Frodo, aware of the incredible burden he has to face, says “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this happened.” Gandalf replies, “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that has been given to us.”
This scene has taken on new meaning for me. I sometimes feel that my CRPS is a burden that I must stay resilient to, an evil of sorts that will consume me if I do not fight with all of my power to remain sane. The weight of this disorder impacts my ability to control my temper, my moods, and sometimes even my appearance to the world. Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a monster – one in which only the person who has it can truly understand. We travel on a journey for peace to relieve our aching bodies, to destroy this monster wreaking havoc inside.
But so often, people do not understand the gravity of that burden. They see you and they think –“I could handle this just fine, why can’t she?” The parallels of this feeling to the film are so prominent. A member of the Fellowship tries to convince Frodo that he is too weak and pathetic to handle the task at hand. They bully him and try to bring him down. Of course, the story hinges on everyone wanting to OWN the ring for power and world-domination (and that is where the two comparisons splinter off). But in that moment, when Boromir cheapens the struggle Frodo endures, I once again found myself comparing my own disability to this fantastical story.
Friends, family, and other people will surround you and tell you that they are your allies. But as the disease takes over and as the incurability of the situation becomes more prominent – you feel as if you are poisoning them with your problems. Frodo decides to run away and deal with this evil on his own, because those around him cannot handle it.
Ultimately, friendship wins overall. Sam follows Frodo as he tries to depart for Mordor. He refuses to leave his side, despite the danger, the emotional and mental anguish, and the possibility that this will end in death. Sam represents every friend I have had in the past 3 years who has seen me at my worst, at my lowest point, fighting to prevent this disease from consuming my soul. There are days when the rage and anger at losing a significant portion of my life to an illness has me wanting punch out the windows of my room.
I have lost many people who cannot handle this part of my life, or who simply do not care. But the true friends I do have, the people who have stood by me and continue to fight alongside me: you are the real heroes. I have yet to be disappointed by my truest friends, because they are like family to me at this point. And returning to what Gandalf said, all I can do is live my life and spend the time that I do have on things that matter. Getting healthier or finding a cure is one of those goals. But holding on to myself, to who I am underneath the pain and anguish this disease has wrought out of me, is the hardest battle of all. I am no hero like Frodo, but I endeavor every day to keep walking and to keep moving forward. And as Bilbo says to Frodo,
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
I want to be swept up and step onto the road – but I know the importance of having friends and family to help me down that road.
Katie O’Leary lives in Los Angeles. She has CRPS (from a sports injury in college), knows the entertainment industry well and is a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report.