The symbol for Venus – planet of beauty, love and creativity, also my Sun sign’s ruling planet – is missing from the astrological patchwork quilt of the Nine of Swords.
In the Spolia Tarot, the figure in bed is being attacked by nine monstrous creatures with swords the colour of fresh blood. They appear from all directions, pointing their swords at her from the ceiling, the foot of the bed, from behind the headboard and under the bed. Around her is nothing but darkness. The creatures look like something from mythological storybooks, odd fusions of human hands with bird’s beaked faces, dog’s tails, clawed feet and curled fins. Some stand upright on two or four feet, others fly. The bed appears to float in space, no floors steadying the furniture or walls containing the scene.
At the end of June, I’m having a hysterectomy.
It’s something I’ve wanted since I was eleven. I started telling doctors I wanted a hysterectomy when I was in my early-20s, and I repeated this request/mantra many times over the years. Though it usually came out more like, “I just want this shit cut outta me,” as I made slicing and stabbing motions toward my guts. Of course they wouldn’t listen to me. Too young, too crazy, too much. I was 32 the first time a doctor said to me, “You know your own body.”
I had my stomach tattooed in my early-20s, hoping one day I’d have some scars traced through the ink, warping the image and text. When the gynecologist who’ll be performing the procedure, a laparoscopy with three incisions, told me he’d try to work around my tattoos, I laughed and said, “Please cut right through them if you need to. I got them knowing I’d finally get this shit cut outta me one day, and I want to keep the evidence.”
While I usually avoid the topic of menstruation – it’s been one of my triggers since before I knew the concept of triggers – I’ve decided to discuss it just a smidge, since this is a process I want to document through art. A local friend of mine asked if I’d need their help as I recover from surgery. After (or through) an almost-lifetime of pain and illness, this is the first time I’ve been given a timeline on healing, a guide for what to expect. A ride to and from the hospital, somebody to spend the night with me. Six to eight weeks rest. No heavy lifting. No, or not much, penetrative sex. Let the stitches heal.
I cried when my friend asked if I needed their help. It had been so long since somebody asked (somebody who I wasn’t in a romantic and sexual relationship with, that is). Although I do know what kind of help I will need – some pals to carry my groceries, wash dishes, help take care of my cats, just plain spend time with me – I didn’t have an answer in the moment because I felt unexpectedly triggered re: the worst years fibromyalgia gave me. My friend and I hadn’t met until my remission last Summer – they’ve listened to me tell stories of how abandoned and angry I felt when I lost my mobility and my ordinary breathing capacities as I developed allergies to toxins and pollutants like scents, cigarette smoke and vehicle exhaust, but they haven’t witnessed me fully unable to walk.
It’s tough to trust anyone to show up anymore, but if someone offers, I want to be able to say yes. Instead, I told them I’ll think on it and let them know. I told them I was feeling close to non-verbal about it, as I was reminded of the past. My throat felt choked up, resisting tears.
In the Magic Mirrors Tarot, we see a figure with swords hanging above their window and buried under their blankets, holding their hands to their face as they cry under a full moon. There’s a vase with three roses on the violet windowsill, and the windowpanes form a fuchsia cross. The image of a skull is imprinted on their turquoise hair. There’s nowhere for them to rest.
The Next World Tarot shows a pink-haired femme wearing a bright hijab and a stack of studded and spiked leather bracelets on their wrist, crouching to the ground as they shield themself with a charcoal-coloured umbrella. The turquoise handle matches their shimmering gown, but the shade of the umbrella looks stormier than the sky. It’s as if they’re carrying the threat of thunderstorms and floods with them, hunkering down under storm clouds of their own. The figure looks over their shoulder, perhaps in trepidation of disasters to come, wondering where to flee.
For most of my life I’ve had insomnia, recurring nightmares, and sleep paralysis.
The worst nights happened during the worst of the fibromyalgia mentioned above, when it seemed nearly everyone had left. My fear of attack was heightened when I knew my body would not let me escape. I had nightmares about men – sometimes my neighbours, sometimes strangers – breaking into my apartment, and I worried constantly about the building collapsing or burning down. I took sleeping pills with my nightly meds, I practiced yoga and meditation, I turned on my white noise machine, blocked my door with a heavy chair, blotted out the lights from the park across the street with an eyemask, wore wax earplugs made for swimmers, tongued little droplets of pot tinctures, and kept my clothes on to have one more layer between me and a potential attacker. I wore (and continue to wear) blankets no matter the weather, because I still have nightmares if my body is exposed.
Unlike the creatures creeping, flying and hovering in the Spolia Tarot, the nightmare isn’t always imaginary. Over-thinking, hyper-vigilance, and paranoia are real. I’ve experienced them all. But fears can come true. I’m aware of three attempted break-ins at my apartment alone, and I’ve been awoken in the middle of the night twice by alarms signalling a fire in the building – the more severe of which happened a week after I’d asked my landlord to fix my fire exit (he didn’t); it’d been stuck shut when the doorframe warped as the almost 100-year-old building shifted (again) in the changing weather.
It can be tough to relax when we know that disasters are possible. It’s not unreasonable to lay awake at night. It’s crazy-making and pain-inducing, but not unreasonable.
Shortly after the offer of help during my hysterectomy-recovery, I unintentionally stayed awake all night, missed my nightly meds, and spent the next three days in bed sick. Nausea, migraine, vomiting, dehydration, total loss of appetite. Sleep deprivation and medication withdrawals. No matter how tired I get, I can’t sleep without meds. And I was tired. The very short story is that I was on a first date with another traumatized weirdo – they got dehydrated, took too many anxiety meds, spent a lot time in the sun, and over-exerted their body. I took care of them as they grew confused, wobbled, puked, and then passed out. Certainly they were embarrassed, but I was pleased to take care of them; I imagined what I would’ve wanted in their situation and I tried my best. Silence, darkness, cold water, ginger tea, anti-nausea meds. As they slept, I stayed up in case they awoke still sick, in case they forgot where they were.
I laid in bed for a few hours, then moved to the cozy armchair in my kitchen to read. By mid-morning, they’d recovered, but I was worn out. And after a few days in bed with no food beyond a few spoonfuls of yogurt, my body was weak and my mind was frazzled. I’d become depressed and angry with myself, ashamed of my inability to stay relatively well. There was only one person in the city who I felt like I could ask for help, but he was also sick and too busy to come to my neighbourhood.
I kept going on my own, as I so often do. But I wondered about the future…
The Everyday Witch Tarot shows a figure sitting on the edge of their bed, fidgeting with anxiety, surrounded by books, notebooks, post-its, and sheets of loose-leaf paper. Their blankets are rumpled and swords hang above their bed, which is pushed into a corner. It’s a card of rumination.
When I’m sick, I think the most but write the least. I bemoan every moment not spent typing. When I’m nauseous, I regret each minute not spent writing. I promise myself that when I feel better, I will never ever stop typing, never stop scribbling, no matter how illegible it gets.
Despite the illness experienced afterward, I do cherish those times when I am placed in the role of carer. I’ve been told I’m good at this – remarkable, even. It’s not that I have an instinct for it. It’s that I’ve lived through un-care and am learning how to do the opposite. When I find myself in the position of carer, I ask myself what I would want, I remember what I’ve wanted, and yeah, I remember the care that has been and currently is given to me, but I remember the lack too. And I try to fill in that lack.
The process of being approved for a hysterectomy could potentially be endless – I tried for a decade, and I saw my current doctor for three years before I was finally referred to a gynecologist who could perform the operation. From there, I still had to attend multiple consultations and examinations by multiple doctors and students, and fill out various questionnaires. These appointments were spread out over the course of a year, until I was finally approved in December 2017, signed my consent forms in March 2018, and waited a couple more months for a receptionist to call me with the date: June 27th. The process had been so horrendous that during my first consultation, the gynecologist refrained from performing the necessary pelvic exam because I was “already crying too much”.
A hysterectomy will result in no more fucking menstruation, obviously. It could potentially result in less pain, too, but that’s not a given – it’s more of an experiment. Among the questions I had to answer to multiple doctors were: What if the pain doesn’t change? What if it gets worse?
Although I’m afraid, my answer to the doctors has always been, “Fuck it. I don’t care. I know what I’m capable of surviving now.”
Decks featured: RWS, Next World, Magic Mirrors, Spolia, Everyday Witch