SMOKE: Being Me (It Ain't Easy)

Originally published: 25 July 2003

The following you are about to read is completely autobiographical and as such the complete truth. No facts have been held back to protect the squeamish, and there is nowhere to hide for the young and innocent.

It's not pretty, but it's real, and only those prepared to face the truth are advised to continue. You've been warned.

For the last decade I have spent every day in interminable agony. Some days the agony is less, some days it is practically unbearable, but it is omnipresent and never goes away.

There is no escaping the pain and I have gradually learned to live with it and have come to accept that a marker somewhere between Bad and Very Bad is where my normal body pain level sits.

The bizarre thing is that I find it very difficult to pinpoint exactly where the pain is, because most of the time it feels as though it is pretty much everywhere.

The obvious place is my back, which is a morass of unsolved problems that worsen every week. Six years ago I had a massive back operation (L4-L5 discectomy and spinal fusion, as it was known).

It involved removing one of the discs in my lower back and joining the two vertebrae with a chip of bone from my thigh, before joining the whole lot together with two massive screws.

Those screws are still in my back and always will be, and it's a constant fear of mine that they begin to get rusty and I start to creak. Already if I bend over at the waist and hang you can hear the creaking in the back and the bad news for me is that I'm not yet 31.

The scary thing is - it's only ever going to get worse from here on out and if I plan on hanging around for another half a century (and I do, although it's highly unlikely I'll achieve my goal), it means I have at least 50 more years of agony courtesy of my back alone.

Because I have to compensate for lower back pain, I sit in ways that cause me upper back pain, something that 16 hours a day in front of a computer doesn't help.

Because I have upper back pain it makes my shoulders and neck tense, so I frequently rick my neck or shoulders and spend up to a week trying to just get my neck to turn a couple of degrees either way.

Because of the tension in my neck and shoulders I get headaches, and when a headache gets too bad I have to take painkillers, which inflame my ulcer/s (I'm not sure how many ulcers I have, but with a steady stream of acid bile trying to work it's way up my throat and frequent stomach cramps as my stomach struggles to churn up the excess blood, I'm pretty sure I have one or two).

My excesses as a teenager (which included one night in which I drank half a bottle of Tabasco straight from the bottle) have caused irreparable damage to my colon, which in subsequent years has become spastic.

Too much cheese causes a serious party in my stomach and often after a pizza I find myself doubled over with pain as my stomach churns, which usually ricks my neck again.

Being a heavy smoker my lungs frequently burn and are subject to bouts of terrifying pain, flitting from vacuole to vacuole. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night unable to breathe - my chest closes until the air is being forced through a tiny pinhole and when I wake up I get an instant migraine from lack of oxygen.

The migraine only lasts about 20 minutes but I feel like I want to bang my head against a wall until it breaks - that's how bad the pain is.

I have one foot bigger than the other, yet always get the same size shoes, which means the big toe on my left foot is continually being crushed against the inside of my hard leather shoe or boot.

This causes me to walk on the side of my foot which in turn causes thin, sliver-like slices of needle-sharp pain to strike the bridge of my foot at odd, unannounced hours, and usually when I need it the least.

Being completely inflexible because of my back my hamstrings are always too tight, and as such are always pulling, causing intense discomfort at the backs of both legs.

I also get weird, sharp, connected pains, which skim across my synapses in the strangest of combinations. For example - I will be minding my own business, happily watching some telly, when out of the blue a jab of pain will simultaneously strike the tip of my right ring finger and a point just 10 degrees to the left of the bottom of my heart.

The reason for the connection is not apparent, but pain is very real.

On the subject of flitting, fleeting pain - I long since lost count of the amount of times I get a searing pain in any given part of my body for absolutely no reason at all.

Pain just strikes me whenever and wherever it feels like, from eyeballs to top of head to hips, back, thighs, feet, shins, ears, neck, shoulders or hands.

I am - essentially - one heaving mass of extreme pain.

So on Wednesday I was sitting thinking who I would rather be, because I surely I wouldn't want to be me? Surely nobody - least of all you folks who've just read what I've written - would want to be me? Of course you wouldn't - I'm a one-man paramedic dream.

So I thought about who I'd rather be. Tom Cruise? Good-looking, famous, powerful, and unimaginably wealthy. Only problem is - I'd have to be someone who gets off on a weird little sect like scientology. Weird, high-school-like behaviour, secret handshakes, chanting - that sort of crap. No thanks. The one thing in the world I truly have no desire to be is some sort of religious nut.

So Tom was out of the picture ... I know - Mel Gibson. Attractive, rugged, unimaginably wealthy. But there's a problem - kids. Hundreds and hundreds of them. His wife drops one out every five minutes or so and his place is swarming in them.

Nelson Mandela. But then I would have had to have spent 27 years in prison, which is also something I can do without. Not to mention having hordes of people all over you all the time, always wanting something from you. Greatness has a price.

Bill Gates? Too nerdy. Tony Blair? No chin, and fewer friends. Hugh Jackman? His name's Hugh, fer chrissakes. Gary Oldman? Too tortured. Jacques Kallis? Weird, square-ass face. Bill Clinton? Say no more.

I got to realising that while all these blokes (and the thousands of others who ran through my mind) have things that I want, I want none of those things with the accompanying package.

The only person in the world I felt I could happily be was, in fact, Britney Spears, because then - no matter how shit my life became, or whatever happened to me - I'd still be able to play with my own tits whenever I felt like it and have a truly excellent time.

The fact is - none of us want to be anyone else. We simply want what others have. But I wouldn't trade my experiences, my life or my vast ocean of pain if it meant becoming someone else, because all of that makes me who I am - the tall, swarthy bloke writhing in agony in the corner.

I could seriously use the wealth, power, fame and looks that some of those fellers have, and if someone could do something about the pain I would remain forever grateful. But I certainly wouldn't want to be anyone else.

Least of all Altaaf Kazi.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

Look at me now - all the way from Uitenhage to the bright lights of the big internet.

Find out more using the handy links provided.

Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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