Shannon Cassidy

Second Story Window

An Allegory of ME/CFS Illness

Trigger Warning: Multiple references to jumping from building

In a land not so far away, there’s a world where every time you leave your house, you have to jump from your second story window. Everyone does it, thinks nothing of it. You do it for years, first as a kid with your parents, then as a teenager on your own, finally as a young adult, off to work.

Then one day leaving your house you land and feel a sharp pain in your ankle. That’s weird, you think, and try to shake it off. The next day, you land and tweak your wrist. The day after that, the landing gives you a throbbing headache.

You go to the doctor and explain what’s happening. You probably have the flu, he says. Go home, sleep, maybe take a few days off from jumping out the window, but you should be back at it by next week.

You do as he says —rest for a week and then resume jumping out the window next Monday morning. For a few days you feel fine, greet your neighbors as they land from their jumps, head to your car for work. But shortly you begin to hurt again. Your hip aches, your eyes shudder, you feel dizzy. Your elbows and knees start swelling.

Very slowly, you start to worry about jumping out that second story window.

You watch your neighbors continue to leave their houses every morning. What is happening to me, you think? What could possibly have gone wrong?

You return to the doctor and explain your symptoms. He looks at you and frowns.

Can you do an x-ray, an MRI, you ask? Or a blood test?

No need, your doctor says. You can’t get these injuries just from jumping out the second story window, he says. It’s perfectly safe. Instead, he asks:

Is your husband hitting you?

Are you taking drugs?

Are you engaging in self-harm?

No, of course not, you explain. I’m simply doing what everyone else does, what I’ve done every day of my life.

He looks at you and frowns again. There’s nothing physically wrong with you, he says. He hands you a referral to a psychiatrist.

You make an appointment to see the psychiatrist. After all, you don’t have a medical degree. He must know more than you do.

The psychiatrist listens to your story. You have a fear of jumping out of second story windows, she says. Let’s work on that.

So you do. You tell her about your childhood, your family, your inner demons, your hopes and dreams. She gives you antidepressants. She shows you how to alter your distorted thinking, change your expectation that when you jump it’ll hurt.

You work on it at home, forcing yourself to jump out that second story window. And you do it, every single day. But you also keep getting injured. One day, your back spasms, another day, you begin to see double. One time, the headache makes you so nauseated you vomit all day.

You explain this to the psychiatrist. She looks at you and frowns. There is a less common condition, she says, where your mind convinces you that your body is sick. Let’s work on that.

So you do. You use immersive visualization techniques, learn how to build an alternative narrative to counter something called false illness beliefs.

You work on it at home, continuing to force yourself to jump out that second story window. And you do it, every single day. But now you can barely walk after landing, have trouble catching your breath, see black spots whenever you rise from sitting.

You call your doctor again, but he refuses to see you.

At home, you sit in your chair in the morning, looking out the window. You watch as your neighbors land on the grass, greet each other and head off to work. Yes, I’m afraid of jumping out this window, you think. But in your heart, you know that something is very wrong in your body, something that you’re not simply fabricating up your head. But the reason seems as profoundly unknowable as the room is profoundly confining, always inside these same four walls.

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About the Author

Shannon’s life has been irrevocably altered by severe chronic illness, including ME/CFS and immune system dysfunction. When she is able, she writes about chronic illness and disability as a way of confirming to herself and others that the unseen ill still have a voice. Shannon resides in Oakland, California with her husband, son, and two gremlin dogs. Her writing has appeared in Kaleidescope Journal, HerStry, Mothers Always Write, Uncomfortable Revolution and The Smart Set. She can be found on Twitter as @Shannon1339 and Instagram as thevisualcali.