On Baby Whales and Zombie Social Dynamics

Life preserver on its stand

I was watching a nature doc one afternoon. These filled so much of my recovery time, diverting, minimum emotional stress, and a nice quiet narrator to doze through (pro tip: do not fall asleep to Lord of the Rings, the orc noises will give you nightmares about really angry pigs). This doc featured a momma whale and her newborn calf.

Now newborns, even in the whale world, are weak creatures. This tyke was born to swim but was shite for stamina. So the mother whale swims underneath it and nudges it to the surface when it starts to falter. This keeps the kid alive but also lets it work its muscles of independence as much as it can.

I realized this was an excellent metaphor for my life with chronic illness, and the social contract I had with my parents. I would be as independent as I could be, and they were there for the nudge when I faltered.

When my mom died nobody was nudging me anymore, so I started to drown. Nobody had ever seen me drown before so they were all shocked and confused by my behaviour. I think especially because while I was being nudged I also passed on that nudging and helped others stay afloat (the world may just be whales, not turtles, all the way down). Panicked and spiralling, no longer holding anybody else up, this was the essential conversation of the last couple of years…

Me: [splashing and flailing] JESUS FUCKING CHRIST I AM DROWNING!

Floaters: Valerie you are acting weird and it is upsetting me.

Me: YepYepYep total get that, but I can’t really help right now BECAUSE I AM FUCKING DROWNING

Floaters: You need to calm down and take some deep breaths.

Me: That would be a great idea if I wasn’t up to my eyeballs in water. READ THE ROOM FOR CHRISTSAKE. I CAN’T CALM DOWN UNTIL I STOP DROWNING

Floaters: OK wow, you are not taking my advice and now I am sensing some hostility. I would like to talk about my feelings around that.


Floaters: Jeez you are being really selfish and unreasonable.

Me: Right. I got nothing for that.


[sinks to bottom]

[walks along bottom to shore my goddam self]

[becomes zombie – because I drowned and died, assholes]

[finds other zombies to hang out with – because this is the real reason zombies horde, nobody else understands what they have been through]

…Now, this is hyperbole and tongue in cheek and not a full and accurate account of all my dealings and experiences. Some people did step up, and many also knew they too were floundering so said they couldn’t help, but did cheer me on while they tread water. But the number of people who were angry at me for not coping was shocking, and the number of folks who expected me to help them cope with the fact I wasn’t coping was so absurd I am just now starting to see the humour and irony in that. So here’s that bit.

A story I can tell now because I am no longer drowning.

And because it turns out zombies can type.

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