As I sit down to write this, I have a choice: give you the highlights or give you the truth. I want to go with the highlights—it would be much easier to go with the highlights. It would be much easier to give you the inspirational you have no limits #yolo version of my weekend (note for my mom: YOLO = you only live once). But I can’t give you the highlight reel because the highlight reel feels dishonest. Because in the less than 48 hours I spent away this weekend, I experienced awesome highs and terrible lows and the most confusing part of it all is that spinal cord injury was at the root of everything.
The weekend was about adventure. We signed up for Spinal Cord Injury BC’s annual adrenaline weekend in Whistler, BC to experience water sports, mountain biking, rock climbing and more. It’s an opportunity I never would have needed or even known existed had I never been injured. I was nervous but excited and even though the focus was on adapted sports and I was surrounded by other people with an SCI, my injury was the furthest thing from my mind—but not for long.
The first afternoon was about kayaking and paddleboarding. We had been on the water in kayaks for maybe ten minutes when my body chose to remind me that it does what it wants. I have written before about the loss of bladder and bowel control with spinal cord injury. The bladder thing I can handle—its annoying but manageable. But bowels, well that one is more difficult. And sitting in the kayak, in the middle of a lake in Whistler, with my injury far from my mind, I was quickly brought back to the shitty reality of SCI—pun very much intended.
What did I do? I rallied. I jumped in the lake. We got back to the dock and were thankful for staff that know the injury all too well and gave us space without judgement or ridicule. Ian sprinted to the car and back to get supplies and we figured it out. We were back in the kayak in 45 minutes and spent the next hour and a half on the lake in kayaks and on paddlbaords.
I allowed myself a short pity-party as I fell asleep that night but was determined to move past it and move on with the weekend. I put it out of my mind: the embarrassment, the frustration—all of it. It happens. Often months go by between incidents. Saturday meant mountain biking and rock climbing with no time to spend thinking about SCI.
Mountain biking did not disappoint. Getting off-road in a wheelchair isn’t generally attainable and the bike was able to take me places I wouldn’t usually get to see. Being active and out on the the trails while realizing that I can experience more with my husband and kids than I had imagined I would be able to with a spinal cord injury was everything I needed that morning. I would have kept going all day if I could. But I needed to climb a rock face.
Rock climbing is so not my thing. I did it once and I’m glad I did but I don’t need to do it again. It was the most physically challenging thing I have ever done and my muscles are still angry at me. I did not make it to the top but I still climbed a rock face so that’s something.
By the end of the day I was exhausted, happy and pretty damn proud of myself. But as I went to crawl into bed at all of 9:30PM, my body betrayed me yet again. Maybe it was because I had let my guard down and assumed it wouldn’t happen again or maybe it was the exhaustion, but I had no fight left in me—there would be no rallying. I dealt with it while anger, frustration and silent tears replaced the happiness and pride, and we packed up and drove home early.
Now, two days later, I’ve had some space, clarity and a chance to reflect. And the harsh truth is that I can do everything within my power to live the life I want, but the injury exists inside of me. And I am at its mercy. I am at the mercy of a condition that just is. It isn’t spiteful. It doesn’t somehow take into account where I am, who I’m with or what I’m doing before causing a problem—it just is. I have some ability to control it but it has the final word.
Carrying around the realities of an illness—physical or mental—like a secret you don’t want exposed only makes it harder to deal with. Holding the truth close to me only makes the burden feel bigger. I am lighter when I share the truth even though the truth is uncomfortable.
Last weekend was not everything I wanted it to be. The emotional highs and lows were exhausting to keep up with. But what’s the alternative? Never experiencing the best of life because you’re constantly fearing the worst of it? I’d rather experience the ends of both spectrums than live constantly in the middle. I’d rather shit myself in a kayak than never get in the kayak at all. A perspective I never thought I’d have.
***A huge thank you to Spinal Cord Injury BC and Whistler Adaptive Sports Program for putting on this awesome weekend***