We all go through periods in our lives where we feel like we are dealing with one difficult situation after another. It isn’t always end-of-the-world type stuff. Sometimes it’s just the fact that your family has been sick for seemingly forever and another ear infection is on the horizon. And sometimes it’s a lot more than that. Either way, it can feel like you’re stuck inside a never-ending storm. Whenever I find myself in this mindset I’ll joke that I should really catch a break because I have a spinal cord injury after all. I can laugh about this now but there was definitely a time I felt quite confident this should be true. I’ve said so many times that an injury like mine makes you realize life doesn’t stop. People choose to move on after injury/illness/loss as best they can because they find out pretty quickly that life will move on without them if they don’t get on board. I think that sometimes the more difficult realization is that the realities of life don’t stop for challenges. No matter the reality and no matter the challenges.
Coping & Grief
March 10, 2018 marks two years of life with a spinal cord injury. Two years that have passed in that familiar fashion where days are long but months and years are short. I know many people who say that one day I will lose track of the years, but I know myself better than that. I find dates orienting and acknowledging the time that has passed, grounding. When I think back to how I felt this time last year, at one year post injury, it amazes me how much my perspective has shifted. I now find myself more comfortable and confident in this body that – for so long – felt strange and unfamiliar. And a wheelchair that once felt foreign now feels like an extension of myself. While two years in the grand scheme of a lifetime is relatively short, those years can hold within them potential to be significant. With all of the changes that I have experienced, I would be amiss to say that these two years haven’t left a lasting mark.
Sometimes you expect certain moments in life to trigger grief or anxiety. I like to think each individual knows themselves and their journeys well enough to foresee how some situations might bring up difficult feelings. But sometimes it is unexpected and it doesn’t matter how well you know yourself or your journey. Sometimes, you are simply blindsided.
The canvas before the paint. The stage before the performance. The staff before the notes and the page before the words. All of them blank. All of them empty. All of them with limitless possibilities. There are no blank slates in life – only new journeys in the midst of the old ones. Journeys that encompass everything we have been until that point in time. But every new adventure holds within it choice, potential and the ability to change. In those early moments of new beginnings there is a resemblance of a blank, empty slate. It’s not as free and clear as art waiting to be created but it is vast with possibility. But whether the journeys are straightforward or complex, they become who we are.
In an effort to pull both my house and me out of our Christmas hangover, we spent most of Sunday attempting to get organized. We went through all the junk that, over the holidays, accumulated on the counters and then got shoved into drawers in a hurry before company showed up. We sorted through the never-ending piles of paper that seem to come from every corner of our lives. While it always feels refreshing to de-clutter, organizing and purging does have its downsides. During this process, I always seem to come across little reminders – difficult reminders – of my accident, of life before, or of what has changed. This round of organization wasn’t any different, however along with the reminders, I found there was also a spotlight on how far I have come. It is the second time lately my attention has been drawn to this and it has resulted in a lot of mixed emotions. But after the process was over I was left with a smile on face because of the very last item that I found.
It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything – my longest stretch of silence since I started this blog. I could say it was because the holidays were busy (because they were) or that my time and attention had been stretched thin (which they have) but both answers would just be excuses. The truth is, I haven’t written anything lately because I have become a bit lost inside of myself and the thought of putting a magnifying glass up to the inner-workings of my brain over the last few weeks sounded more like torture than comfort. Looking ahead to January brought me a lot of anxiety and my initial introductions to 2018 have been strained. It feels as though I’m meeting a friend-of-a-friend. It’s someone I should trust but I am unsure of their intentions. I had trust in 2017; it allowed me growth and left me and my family safe. 2018 is unknown and I am skeptical.
Christmas is gearing up around my house and I’m pretty excited about it. Honestly, I love everything about the holidays. From the anticipation to the decorating to the traditions to the music, it’s the time of year that I feel the most grounded. For six weeks or so I have a pretty good idea of what to expect out of life; it is predictable and it is comforting. So yes, I am one of those people who breaks out the Christmas songs and decorations in November because it allows me to breathe. I can think to myself “OK, we did it. We made it to another Christmas”. With all of the change that has happened, the holidays are still familiar and welcoming; a feeling of coming home again. And even though I still get so much joy out of this season, I can’t help but feel moments of loss for all of the reasons that my favourite time of year is now different.
I like to be in control. I always have. It’s probably part of the reason why my mother-in-law and I took so long to forge a meaningful relationship. If there’s one thing you don’t want when you are a bit of a control freak mama, it’s a control freak daughter-in-law; a recipe for potential disaster. But somehow we make it work (love you Grammy). But beyond that, control has always grounded me and helped me to navigate through the fog of anxiety. Believing that I was consistently in control of my own situation allowed me to feel safer in a world that has continually left me trembling. I think it is part of the reason I hate flying so much – the lack of control. Then there were the aspects to control that I never took time to think about because they were – as I believed – non-negotiable; the control of my own body. To relinquish control of something can be challenging. But to have it taken from you is like having the ground disappear from underneath you – trust me, I know the feeling all too well.
Anger. The second stage in the infamous five stages of grief. I always assumed you travelled through the progression of grief only once until you reached acceptance: the light at the end of the tunnel. I have since learned that grief is not neat and tidy like that; it is messy and unpredictable. In saying that, I seem to cycle through all five stages repeatedly and, frequently, out of the expected order. I imagine that one day I will settle on acceptance but, for now, I continue to ride my grief out in waves and currently find myself stuck on anger.
When you have children, there are a countless number of firsts. As parents, we carefully document every first as though our little ones’ childhoods depend on knowing the exact date that they first smiled. We track everything from their first teeth to their first steps to their first day of school. I find it sort of funny that we tend to document the firsts of things that will continue on for a lifetime but neglect to document the firsts of childhood and parenthood that are more temporary: the first time we hold hands, the first time our child falls asleep in our arms, the first time we carry our child on our hip. Unlike a smile that will (hopefully) last a lifetime, these are the things that will inevitably end. The part that breaks my heart is that most of these “mommy and me” moments end without warning – we never know which time will be the last time. For me, some of these things ended earlier than anticipated.