There were a lot of things I didn’t know about disability when that swift but severe fall left me paralyzed from the bellybutton down. In fact, I was blissfully unaware of almost everything. But as surprising as it was to learn about wheelchair life as it unfolded in front of me, there was one thing that really shocked me about this new club I suddenly belonged to — and it had nothing to do with my body. It was all about the unwritten rulebook.
Living With SCI
It started as a click. A rhythmic tick with every revolution of the front wheel. I pushed my chair forward and the caster went click click click click click click click. I assumed it was the bearings again—a word I never knew before wheelchair life and even now, 5 years later, I can’t tell you with certainty what they’re for or how to change them. However, the bearings usually squeak when they need changed.
Give this paraplegic a wrist injury and watch the catastophizing begin.
I don’t mean to brag, but I’m really good at the catastrophzing game. I can go from All is well in my world to My entire family is dead in a ditch in the span of a few seconds. Or, more relevantly, You need to rest your wrist for a week to My independence is gone forever and my life will never be the same without pausing to consider a more realistic outcome. I’ve spent decades (yes, decades—plural) perfecting my anxiety skills and this little wrist problem was the perfect catalyst to put them into practice.
I have dreams where I can walk again. Sometimes it’s like the injury never happened. Other times I simply stand up from my wheelchair like it’s no big deal, walk to where I need to go, and then sit back down in the chair that stayed beside me as though attached to my body by an invisible force. But even in my unconscious state, I always know it’s fantasy. Because somewhere inside, I always say to myself “Don’t get too excited, it’s just a dream.”
The dog heard the truck pull into the driveway before I did. She ran to the boys’ room, hopped on the bed and put her paws up on the windowsill. Her tail whipped back and forth as she looked frantically from the kids outside to me, and back again, as if to say Look Mom, our people are home! I yelled through the open window “Hey guys! How was your day?” My son turned to look at me. There was no, Hi Mommy or My day was fine. Instead, he scrunched up his face and said “Why are you wearing makeup?”
I was shocked into momentary silence. Granted, I didn’t wear makeup often anymore, but had I neglected my makeup bag for so long that the sight of me with a bit of eye shadow and blush on my face was startlingly out of the ordinary? I recovered quickly and smiled. Then I lied. “I just wanted to put some makeup on.”
Tick. Tock. Tick Tock. The ticking of the large clock above the couch in our family room is usually drowned out by the noises of our home—one of our kids playing piano, a dog barking at someone walking down the street or the shriek of a little sister not getting her way. But sometimes, when the house is empty and quiet, I hear it and feel uneasy. It’s the incessant reminder of every second that passes without pause or consideration for the events that unfold within its unrelenting grasp. Did you know it takes less than one second to fall 10 feet?
The house was still and quiet in the dark of an early morning. The vibration of Ian’s alarm enticed me out of sleep before the song ever started. He brushed my face gently with his hand, “Codi, are you going to get up?”
I shook my head and murmured my displeasure at needing to be awake at 6:15 on a Saturday morning—every Saturday morning. I felt a brief heaviness overcome me, not of exhaustion but of guilt. The self-inflicted sort of guilt all parents feel when they choose themselves—or anything—over their kids. But I’ve been at the parenting game long enough to know I wasn’t about to win the World’s Worst Mom title for missing one soccer game. Okay, it was the third game in a row, but still!
Regardless of how I was feeling about it, my daughter was still sound asleep beside me and had made it very clear the night before that she did NOT want to go to soccer in the morning. I thought I would let the beast—uh, I mean my little girl—sleep. Satisfied with my decision I closed my eyes.
Daylight hadn’t reached our backyard. But a blanket of untouched snow—the first snowfall of the year—couldn’t wait for the break of day. By 7:30AM—the time we would usually be getting out of bed—our kids were all ready for school. They were layered up in snow gear and were outside rolling giant snowballs. Ian and I watched them out the french doors of our bedroom and couldn’t resist calling it an unofficial snow day. The cheers came one after another from outside as brothers told sisters and sisters told brothers, “No school!”. They were excited but I was left feeling indifferent due to my love/hate relationship with snow.
There was a playground a block away from the rehabilitation centre. Like most kids, our boys couldn’t find their socks in the morning but could spot a park from a mile away. One afternoon when they came to visit, they begged for us to take them. I was hesitant—I thought about letting Ian take them on his own—but I went. I expected to feel left out—what use could I be at a playground?—but I wasn’t prepared for the harsh realization that hit as soon as we arrived.
10 weeks to the day after I injured my spinal cord—on my 29th birthday—I left rehab. And what did I want more than anything? A bath. A bubble bath with a book or Netflix was my happy place—my self-care. It was where I retreated to almost every evening in the fall and winter after my husband was home from work and I was no longer solely responsible for the three little people in our home. It gave me space to take a breath, recharge and feel like a person beyond “Mommy”.