I had a dream a couple of nights ago – a dream I’ve had before. I was still in a wheelchair but could easily walk when I felt it necessary. For instance, I would wheel up to a staircase, proceed to stand and walk up or down the stairs and then continue on in my wheelchair. I’ve said before, the inability to walk is the easiest part of dealing with a spinal cord injury (it really is!). However, the sense of relief I feel in those dreams is like nothing I’ve ever felt before. It’s like realizing you can breathe just when you thought the oxygen had run out. And for a few moments, while I convince myself that I am not dreaming, life becomes easier.
I have always been a vivid dreamer. Nightmares can be inexplicably terrifying and occasionally my poor husband ends up enduring a day or two of misdirected annoyance after he dream-cheats on me. And my walking dream, like so many, is one that feels authentic and possible but, alas, is only just a dream. It’s as though I am aware and skeptical of what is unfolding while also feeling confident that the dream reflected my reality.
My dream removes every day barriers I encounter: stairs, narrow doorways, impossible inclines. Activities I no longer participate in become accessible to me once again. I can picture myself in that dream looking peaceful with a genuine smile; a smile that doesn’t come quite as easily anymore. And with the spinal cord injury life seemingly behind me, my dream world gives me permission to admit to its true difficulty. A truth I do my best to sugar-coat because it is the only reality I have and – in an attempt to make the best of it – I have to think the best of it. However, when it looks like my reality has shifted I can finally and fully confess to the constant struggles that I’m up against and feel relief that I don’t have to face them any longer.
But dreams inevitably end. There is that place between sleep and consciousness where the lines of reality are blurred and there are a few brief moments of uncertainty and hope. Within seconds you begin to realize that it was, in fact, just a dream. I always wish I could forget my dreams: the good and the bad. The good ones make you long for something you don’t have and the bad ones evoke a range of emotions from fear to jealousy to misery.
This particular version of the walking dream has stuck with me and emphasized those moments where having the full use of my body would be easier and, in some cases, necessary. This past weekend I was completely thrown off my brave-game when I wandered out into the kitchen just in time to witness everyone running outside to play soccer. This certainly isn’t the first time something like this has happened, but it caught me off guard for some reason. I think it has something to do with the beautiful weather we’ve had – that perfect fall sunshine that makes everything crisp and cool but still feels warm on your face. I have thought many times about joining them outside but that is one of the things that still feels too different – it’s still too hard. And so I only do it when I feel I have the nerve.
My son was about to run out the door but quickly turned around when he noticed my fallen expression (he’s quite perceptive for 6 years old). He ran over to give me a hug and asked me what was wrong. With tears starting to burn my eyes, I smiled and told him to go have fun. I quickly headed to my bedroom. Soon after, my husband appeared after our son had told him that I was crying. He wrapped his arms around me and let me feel all of those feelings. The children came in one by one and, without words, just joined in to what became our group-hug. I have never attempted to prove to my children that I am perfect. I want them to see my flaws and my emotions and know that it is okay to feel however it is you feel. And so again, I told them that I was sad. I wanted to run and play soccer, as I would have if this injury weren’t a part of me. I wanted that dream of “pick and choose when you have a spinal cord injury” to be real.
Here I am, doing my best to heal while also giving everyone else my permission to heal as well. The process takes a lot of hits when I encourage them to partake in something that I am not able. But the grief is not mine alone and we all need to come through it together – even if it takes longer that way.
When I was young, my own mother (like so many mothers) never let on when she was sick or hurting for fear of how I might handle the realization that she isn’t super-woman. I actually don’t think I have the capacity to hide away those parts of me from my children because they are a part of me and I want them to know the real me. I want them to see the fight and discover that most of the lessons – at least the good ones – are in the fight.
So where does that leave me now? Honestly, I’m not sure. I know I have an amazing, empathetic and loving family and I know that this journey is all of ours – not just mine. I know that, in my heart (in my dreams) I would love to still be the able-bodied version of myself that can walk up a staircase and run outside to play soccer. I also know that my physical abilities did not make me a whole person. I can still be a strong and capable woman as this version of myself – the version with a spinal cord injury. But as I write this, I feel a bit lost. I’m lost somewhere in-between the woman I was and the woman I am becoming. I’m stuck wishing for dreams to come true while trying to be mindful and realistic about my future. I’m complicated. But, then again, I’ve always been complicated so I guess that will have to do.