Do you ever wake up and think “Maybe, just for today, I don’t have to be me.”
This morning it felt like being me was a job better left for somebody else. Someone skinnier perhaps? Stronger? Smarter? Definitely someone better hydrated. But no matter how much I wished to have a day of reprieve—from this broken body. From the constant bickering coming from every corner of the world. From COVID and the bizarre back-to-school transition—I woke up as expected. In my bed, in my body, in my life.
I sat in bed trying to calm my shaking legs that were incessantly working to knock me off balance. My throat was dry and there was a dull ache behind my puffy eyes. Ian sat cautiously on the edge of the bed beside me, knowing the fragility of these early morning-after moments all too well. Where the right words get me out of bed and the wrong word—spoken by either of us—leads to a tailspin of darkness.
He put his hands over mine and we sat silently for a long while before he moved my chair closer, encouraging me to make the first, most difficult step on days like this—getting into my wheelchair. I looked at him and took a deep breath. “I can’t do it today.”
7 hours before we sat in much the same way. My eyes were redder. Puffier. Wetter. And I held on tightly to balled up pieces of toilet paper as I tried to catch my breath. I hadn’t wanted to cry that night—made every attempt to keep it from starting. Not because I’m against crying. On the contrary actually. I love the way crying can be the culmination and release of all different emotions at the same time: anger, sadness, excitement, fear, frustration, happiness. But I knew this was big. The kind of emotions that lead to the morning-after fog where getting out of bed to be me feels impossible.
But all of the feelings simmering beneath the surface couldn’t be kept at bay. They came pouring out in loud, gasping sobs with tears that soaked my hair and pillow. When I sat up Ian was there with the roll of toilet paper and a concerned smile. “What is wrong?”
“Everything! Everything feels big, and twisted and wrong!”
He said nothing as I attempted to blow my nose which, as anyone whose experienced a crying-induced-stuffy-nose before can relate, was completely in vain. Then “Well, what’s one thing. Just one thing.”
I couldn’t look up to meet his gaze as a weird combination of embarrassment and gratitude swirled inside me. “Um. My leg spasms have been really bad.”
Breathe in. Breathe out.
“What’s something else?”
“I’m just sad for what the kids missed last year and what they’ll miss this year.”
Breathe in. Breathe out.
With that last confession, more came pouring out. Grief for what COVID has changed and fear for what is still ahead. Anger about my injury and the residual effects of it. Frustration at the cruel way people treat one another. Fear that the pain in my back, shoulders and legs will never relent. And as it came tumbling out, I realized how much I was holding inside of me—most of it beyond my control to change. All of it just piling higher and higher until it all came crashing down.
“You know you can tell me all of that” he said. I smiled and almost laughed. Because I think I do share it with him. In bits and pieces. I sighed and lay back down. He turned out the lights and let his fingers slide up and down my arm in the way he knows helps me calm down. My breathing steadied but the air still felt thick with all that was said—hanging there like the haze from the forest fires.
“It’s so weird”
Even in the dark I could see him bend his head to the side. “What is?”
“It’s weird how you can do all the right things. You can sit with your grief and your emotions. You can use your coping techniques. You can heal and grow and thrive. But when it hits you—like really hits you—it is as raw and devastating as the very first time.”
Nobody said anything after that and I fell into an exhausted sleep. And when I woke up, I wished that, for just today, somebody else could be me. But nobody else was going to move over into my wheelchair and after a night spent crying for things I couldn’t control, it would have been a disservice to myself to botch a decision that was all within my power. So, I started my day.
Grief may return in all of its raw and unapologetic glory. Anxiety may still flourish no matter how many times you learn to manage it. But after the initial mourning period of wanting to disappear, you will remember that nobody—nobody—could do what you do.