It caught my eye out the front window—an ambulance pulling in to the driveway across the street. My brain said trigger warning, but if you’re anything like me and possess an incessant curiosity, trigger warnings only work to peak your interest. So even though my reactions to ambulances haven’t been great—the worst being a full-blown panic attack after seeing one race down the road with its lights flashing and sirens blaring—I couldn’t look away. I thought let’s see what happens this time.
It frightens me to say that I’m excited for 2019. It scares me to say that 2018 has been good to me and that I’m looking forward to what 2019 has in store. Why does it scare me? Why does the admission make me want to take cover? Because I’ve felt this way at the year’s transition before—settled, happy, optimistic—and it didn’t turn out the way I had hoped. You see the last time I put my faith into a new year, it was 2016. And 2016 let me down—2016 left me paralyzed. So I am skeptical.
Most days I feel like I have found my place. I have purpose, independence and feel grounded in my sense of self which reaches far beyond the simple terms of mother, wife and paraplegic. I find safety in our routines and notice that I laugh far more often than I cry. My injury, like everything else, exists only as a part of me and I venture through the days and weeks much like anyone else. It’s as though I’m following a trail through the forest, not quite sure where it leads but enjoying it knowing I will come out the other side. Then there are days where I reach a breaking point. The days where I take a wrong turn and lose sight of the trail. My injury fuels my anxiety until I’ve blurred my reality enough to believe that without it I would never have to deal with anything difficult. And that is when I struggle to see anything except my injury; That is when I struggle to get out of bed.
There is a quiet knock on my door. I convince myself it’s nothing even though I know you’re out there. But, you see, you’re very controlling and the last time you came in it took me years to fully recover. I’m going to try and ignore you – pretend you don’t exist – but I’ve dealt with you enough times to know you don’t leave on your own accord and will manipulate me until I take a stand. Even from the outside you have begun to entangle me in your own version of my reality.
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.
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.
I’ve always been afraid of the dark (I slept with a light on in my room until I got married). There is something about the middle of the night that swirls my anxiety like nothing else. Those hours where your corner of the world is dark and quiet. Where life exists but it is subtle and difficult to spot. At 2:00 in the afternoon, a passing car is easily ignored. But at 2:00 in the morning it evokes questions and skepticism. A problem can seem much less significant at 3 p.m. than at 3 a.m. when distractions are few and reflection overcomes. Before I had children, I very rarely saw the hours between midnight and 6 a.m. Three kids later, those overnight hours were much more familiar but were spent tending to the needs of little people. It left little time to contemplate much other than the task at hand and calculating how much sleep I could still potentially manage that night. But without the distraction of a child – and nobody to blame for my conscious state – those middle-of-the-night hours make me uneasy once again and the inability to sleep brings up more feelings than I can keep track of.
When the attempts you make to sleep are in vain, thoughts begin to take over. Thoughts that turn to fears or imagined stories of how my life could be different. Some nights I play my accident over and over in my head wondering how in the hell it all actually happened. And some nights I go too far to get back to sleep on my own. The tears well up and no matter how much I try to breathe and stay calm, they begin to fall. They fall silently, without pause or consideration of the lasting impact they will have on my night. I reach over for Ian because in these moments, feeling alone just amplifies everything. Even half-asleep, he comes closer.
There is an attempt to ask me what has happened while also knowing all too well what is going on. The tears on my pillow start to dry as they now fall onto his chest. He does nothing but hold me and breathe. I can hear his heartbeat, steady and comforting. His breathing isn’t laboured or distressed like mine; it is even, calm and reassuring. I look a little beyond him and see that our daughter has crawled into our bed at some point and I get a quick reminder of what is good. I think of my boys, sound asleep down the hall and for the first time I feel like I can take a breath. The dark of this night becomes a bit less terrifying. There is good. We are safe in our little corner of the world. We will make it to tomorrow.
Perspective usually comes with the light of morning. There is so much beauty at both dawn and dusk. But with the sunrise I feel hopeful at the day’s youthful beauty and with the sunset I can’t help but feel trepidation of the dark that will set in and commence the death of another day. Will I sleep tonight? Will I immerse myself in those painful memories? Will I get lost in fears that come with those late hours where sleep is expected but out of reach? Even the imagined path is harder to see in the dark. I suppose I will just have to wait it out. I will know the answer when I am, once again, safely in the morning light.
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.