We went on a bike ride to the forest. It’s not far from our house but I’d never been there—Ian and the kids always go without me to ride their bikes and play tag. It isn’t the kind of terrain appropriate for my regular set of wheels, however now that I had a bike of my own, I could join them. When the gravel gave way to dirt and fallen branches, I realized the forest was smaller than I imagined it would be—one side clearly visible from the other. The tall trees blocked the cold wind that stung my face on the ride over but the clouds, scattered and heavy, still loomed above us. A network of trails criss-crossed through the trees and I followed Ian around to a clearing in the middle where the kids dropped their bikes in a place that was obviously The Spot.
It was three years ago, on March 10, 2016—in this very spot—I became a paraplegic. Today, it looks nothing like it did on the day of my injury; there is zero indication that this was a place of a life-altering accident. The dirt has been replaced with carpet. Drywall and paint covers the exposed cement foundation and the staircase fills in the dark emptiness of a basement-in-the-making. But one thing remains—framed in with wooden trim—and that is the hole I fell through.
From the beginning of this injury, it was never just my journey I had to concentrate on. It was never just my grief, my trauma or my transition to a new life. My accident happened to my entire family. All five of us—myself, my husband and our three children—were there as our life took a sharp turn in an unexpected direction; we were the only ones there. Our daughter—too young to understand what was happening—has no memory of it. Our boys however, can vividly recall their versions of the story and it breaks my heart. No, it was never just my journey I was worried about.
It’s the end of January—the month so many people feel is never-ending. While I’m fairly certain it’s rare for anyone to be living their best life in any given January or February, these two months carry weight for me. This is the time of year I reflect on what were my final weeks before my accident. They weren’t extraordinary by any means, but they were real, simple and honest moments of our everyday lives.
Have you ever cried after sex? How about in the middle of it – bringing the entire sweaty, messy thing to a crashing halt? I cried last night. It wasn’t the first time – I’m sure it won’t be the last – but it was the first time in a long time and it caught me off guard. Sex after spinal cord injury isn’t something I’ve talked a lot about. I’m not sure why, as it seems I’ve talked about everything else. But for those of you hoping this is some sort of paraplegic’s guide to sex, I’m sorry to disappoint – may your Google search take you to a different corner of the internet. This is a little about sex, a little about loss, a little about adapting and, quite simply, another little piece of my story.
It’s 10 AM and I have yet to eat anything besides Halloween candy. I haven’t showered and the ridiculous night sweats I recently developed makes this all the more problematic. Last night’s episode (along with the sports bra I wore to bed) left my skin a lovely shade of hot pink – and yet I still haven’t showered. And the last thing I have time for right now is writing. So why am I here? I’m here because tomorrow we are leaving for Hawaii and while I was extremely nervous to book this trip when it was proposed a year ago, the changes in me since that time (especially over the last few months) have recently stood out to me and I wanted to share.
I want my body back.
This is all I can think about as I blink back tears in the dark and quiet of the night. I always feel a pang of guilt for admitting it out loud. But I need to take a moment and allow this longing for my old self without shame.
Grief has a way of sneaking up on you when you least expect it. It finds you even when you should be happy; it finds you even when you should be celebrating.
It was announced this week that I have been named this year’s Vancouver Mom Top Blogger! Needless to say, it was a very exciting – albeit overwhelming – Monday for me. Actually, saying I was overwhelmed with the response to the news and all of the comments and messages would be a serious understatement. Insecurity tends to take over me when the spotlight shines in my direction. Saying “thank-you” feels overdone and insufficient but I find myself unable to come up with anything more creative and hope beyond hope that nobody thinks I am inconsiderate or aloof. I spent the day second-guessing my responses while also trying to give myself space to feel proud of the accomplishment. By the time the kids were in bed and I had a moment to reflect, I was left with a feeling I couldn’t quite name. But I’ve got it now. The feeling was guilt.
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.
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.