We all go through periods in our lives where we feel like we are dealing with one difficult situation after another. It isn’t always end-of-the-world type stuff. Sometimes it’s just the fact that your family has been sick for seemingly forever and another ear infection is on the horizon. And sometimes it’s a lot more than that. Either way, it can feel like you’re stuck inside a never-ending storm. Whenever I find myself in this mindset I’ll joke that I should really catch a break because I have a spinal cord injury after all. I can laugh about this now but there was definitely a time I felt quite confident this should be true. I’ve said so many times that an injury like mine makes you realize life doesn’t stop. People choose to move on after injury/illness/loss as best they can because they find out pretty quickly that life will move on without them if they don’t get on board. I think that sometimes the more difficult realization is that the realities of life don’t stop for challenges. No matter the reality and no matter the challenges.
March 10, 2018 marks two years of life with a spinal cord injury. Two years that have passed in that familiar fashion where days are long but months and years are short. I know many people who say that one day I will lose track of the years, but I know myself better than that. I find dates orienting and acknowledging the time that has passed, grounding. When I think back to how I felt this time last year, at one year post injury, it amazes me how much my perspective has shifted. I now find myself more comfortable and confident in this body that – for so long – felt strange and unfamiliar. And a wheelchair that once felt foreign now feels like an extension of myself. While two years in the grand scheme of a lifetime is relatively short, those years can hold within them potential to be significant. With all of the changes that I have experienced, I would be amiss to say that these two years haven’t left a lasting mark.
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.
In an effort to pull both my house and me out of our Christmas hangover, we spent most of Sunday attempting to get organized. We went through all the junk that, over the holidays, accumulated on the counters and then got shoved into drawers in a hurry before company showed up. We sorted through the never-ending piles of paper that seem to come from every corner of our lives. While it always feels refreshing to de-clutter, organizing and purging does have its downsides. During this process, I always seem to come across little reminders – difficult reminders – of my accident, of life before, or of what has changed. This round of organization wasn’t any different, however along with the reminders, I found there was also a spotlight on how far I have come. It is the second time lately my attention has been drawn to this and it has resulted in a lot of mixed emotions. But after the process was over I was left with a smile on face because of the very last item that I found.
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.
Travelling with your children is a very different experience from travelling without them just as travelling with a spinal cord injury is a very different experience from travelling without one. Travelling with both children and a spinal cord injury is the Mt. Everest of travel scenarios. As we prepare to head out on a family vacation, I thought I would give you the run-down on how this all works now that my spinal cord injury is part of the equation. After we get home I will share the good, the bad, and the (hopefully not) ugly parts of our actual travel experiences.
I have never been one to venture very far out of my comfort zone. I’ve always preferred to blend into the crowd and let other people attract the attention. From high-school to dance, I was always a back of the class kind of girl. Since being in a wheelchair, I don’t necessarily have the luxury of going unnoticed (and if stairs are involved I also don’t have the luxury of going to the back of the room). In the beginning, it caused me a lot of stress to know that people saw me and that I could no longer feel completely anonymous within a group of people. I was constantly self-conscious every time I went out in public but, somewhere along the way, I stopped noticing the stares.