“I can’t believe it’s been five years.” I was sitting cross-legged in bed while Ian held the massage gun on a knot in my back. We had been quiet, but my brain was loud. The notion that in a few short days it would be the anniversary of my accident—again—was weighing on me. He took a deep breath in before responding.
“Yeah, it’s kind of crazy. How do you feel?”
“Like I should be going off to Kindergarten.”
Ian snickered and I looked back at him over my shoulder. He was shaking his head at me with his eyes crinkled into a smile. “Is that how we’re measuring time now?”
I smiled back at him and shrugged. “Seems as good as any other way.”
Five years feels big—just like it did when my kids turned five years old. The fifth birthday for each of them was a time of celebration and bewilderment. How could my babies be five? But from the giant smiles that spread across their faces when someone asked them how old they were and they could put up all five fingers, it was clear that turning five was a big accomplishment—they’d worked hard for this.
There is so much learning, change and growth packed into those first five years of life. The wrinkly, wriggling little beings who were lifted over the surgical curtain and placed in my arms—completely dependent on me—had grown into walking, speaking and, quite frankly, very opinionated tiny people. Their progress was steady and gradual in a way that came naturally to them. Each stage prepared them for more: more experiences, more knowledge and more life. Until all of those moments were wrapped up in five fingers, proudly spread out like a star, representing everything they’d accomplished.
The first five years of my injury were also full of learning, change and growth. I went from someone who relied on others for every one of my basic and personal needs to a woman who is mostly independent, tough and, well, still very opinionated. Today it’s my hand and my fingers that represent my years of progress. But unlike those early years of childhood, nothing about these last five years has come naturally. Recovery is a forced process. It is a choice to face the challenges and adapt to new circumstances—it is a choice to make progress. And I did it with the goal of one day being considered recovered. But saying I’m recovered today would have been like telling my five-year-old they were an adult.
While my children will of course become adults one day, at this five-year mark I no longer believe I will ever be recovered. Recovery of a chronic condition is a process without an ending. Though there have been many times I’ve fooled myself into thinking I’ve reached that impossible milestone. When a long stretch of reliable bladder and bowel routines coincides with a wave of well-managed pain and steady emotions, I let myself pretend it could always be like that. But before long, I’d wake up in a puddle of my own pee or my pain would spike for days or weeks on end and I would revert to recovery mode, making the choice to continue and face the challenges day-after-day—something I’ll have to commit myself to until forever. And honestly, forever is starting to sound like a really long time.
Maybe it’s just that this particular accident-iversary has caught me in a rough season. Maybe layered with Covid exhaustion and weeks of increased pain, the thought of riding the waves of recovery for the rest of my life sounds more overwhelming than it usually does. Or it could just be that this five-year mark has peeled back a new layer of grief and understanding that will settle with time and processing—much like how I came to terms with my children turning five. Or maybe, I’m just allowed to feel overwhelmed sometimes, simply because I’m human.
Regardless, whether I’m ready or not, there is no changing the fact that today marks five years since I knew life without my injury. I remember looking at each of my kids when they turned five, thinking of how much they’d grown while also knowing they were still so young—so vulnerable. Looking at myself today, I feel the same way. There have been numerous changes—many accomplishments—but I still feel young and vulnerable inside this reality. Thankfully, much like growing up, there are always opportunities to learn and experience more. So I think that going off to Kindergarten is a perfect metaphor for where I’m at. Five years in on the way to forever. Still growing. Always recovering.