It’s fascinating how clear everything is in retrospect. Being able to see the big future picture is impossible when you’re in it, no matter how hard you try. Instead, “Go as far as you can see; Once you get there, you’ll be able to go and see farther” (Codependent No More by Melody Beattie).
For a very long time, I was only able to go or see as far as whoever I was with. I constantly needed a safety blanket. Doing anything alone was so terrifying that it was simply out of the question - and I’m talking about times before and after my accident. I recall eating lunch in my high school bathroom on a regular basis because I didn’t have my regular friends on particular lunch breaks. Cafeterias are still a huge anxiety for me and it takes everything I have to go sit with people I don’t know.
Now with my disability in tow, I have felt this need for security, or more like permission, to even enjoy myself. I would have feelings of guilt when I had a good time because I had this illusion that if I wasn’t walking then I shouldn’t be having fun. Instead, I should be spending every waking moment on my recovery - sort of a “sleep when I’m dead” mentality. I used to think that if I accepted what had happened, it would somehow prevent me from ever getting better. I had it in my mind that if I felt comfortable with my new circumstance, I was betraying my body and it would get the signal it didn’t need to rebuild itself. It’s insane the way we can twist things in our minds.
In the grieving process, there are five steps. From what research says, everyone will go through each step for every loss - no matter if it’s losing your favorite jacket or enduring a major trauma like mine. The steps can take anywhere from seconds to a lifetime to go through, but the steps remain the same.
Step 1: Denial
Step 2: Anger
Step 3: Bargaining
Step 4: Depression
Step 5: Acceptance
I can almost pinpoint where and when I have transitioned to each step, sometimes teetering back and forth between them. Bargaining and Depression had me in their grasps for some time, bringing a feeling of waiting with them. I was waiting for someone to go do things with me, waiting for permission to be ok with what happened, or waiting for someone to tell me I didn’t have to be ok with it all. I was just waiting, waiting, waiting. Waiting for someone, something, somewhere, somehow. I was letting it kill me, it was getting to me, and I didn’t realize I had all the control to step out of it.
After working with my therapist for a few months, I asked her how long the process would take. I wanted to know when I could expect to be “better”. I just wanted to know what to do and how to do it, and I expected her to give me the game plan. Unfortunately, her response caught me completely by surprise. She told me, with all the compassion she could offer, “There’s a part of you that may never be over it”.
I left her office feeling as though the wind was knocked out of me and someone was punching me in the stomach while I tried to catch my breath. I hated her for what she said. I hated the thought that I would have to live with this heartache the rest of my life. I could manage maneuvering around physically, but emotionally I had to know I could get over the sadness from the loss. I thought the whole point of going to therapy was to work through your problems so they were no longer problems. I interpreted this as though I would never be fully happy again.
I sat with that ache in my gut for the next few days. Each time I heard her words, I envisioned a lifetime of loss. I pictured myself in a prison of pain with no way out. My heart hurt and I and cried - a lot. The anger was palpable and I wondered if I needed to find a new therapist. What gave her the right to crush me like that?
As I wrote in my journal through the week, my fears flooded the pages. I wanted so badly to get them out of me and to be released from their grip. Through this writing process, my anxiety slowly began to subside. I reminded myself of how instrumental my therapist had been in working through so many issues up until that point, and I knew there was heartfelt honesty in what she had said. She had to have some kind of point, and if I could just put my anger and denial aside long enough, I may be able to see what it was.
I thought about her words, “There’s a part of you that may never be over it”. I’d been focusing so much on the thought of never being over it, that I missed the most important words, “a part of you”. Only a part of me would never be able to fully process it, but that still left the rest of me that still had a chance. With that, a feeling of relief came over me. I could give all of my fear, sadness and anger of the accident to that part of me, and allow it to cry all it wanted. It could just sit in all those emotions without any expectation to get over it. With that, a sense of freedom washed over me, and I understood her point.
The waiting is definitely the hardest part, regardless if what you are waiting for is good or bad, but it is in the waiting that we gather all of our motivation, we weigh out the odds, we bask in the anticipation. The waiting is inevitable during the five stages of grief. Unfortunately the grief will eat us alive and continue to haunt us until we really give it the attention it needs. We can’t simply fast track to Step 5, we have to travel through every step.
So here I am, embarking on the final stage. I can feel the freedom of it warming my skin. I know I may never cross the finish line, but I realize I no longer have to. I’m tired of missing out on simply enjoying life while I’m waiting for the day I will be over it all. I hope to never let go of the desire to walk again, for my cells to find their way home, my nerves to reconnect and hear the click of my heels as I walk. There will always be hope, for some days, hope is all I have to keep my mind sharp, my body healthy and my heart full.
I realized my drive to even go to physical therapy with the intent to walk again had also been this big pressure I had put on myself. The pressure to make history on a physical level, and the pressure to put all of my energy into something I didn’t want to. Of course I want to walk again, but I hated the fact that all of my actions were about changing my disability, leaving room for not much else. I didn’t want every waking minute to feel like working a job I didn’t even apply for. This was creating a huge wall for me. I wanted to have fun, go after my dreams, be present as a mother and so on. I didn’t want to keep going through my life fighting against this thing that was now very much a part of me whether I liked it or not.
Once the expectation was gone, it opened me up to experience everything else that was going on around me. I no longer had to put every bit of my focus into my disability and getting over it. It no longer defined me and all of my actions, and this has been a major turning point for me. With that, I decided to stop waiting. If I want to do something, I do it, even if I do it alone. Along the way I have been amazed to find I’m not alone for long.
I admit I still slightly cringe when I say this, but what if this was my purpose all along? What if I’m supposed to go through life in a seated position? What if this thing I was resisting is actually the way in which I can make a difference? What if I not only accepted it, but embraced it, held it on a pedestal and used it to my advantage? What if I grabbed my chair by the horns and rocked it? I have a sneaking suspicion I would be unstoppable.
My denial was only delaying the inevitable. My situation wasn’t changing any time soon, and I had been pouting about it like an angry teenager. My pouting wasn’t going to change it, and I was just wasting time that could be spent enjoying myself. So stop pouting already. Face those fears. You don’t like your situation? Then take an inventory of what you can change, and start tackling them one by one. Then, embrace the rest. Once you accept it, what was once a limitation becomes a strength, and the world around you begins to shed light on all that was once dark. But I have to warn you, once you put your denial down, you better grab your shades because the future is very bright.
“Don't let this go too far, don't let it get to you”
-Tom Petty, The Waiting