I find it very humbling that we are never too old or too anything to get a good ole’ fashion gut check from the universe.
If you believe in God (as I do), you can say that He is constantly giving you tests to help you refine your character. If you believe in karma, maybe you can say you just deserve an energetic slap once in a while. And if you believe in other things, you can make what you will of this post.
In my last post I wrote in passing that I was so unwell at one point that I had to resort to using a wheelchair when I went to visit a friend. This past Saturday I had an interesting (read: gut-wrenching, tear-jerking, existential-angst-inspiring) dilemma.
Saturday in our Sabbath, and one of the things we don’t do on the Sabbath is travel by car. Usually that doesn’t pose a problem because I either stay home or walk where I need to go- in spite of the fact that we live in a hilly place, and in this hilly place, we live on an especially hilly street. But on Saturday we were supposed to meet someone, and this meeting was pretty important. Since we also don’t use the phone on the Sabbath it wasn’t an option to call or reschedule, and I didn’t want to send *h alone (for various reasons that don’t matter at all for the purposes of this post). And, in spite of the fact that I am doing waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better than I was even last week, I was in no way ready to make a trek up our hill.
So I did the Julie thing: mind over matter. ‘Don’t be a baby. Of course you can do it. It’s a hill, not a mountain; you’ve done much harder things in your life than talking a walk- get over yourself! Pull it together- you’re feeling better; of course you can walk around your neighborhood!’ But as much as I tried to psych myself up, I knew in my deepest heart that there was really no way I could do it. I could barely make it to the end of my driveway. I am doing so much better, but I am still not on solid ground, and the chances of me making it up to the end of my street were precisely zero.
This left me with one option if I wanted to get to the meeting, and that was to use my wheelchair. Again.
Here’s the thought process (which makes very little sense): If I use the wheelchair once, it’s an aberration. It was a one-off thing. It was a fluke. I had been crazy sick, and the place we went that week was super far. But if I use the wheelchair again, I am going to get dependent on it. It’s going to be like a crutch (funny irony in that comparison, huh?). I’m going to start getting lazy and then just use it all the time and stop doing things for myself. I’m going to let people do everything for me and become spoiled and over-indulged and expect people to push me around everywhere like slaves and that is just so obnoxious. Forget it. I just have to figure out a way to walk.
If I was honest with myself, here’s what I would have been saying: ‘Holy cow, not this again! this scares me on such a deep and profound level. I don’t want to be disabled again. I don’t want people to see me as disabled again and I don’t want to be judged. I don’t want to have to explain myself over and over again, and I don’t want my family to have to be ashamed of me again, and I don’t want to have to reopen all the old wounds which I thought I was over, but which apparently I am not because obviously it is such a struggle for me to use the wheelchair which I clearly need, WHICH SHOULD BE A RED FLAG TO BE THAT MY EGO IS INVOLVED HERE’.
A few weeks ago when I used the chair we left it parked outside of the house we were visiting (I used a cane inside the house). Someone walked in and asked whose wheelchair was outside. I said it was mine and they asked what was broken (looking me up and down and seeing nothing). I said “my brain”. So they said something like, “Hahahahaha no really. Did you hurt your leg or something?” And I said “No, it’s my brain”. And we proceeded to go around in circles with different variations of that same conversation several more times. Now, I suppose in hindsight it would have been more kind to have launched into a more extended explanation of what was going on, because really it just seemed like I was being evasive and stupid/bratty, but also I really don’t want to tell people a huge life story. So it’s a balance that I don’t know how to achieve- especially when I don’t feel well. But it also brought up to me that if I use the wheelchair going forward, there will need to be explanations given, and questions answered- and this is honestly not invasive from people. If a neighbor who looks outwardly fine and normal suddenly shows up in a wheelchair one kind of wonders what’s up. And that’s only fair. The question is how much of my life story is a fair response. It’s not like I’m exactly private about what’s happened- nor should I be. I have no reason to be embarrassed about getting sick; I certainly didn’t do anything wrong.
But there is always that weird thing that hangs in the air once you are out of the closet publicly, right? That people don’t know quite how to just be around you, because now they know stuff, and they don’t know whether to acknowledge it or to just “act normal” around you- as if you have undergone a transformation from who you were before they knew your big secret. And if you were raised to be decent- as most of us were- you feel guilt in the face of their discomfort. And that makes you feel ashamed of having this condition… this circumstance…this thing that is controlling whether or not you can visit a friend without a public show of weakness.
And that’s all hard stuff. Especially when it’s not in a vacuum.
Because I also have my kids who are heroes extraordinaire, and just want me to be happy and have the best life possible, but who also have feelings around having a mom who is physically unpredictable. They have a long history of their own struggles with seeing me in various states of illness or wellness and this brings up hard issues for them too.
And as much as *h has stepped up a million times over in the last month (and even pushed me up these gargantuan hills!), and hasn’t expressed even the slightest hint of anything negative about me being- um, let’s say ‘compromised’ for the last little while- he’s way too young and healthy to not have any feeling about seeing his wife in a wheelchair- again…
But truthfully on that day my struggle wasn’t with any of these things. If I am very honest my real angst on that day was that if people saw me again using a wheelchair I was going to be a disabled person again, and I was struggling with whether or not I was ready or able to embrace that identity. Unlike someone who has never walked this road before, I have spun these tires.
When I lived in Detroit, plenty of people knew me before I got sick. They saw the vibrant functioning person I was, so even after I lost most of it, they were still able to keep a picture in mind of the old me.
In Seattle, I am just Compromised Julie. I Don’t Do Things. I Can’t Do Things. My son told me the other day that I am unreliable, which isn’t quite true. I try hard to be scrupulously reliable once I commit to something- it’s just that I barely ever commit to anything because I never know how I will be feeling from one day to the next.
So I feel like going back to the chair here is taking the next step down into the vortex. Back in Detroit I had the strength to pull myself out, but here I’m afraid I might get sucked all the way in (that’s totally fear talking- anyone who knows me for real knows that I have a fighting spirit and I only question myself when I don’t feel well…).
I guess the bottom line is that I still have things to learn about humility and grace and who-knows-what. I thought I was way past whatever I could have learned from being in a wheelchair, but apparently that isn’t the Grand Plan for my life right now. I can’t say that whatever happens I will make the best of it, because I am not really a make-lemonade-out-of-lemons kind of girl.
I’m more of a toss-the-lemons-in-the-air-and-use-them-for-target-practice-as-a-method-of-stress-relief sort of person, but hey- sometimes I say, whatever gets you through the day ;)
Sometimes all you can do is just take things as they come and do your best to hope you get it right.
Really, what’s the other option?