Priorities vol. 2

Whenever I have been faced with needing to make changes, to practice acceptance of my changing capabilities, my wonderful, loyal, supportive husband has only ever asked one thing of me. “I’ll support you in whatever” he says. “You are living your life, you know best. But please, don’t make any decisions based on your emotions.”

Yesterday, after a very long day at work (all-day conference in the city), I fell over in the dark street having just got off my bus. I got up slowly from the ground and felt a familiar pain coarsing through my arm. I’m still not over my most recent bout of whiplash, so it feels like the aches, the pain and the limtations have been lingering for weeks. I called Kev, and asked him to come get me, as I was just at the end of the street. He raced down and as I saw him coming, I burst into tears. Because I knew I could now, that someone was here to understand.

We walked to the next corner and I lost my balance coming off the deep kerb. I screamed. Not because of pain. Kev caught me, I was fine. I screamed like a wounded animal. Because I feel more and more that I cannot be safe, that I am not allowed, I am not able to carry on with the threads of life I am trying (too) hard to hold onto. I fell over yesterday exactly at a point where I was allowing myself the thought “I am doing well. All these treatments are allowing me to keep up.”

I screamed because it felt like my body had heard the thought and just decided “Let’s remind her how wrong she is.”

Kev was worried that neighbours would come into the streets, wondering about the woman screaming in such pain. He tried to shush me. I stood in the road, clinging to him for my balance and sobbing. Sobbing about how unfair it is, how useless my body feels and how much I don’t want to live like this anymore.

I know the way I have to live cannot change. I grieve for that fact every day and I do not apologise for it. But sometimes, I am just too tired. Tiredness is the precise reason I was able to fall in the first place. I’m not sure it used to be and it makes me so sad.

The sound was awful. I knew it was me and yet to hear it, to have it be so desperate to escape from my chest and throat, it was like I was listening to somebody else. All I could see through the tears was the blur of the street lamps, and all I could hear was this awful sound. That poor woman, I thought, she sounds in so much pain.

Because it always changes. Part of my experience with disability and depression has always been, rightly or wrongly, that if I am depressed, I cannot be caught off guard when the depressing times or events come. It cannot impact me, they were expected. I don’t mind admitting it’s a horrible way to live. But that’s always been my rationale.

This weekend, I had what I call a peaceful moment. A realisation of true peace, calm and contentment. They are very rare to me. In fact, I cannot remember any outside of the 4 years Kev and I have been married. I’m sure this is not a true representation, but it does show what an amazing impact my husband has had on me as a person.

The first one was the day after our wedding. We’d booked a nice spa hotel for a mini-moon, to let us adjust to married life. Spas are ridiculously important to my physical maintainence and I remember just climbing into the warm jacuzzi. The sun was setting, sending beautiful red streaks across the sky as we looked out onto the Welsh hills. We held hands, our new wedding rings shining on our clasped fingers. There was nothing to do, no-one else to worry about. All we had to do was be.

The second was a weekend away around the first anniversary of my dad’s death, when work had been hectic and my grief heavy. It was to the city of St. David’s, which is in fact this beautiful little village. It was pouring down with rain pretty much the entire time. So all we did was walk between the hotel, the little chocolate shop and the pub with a roaring fire. It was as if the world couldn’t touch me there.

The third was the perfect day we had in Cuba, swimming with dolphins and eating lobster, drinking rum on a catarman as the sun set. An experience in a beautiful part of the world I could never have imagined I would get to see were it not for the husband so determined I deserved to see it.

The fourth was our first family holiday, where nothing mattered other than our little girl’s happiness.

The fifth was just this weekend. We went for a nice autumnal walk in one of our local parks, me wanting to crunch leaves underfoot, Squidge wanting to play in the park. There was no rushing, no clock watching. We went for hot chocolate at the café and I looked at them both, my husband and daughter, and I was so peaceful, so content. Right in those moments, I had everything I need in the world.

And I think that’s why it hurt me to hear myself so distressed over a fall. Because I know it was because I was tired, a reult of wanting to work too hard. It is not my fault. It is not what matters most. Yet still, I get so absorbed in what people must think of me, all these shortcomings that make me so pitiful and abnormal. Except, I am slowly realising, those are not the opinions of others. It is me, projecting my own. And I don’t want to waste my precious energy on being so angry with myself. What use can it possibly be when I had that moment in the park, that wonderful moment of knowing I have everything I need?

My family is everything. They are what ground me and who make me feel whole. I refuse to care any longer about whether I am working hard enough, or how much longer I can work to put coffers in the pot. A job is not what I want. My family is. I would like nothing more than another baby and I am determined not to wear myself down working. I know too that Kev would adore another child. So much so, that he refuses to wrangle with himself as I do over the finances. “If it’s something we want” he says (he knows it is) “then we will manage.” I have spent a lot of time and energy arguing with him, but what for? To see if I can make him as worried as I have been? It’s useless. The two of us are too determined in our aim. And what a beautiful aim it is.

The idea of managing has always stuck in my throat, like it cannot be enough. But I don’t care anymore. Somewhere safe and warm to sleep, with food in our bellies and love for each other. That’s all we need and we have all of that. I don’t want to struggle anymore. I want walks in the park, at my own pace, not having to think about what the rest of the world needs from me. Because what I have to give is not for the rest of the world, it is for my family. It is for that poor broken woman whose screaming is still ringing in my ears.

Please, Ask Me What It’s Like to Be Me

This is written from a place of emotion. CBT tells me that I shouldn’t always listen to my emotional voice. It’s loud and often angry. Mental equilibrium is achieved by letting the rational voice in, to quieten the emotional voice and calm the mind.

But, what I have realised is, my mind cannot be calmed if it cannot believe it is in charge of my body. It doesn’t. I don’t. So, this comes from a place of struggling, of raw pain. Of wishing there could be just a little more understanding.

I offered some insight into my life to a hard-at-work author today, who wants to portray someone, like me, with mild CP in his book. I haven’t seen many such characters (though maybe that’s on me to widen my reading, I get that). But talking to him, telling him my truth was strangely cathartic. I was glad I did it.

See, a lot of my historic experiences have shown me that society believes (and the media often expects) that one disabled person can speak for us all. For me, that figurehead seems to be Tanni Grey Thompson. A very accomplished woman. I will not insult either of us by calling her inspiring. To me, she is just a woman living her life as best she can. After all, that’s all any of us can be right? But to the media, she is the person to (literally!) roll out to explain any disabled related issue to the rest of us. I got sick of the sight of her on TV to be honest and the poor woman has done nothing wrong. But the point is, she does not speak for me, even on the occassions when our opinions align. For starters, we have very different conditions. Tanni has spina bifida. I do not. She uses a wheelchair. I do not. Not all the same see?

I cannot speak to the life experiences of every disabled person, or even every person with the exact same condition as me (spastic diplegia cerebral palsy, in case you wondered). Cerebral palsy has many types, on many spectrums and effects each life differently.

I spent my teenage years, my physically better years pretending it wasn’t there. I’d cry everytime I caught sight of my scissor pattern staggering in shop windows, because that wasn’t the person I was in my mind’s eye. To me, so long as I cou;dn’t see it, I was the same as everybody else.

Except, now, I know this is the wrong approach. The physical toll has worsened. I live in a body worn to an age about 20 years above my documented age. Now, I live in fear of aging. I will not die any sooner as a result of my condition. But at 60 years old, I will likely feel as most people do physically towards the end of their lives. I will be facing, statistically, another 15-20 years, a gift I’m sure. Except, what does 20 years past the end of life feel like? No-one can know can they? I am terrified.

And that’s not what people want to hear. People want to tell me I’m strong and brave and quite frankly, I’m sick of it. Those are token words, they are not what I feel, not by a long shot. I’m not living this life because I’m strong or brave, or (shudder!) an inspiration. I am living this life because I have a family and dreams to live for. Because to not live this life takes away the pride I feel at belonging to them all. I live this life simply because there are people too important to not be here to love and enjoy.

I suppose the argument I have with myself, rightly or wrongly, is that people hide in these platitudes because they cannot know what it is like to be me. I get that. But please, please don’t be afraid to ask. If I’m having a good day, I’ll say it is what it is, that my husband, my daughter are all the reason I need to be OK with being me. If I’m having a bad day, I will probably cry. I will tell you I’m sick of being constantly sore and I’m too tired to do this anymore.

I realise how awkward it might make you feel. No-one really knows how to fix another do they? And I know I cannot be fixed. I long for it and I will not apologise for it. But I know in my heart that it is not a realistic expectation and am moving to take positive steps in self-acceptance, because I feel this is something I really need in my life when the prospect of living a long life has the power to frighten me so much. I have a lot to live for, but that doesn’t make the act of living any less hard.

So, if I’m in tears, if I can’t do this anymore, please don’t shy away. These limitations can be incredibly lonely. I don’t expect the world to fix me. I just need someone to ask, to wear an empathetic/sympathetic face. You don’t need to tell me I do “so well”. I need you to recognise that this is hard, to tell me that the constant struggles are rubbish and unfair. Everyone understands how hard life can be? How unfair?

Please don’t be afraid to ask. To hear. I will always fight on another day. I have things to fight for.

But sometimes, I just need someone to join me in a beaten heap on the floor, someone to help me get ready for the fight again.