Independence Interrupted


This is not my usual post.

Typically I like to write about how the digital world influences me, particularly as a parent. Sometimes life events make you sit down and really take a good, long look at some of the simpler things of life. Basic and human sometimes life gets in the way of, well, life.

We were spending a warm, lazy summer evening at the beach. Every Saturday night, the locals gather for a large, informal drum circle. The rhythmic drums enjoy a background of cascading waves, crying gulls and giggling children. The belly dancer within the circle crashes her thumb cymbals as a balmy breeze gently kisses your skin. We’d brought a picnic and the adults lazily chatted while the children ran off to twirl and dance, perhaps sneaking a spot on someone’s drum for a while.

It can be truly amazing just how quickly the giant orb of the sun slips into the ocean horizon. For all the slow tracking across the expanse of the sky, you can miss that silent drop in a blink. Although the sun now slumbers beneath the ocean line, the sky is still an amazing motley of reds, pinks, blues and purples. To the south, a thunderstorm gurgles and grumbles and you can see an occasional wire of white hot lightning. The storm is just far enough away that the party continues on the beach, but it’s just close enough to make the sunset a truly incredible rainbow of colors.

As the light fades away ever quicker, the faithful drumming continues. Glow necklaces, batons and sticks now dot the circle and the kids and adults continue to twirl and sing. To the right, a man begins to juggle fire and everyone’s attention is temporarily diverted to the swirling pools of flame. It’s been a glorious day, and after several hours of eating, conversation and playfulness the day has come to a close. Now the time comes to pack it in, to end a pleasant evening with friends and drag weary children off to a hot shower and warm bed.

My younger son is heavy-lidded and half asleep as I carry him on the boardwalk over the sand dunes. The night sky is fully dark and pitch black; to preserve the habitat for migrating birds and sea turtles the boardwalk is not lit for human interlopers. Carefully I walk down the steps, placing first my right foot and then my left foot on each step before proceeding downward to the next step. Confident I’d made it to the bottom I took one more step and felt nothing but air.

It’s an odd sensation when you expect there to be firm, solid ground beneath you, only to find yourself wholly unsupported. I went down, falling firmly on my backside, protecting my son from any injury. As white pain shot through my ankles it dawned on me that I would not be rising from this fall under my own steam. Unable to do anything more than gasp, the air itself seemed to hold me down and the searing pain tingled up and down both ankles and feet.

In this fleeting moment I’d managed to sprain both ankles and break my right foot. This split second, this unexpected tumble took away my independence.

I’m thankful that this injury, in the grand scheme of things, is relatively small and unimportant. I have help and employment that doesn’t rely on my feet and ankles being healthy. But, for a period of time I’m learning multitudes about me, the human being.

Being independent has always been a core piece of my identity. On dating sites I used to describe myself as “fiercely independent” and while I have a strong, close knit family I’ve taken great pride in being a single mom who’s quite capable of caring for her family all by herself.

The first 48 hours were the most humbling. Unable to stand unassisted and I didn’t have in my possession any sort of braces, boots, crutches or wheelchair, I was entirely reliant on another person for everything. I felt guilty, not just for leaving all my responsibilities on their shoulders, but adding to that, the burden of caring for my needs. Thirsty and in pain, I’d agonize over how often I was asking for help, asking for a drink, asking to be lifted to the bathroom. All help was freely given, but in my strong independence I felt each request quite deeply.

Once we’d gotten to the doctor and I was armed with a walker, a wheelchair, leg braces and a boot I had slightly more ability to fend for myself. The wheelchair was not one I could propel on my own and I was only to use the walker for very limited movement for the first week. But, I could manage a little scooting here and there and I felt somewhat less of a burden now that I could be pushed, rather than carried.

As healing continued and we ventured out in public I felt my pride prickled more than once. One long, arduous walk to a bathroom at the back of a restaurant left me particularly sore, embarrassed and ready to cry. Each step throbbed, I was embarrassed when I bumped my walker into someone’s chair and I felt everyone was staring at me. It was the ultimate walk of shame. Slow and painstaking I imagined everyone stared at me with disgust. I’d never seen myself this way. I always confidently clickety-clacked on my heels through a room; I’m an attractive woman and I am unused to anyone looking at me with that particular mix of pity, contempt and empathy. It’s human nature, none of us want to be “the cripple” and to block the idea of it from our minds, we ostracize them.

I’m certain I was completely over-reacting. To be honest, I’m sure it was nothing more than a passing moment for them. But, to me it was humbling in the extreme.

Over the last week I’ve faced several small inconveniences, that as they add up, bring me to an entirely new appreciation for anyone dealing with a disability. Do you have any idea how much people love to put seams in the flooring between each room? Every little seam is a bump I have to work across. Trying to navigate through narrow store aisles on a motorized scooter, reaching products up high, even throwing my paper towel away after the bathroom all become tasks that require more planning than you realize.  Everything takes longer and muscles ache in new places as they’ve had to unexpectedly bear more of my body weight to compensate. I look at my walker in disgust, the fleshy parts of my palms and my shoulders ache at the thought of supporting my weight on it for the long trek to the bathroom. Even as I write, I debate that next sip of water, weighing how long it’ll be before I need to make that trip again against my thirst level.

In the end, our lives as we know them are beyond fragile. In one sharp second your entire world can be turned upside down. With a good support system, you can muscle through relatively unscathed, but I shudder to even consider my life the past two weeks without help. It’s been humbling, painful, at times humiliating. By the same token I’ve discovered a new wealth of strength not just in myself, but in the loved ones around me that have sheltered  me, picked me up, helped me dress and bathe myself, fed me, ferried me around and cared for my children. I’ve learned a new appreciation for the challenges people face when they operate outside the norm and deepened the empathy for the struggles others endure.

It’s harder than you imagine, losing that piece of yourself…even when you know you’ll gain it back fairly quickly. I cannot imagine losing it permanently.

    • Anonymous
    • July 17th, 2012

    Get better soon! 🙂

  1. Thanks for sharing! ^_^ You’ll be right as rain in no time!

    My experience was slightly less dangerous. I had been working for a friend’s dad, painting his new house. I was painting the baseboards and I had been at it for nearly eight hours straight. Then I stood up and it felt like both of my knee caps were being pried away from my leg with a crowbar.

    It happened as simply as that. I hyper-extended my knees.
    For a year following that I had to wear knee braces to keep the caps in place and ward off the pain that came when they moved around too much. Stairs were out. Long drives were out. Heavy lifting, that was out too.

    I used to be an extremely active person before that. Martial arts. Jogging. Hiking. _Anything._ It made me depressed that I couldn’t do these things, anymore. I gained a lot of weight. I shut myself in.

    Today I’m mostly healed, though I don’t think I’ll ever be at 100%. Every few months I get a little achy, but I’m fully mobile again and can still play sports and exercise. Those were the things I really took for granted. Being active and mobile.

    I’ve had a taste of what being disabled is like. Just a tiny sampling. I can relate to how it must be for some folks. I see other people on the sidewalk avoiding eye contact with someone in a wheel chair. I used to be one of those. My thoughts were usually along the lines of, “Well, I don’t want to stare. That would be rude.” Or, “if I treat them differently because they have a handicap, they might take offense.”

    Having dated someone in a far worse position that what I endured I know, now, that they want to be treated like anyone not handicapped. Just treated like any. Other. Person. And most will appreciate a little eye contact and a friendly smile. Or holding the door for them like you would for someone else.

    Just my two cents. Thanks again for sharing. You got some solid maternal instincts, btw. ^_^

    • Thank you! Luckily for me, my healing process is only 4-6 weeks but I completely agree with what you’re saying. Just a little acknowledgement that I’m here, maybe some empathy and a little common courtesy – all the same things I’ve always wanted.

    • Anonymous
    • July 18th, 2012

    I sure wish i could write about my life experiences as you are writing is a great tool you have a beautiful mind rems me of this quote.

    “How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.” – George Washington Carver

    • Anonymous
    • July 23rd, 2012

    Great post your getting the human out of me!! reminds me was born naked i sure miss it!.

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