Game Face

Imagine a whole set of stone steps rising up to bite you in various places of your body as you slide down.  The whole time you keep thinking, while your jaw rattles, “This has to stop at some time!”

A week and a half ago I fell down a whole flight (15 steps) of stairs.  The results: injured right arm/hip/shoulder and my right foot feeling like I broke it in half.  The xrays say otherwise.

Needless to say, this avid walker and hiker is noticing all my favourite things: writing, sewing, walking, occasionally running or jumping through the occasional empty hallways of my school are at a standstill.

The simplest thing, like getting out of the bath, poses serious logistical hurdles.  My cats have not yet been trained to drag my laundry across the flat to my laundry room.  Damn them.  Or shame on me for not betting training them to do better tricks.

A new world of disability has opened up to me.  I already have endometriosis, which has posed significant challenges to my life in the last two years.  I won’t belabour the point there.  Needless to say, pain is my middle name.  I try to hum, sing, take motrin and keep sunny.

But this new injury has made me rethink mobility issues and people who suffer from them, and some who have their entire life.  When things in your body go wrong (like being unable to walk for more than a few steps without feeling like your right leg is on fire) your body is even more disappointed because its remembers how it used to be.  It likes to say awful things to you, like “ha ha, you loser, look what you can’t do now.”

Or, “Idiot, and you thought the endometriosis pain was bad, sucker this is worse!”

“Now you more easily resemble the hunchback of Notre Dame.”

Lovely, lovely, insidiously awful things to be thinking when you’re trying to navigate the parking lot of Edeka without having every Bavarian BMW not run you over in impatience.  I never realised how much able-bodied people hate the disabled.

I’ve been joslted in line, people trying to get me to move faster, individuals trying to stop me on a borrowed scooter, thinking it was a toy instead of a mobility tool.  I’ve had groans, huffs, people constantly ask me “What happened?” whilst I struggle to just walk, for Heaven’s sake.  I’ve picked a few savory comments that have come up, because they are both funny and insightful to human behavior toward the disabled:

“Oh, can I help you?  Oh wait, I’m in a hurry, but do you need help?” Said person rushes off after they see angry look on my face.

“Love your new gimpy walk.”

“You’re just trudging along there aren’t you?  Why’d you bring your purse to school if you knew you couldn’t walk?”

“Love the new shoe, very very trendy.” (I have an orthopaedic astronaut boot that feels like it weighs twenty pounds).

“I think you could definitely go faster, if you tried harder.”

“Do you really need a wheelchair today? I mean we have three here and we need all of them in case of an emergency with a student.”

“I put a twenty pound bag of rice in your car, on the passenger side seat.  I realised you probably won’t be able to get it out, but I didn’t think of that until you were gone.”

“How do you drive, with your left foot?”

The shame of having to listen to such questions is enough for me to feel like blowing up several times a day.  These are the only juicy tidbits I can remember.

However, the upside to all of this is that I’ve realised there is a certain humility that comes with having to rely on strangers, friends, coworkers and neighbors to help me out.  I simply cannot do what I could two weeks ago. The fortunate reality for me is that I will probably gain full mobility.  There are many who never will.

How do they cope with persistent impatience, people who are able-bodied parking in their handicapped spots, people staring at them when they park in a handicapped spot and re-adjust the straps on their orthopaedic devices?  What do they tell people when they stare, cast wayward glances, or tut in pity?  I can’t help believing that many who have mobility issues must fight daily to not blow up at people in general.

On a sleepless night (sadly induced by pain medicatins that are suppose to take pain away but instead sent my thoughts racing in a million directions) I decided to try and focus by finishing Matt Haig’s Reasons for Living. In it he details all the things people say about physical conditions, but cannot give the same allowances for psychological impairments.

Having worked with individuals suffering from a wide variety of psychiatric illnesses and having had a nervous breakdown myself, I cannot emphasize enough the compassion needed in our world.  I am thankful I have a good community of friends and wonderful students to help me navigate the ropes of this new impairment.

There are so many without a support group, or for whom their support group has failed them, or they are beyond reaching.  I feel this pressure to keep on my “game face” and I’m sure others do, when life just isn’t fully going our way.  Obstacles seem to abound, and there is little comfort. Thus, I’ve decided to dispense with the game face in my own personal call for greater transparence and love for my fellow men.

My favourite quotes of this week came from the mouths of thirteen year olds & good friends:

“I’m so sorry this happened to you.  I want to beat those mean people with a cane who keep asking you stupid questions.”

“Here’s some vanilla gelato, I think it will make you feel better.”

“Make a list of what you need from the store, I’ll go get it and put it in your car for you.”

“You need wide legged pants, here are two pairs I know will fit your long legs.” (I’m handed two perfectly pressed trousers, appropriate for work and very comfortable.)

“I’ll run you to do your errands, just let me know what time and I’ll be there.”

“I love you, you just call me and I’ll help you out.”

“I like your pigtails.  They look cute.”

“Here’s a book you liked, I ordered it for you from Amazon.”

“Kennen Ich helfen sie?” (Can I help you?)

It’s amazing that these kind words, some entirely unrelated to what’s going on externally and internally kept me from the depths of despair.

The greatest light in the tunnel (as Matt Haig says, there is one, you might just have to wait for it) comes from those keeping it going as they pass the flame onto those who need it.

Bless all those who care.  May we all try to contribute to such compassion and concern.  Thank you to you all.