22 months, almost 2 years now. As always, I am befuddled by the elasticity of time passing. It feels like forever ago that I was in Pittsburgh unable to move my body other than head and shoulders. It also feels like it was just yesterday I was using a forearm walker to relearn how to make my legs take one step and then another. However confused my perception of how the time has passed, what is certain, is that I am more alive as a result of this spinal cord injury and my healing process.
As I sit here in a chair in my sweet room in France, forming my thoughts into words by tapping my two best working fingers on letters of my keyboard, I ask myself about the thread that carries through these 22 months. The loudest answer is 'effort'. Then I feel-hear 'acceptance'. When I keep listening patiently I hear other words like grace, support, celebration and gratitude. And if I am willing to stay a bit longer, to keep listening to the whispers of my interior landscape, then I also hear-feel grief, pain, sadness and shame as major players in the experience of this healing journey.
My spinal cord injury healing journey experience has been and continues to be broad and wide. It is filled by a veritable kaleidoscope of feelings and truths that flow and shift through my days. It feels true to say its base has been created and supported by an enormous amount of effort. In the beginning intense effort didn't feel like a choice. It was simply what I did, apply the best effort I could toward mobility each day.
At the beginning of my healing journey, there was so much clarity. There was a part of me that was relieved to feel like I had a clear purpose in life. My whole existence united to put in the effort required to regain mobility and agency in the world. My goal was clear and unquestioned, I wanted to move again. It was challenging of course. There was enormous frustration in trying to do basic life activities. There was plenty of bewilderment by the level of motor skills and strength required, and previously taken for granted, to do things like pick up objects, open containers, brush teeth, get dressed etc. But the frustration was nothing in comparison the sense of accomplishment when I was able to do something new. What a gift that was, to be able to celebrate the very smallest acts as huge wins in life.
In my early days of healing there was no internal dialogue other than gentle reassurance. I never once said to myself, "Ok girl you gotta try to walk again." or "You need to work to use your arms and hands." I just did it. There was no internal dialogue riddled with questions or analysis. I have no memory of ever thinking that I needed to try harder or do better. As I dip deeper into this reflection I recall that in those early days I never judged myself as not doing well enough or not trying hard enough. When I look back at myself in those early days of the injury, I am impressed. That is the version of myself I want to get to know better. I want her to continue to shine into this life more often, not just in a time of crisis.
As I reflect on the entirety of this experience, the earliest days are those I am the most proud of. They were somehow the most straightforward and simplest of this whole journey. Kind of like my perception of time, my perception of challenge feels elastic. Was it more or less challenging to receive the news that I was paralyzed or to feel almost 'normal' but not quite? Was it more or less challenging to learn to take those first steps or to try to fix my stride now? Was it more or less challenging to not be able to use my hands at all or to use them with uncertainty and trepidation? More or less, it all feels the same, and continues to require effort and acceptance.
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Lizandra Vidal is a poet, writer, and wellness expert. In 2015 she suffered a spinal cord injury and this blog is a space where she shares the story of her experience.