That Time I Was Waiting for an Elevator

When I first started to venture out into the world after my injury I felt like the most obvious human on the face of the earth. This was probably giving myself far too much credit as I am actually quite difficult to spot in a crowd. But justified or not, I always felt like everyone was looking at the woman in the wheelchair. Fast forward to today and I find that I don’t feel quite as obvious. I understand that people have more things to be concerned with than the woman in the wheelchair and that, generally speaking, if I carry on like there is nothing to look at, people don’t look (at least not usually for long awkward periods of time).

I suppose it is because I have convinced myself that I blend in to some degree that I was caught off guard a couple of weeks ago. I was in a professional building and I needed the elevator but I was waiting and checking my phone before I ventured down into the no-cell-reception parking garage. A man who was delivering boxes walked over singing and I looked up briefly and smiled at him. He looked at me and said, “oh are you having a problem there dear?”. I honestly didn’t have a clue what he meant at first but quickly thought he was referring to me waiting for the elevator – as in maybe he thought it wasn’t coming. I told him that there wasn’t a problem and I was just checking my phone. I assumed at this point that our conversation was over but I was clearly mistaken because he gestured awkwardly with his hand and said “no, no you uh are in a wheelchair there”

Continue reading “That Time I Was Waiting for an Elevator”

Does This Wheelchair Make Me Look Fat?

I have struggled with my body image for all of my adult life (and even some of my adolescent years). I have been continuously obsessed over the number on the scale and the size of my clothes – so obsessed in fact, I could tell you my approximate weight and pant size every year since I was 15 (however doing so would be ridiculous so I’ll refrain. You’re welcome). While I have always felt especially self-conscious about my mid-section, looking back on photos of myself as a teenager and young adult would prove that those insecurities were unfounded (at least for a time). I wish I would have known that! Maybe on some level I did – I always tried to be sexy I suppose. I felt sexy when I was with my boyfriend turned husband and I wasn’t embarrassed to put on a bikini in public. Even still, I would fight all of the insecurities in private. Continue reading “Does This Wheelchair Make Me Look Fat?”

An Inspiration By Default

We all draw inspiration from different places and different people. Although, if we are being totally honest, it mostly comes from Pinterest. However, I feel lucky in the sense that I have a lot of screen-free inspiration in my life. I’m surrounded by numerous people who motivate me to be better: a better mom, a better wife, a better friend, a better daughter, a better writer, and a better version of myself. And over the last year I have packed my newsfeeds with people who inspire me to continue this journey in life despite my physical limitations.

You would think that being called an inspiration would always be flattering. Clearly, it means you have done something that stood out to someone and really moved them in some way. But the term can sometimes lose its significance. The spinal cord injury (SCI) community continually battles with this description; one that balances precariously between complimentary and trite.

Since the very early days of my injury there were people who called me an inspiration. Initially I found it encouraging and, yes, flattering that I was seen in this particular way. As the months went on it became a description that I began to find somewhat demeaning. I think this happened for two reasons. One was because as I delved deeper into the spinal cord injury community I learned that it really was an overused term that many learned to dismiss. And two, because it felt as though I could never be acknowledged for any real accomplishments seeing as even just ‘not dying’ earned me this coveted title. I started to become bitter over something that was meant to be complimentary. This began an internal debate for me that I have struggled with for many months. It is more complicated than one might think. And while I have been called ‘inspirational’ by many, there is a difference when it comes from someone who is able-bodied versus someone who is living life with an injury.

A few weeks ago, I read something by Alan Rasof that really resonated with me. “People with disabilities don’t exist for the rest of us to feel inspired.” This is very true. My purpose in life did not shift with my injury and I don’t exist solely for the purpose of inspiring others. But is it so bad if the way I live my life motivates someone else? Maybe it’s not why I exist, but if it happens in the process I’m not sure I think that is a bad thing.

There is a big goal in the disabled community and that goal is to normalize disabilities in the world. We want the world to change so that an achievement is no more impressive when accomplished by someone with a disability than someone without a disability. I understand that the objective in this is to prove that we are capable individuals; we are still people with ideas, talents and know-how. I also understand the desire to want to prove all of our abilities to the world and how important it is for people to know. However, while I don’t think there needs to be a big production about achievements by those with disabilities (I know we are just as capable). I do think we, as a community, need to recognize that there has been adversity in our life that a lot of people cannot imagine. And while it may be just part of our day-to-day, it is full of obstacles that seem far from ordinary to a lot of people.

I truly believe that every person out there is capable of overcoming obstacles that they can’t even fathom. I believe that everyone has a resilience in them that they don’t know they possess (and will never know they possess) unless life throws them a reason to uncover it. A year ago, I never thought I would move on like I have but, turns out, I was wrong (phew!). However, no matter how sure I am that resilience exists in everyone, it doesn’t mean that everyone, when faced with a difficult situation, chooses to execute it. It doesn’t take away from the fact that I’m utilizing it. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t a quality to be admired.

Admiration can sometimes get a little out of hand and that is where I struggle. I struggle when someone sees me for all of one minute and because I am out in the world while in a wheelchair, I am an ‘inspiration’. I could be a terrible mother. I could be a terrible person. In these scenarios, there is generally no basis to be called ‘inspiring’ and I believe this is where the compliment becomes cliché and where the meaning of it loses its significance.

I understand that the general population is not intimately knowledgeable about life with a disability. It would be great if everyone easily understood that the different ways I accomplish things are what is required for me to get on with my day; I’m doing what is required for me to live my life. But it takes time for the world to understand something like that. Disabled people living in such a functional capacity amongst society is a somewhat recent development in human history and an entire minority doesn’t just integrate with the population overnight. It takes time. It takes decades, maybe longer. It certainly takes interest, education, and understanding. It takes the thoughts of “I could never do what she does and I want to know more about how she does it.” It takes patience.

There will never come a time that someone will hear the words “you are never going to walk again” and not be shattered. There will never come a time (until there comes a cure) that the changes a spinal cord injury brings to daily life regarding mobility, bladder control, bowel function and sexual function will not significantly alter a person’s mindset and expectations for their life. I don’t think it would be fair to change the world’s view in such a way that their expectations of a newly injured person are too great. The road to understanding shouldn’t undermine the emotionally charged and difficult journey that the trauma of a spinal cord injury brings.

When I was newly injured, I began searching online for inspiration. But what if nobody had been there for me to find? What if everyone living successfully with a spinal cord injury was considered status-quo and I was left to just fall in line because that was what was expected? I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have had the same drive to recover without the honesty, transparency and inspiration of other wheelchair users. Wheelchair users such as Chelsie Hill, Rachelle Chapman, Ali Stroker and Claire Freeman (Instagram @chelsiehill, @rachelles_wheels, @alistroker @meesa_claire) just to name a few. I have a lot of gratitude for the motivation that I drew from others (and continue to draw from others) during my recovery. There were many days I needed to see veteran wheelchair users living their lives in order to get up and keep working towards living my life.

And that’s what I’m doing: living my life. I may not think that I’m inspiring or doing anything out of the ordinary, but I understand why some people may view that differently. I will no longer be bothered when I’m called an inspiration as it really is always said with good intentions. I definitely have hope that as time goes on there will be less mystery surrounding disabilities, but I don’t believe that there should ever come a time where overcoming a difficult situation is not commendable. However, I do urge anyone to think twice before calling someone an inspiration. Think about what it is they are inspiring in you or how you would back up your observation because it is a lot more meaningful when said with purpose and understanding.

 

Love Through The Fear

Like so many, I am heartbroken by the recent events in Manchester. It was almost a year ago I wrote those same words regarding Orlando. Trying to comprehend the reasoning and calculated malice that goes into these acts of terrorism is enough to make you lose faith in the human race. Thinking about the innocent lives lost and the countless lives affected by these tragedies can make a person fear the world. And when the world and all of its pitfalls are so easily found on every media outlet it can become overwhelming. There is a flood of negativity with every swipe of our finger and the good-news stories seem much more difficult to find. There is an obvious sense of urgency in our society to fix these problems that stem from hate and anger, but so much uncertainty on how to achieve it. And while we hope for safety and we hope for answers, our hope is laced with bewilderment and fear.

From my earliest memories, I can remember always being afraid: afraid of getting lost, afraid of earthquakes, afraid of war, afraid of everything. As I grew up, the anxieties only increased and as an adult I have worked extremely hard to keep my fears in check. Now living with this disability, I find a lot of my fears surrounding personal safety are magnified. Every elevator I enter on my own raises the question of how I would escape the 2nd, 3rd or 15th floor in an emergency. When I drive I think of scenarios where the extra 60 seconds it takes me to get out of my car could be 60 seconds too long. I worry about every stranger I pass when I am on my own and I remain incredibly vigilant of my surroundings – all of the time. And as I sat on the floor of a very empty parking garage last week, without a cell signal or a wi-fi connection, I could only hope that the person who would find me was good and kind. Continue reading “Love Through The Fear”

Paralyzed, Barefoot And 30!

It’s my birthday. I’ve always loved my birthday but ever since I turned 19, I have hated the idea of getting older. I don’t know why the number has bothered me so much. Up until a week ago I was saying that 30 just sounded so old. But I’ve changed my mind. Partly because a lot of my friends, all of my siblings and most of my cousins are in their forties (it helps a girl stay young), but mostly because of something I read the other day and everything it made me think about.

A memory came up on Facebook (as they do every day when you subscribe to the ‘on this day’ function). 10 years ago, I wrote that I was not looking forward to my birthday because turning 20 meant “a downward spiral into oblivion.” Initially I read it and thought that my 19-year-old self was quite the dramatic. As I thought about it more I realized that, while dramatic, she was also kind of right. While I didn’t make it all the way to oblivion, I definitely hit the bottom – spine first.

Continue reading “Paralyzed, Barefoot And 30!”

Moms On Wheels – Is It Unethical?

I was absent-mindedly scrolling through my Facebook feed yesterday when I saw a shared video from the television show The Doctors titled “Quadriplegic Mother Has Baby via IVF”. I didn’t give it too much thought; I guess I gave it as much thought as I would if I had heard that anyone had a baby via IVF. “That’s great!” I was distracted and didn’t think anything else of it. However, a few hours later I saw it pop up again and it was captioned in such a way that made me think that, just maybe, not everyone thought that this was so great.

So of course, I watched the video. I was left feeling a bit empty and mostly speechless (which I think most of you have figured out is incredibly rare for me). I have spent the last 14 months convincing myself that I am a capable mother. I have met other disabled women who are incredible mothers. I follow paralyzed women online who are strong and wonderful mothers. However, here sat doctors who blurted out a few sentences that momentarily took the fight out of me. Continue reading “Moms On Wheels – Is It Unethical?”

The Pursuit Of Bladder Control – The Saga Continues

After months of trying to find the perfect solution to my bladder issues, I have conclusively determined that…there isn’t one. I suppose that is probably obvious because I’d be rich and famous right now if I had discovered the solution to bladder control after a spinal cord injury. Alas, here I sit, not rich, not famous, and still possessing a bladder that endeavours to rule my life. But I promise you it’s not as dire as it sounds. My bladder may still hold power over me, however I trust it more than I once did and we are slowly becoming friends again. Well, actually, Botox is my true friend. I’m just kind to my bladder with hopes it will be kind to me. Maybe it understands reciprocity?

If you saw my first post on bladder control, you would have read that I had just recently

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A sure-fire way to a wet seat cushion.

tried Botox for the first time. It has now been about three months and Botox has definitely made a positive difference. There is much less unexpected leaking in my life and I can trust that my bladder can successfully hold a certain amount of fluid (and won’t leak) overnight. I’m very careful to do laundry (and other tasks that require me to bend to the floor) only when I have recently used the washroom – pressure on a full bladder just causes unwanted problems. I would say most times that I do leak (which is maybe 1-2 times a week) are when I’m having to bend down to the floor. I’m gg papa-7either helping my daughter get dressed, picking up toys or picking up one of the other million things that the children leave in the path of my wheelchair.

 

I still watch the clock closely. I plan my day around what time I need to catheter and where I will be when that time comes around. I check and double check that I have enough supplies with me when I leave the house. What if we spontaneously decide to make another stop while we are out but we can’t because Mommy ran out of catheters? I would be nobody’s favourite person in that scenario (unless of course that spontaneous stop was the grocery store). But my point is, that even though the entire process of voiding my bladder has become more routine and predictable, it still takes a lot of time, brain space, planning and supplies.

The one piece of equipment that I recently decided I didn’t want to depend on anymore was a mirror. When I first started to learn how to self-catheter I couldn’t imagine ever doing it without a mirror. In the beginning, I couldn’t find my urethra with a big mirror, flashlight and someone literally pointing at it; I was hopeless and brought to tears on numerous occasions. It eventually became obvious and I could find it easily. Take the mirror away though and it takes the Sam Hunt lyric “I know every curve like the back of my hand” to an entirely different and far less sexy level. However, it also means I can remove the bulky mirror from my purse and that I can catheter in the dark now if I have to…so that’s something.

However, you have to remember that I have a two-year-old daughter. Anyone who has children knows that they are curious little creatures; every mom I have ever met knows what it is like to have company in the washroom. My daughter wandered in the other day and started asking me why I have to touch my body like I do. Her questions are easily answered at this point but I’ve decided that the poor girl will be confused for many years to come as she grows up in a house full of catheters and penises. It’s a strange world little one and this is just the beginning. Although maybe our three-ways-of-peeing household will make all of my kids more tolerant of differences in life…I’m looking for a silver lining, just go with it.

Whether or not it makes them more tolerant, it has forced them to be more patient. No longer does a public washroom trip take just a couple of minutes. They have learned to wait for Mommy on her trips to the bathroom, which usually take 6 to 10 minutes. I can’t say I ever enjoyed using a public restroom, but it is an entirely different world now that I’m in a chair.

For many months I would plan my life so that I could be home as much as possible when it was time to catheter (so every 3 hours). If we realized that we would be out of the house when I needed a bathroom, we would have to call and make sure there would be accessible washrooms that my husband could come into with me, as I still needed his help. Thankfully I can manage a public bathroom independently now (oh the things that excite me). However sometimes the experience is not a smooth one. I’m still reeling from one such adventure…

Just over a month ago I went into a busy airport restroom. My VIP (very important paraplegic) stall was in the corner but in a high traffic area across from the bank of sinks. I went in and started to get organized – transfer on to the toilet, get my supplies out of my purse (wipes, hand sanitizer, catheter, mirror)

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Purse supplies – Mirror to be left behind soon.

and then wiggle my pants down. Just as I finished that last step, the door in the stall beside me slammed shut and mine opened. It only opened up a crack (the lock was clearly not working properly) and I sat there with my pants around my ankles trying to decide what to do.

 

The door may as well have been a mile away from me; I wasn’t about to just reach over from the toilet and hold it shut. Also, two hands are necessary when using a catheter. At first I thought I could just finish quickly. As soon as the thought entered my brain, a lovely middle-aged lady tried to come in. She was very embarrassed and offered to hold the door shut for me. I told her not to worry as I shoved all of my supplied back in my purse and transferred back onto my wheelchair – pants still around my ankles. I wheeled back to the door and locked it…with extra force this time.

I contemplated going to find another stall but the effort of getting my pants up and then down and then back up again seemed just too much. The idea of finding the other stall with my pants around my ankles was tempting but not going to happen.

So with the door locked (again) I was trying to move fast. I transferred to the toilet (again) and pulled my supplies out (again). At that moment, the door opened…again! Now I was hot and flustered and ready to cry tears that were either out of anger, frustration or embarrassment – I’m still not quite sure. Regardless, I didn’t cry and managed to repeat the process (again). Thankfully that was the final obstacle but it took my a few days to be able to laugh about the event and how ridiculous it all was.

Writing all of this down makes me miss simpler times. I miss the times when I could just go pee. People talk a lot about spinal cord injury cures and what the ‘next big thing’ is research wise. Technology is amazing. A cure would be amazing. But, honestly, improvements alone would be amazing too. One of which would be the ability to pee without catheters and without a schedule. Until then, I will continue to get Botox and live my life in 3 to 4 hour segments. I will also continue to leak and attempt to keep the expletives at bay when I have discovered that my bladder betrayed our friendship yet again. And I will just keep living as best I can without bladder control. Fortunately, I have – maybe – figured out the whole world of bladder management.

Why I Tell You Everything

There are a lot of people out there who call me brave for sharing my journey so openly. Many of them wonder why I choose to expose my life to anyone with an Internet connection and a screen. In all honesty, I have asked myself these questions more than once. There are days where attempting to turn my thoughts into something coherent seems almost impossible. There are moments where I feel misunderstood. Some days I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the feedback I get from readers, while other days I worry that I’m not reaching anyone. And all too often I feel anxious thinking that I might disappoint someone by not always seeing the silver lining.

In these moments of writer’s block, frustration and unfounded fears, I question all the reasons I have for this approach I’ve taken to healing.

Why do I write? Why do I share? Why do I devote time every day to my keyboard?

There are multiple in depth answers to these questions that continue to change and develop as I move forward in my recovery. But the short answer is simple: I love to write.

Before my accident, I had a small ‘mommy blog’ that I enjoyed working on but didn’t have much time for. After my accident I started to write small updates on social media to keep family and friends informed of my progress. I found that when I didn’t update for a few days, my mood declined and I would start to get caught up inside of my head. I would journal, but I always felt as though my thoughts were more organized and that I felt more refreshed when I was writing something for the purpose of posting it. It just worked for me. My posts started to get longer and my community of readers grew. Eventually it all lead to this blog.

Just the other day I had coffee with a friend and we were discussing the positives and the pitfalls to writing such a personal blog. At the end of the day, this collection of writing is who I am. I’m not putting on a persona; I’m not becoming a character. I’m giving you me in all of my stubborn-sarcastic-trying-my-best-but-still-a-mess glory. But sometimes…sometimes it’s difficult to comprehend that so many people know me on such a personal level but I don’t know them at all. Sometimes I wonder if sharing my life is necessary. And in the midst of this conversation, she told me to ask myself a question – something she has written down in her office at home…

What best serves the growth of my soul?

It’s such a thought provoking question and got me thinking about the days where I doubt my writing and I doubt my purpose. I realized that any thoughts I have had about my writing being too personal were from a place of fear – fear of people thinking I’m wrong; fear of people thinking I’m unjustified; fear of being judged. And when I allow myself to move past that hesitation, I discover that writing and posting on this blog best serves the growth of my soul and best serves the state of my mind. In the end it doesn’t matter if I’m judged because this is for me.

Unless you are new here, you probably know that I have three little people who depend on me; I am their one and only mom. And my main goal from the beginning of all of this was to be able to function in a capacity so that my children don’t feel like they lost their mom – especially because I am still here. But I realize that in order to be the mom that they need me to be, I have to recover myself as well.

Writing helps me rediscover and redefine who I am since my accident. It helps me to cope with my journey. And, like I said before, the process of preparing a post helps me to organize the most important of my thoughts and emotions. And when I post something, I can let those thoughts and emotions go for a while because I’ve given them space and resolve (well…at least for the moment).

There are many posts I have written that I have not gone back to read yet. However I recently went back for the first time and read my post “Remembering Her” which was very personal and tough to write. I read it as I sat in my kitchen, alone, with tears streaming down my face because it all still rings so true to me. I remember that I was so caught up in the post as I was writing it and I could think of nothing else until I published it here. It was incredibly difficult to take my mind to those places, but the sense of freedom I experienced after I posted it was like nothing else.

I think it would be ignorant of me not to admit that blogging was helping me grow – gg papa-3helping me cope. It would be a huge step in the wrong direction for me to stop sharing. The cathartic release I get from this process is unlike anything else I have tried. And while there are definitely pitfalls to putting myself out there, I think the benefits far surpass them. And at (almost) 30 years old I’ve discovered that this girl needs to write…even if nobody reads it.

There are days when writing comes to me so easily that my 80wpm typing speed cannot keep up with what I want to say. Then there are days where nothing I say makes sense and I spend my writing time taking typing tests online to check my speed (my record is 87wpm…in case you were curious). The posts may not always be stellar, but they always mean something. There are always thoughts to comprehend, emotions to work through and life to process. What I write about may not change your life, but I wouldn’t publish it if it didn’t help me change mine. However I do hope that every once in a while, I say something that makes you think.

There is always work we can do to better ourselves and I encourage you to try and minimize the things in your life that don’t help you to move forward in a positive way. I needed the reminder that just because something is sometimes difficult, it doesn’t mean it isn’t doing me a world of good. Ask yourself the question ‘What best serves the growth of my soul?’ Because we all deserve to grow and we all deserve to discover something that helps us do that.

 

Conquering Time And Choosing To Be Grateful

As I sit here at the beginning of May, I feel like I should be refreshed and ready to start something new. Instead, much like the weather here, I am left with a winter hangover – cloudy and dark while attempting to brighten up. I’m struggling to comprehend that April is over and, like so many other people, I feel like time is passing by too quickly.

Time has a strong hold on all of us; a universal language that the world needs in order to function. It controls our lives more than anything else. We put it on a pedestal and give it more credit than it deserves. We say that time can heal but that is simply not true; saying this just promotes the idea that we should sit around and wait for wellness when in fact it takes hard work and harsh truths.

Time does nothing but exist.

Seconds tick by in a relentless fashion – steady and constant without pause or consideration. And although time is persistent and uncaring, it is precious. And in the end, this spinal cord injury has robbed me of time. Minutes become hours that now belong to this injury and not to me. I lose time with my family, time with my friends and time for myself. But in an effort to escape the dark emotions looming over me, I am trying to be grateful; I am choosing to be grateful.

There are people in this world every single day that run out of time. I’m lucky that I am not yet one of those people. Had my accident happened 50 or 60 years ago, I very likely would be. It wasn’t until the latter half of the 20th century that people with spinal cord injuries were given a reasonable chance of recovery. Until then, a spinal cord injury was considered ‘an ailment not to be treated’.

Think about that for a moment. The injury that I sustained would have been left untreated. I would not be here writing any of this blog to you in any sort of capacity…because I would not be here, in this world, at all. I would have had an accident and been left to die, most likely, from an infection. Time’s up.

In that paragraph alone there are so many things to be thankful for: my life, science, knowledge, curious individuals who make progress in all areas of the world…just in one little phrase. But what I’m finding in reality is that when I find something to be thankful for, I also find something to mourn. It feels as though I’m stuck inside of a Newton’s Cradle just constantly switching between conflicting emotions.

When I’m proud of myself for conquering something new, I’m also annoyed that I was put in the situation of having to conquer it. When I’m grateful to have more time with my children, I’m also sad that it is time spent differently. There are few things in my life that are unchanged and most activities come with a reminder of how it used to be and, with that, a sense of grief. However in the spirit of being grateful, I can think of one activity that always makes me feel exactly as it would have before my injury and that is a family ride in the car. It can make a mama crazy when everyone is buckled in with nowhere to go…and it does! But some of my favourite moments that we have had as a family since my accident are in the car, choosing songs one at a time and singing along with more passion than what is necessary for our audience of zero. It is loud and silly and nobody needs to use their legs. In all of that – it feels normal. I’m grateful for that.

A tactic I use when I have no other tactics left is ‘it could be worse’. Sometimes this feels selfish because for some people, it is worse. But I cling on to the abilities, experiences and time that I have; the things that did not get taken from me. Yesterday, I felt tears sting gg papa-2my eyes when I took my daughter’s tiny little necklace and did it up around her neck for her. I know that it seems like such a simple task; it is something most people wouldn’t think twice about. But losing function in your legs makes you understand and appreciate the functions that remain. And in that moment of doing up her necklace I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude – for the abilities that I still have (at that moment my hand function) and for the fact that I am not just a memory; I am thankful I am still here to make memories. In a world where heartache is present on every newsfeed and every headline speaks of the unpredictability of life, I will never forget the privilege of having more time.

Maybe time is just a unit of measure but it implies so much more. I am thankful for every second that ticks by that I am present for, but I want to live my life in the moment instead of hoping for more of them. I want to surround myself in love and show the company that surrounds me that I am interested and existing in the present with them. I want to build memories now so that when life takes those unexpected turns we all have something to hold on to and find resilience in. I want to give time less authority and be more purposeful in everything that I do. I want to refresh.

And look at that…the sun finally came out today.

The Many Faces Of My Injury

Distraction can be a great tool…I use it often. Between the day-to-day time-consuming tasks of having a spinal cord injury; the-day-to-day tasks of having children; and the day-to-day tasks of being an adult, I don’t have to seek out too much distraction. When I do find myself with a quiet moment and my thoughts start to wander I usually put on music or Netflix to keep my mind on only what I’m prepared to deal with. However sometimes the system fails and distraction doesn’t come easily.

The boys were at school and my daughter was quietly watching a movie. I was putting away laundry. I had left my phone in the other room and so I was, very unusually, sorting pants from pajamas without Ed Sheeran playing in the background. I was hanging up my daughter’s shirts and thinking that, at 2 years old, she clearly has a shopping problem. At that point my mind began to wander and as I was mentally going through the upcoming weeks on our calendar, I eventually landed on my dad’s upcoming heart surgery.

I think a lot about this approaching event, but today it took a different turn. For once it wasn’t about my dad, but about the rest of us. I pictured us all waiting through surgery – just as we did 6 years ago for the same reason. I remembered that the wait was long and anxiety provoking. And as I sat in my daughter’s room trying to decide if the pajama pants I was holding were hers or her older brother’s matching ones, I thought “it’s easier to be the one on the table – same result without the stressful wait”.

And in that moment my mind switched gears. I was no longer thinking about the future but was thrown into the past. I went back to March 11, 2016 – the morning of my surgery. However my thoughts were not of me; my thoughts centered on the hours that I was on the table…briefly and blissfully unaware of everything. I stopped the laundry (I had run out of hangers anyways) and thought about the waiting room that I was not present in – where in a strange turn of life events, everyone was waiting anxiously for me.

A new friend challenged me recently to look at my accident from different perspectives. So when my mind wandered to this event I didn’t back away from it; I didn’t go find my phone or abandon the laundry completely and join my daughter on the couch. I thought about this day, not as a moment in my life, but a moment in the lives of all of the people who were waiting for me.

I have been told bits and pieces of what happened in those hours. I know who was in the waiting room and who was waiting by their phones. I know who was doing everything they could to fly home. I’ve seen the countless messages that came in. I’m in awe of all of the people who stopped living their lives on that day in order to find out what was happening with mine. And when I think of everyone who waited, I am humbled…I’m reminded that this accident did not just happen to me.

This injury is not all about me…some days I forget that. I think, just for now, let’s take me out of it.

I see my sisters and brothers (the in-law variety included) all in a fog of disbelief. I know they were feeling thankful that they hadn’t lost their sister but unsure of the nature of our lives together going forward. All of them were trying to stay hopeful…for themselves and for everyone around them.

I can imagine my in-laws catching random flights to get home from Mexico. They received the phone call that you never want to get while on vacation – ‘there’s been an accident’. They were thousands of miles from home while their daughter-in-law was having surgery and their son was dealing with the hardest thing in his life to date. They felt helpless…and for them that’s a big one.

I think of my parents…they were in shock and very unsure of what this all meant. Their daughter, who they watched take her first steps, had just lost the ability to walk. Their baby girl was face down on an operating table while a surgeon removed pieces of her spine. Their hearts were breaking because their child was in pain and nobody ever wants to see their own children in pain.

I can picture my husband, surrounded by love in that waiting room but still feeling alone because I was not with him. I know how strong he was. – I can hear him telling everyone else that everything was going to be okay while really being terrified that it wasn’t. His best friend, his love, the mother of his children was a trauma patient. His world had flipped upside-down and yet he was left standing while his wife was most certainly not. His life was going to look different forever but in this moment he was uncertain what that meant.

I have read the messages that went back and forth between my husband and our family and friends – words of confusion, encouragement, love and a lot of ‘she is in surgery and we will know more when she is out’. Family and friends who felt far away but wanted us to know that they were with us – that for a few moments their lives stopped too in order to be with us and to wait.

So many of these people, as I would expect, were able to go back to their lives. The physical injury is mine and mine alone to overcome. But there is an aspect to this injury that belongs to all of these people…some more than others. Being able to share the burden of my accident with other people who consider it to be a part of their story as well is something I am thankful for. I am not the only person who has terrible memories of the hours, days, weeks and months following my accident. I am not the only one who carries this…and I need to remind myself of that more often.

Now when I think about my dad’s upcoming surgery I realize even more that while it is his journey and the physical burden is his and his alone to overcome, it is a part of all of our individual stories. He is our dad and our dad is going in for heart surgery…that will never, not be a part of our journey. And we will stop our lives in those moments so that we can wait for him while he is briefly and blissfully unaware.

As I bring my mind back to the present I realize that I did, in fact, abandon the laundry. This is what happens when I don’t have any music to sing along to while I do chores…they don’t get done! But the realization that I’m truly not alone (and neither are you, Dad) is worth ditching the laundry for. I am not alone because there is so much love in my life. And I’ve listened to Ed Sheeran enough to know that sharing the burden of life’s heartaches with those that we love is just the price we pay for really living.

“A life with love is a life that’s been lived”
-Ed Sheeran