[Photo Credit: That would be me!]
My boyfriend broke his back, cycling. Not extreme cycling or anything, just cycling. Fell off, had some back pain, everything seemed fine. Went cycling again, over a bump and POW, everything hurt and nothing was good. He’d slipped a disc. That was it, keyhole surgery, two years of standing (and djing, luckily he had a stand-up passion), eating standing up, everything standing up. (I didn’t know him then.) But even now, he prefers to stand. Sofas pain him. Cycling is a risk. Lifting and carrying things bring spasms. Spasms are bad, and scary.
There are some things that he just can’t do anymore.
He was complaining the other day – he likes to complain, it’s like his third favourite thing – about lifting and carrying things at work. His manager said ‘Oh, just get Ben to do it’ but he doesn’t want to get Ben to do it, because he should be able to do it. He also doesn’t want to delegate, because he likes things to be done in a certain way.
And this is where I snapped.
What happens if you’re lifting and carrying something, and your spine fucks up again? What happens if you have to go back in for surgery? Is writing a list of things you need to be lifted and carried and asking someone else to do them really worse than potentially injuring yourself again?
There are some things that we just can’t do.
I sprained my ankle in Peru, and then walked the Inca Trail the day ofter. Go me! Except a couple of months later I walked so hard and so fast that I tore the tendon in my big toe. Now I walk with a limp which aggravates pre-existing conditions in my knee and hip bones. Every time my calves hurt when I walk, I’m afraid that I’ve torn another toe tendon – that eventually I won’t have the use of any of my toes. You think that you don’t use your toes that much? We use them when we stand, for balance. We use them when we walk, to push our feet off the ground. I used to use mine for picking up pens.
I can still walk, but it’s painful. I can still walk, but I can’t walk more than two or three miles in day, unlike the old days.
There’s the rub. It’s not like the old days. It’s not like before we pained ourselves. We should still be able to do these things, right? Lift, carry, walk for miles.
But we can’t.
But we could.
And then we get angry. We get angry at ourselves for not being able to do these things, and we push ourselves to do it anyway, and then it hurts more, and we worry that we’re even more broken, and then we get more angry that we are broken in the first place, and then what do we do with that anger? We complain. We spread it around. We don’t take care of ourselves, because we’re weak and we’re stupid and we should never have injured ourselves in the first place and what were we thinking.
There are some things that we just can’t do.
Instead of pissing and moaning and getting angry and pushing ourselves harder to do the things that we just can’t do and wasting our energy on being angry and being hurt and hurting ourselves more, we can just accept it.
Accept that we can’t do that anymore.
Let it go. Try and make our lives as easy as possible for us now, with the capabilities that we have, now.
The deceptive thing about anger is that having anger about something makes it seem as if we still have some power over that thing. Letting go of anger, letting go of being angry over being incapable of certain things, it’s hard and it’s strange. I’m still annoyed that I can’t walk ten miles in a day, but I have to find a way around that. Namely, cycling. That’s great, that’s something I can do. But I’m still angry about what I can’t do because I want to believe that I can. I want to believe that one day I’ll have no trouble walking more than a few miles a day. Letting go of being angry feels like letting go of that hope.
But holding on to that anger means I don’t stop. I don’t stop to ask for help, I don’t stop to take care of myself. I don’t do my stretches every morning. I get angry at my ankle, my toes, my foot, my knee, my hip. I get angry at my body for failing me. It feels like I have to be angry at my body, otherwise I’m saying that ‘This is okay’ – this bodily state of affairs is okay, and it’s not supposed to be. I’m supposed to be able-bodied, I’m supposed to want to be able-bodied because we’re all supposed to want to be able-bodied.
I’ve had enough of being angry at myself, I’ve had enough of trying to push myself further than I can cope with just because I should be able to. I’ve also had enough of my boyfriend complaining about the same thing all of the time.
I want my life to be easy, and a part of that means accepting my body at its current capabilities, and planning around that. Factoring in the extra time it now takes me to walk a distance, making sure I have my Oyster card on me in case I need to get a bus, doing my stretches in the morning and at night, not sitting for too long, not standing for too long, sorting out physiotherapy with the Doctor… Doing a bunch of extra stuff I “shouldn’t have” to do, except I do have to do it, because this is what my body needs right now.
Accepting our capabilities and supporting ourselves based on what we actually need, not what we want to need, can be revolutionary in our lives. It can immediately impact on the quality of our daily routines. We feel more optimistic about what we can achieve, because we know that we have these systems in place which enable us to do what we want to do more easily. Once our basic (our newly basic) needs are met, we will have so much more energy to go out and have adventures, to give our energy to others and even to pass on self-care tips to people like us.