A Woman Wearing Crocs
I’m recovering from a brain injury. But there’s more to me than that.
Last night I couldn’t sleep. Instead I read stories of people with brain injury and chronic illness. Their tales are heartbreaking. I found some solace that I am not the only one.
One story is about a woman who has lived with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME) for twenty years. I can not imagine it. How would I cope if my illness dragged on for two decades? She has not given up hope for improved functionality. At the same time she has found a sense of acceptance relying on her Buddhism beliefs.
My family doctor encourages me to keep searching for answers. My integrative doctor assures me there are more tests we can do. Together we won’t give up. I’ve made some big steps forward in the last few months: healing my leaky gut, thyroid and hormone issues.
My team of doctors – more like detectives – continue the investigation trying to connect the dots. Meanwhile, I’ve had to stop swimming laps at the pool. It was just too much, too soon. I worry this blog site is like one long whining James Blunt song: tears and pain. I long for a sense of peace to wipe the dismal feeling that’s settled across my heart. How can I accept what the days bring and hold onto hope for recovery?
I read on. Delilah snores, taking up the space beside me where my ex-husband once did. The book says detach yourself from your emotions surrounding the situation by stating it for what it is. I try the exercise “A woman alone resting in bed.”
Geez, that sounds depressing. I repeat the phrase. This exercise is meant to help me accept the situation without judgement. After the fifth round of saying this outloud, I stop. I’m not ready.
It is now midnight. The world is still. A time when thoughts are dream-like. I’ve had two years to get use to my current circumstances. “Two years is a long time. Isn’t it?” I ask myself. I’m still accepting another fact of life: I divorced three years ago. I’m living in past history: pretending this didn’t happen to me. Pretending I’m un-injured, un-divorced. Everyday hoping I’ll wake up and life will revert to the way it was. I suspect this magical thinking is causing my insomnia. Deep down a part of me knows, I go back in time.
At the beginning of my illness, I held on tightly to my life: my marketing consulting business and my role as Madame President of my triathlon club. I felt my life slipping out of my grasp each day as my brain inflamed. Within three months, I lost my grip entirely. I found myself in hospital and after that I moved in with my parents.
Still I held onto some resemblance of ‘normal’ life. Every morning I showered, dressed and made my bed. Oftentimes I got straight back into bed and remained there for the day. I clung to these few basic functions I had remaining. As long as I kept trying, I thought I was beating it. Whatever it is. I didn’t – and still don’t – know what caused my injury.
I’m sure I was – and still am – in denial. Can it be helpful? In my case, it allowed me to keep up the fight, fending off an unknown adversary. Denial pushed me to move forward. I found rehabilitation therapies for my brain and made a few improvements.
After nine months of bedrest I accepted: I might be sick for a while longer. Not much longer, I hoped, maybe a little longer. I learned as a chronically ill person I needed more ‘sick clothes’ than the normal person: track pants, sweaters and pajamas.
I took my lycra sports gear, corporate dresses and date-night outfits out of my closet and put them into storage. This significant shift is a baby step towards acceptance of my current existence. I am encouraged by my progress, I think I can do this.
The next step is harder. The skin coloured compression stockings. The ones people wear on long-haul flights. And a pair of crocs to wear with them. This combo was my tipping point. It completely destroyed my self-image of a 30-something year old woman. I rallied against the purchase. The low blood pressure caused by POTS was pooled fluid in my ankles and feet making me constantly dizzy. I had to do everything either lying down or sitting, including cooking.
One day I found myself in a shopping centre, on the day of all days, Anzac Day – Australia’s National Day of Remembrance for service men and women. The shoppers paused to observe a minute’s silence. I could not remain standing for that long. My leg veins throbbed. It felt like they would explode. I backed up to a wall, sliding down to the floor.
I made a staggered beeline for the closest pharmacy. The shop assistant asked if I needed help, looking at me like I was lost in the aisle of walking frames and orthotics. “No, thanks I’ve found exactly what I need” I reply spotting the dreaded, now necessary items.
I never imagined I would wear crocs until I was older. I don’t know why. A preconceived idea of mine. It may sound trivial. Those crocs had me in a bind. They reminded me that this is not what I had planned for my life. But my injury never asked me if I was ok with it, it just happened. The crocs were part of what just happened.
Fast forward a year and half. I wear my crocs nearly everyday. They are really comfy and don’t rub on my bunions. I shuffle back and forth between my bed and my bathroom which is the extent of my movement these days. I hardly think about the crocs anymore or the mental anguish they first caused me at first. I realize acceptance is a process, an unraveling of an old life and starting in a new direction.
I write in my diary: I am a woman wearing crocs.
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