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Seventeen Thousand Thoughts

15.42. that’s the time it is as I write this line. At this time last year I was… well, I can’t remember where I was exactly, but I would estimate I was being prepared for surgery – and being cheeky to the surgeon trying to go through the consent form. All the time he was talking I couldn’t focus on his face, just a blurred image of a man in blue scrubs, holding a familiar pad of yellow forms. I wasn’t listening because I got the jist; theatre ASAP. I was still far too deep in emotional shock to process what he was saying, so despite understanding why he had to say it I cut him off. ‘Bleeding, Infection, Failure, Death. Yeah I get it, just gimme’ the form.’ Those are the big 4 negative outcomes of most big surgeries, but it’s not like I was gonna’ say no and risk further damage from the fragment of bone lodged in my most precious spinal cord. God damn I was so high on morphine, and cast adrift with multiple unusual sensations; pain unlike I’d ever experience.

Only one patch of the room was in focus at a time; like looking through a fisheye lens. What I actually said was most definitely far less coherent, and probably came off as arrogance rather than the stoic, ‘this has happened so let’s just get on and fix it’ attitude I was going for. I was being brave. All my memories of the day are as blurry and poorly recalled. Distinct episodes of consciousness where I remember odd details, sandwiched between losses of consciousness – some due to the pain, some due to the drugs, and some due to anaesthetic. It was the worst day of my life. That day is a year in the past now, and to be honest with you all I’ve been struggling with that. As the anniversary crept up I began thinking and tormenting myself. The past few days I haven’t wanted to get up or go out. My mind has been consumed with memories and flash backs of that day, and certain days that followed. I’ve tried to keep myself busy and ‘going’ though. I’ve tried not to crumble under the weight of the fear, anxiety, uncertainty and, (most powerful of all), grief I feel regarding my disability, but it’s been hard.

Anniversary’s are emotional milestones of meaning and remembrance; they stir up feelings regarding the event, and the first is always the hardest. I don’t grieve for a person, but I do grieve for a life; the life I had before. I didn’t lose my life in the conventional sense, and I am grateful, please don’t mistake me in that; furthermore I mean no disrespect to those who have truly lost someone in the pass year, but this is still grief. I am grieving. For the loss of something that cannot be replaced. When I say I have lost the life I had before, I want you to understand that I am no way giving up, nor has my personality or aspirations fundamentally changed. I appreciate that I get to live on when so many others don’t… however, a year in and while I remain hopeful there is still so much uncertainty about what my end point will be. That, my friends, is what has haunted me this week.

I still wonder what this life has in store for me. I wonder if the plans I had will come to pass. If my fiancé and I can cope enough to consider having the children we planned; the grandchildren I wanted to give my parents. I’m still yet to restart work, (but there is movement in that department), and I wonder if there will be things that I can’t do anymore, no matter how much I want to adapt. I am determined and that will get me far, but I’m realistic enough to know that not all things will be within my reach – that’s not a paraplegic joke honestly – as there may be limitations I am not seeing yet. That’s scary because all I’ve ever really wanted of my professional life is to be the best damn clinician I can be. I was always more hands on than brainy.

Those who know me personally can also testify to my love of travel, but also that every now and then I need to have some alone time. Even my fiancé knows that as a married woman I will occasionally get the urge to just have some solace, some me time – I think it’s important – and as much as I love him, and want to share my life with him, we are both allowed to exist as individuals. I’ve travelled round cities all over the world solo, and found tree house hideouts nestled in the countryside. Just me and several books, a train ride, a road trip, good food and better wine. At the moment I am feeling that urge, especially as I start to prepare and draft the book I intend to write. I’ve been dreaming of Paris, just 3 or 4 nights, hand luggage only, an apartment with a balcony overlooking the Seine. Before the accident it would have been booked the same day. I want to see things, I always have. I love culture and have always been curious about the wonderful diversity of life. There’s a brilliant quote about travel by Mark Twain… “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” I love that. And yes I can still travel, but not quite the way I wanted to, and no trips alone (not yet anyway). I can adapt, there are ways and means, but it will take a lot of money and organisation to go off the beaten track – which is where the excitement and wonder usually hides – and I’m already hyperaware of how time seems to run away from you.

I guess essentially I have the same worries as anyone. That something – with me it’s the chair – will stop me from achieving my dreams. Because what if it’s too hard? What if what I have now is all I ever get back, and if so, what things will I never get to do? It’s so infuriatingly easy for someone without disability to say, ‘I’m sure you still can’ or ‘there must be a way’ – trust me I’m looking, I’m always thinking of how I could do the next thing on my hit list. It’s like I’ve set myself a list of things I want to reclaim, some of which I’ve already managed (buses, trains, going out alone, driving), some steadily approaching (returning to work, a weekend away, rollercoasters), and some in the distant future. I guess its just the control freak in me. If the accident has taught me anything it is that life doesn’t give a shit about your plans; life just happens.

This is what I mean by torturing myself. Even writing this is hard, because I can’t do justice to my swirling thoughts. As I write I go off on tangents about things I thought were fundamental to my character, that I have to confront as maybe off limits for now, and maybe forever. I actually have a headache right now from all of it and it couldn’t be a more apt descriptive of how full my head is. It’s one of those that builds from a nagging pressure that you can barely call a pain, to tightness over the bridge of your nose and under your brows. A dull ache: like the thoughts wont all fit; threatening to pop out and spill down my face as tears, like the embodiment of pensive thought gone wrong. Still, I get to be sad about that right now. I get to grieve. I get to feel whatever I want about what happened to me.

I know I should be celebrating my success, no, successes, and guys I am. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in a year. Of the multiple hurdles I have faced in 12 months and kept going. However, as proud as I am of everything it is hard to come to terms with it all. It’s a heavy thought that I haven’t walked or stood unaided for a year. Do I even remember what it was like to walk? In the physio videos many of you have watched lately, where I’m a smidge above horizontal and trying to bend and straighten my knees, you can’t imagine how incredibly difficult it is; though I’m pretty sure it’s written in big bold letters all over my face. The main reason I find it so hard is because I can’t imagine how I did it before. I can’t remember how it felt to do it, because I never consciously thought about it, plus I can’t feel what’s happening below my knees. It’s maddening. It’s also magical. Because it’s a ray of hope for further improvement over the next year.

See I don’t forget that. I know exactly how far I have come, and I am thankful for every single, tiny improvement. It just doesn’t change that I’m still in the wheelchair. I can know that I have done well, that I have improved, and still be sad because it happened in the first place. Again this week there has been those moments of ‘why’, just ‘what the actual f**k?’ There are days when I wake up and still think this must be a dream, or maybe I’m in a coma, if I could just wake up. I have been dreaming of walking again recently, then waking up confused. There have been moments I have been sat on the sofa and had the urge to just get up and walk across the room. When I catch myself I have to laugh; who just ‘forgets’ they are paralysed? My mum says you have to laugh or you’d cry, and some days the line between the two is thin and fragile as freshly formed ice. Most of the time though I’d like to think I choose to laugh. I choose to be happy.

As I’ve said time and again, sadness, anger, bitterness etc, none of these negative emotions will help me move on, so why hold on to them? But this first year was bound to hit hard I knew that. Now I’m sorry this has likely been a hard read, but what I leave you with is the positive message that sits underneath all these heavy emotions; I am still going. I am letting myself feel it all, and not hiding from the possibilities, good or bad. I’ve taken time when I’ve needed this week, and again I am massively thankful to those who saw it coming and have kept me afloat in my own thoughts. Helped me fight past the negatives.

I decided a while back that I wanted to mark today somehow so I’m going out with my brother, best friend and fiancé to celebrate. Celebrate? Yup that’s right, even after letting you in on all those negatives, I want to end with you guys knowing that as hard as it is to fight somedays, I still do. Because I choose that. My decision to mark today is one of triumph and no regrets. To celebrate that I am still here when I could so easily not be. To celebrate what I do have and be thankful for it. To celebrate my tribe, and all the wonderful people I have around me. So tonight I put away those questions and anxieties. I move past the ‘plan’ and just enjoy myself; allow myself to feel proud. I was struggling the other day with feelings of inadequacy… Could I have done more? Worked harder? Studied more? Done more? But I realise there is nothing to be gained from dwelling, so I’m letting it go. I exhale the negative thoughts and I toast to a future.

Here’s to further improvement, to hope and hard graft combined. Here’s to forgetting the plan and concentrating on just living well and happy. Here’s to my support system, including you reading this right N-O-W because without that support I wouldn’t have been half as strong. Here’s to the future, whatever that may be.

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