Blog / Mental Health

How To Live With a Disability… When You Don’t Really Have One

This morning the weather called for pants and because I hadn’t interacted with the outside world in over a week, I decided to put on pants. My pants are bright and stretchy… and they’re skinnies. Skinny jeans taper at the bottom and, for some reason, I wiggled my way into ones whose cuffs do not stretch at all. So I did what any smart woman would do. I paused, considering whether or not these pants were a good idea. “I might have a hard time getting out of these, tonight,” I muttered. But I was running late for my doctor appointment and decided that it’d be much more effort to wiggle out and in to another pair than to keep going.

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What were you doing on Saturday morning of July 19th, 2014? There was a slight breeze and it was sunny despite the 70% chance of rain that day (in Toronto, at least). I had an art show in the afternoon with my partner, Brian, who would graciously run our event while I worked the day I’d book in a writing room.

I packed a sweater in case it got chilly, braided my hair to the side, and piled cat food high in the dish in case I ended up a friend’s birthday party I was hoping to attend that night. Bike helmet. Check. Back pack. Check. I was off on a ride that I did nearly every day, over to my partner’s house.

I love bike riding. In 2007 I was hit by a car and my physiotherapist said bike riding is a great exercise to keep my knees lubed and in line so, paired with the “workout” I get when I travel, I always feel good biking around the city. It’s the fastest mode of transportation while being great for the environment and easy on my wallet.

I thought of the million different things I had to do as I coasted through Queen’s Park and onto Hoskin which would eventually turn into Harbord, taking me to my destination. This day, however, I barely got to Hoskin. This is where everything stops. Literally. Stops. Disappears. Darkness. There’s a black space between vivid images of a beautiful park and a woman I didn’t know. I crossed at the crosswalk with my bike and – checking the filing system of my mind – in my next memory I am sitting on the road staring into the eyes of a stranger.

Let’s see… I am sitting on the road. A woman is crouched in front of me holding a small porcelain square between her thumb and pointer finger saying, “I have your tooth.” I looked around. “I have your tooth,” she said. She was holding it up for me to see. She really did have my tooth! I laughed a lot, even though my physical body showed no signs of joy. When you’re sitting on concrete with a woman peering over you holding your tooth… I’m sorry. That is funny. That is hilarious!!! I laughed a lot… inside. Maybe out. I’m laughing now, anyway. But as I slowly registered confusion, how lost I felt, how little I recognized of where I was, and how fuzzy everything was seeming, I knew I needed help.

“I need an ambulance,” I said. This was the first thing I needed. Then, “416-301-” as I said my partner’s phone number. That was the second thing I needed.

Both arrived as moments passed where I spoke to my mother, stood up, walked around, got poked and prodded by EMTs – none of these moments I remember. Where these memories should go, it’s a dark thick black sludge of nothingness in my brain. My next memory came in the ambulance where I asked the paramedic his name. It was Morgan. Morgan asked me a question and I needed to know the day to answer. I didn’t know which day it was. I panicked, instinctually knowing this was not a good thing for me to blank on the day, and then it all went black again.

Somewhere in there I remember saying to myself, “Yoga breathing. Yoga breathing,” and then breathing like my water just broke and I was about to give birth… but who knows if that’s true. I question everything in truth.

In the hospital I became a conscious, responding person again; a person who acted like they were really high, but had only, in reality, hit their head. My partner took photos of me so I could see myself later and I posed like I was standing in front of the Niagara Falls… but, really, I looked like a proud thug who’d been in an awful street fight.

“You look like you’ve been in a really… really bad fight,” my partner said, smiling.

“You should see the other person,” I wanted to say. Or said. I can’t remember. Honestly, I probably just laughed. I found the entire situation quite dramatic and humorous. My poor partner having to look at this troubled face (troubled because of all the work I now need, not troubled because I took this whole event seriously). I was happy to have him there.

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July 19th 2014: Drugs

“What do you do for a living?” the doctor asked.

“You’re a woman,” I said.

“Yes, I am,” she said.

“That. Is. Awesome,” I told her. “I love that you’re a women.” She looked at me oddly, and I think thanked me. What I was trying to say was that it was great to see a female doctor in trauma as the majority of doctors I’ve come across were male. “Women’s lib!” I said. It was something I had discussed at work that week.

When I finally decided I was ready to see what I looked like, my partner turned his phone to me. There it was. My face. I had been in a fight. With the road, that is. But wait – what was this? Is that… I looked closer. The tooth… That I hate? I smiled really big, at least inside. I had knocked out my least favourite tooth. To me, in that moment, I was winning.

At the end of the day, I left with two fractured elbows, two knocked out teeth with one severely damaged – but still there! – and a concussion. Oh, and a big to do list of doing nothing for my recovery.

All week I felt like I was managing. My partner, Brian, was an enormous help and it was nice that my mother came up to spend time with me while Brian went to work. My first half-day alone, I pushed myself way too hard, trying to “get back into my routine” after being given the go-ahead to do so and I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like to live alone and recover, at least the first few days, solely on my own.

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July 21st 2014: Dizzy

A week later I went to visit my family doctor for a follow-up where she said asked, “How are you doing with your disability?”

“My disability?” I said, perplexed. I am an extremely grateful person for being as able as I am. I recognize that not every person has the opportunity to do the things that I do and so, with this question, I was completely thrown off guard. “My elbows are sore. I wouldn’t call that a disability.”

My doctor asked what I struggled with.

“Shampooing my hair… And brushing it… Opening pickle jars, turning doorknobs… And keys… Doing dishes, taking the garbage out, cleaning the kitty litter, lifting pots… Bowls…”

She stopped me. “Anything that limits your movements, or disables you, means that you need to adjust accordingly.” She told me to stop trying to live like I lived last week, before the accident.

“But who will clean the litter?” I joked. She didn’t laugh.

I left feeling totally dejected, like I had failed at one of the easiest things to do: recover. After telling my partner about this conversation, he strongly agreed, which made me feel worse.

“That’s what I’m telling you, Andrea,” he said. “You have to let your body heal. You can’t push yourself to do all these things.”

“But… I…” I had nothing to say. I knew I had to accept it, if I ever wanted to hold an x-tra large burrito or my cat in my arms again.

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July 23rd 2014: Maximum bend in my elbows. With trouble.

So what do you do when you’re not even good at doing nothing at all? You buy a box of ice cream sandwiches and settle in for the night. Like… You literally settle in. In bed. With the sandwiches. And the lights off. Because you have a concussion. I let a huge sigh of relief out. I was finally recovering.

The night turned out to be a total disaster, but I was on the right path of recovery. Disaster how, you’re wondering? Well, I left the sink full of dirty dishes and water. The tap was dripping because I couldn’t turn it off tight enough. I tossed and turned all night due to a mix of a sugar high and the droplets dripping into the full sink, echoing through my tiny apartment. In the morning, the sink was overflowing. My cat had spilled the last of the cat food on the floor. The food had ballooned in the water and I mopped up mush, slowly and painfully. I had to immediately go buy the tiniest bag of food at the store so I could feed their howling cries of hunger (it’s far more cost efficient to buy big bags so this, alone, was irritating). And I couldn’t even cope with coffee, or wine for that matter, because I’m off stimulants. But… I was recovering.

I continue to recover, as I write this. My apartment is the messiest it’s been since I threw that random party in 2010 where we awoke to the fixings of a mysterious turkey sandwich strewn about the living room. I don’t even eat meat… But that’s another story. It takes me twice as long to use the bathroom (and, yes, I fear what people may think, especially at work) and I do weird bendy yoga movements to get my knap sack on my back before I go anywhere. Regardless of all else, I have learned that I really need to slllloooooowwwwww doooowwwwwnnnnn sometimes, and that I shouldn’t need an excuse to do so. I always said change is good, but I never realized how good it can be when you feel like you’re moving backwards. Disability or ability, you have to listen to your body… And right now, my body wants one of those ice cream sandwiches.

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July 31st 2014: A little more bendy. Still with cement teeth.

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6 thoughts on “How To Live With a Disability… When You Don’t Really Have One

  1. I am so sorry to hear about your accident. I am glad that you are taking time to let your body heal. I love how this piece of writing. You always find a clever way to weave humour into your writing despite the seriousness of the topic. Your message here is so important. In a society that is in such a hurry, it is really hard to remember to slow down and listen to our bodies and hearts. Take care of yourself and thank you for the reminder.

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