One year ago today, my husband decided he wanted to separate. For months after, I fought for my marriage alone, for the man I loved, and then…after months of silence, I realized I was standing alone with an untied knot in my hands. Everything was torn away from my life. I had to decide whether I would keep going on, or if the pain and loss was too much to bear. I made a decision to continue fighting, but this time, for myself.
I wrote another post today in which I outlined May 1st of last year, and how the days and months unfolded with everyone’s shock and grief and the unexpected surprises to come which I could never have foreseen. But, I think I’ll save that piece for my journal as today I don’t want to look back thinking only of my ex-husband, and the loss of love. I’ve grieved him, our marriage, and our life together throughout the year. Today, I want to look back over the year and remind myself that I overcame everything I believed was utterly impossible to do alone. I want today to be another choice for myself. Next year, I want to celebrate this day as the beginning of letting go and starting fresh. Typing those words brings a few tears to my eyes, but I want them to be cleansing tears. I don’t know how to be just me without longing and loving and planning for 2 yet, but I will learn, and I have great expectations.
The first thing I did when I came to stay with my parents was I made a doctor’s appointment. It’s the most difficult thing I have to do physically; only my ex had ever taken me before- and my doctors helped us avoid making the tremendously painful and exhausting trip by scheduling me months apart. After such an emotional shock, why did I want to go through a physically traumatic experience with an inexperienced caregiver? I guess I just had to prove to myself that I could do something impossible without him! I went out of my way to do as many impossible things as I could find while I was so emotionally fragile. I’ve been to several doctor’s appointments, I’ve had new tests, and I had been afraid of going back to the hospital, but I’ve since been twice this year. My body fighting me on the outside as I pushed it harder and harder seemed to match the feeling of my heart dying on the inside.
My ex-husband was my caregiver for the last 4 years of our relationship. He knew what no one else could: about my condition, about my needs, about my doctors, about my life, about my heart, and he knew everything about my soul… I thought he did. When someone has spent years exploring the very depth of your soul, and can go to such lengths to reject you, no pain matches it.
The loss has been cavernous. I first believed I wouldn’t be able to continue on living without him- practically or theoretically. Not because he supported me physically, but because he was my heart. After mustering the strength to ask my mother and father to help me do several impossible things, I went in search of both a professional caregiver and marriage counselor. That took me a great deal of courage to even allow a stranger to enter this room. I thought, how will I carry on a conversation? What if they can’t be quiet enough for my pain level? What if they don’t know how to touch me and injure me, spreading my condition? But I had to do these impossible things, as well. I had to allow a stranger bathe me, and help me dress, and prepare my meals. It was a point of my very survival to find someone else to help me with my basic needs. It could have been degrading and humiliating, but I was so stubborn in what I needed to allow for myself to live in my new normal, that the physical need mattered far more than my personal dignity.
Soon after, I began inviting visitors for the first time after coming to my parent’s home. It was terrifying at first. I can’t imagine what that’s like for them to remember me one way, dancing, hiking, laughing, and now, laying in a bed, startled by every sound and speck of light, grimacing in pain. Letting those I adore into my bubble felt impossible at first, but it’s another kind of exposure therapy that’s a lot more fun ! Seeing old friends is like a mirror through their eyes, and it can be tough emotionally, but it’s also exciting, and makes me feel more like the laughing, hiking, dancing me that they remind me I am still. My own mirror sees myself through the eyes of my ex now. Where there were once loving, gentle eyes, I see a look of disappointment and disgust. His eyes have always superseded others for as long as I can remember, but he’s not mine anymore, and I’m not his. I’m God’s, and in His eyes, I’m worthy, I’m valuable, and I’m fulfilling my life’s purpose by living it.
My closest and oldest friend went through her own very difficult divorce in the year before I went through mine. They say, “God goes before us” and when I think of my sweet friend who has been walking her own hard path, checking in with me, and visiting often, I promise you that is true about the love of God lighting candles ahead of us. I’m grateful to be able to practice showing love to her at a time that I feel so empty of everything inside of me I used to be eager to give away. She has reminded me to keep pushing forward so many days that I felt alone. Having a friend who continues to tell you that you’re still the same person, you’re improving, and was willing to fight for me when I couldn’t fight for myself is more of an angel than just a friend.
The short quiet visits I was only tolerating have turned into longer, more enjoyable visits I so look forward to. I started with home physical therapy, which has been an immense help in my progression, and I BELIEVE I’m going to be a functioning human being again- no matter how long it takes. While I do get frustrated with my body, I’m not worried about the time table, only that I make the goal. My parents allowing these people, and often strangers in and out of their home for me has been life-changing. I hate when people say that I’m better off without him, because now I’m able to utilize so many resources to improve, but I understand what they mean. I’m just thankful they are seeing improvement that I still need help seeing for myself.
Every time I’ve wondered how I would pay a bill, how I could live without something I thought I needed, how I could go on without the people and pets I loved, God has always provided a solution, an answer, or a strength to live without. This consistency has lead me to rely on God coming through and has added to the peace in my spirit and courage to face the impossible with the safety net of the universe.
Even though I’m not grateful I was forced into it, I’m grateful I was able to manage my own proceedings via electronic communication and courier to/from the lawyer. I had no idea how it would work with my condition, and just the thought of it regularly caused me anxiety. But again, God had the right lawyer in mind for me, who worked as my advocate, familiar with disability, even meeting at my home. I had a Power of Attorney to appear for me twice as my signatory, and my lawyer spoke on my behalf in my absence or with statements from me. Being disabled, you feel marginalized so often as it is. It’s as though you’re disappearing. Because of my condition, my movement, voice, independence, and freedom have been taken from me. I think that’s why it was so very important to me that I didn’t give away my privilege to speak for myself. The decisions, paperwork, and meetings were all so overwhelming, I was cognitively pushed to thinking in critical, complex ways I had not since the brain issues began. As much as the divorce may have damaged parts of my life, the process was a healing experience for my physical progress, and has propelled me forward in many positive aspects. I thought I would break apart as my heart broke more and more, but I’m proud of myself for getting through it, and managing my personal business.
Learning to be proud of myself is new. No one else is going to do that for me. I’m learning to encourage myself. No one else is going to remind me to take it easy and be gentle with myself. Giving to myself is a new concept, but I’m learning to view it as responsible and not selfish. I feel emptied of everything I was, and all I can do while I heal is continue on, pretending I’m a human being. The life I worked for and dreamed of is gone now. The slate is clean and I’m beginning to feel empowered and free to build back a completely different life. Some moments my heart aches, but at other times I’m revitalized thinking of the future of possibilities.
I started working at 15, graduated at 17, and left my parent’s home to travel the day after HS graduation… Now I’m back. I’m being cared for by my parents, learning to nurture myself, learning to walk again, my parents are making me food each day…it’s quite an irony! For me, this anniversary is truly a rebirth.
Today is the 10 year anniversary of my chronic pain journey! What kind of gift do I get for a ten year “Spoonaversary“? A chrome wheelchair? Imported silk compression stockings?
It’s the anniversary of the day that I was invited to go shopping with my mom and sister, but I said, “Nah, I have so much laundry and chores to catch up on, and I kind of wanted to try out this new pilates video. Next time… Have fun without me!” After my workout (dancing ballet around the living room to Fiona Apple), and in the middle of cleaning, I went down the basement steps with an armload of laundry and fell. When I landed on my leg, I felt and heard an audible lightning bolt SNAP run through my entire body. I knew I had broken my ankle. My father came and took me to the ER where my husband met us. But they said it was only a sprain. Just a few months later I was diagnosed with the debilitating, incurable, PERMANENT condition called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (RSD). It is said to be one of the most painful medical conditions a person can have. I was 22.
Lesson: Always take the invitation to go shopping over chores
Why should I look back on a sad day like that? Why remember a time that changed my life forever? Why should I even think of a day that crippled me and started a domino effect of chronic illnesses that have brought down my body since?
I celebrate October 24th because I have made it through 10 years. That is 10 years of life survived in spite of all of the pain and turmoil Complex Regional Pain Syndrome rained down. That is 3,651 days I have CHOSEN to live with this monster. Every day that I fight on, I honor the warriors whose lives have been taken from them because of this disease and for those who live daily, consumed in pain.
When I was diagnosed, I said: “No way! I cannot take this nightmare for one more second!!!” So I say to that terrified me at 22 years old: “You did it girl. It’s like some kind of miracle!”
I’m looking back on the last decade, knowing I am only alive because of the loving support of my husband, our wonderful family, online friends, and those physicians who have cared. This disease spreads, and it spreads through the whole family. They have come with me on this journey, and I am so thankful for their compassion and support. I’m not here because of my own strength by any means. People say that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, but LIFE certainly does. And God sends us the resources to make it through life’s amazingly difficult valleys. I’m here today because His strength is sufficient when mine never is.
So what is the appropriate gift to give my body on this ten year celebration of life? We have been through so much together, body! (I don’t want to make her mad, you know…) If you have any suggestions, please share.
This blog is participating in CRPS/RSD Awareness Month for November. Please subscribe below to read inspiring stories of survivors this coming November.