Friday, May 13, 2011

Comparing Myself to Myself

Don't compare yourself to who you were before. Concentrate on what you can do now”

Easy for them to say.

I heard it in the hospital, in conjunction with the instructions on how to use the dreaded inspirator. I heard it from the physical therapist who taught me how to use the walker. I heard it from the nurses when I tried to move quickly. What had been simple was now quite complex and my narcotized brain was having none of it. I wanted to accomplish what I knew I could accomplish and I wanted to do it right now. Taking it slow, being kind to myself, not setting unrealistic expectations – hardly my style, before or now.

But they weren't telling me to be nice and sympathetic and nurturing to my damaged self, though every single person I met at UMC was all of those things and more. No, they were telling me that my reality was altered, that what had been might not be. I should strive for goals which were physically unattainable.

I refused to believe it. They didn't know me, know what I could accomplish when I set my mind to it. They didn't know the inner strength in which I have always had confidence. I could do it if I set my mind to it. Always had and always would. That's just who I am.

I would will my body into submission. The rehab piece is all on me, from finding perfect therapists to following through on their suggestions. I would be the most compliant patient anyone had ever treated and I would amaze them all. I would not let three bullets destroy the body I had created through hard work and proper form. I would make this happen.

Dr. Boaz told me that running and jumping were no longer in my future. “Other than that, whatever you want to do is fine.” Okay....... what if I want to jump? Forget about asking me whether I could remember the last time I jumped or ran. That is not the point. The option was always there for me. I'm not sure I like this can't piece.

Watching Biggest Loser this week, I realized that I was no longer able to do the exercises they were demonstrating. No jumping up onto progressively higher benches. No climbing down uneven sandbags, at least not with alacrity. Slow and steady and elongate my stride and try to keep my hips even and my soaz engaged and for crying out loud all I want to do is walk into the gym and work out.

My body has never limited me before. I steadfastly refuse to allow it to do so now. But I've never been damaged before, never had nerves severed by bullets. I've never gone 3 months without using my leg. I'm afraid and I hurt and I'm healing. I'm hyperaesthetic, which means that the massage of my right quadricep is somewhat akin to stabbing my flesh with burning pokers and then twisting them around and around until even lamaze breathing is helpless to contain the pain.

Yes, pain. I thought I had left pain back with the oxycodones of my first 2 months of recovery, but apparently I was wrong. I know I'm healing and I know it could all be much worse than it is (oh, so very very very much worse) and I know that this will pass and that what I can't do is much much less than what I can do. I know all these things and I am still bitter.

Bitter with the taste of bile in my throat and a racing heartbeat and a conscious effort being exerted to keep my mind out of the Safeway parking lot on that sunny Saturday, feeling a burning hole in my leg and knowing I'd been shot. That part's the PTSD.

I'm also pissed as hell – I am shorter on one side, I hurt, I have scars, Christina-Taylor exists only in my memories, Mavy's a widow and none of this was any of our fault. I'm just not able to see it all through the rosy lens which has been plastered over my eyes for the last 17 weeks. This week, all of a sudden, I'm feeling the snarky New Yorker creeping back in.

I guess the personality transplant I'd been noticing was only a temporary aberration. That's kinda sorta sad. She was a constant surprise to me, and I enjoyed her happy solutions to life's little problems. I have been nicer to salespeople, more patient in lines, less likely to lane jump to get someplace 15 seconds earlier. I was surprisingly happy.

Big Cuter says that the irritated woman of these last few posts makes him happy – he knows me and he knows that he loves me and he knows that hearing me complain about SUV's and being short and other annoyances means that the mother he knows and loves is back. It made him smile.

He's suggesting a yardstick for my emotions which is diametrically opposed to that I'm to use for my physical achievements. He wants me to compare myself to the person I was before. The sunny woman who managed to gloss over minor irritations because she was happy to see the sun rise was the outlier, not this cranky human who wanted to throw her cane through the windshield of the SUV. The hurler sounded more like his mom.

Of course, the amplitude of my reaction does need to be examined. Big Cuter was able to agree that PTSD, the bitch, is inhabiting my control panel and that every once in a while she announces her presence with authority. The over-reactions, he suggests, might bear consideration, but my annoyance at the wrongness of her position and the rightness of mine reassured him that his mommy was still his mommy. “I mean, who wants a mom with a silly smile on her face all the time?”

The time to type about the implications of that last paragraph will come soon, I promise. For now, stay with me on the comparison track, please.

So, what have I learned? Control is an illusion. What I want is sometimes out of reach, no matter how hard I try or how dedicated I am to achieving it. I'd better get comfortable with my physical limitations because they are just that : mine. I can take advantage of that happy girl attitude to get over myself and stop whining about what I can't change and being glad that I am here to whine about it at all.

That sounds like a nice combination of the pieces both before and after.
Once again, denizens, you have provided me with the very best and least expensive therapy available. Without you, this is a sniveling, self-serving diary. With you, it's talking to caring friends about what's going on and what to make of it all. I think we're doing pretty well, don't you?


  1. You know... I like hearing your rantings. It's what makes you human and not a robot that has to mask your feelings all the time. Your a person with feelings and feelings mean everyone has to take the good with the bad. Not everyone is happy all the time and anyone that tells you so is lying through their teeth. You need to be able to express your range of emotions; otherwise you will never heal.

    Sending hugs.

    Megan xxx

  2. AB, please forgive my grammar mistake above. Your should be You're.

  3. I love the flow of your writing, even while you rant. You were an inspiration before and you are an inspiration now.

  4. Don't worry! The Bitch will pop out now and again, but she is not you. We all have The Bitch pop out now and then, and we haven't even been shot. xoxoxoox

  5. Hey, a/b:

    I think a little bitch along with Sunshine Sally comes and goes to each of us. I think it means you're coming around. I think it means you're healing. I think it means you're human. I love your posts to hear how you are and they re-run in my mind many days. I have the one about "You have a choice every morning when you wake up..." and it reminds me every day that life is good and bad, happy and not so happy, but you are alive to see and feel it.

  6. Oh, baby, you have the best kids! Big Cuter is an inspiration; he loves the mommy he's always loved and notices she's still here. He feels reassured.

    I was grateful to Suzi Sunshine. She took over and took care of your mind when you needed her most. But the impatience, the strong will, the snarkiferousness...those things were part of the whole fantastic package before and I missed them.

    Thank Miss Sunshine for me. She was impossible to live up to, but she showed up when you needed her, worked her butt off to save you, and she'll be there again when she's required...a reliable strength you didn't even know you had. A facet to add to the brilliance, but no substitute for the whole precious stone.

  7. One thing about aging is everybody goes through what you are describing in comparing ourselves to what we were but never will be again. It just doesn't happen at once as it did for you with the wounds and their aftermath. It's more little by little but we either come to grips with it or we become very depressed. Sometimes I don't mind what almost 68 looks like and sometimes I think good Lord, how did that happen and uh how much does a face lift cost again... except I want to be the me I am and who I have been. Face lifts don't seem to manage that. So it's quit comparing myself to what I was and accept what I am.

  8. Your post makes me want to tell you about my mother in law. Her story may be relevant. Or not.

    In 2006 at the age of 76, she smashed her femur and hip socket in a fall down a marble staircase. It was about as bad a break as one can get from that kind of trauma. She had always been active, practiced tai chi, thought of herself as powerful in the world, you know the type.

    Her convalescence was long and hard. There was a six hour surgery to insert a titanium rod. There were doctors; there were physical therapists. One of her legs is at least a half inch shorter than the other ... and she'd never been someone to wear the sort of shoes that accommodate lifts.

    Perhaps worst of all, she was afraid. It could happen again. Stairs were unthinkable adventures. Walking on a city street (she lives in NYC) might mean someone would jostle her and the break would happen again.

    Very gradually, she got to where she could more or less function. But she wasn't the woman she had been. She couldn't walk about or drive much. Life was getting to doctor appointments, not exploring the world as she had always done. But she was "recovered."

    Until last winter, five years later at age 81, when something clicked. She started with a new PT and suddenly now walks without cane or limp. She goes about NYC happily.

    I don't know what to draw from this, except that when you are ready -- something that arrives in each individual's good time -- big healing changes can happen surprisingly.

    I hope this comes for you.

  9. That's a VERY smart boy you've raised, Ms. Suzi.

  10. Oh, these are great comments, denizens! I'm trying to combine the two pieces and come up with a somewhat kinder, somewhat saner ME.

    We shall see.

  11. I am so glad I found this blog. You are an amazing person and a great writer. I am dealing with my own new normal situation after cancer broke my back and is now causing my hip socket to disintegrate. The way you write about your injury and recovery has been so helpful to me in reframing my thinking about my own recovery. Thank you so much.

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