"Oh, wow. How are you feeling about it?"
“I feel great!
…I mean, I’m pretty happy with where I am.”
I was speaking with one of the other clients who also works out at SCI-FIT – the gym in Pleasanton, CA where I spend most of my therapy time – about the upcoming weekend. This friend, who was injured a year before I was and who is a source of guidance for me, was a bit surprised by my quick response, which I noticed and immediately thought to myself, ‘Am I missing something?’
These quick, blurted-out responses to questions about more delicate issues, I find, are glimpses into my subconscious––how do I actually feel, beyond what I tell myself in order to get through the day, and beyond what I hear from those around me (which is all but completely ignored when it comes to comments relating to a “prognosis”). In this case, the message was a rush of confidence that I feel about how I am approaching recovery, and, consequently, how I am progressing.
August 24th marked the 12 month anniversary of when a lot of things in my life changed, and in such a way as to hold a strong sense of permanence. (Note that 'a lot of things’ does not equal ‘everything’, and that ‘sense of permanence’ does not mean ‘is permanent’.) But consider August 20th also, which marked the anniversary of many other things changing for me: when I arrived on the MIT campus to start a new adventure in my life. (It happened to have been a ridiculously humid day, at least for someone from the we-don’t-have-weather-just-earthquakes Bay Area.)
What’s the difference between these two dates, and why does one appear to have so much more influence on how I, and others, think about my life’s calendar?
While there is a purpose to reflecting on my physical ability before the injury to remind myself of where my recovery is headed, I do not think it is useful – in fact, I find it detrimental – to think of my life solely as happening on a Before-Injury / After-Injury basis. That would be placing too much emphasis on an event that I am working so hard to prevent from defining me. It would undermine my efforts to integrate what I have learned since the injury into the person I have been becoming for the last 19 years.
I express this from my own experience from when I was in the hospital, at a time when I had no previous context of living in a paralyzed body and all I could do was think about my uncertain future, and my lost past. Whatever is the opposite of Buddhism, of Mindfulness, that is where my mind landed to avoid the insanity. It is convenient, even paradoxically comforting, to get trapped in the mindset of having two disparate lives, named Before and After, who, like estranged brothers, do not communicate. The comfort that kind of reflection provides is hollow, and the escapism is unsustainable if one has any hope of being productive.
So, while there may have been ‘more' of me that was changed by the events on August 24th than by those on August 20th, my point is that by deëmphasizing any emotional significance of the day, and by recognizing that, for all of us, the journey would not be a journey if there were not bumps along the way, so it is with clear reflection that I can tell you, No, I am not missing anything, and I do, indeed, feel strong and optimistic.