Some people believe there are no such thing as limits, others that there are limits but they can be pushed through and past. And there are those who believe in and allow limits to keep them stuck. I have been wondering about the fine line between empowering ourselves and knowing our limits.
Last November I returned to air travel after five years, my first experience above the clouds since a virus attacked my optic nerves. My best friend and I were headed to Germany, with a connecting flight in London. When we arrived at Heathrow it was a great challenge to two seasoned travelers from a size and inadequate signage standpoint. We made it to our gate with not much time to spare before boarding began for the final leg to Hamburg.
A week later, we exited the plane in the U.K. and stopped at the top of the jetway to speak with an airline representative about exactly what it was going to take to get to our connecting gate. Neither one of us wanted a repeat of seven days before. Looking up our reservations to find out where we were headed, the gate agent saw the entry in my record that I am legally blind. We had asked for this to be noted when we booked our tickets as a precautionary measure. Should there be any issues during the flights, we wanted the crew to know I may need assistance. The gentleman took a few steps to his right to where two wheelchairs sat. He gestured for me to take a seat, as I looked at my friend with what I am sure was pure panic. I didn’t need a wheelchair, I was perfectly capable of walking to the gate just as I had done in Philadelphia and London on our way to Germany. It had been a difficult trek in Heathrow, maneuvering through crowds and confusing logistics but I had done it. Seeing my discomfort, my friend advised that she thought I should get in the chair and I knew she was right. So I did.
When and how do we make the decision to power through versus taking an easier route (not to be confused with taking the easy way out)? Obviously when yours or someone else’s safety is at risk is no time to be proud or stubborn. I will not be getting behind the wheel of a car nor will I attempt a down escalator. I am sure there are visually challenged folks who do the latter but I don’t need to prove anything when it comes to moving steps with teeth at the top of a hill. I,have mastered going up and for now that is enough.
But what about the non-dangerous activities? When my husband is home I will often take something to him to read for me rather than using one of my magnifiers. When I’m alone I do it myself but when he is around it’s faster and easier to use his eyes. It is a minor thing but as we all know, minor things become major very easily as a result of frequency and duration.
And maybe that is the answer. As long as you consistently try and persist you most certainly should give your yourself a break from time to time, especially when circumstances call for it. And often when we make a choice we are in effect pushing limits. I didn’t get in that wheelchair because it was the easy thing to do although that’s how even I interpreted it in the moment. That’s why it bothered me so much. I felt as though I was giving in to my compromised sight, that I was letting it win. But now I know it was quite the opposite. Getting in that wheelchair was honestly one of the most difficult things I’ve done since the morning I woke up blind. Mentally and emotionally it was an experience I still have not processed. But it was the right choice and it was mine.
We all have our limits. But we alone get to decide what they are. Not our family, our friends nor our doctors. And certainly not our optic nerves.
A dear friend recently experienced a devastating personal blow which initially ravaged her emotionally and mentally. Because of that, even the most mundane daily activities were almost impossible. I hope that you’ve never been in this situation but if you have you know exactly what I mean. Brushing your teeth or getting dressed requires energy you do not have. Tasks you normally perform on automatic pilot now demand thought but none will come. You move from one room to another in a haze, sitting down because the mere act of standing is too much effort. And once seated, you find yourself staring at the wall while every possible scenario wreaks havoc on your exhausted mind and heart. And it hurts. Everything hurts.
Having been there myself there was only one thing I could do to help: tell her to breathe. I know, I know. Some friend I am, right? What’s wrong with ice cream? Or wine? Or both?
But I know firsthand that breathing is what will save you. The decisions you will feel you need to rush to make, the actions you will be compelled to take absolutely, positively must wait. All you have to do is breathe. Breathe in. Breathe out. The rest of it be damned.
Every second breathing gives us life. But when life gives us tragedy, breathing keeps us alive.
I grow attached to my feathers,
When they are attached to me,
And when they molt* from my body,
A hard habit to break it can be.
It’s strange to be holding my feather,
I’s not where it’s meant to belong,
But I find myself preening it anyway,
It’s nature so it must not be wrong.
I have over a thousand feathers,
So its loss will be hard to tell,
But I thank you, this one single feather,
For you have served me so well.
* Molting is the process of a bird shedding old, worn feathers to replace them with fresh plumage.
“Backup” has become such a part of our world that we take it for granted. I first learned in 1988 the importance of backing up during a stressful marketing budget planning crunch at work, aided by my first computer, a Leading Edge. Thirty years later you would think it would be ingrained in me to take a darn minute and backup, or better yet, put systems in place to do it automatically.
Last week this blog disappeared for the second time in eight months. More upsetting than the two-line error message at the top of the otherwise blank white screen was my mortification at having no backup. As I attempted to talk myself off the hysteria ledge, my husband and friends encouraged me to wait and see if my website designer could recover the site.
While it’s true I didn’t have a backup for this blog, I do have backup in life. I have people who love and support me no matter what the emergency du jour. And even though that alone wasn’t going to restore this www, it was going to repair me no matter what I may or may not have lost. I know this because I have creased, many times, and they have helped put me back together again, piece by piece.
As you can see, the site has been recovered. Backup processes are now in place and SisterRain.net has the protection it deserves. Take a post out of this blog and make sure your technology has safeguards installed. And more importantly, that your humanware is backed up at all times.
Last week was an especially trying week with the only thing going right was that everything went wrong. Even the weekend was plagued by incidents.
This morning, feeling heavy-hearted and stomach-sick over the disappearance of this blog last week as a result of an update, I got dressed. As I headed downstairs to start the day I realized my pants were on backwards. Not the fresh start to a new week I was looking for.
I redressed from the waist down and made coffee, using every trick in my book to right myself just as I had done my pants. And then, this thought: What if my pants being on the wrong way was actually a good sign? After all, wearing them the correct way wasn’t working that well so maybe this was just what I needed to give me a kick in the backwards pants.
Things can go awry at any minute but they can also go a-right as quickly. And that’s what we all need to focus on when our world goes downhill. Luckily my pants did not.
As children we’re taught the tag goes in the back. And if we’re really lucky, we also learn at an early age that hope and optimism always goes in the front.
I go by our local hospital often and I always make sure I look towards it and think about the people inside. I was born in this hospital, have had several surgeries in its operating rooms, visited the emergency room for several minerare (minor to moderate) something-suddenly-came-ups.
But is has also been the scene for the most serious and gravest moments of my life. My mother’s heart attack, her diagnosis of stage 4 gall bladder cancer and my husband’s cardiac crisis where the word “transplant” introduced me to the single most terrifying moment of my life.
It is also the place I went the morning I woke up to two eyes blind. I,spent 16 hours there that day until I was transported to a Philadelphia hospital at midnight that evening. But when Our local hospital I don’t think about that day. I think about the days and nights at my mom and husband’s bedsides, talking to doctors, forming relationships with nurses, always asking questions, never allowing the soul stealing, crippling fear get in the way of my advocate role. Breakdowns could occur during the few hours I went home to shower or to check on Piper, our parrot.
I make myself visit the feelings of being in that hospital with my mom and husband along with the sounds and the smells every time I pass. And I think about the fact that there are people at that very moment having a similar experience while I head to lunch with a friend or grocery shop and run errands on a Saturday morning. I never want to be back there but I never want to forget either. I have found that good health makes no promises and does nothing to prepare us for when things go bad. But once they do, you finally understand and you will never be the same again.
I am so appreciative that we have a hospital nearby and healthcare professionals to,take care of us and am even more grateful not to need their services. But the ultimate gratitude comes from knowing the difference.
I asked my husband for a plug adapter for the space heater I sometimes use in the bathroom and requested that he put it on my iPad which was charging on the dining room table. Hours later, I looked for the adapter on the table but it wasn’t there. Neither was my iPad. Walking around our downstairs rooms, I found the iPad and the plug on the love seat.
My husband came in from outside where he’d been working:
Me: The adapter wasn’t on the dining room table like I asked. (I was smirking as I said this.)
Him: You told me to put it with your iPad which was on the love seat. (Also smirking.) See, I listen.
Me: But you don’t think. I guess I can’t have everything.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Him. I don’t need hearts and flowers; just keep smirking right back at me.
I have always capitalized the names of my contacts when entering them into my phone, starting with my first device back in the mid 90s. This has served me well since my vision loss when bigger and bolder is better for me to see with, my dear. But any time I type a name of one of my contacts in a text, email or Note, the iPhone capitalizes it, pulling it from my Contacts app. Even deleting and retyping the name several times doesn’t always replace the characters with lower case. I suppose it’s not a big deal but if upper case equals shouting, recipients of my messages may think I have more than damaged optic nerves going wrong in my head.
In a way, though, this tech tic pays homage to the people in my life. It may not look good but it kind of feels right.
I recently dreamt that I was throwing out the first pitch at a Major League Baseball game. And I was scared to death.
Although I had impaired vision and couldn’t see the catcher, that wasn’t what terrified me. The fact that I had no idea what I was doing and the lack of strength and power to get the ball over the plate did not concern me. The fact that so many people were watching did. I could not see them but I heard and I felt them. Their massive energy was all focused on me and I began to shake. All these people were looking at me, waiting for me to fail. I stood on the pitcher’s mound, knees knocking, body trembling, yet feeling paralyzed.
I woke up before I made the throw and after my heart slowed, I was irritated with myself. Why did I care so much what other people thought and why did I assume they were hoping that I blew it? What if I had believed the crowd to be cheering me on instead of jeering me on? Would I have been able to stand on the rubber, relaxed, fully enjoying the moment?
I think that some people are born with the Rhett Butler attitude that they don’t give a damn what anyone thinks. Others are taught it by their parents. But what if we reach adulthood never having learned it? Can we work to adopt the philosophy? And, can we only be successful if we don’t worry about other’s opinions of us?
I have always landed in the middle on the Butler Scale, sans my teenage years, of course, when the voice in our head usually belongs to another. But with age and experience I cared less and less. The Grand Slam that took place between 2012 and 2014: my mom’s death, my vision loss, my husband’s cardiac battle and the sudden death of my father-in-law during a medical procedure drove home what real fear looks like and that the only people you should ever be worried about are your loved ones in crisis.
I still get it wrong though and not just in my dreams. But I will continue to do better. Because I really do give a damn about not giving a damn.
“If my younger tomboy self, playing in the empty neighborhood lot with her friends,
knew that forty-five years later she would be paying over $100 to have hot stones rubbed on her,
she would have told the biggest kid in the group to throw stones at her.”
— Sister Rain