Sunday, January 31, 2010

Day 22

When opportunity knocks, I generally answer the door.

Today Tessa was invited to play at the school playground. As I was driving her to school it dawned on me that I could meet my initial goal of walking her to school. Well, I'd be walking her back from school, but the intention is the same. So, I drove back home and, fifteen minutes before it was time to pick her up, I donned my coat, pleaded with my son to join me, harnessed up the dog, and set off on my mile walk.

It was a lovely day to walk. Spring is showing her sweet, innocent face already. I was able to talk with my son about school. Before I knew it, we were at school and it was time to turn around and walk the half a mile back home.

The walk home was pleasant and relatively pain free. I was more invested in talking with the kids than I was in paying attention to the walk. And I realize now how normal that was.

So no fanfare, no confetti thrown at me upon my arrival home, no cheers and whistles. Just a normal, everyday kind of walk to pick my daughter up from the school playground.

What an opportunity.

Now I plan for my two mile hike. I want to walk and smell the cedar and fir trees while I sweat from climbing a hill. I want to be breathless, not only from the hike, but from my surroundings.

And maybe we'll bring some confetti to celebrate.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Day 21

When I was a girl my family always went to the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Seattle. Mom and Dad were proud of our Irish heritage, making St. Patrick's Day one of the High Holy Days of the year. The parade ended at Pioneer Square where we listened to a few speeches and then, my favorite part, we watch some Irish dancing.

It always took my breath away to watch the dancers; I was memorized by the movement, the flow, the grace, the fluidity of these dancers. Tears welled in my eyes from my longing to be one of them, to feel my body move in that way. We didn't have a lot of money so I knew to not even ask. Besides, traveling half an hour for a lesson of any kind was unheard of in my family. We went to the piano teacher up the street and ice skating lessons two blocks away. So I held my love of and fantasy of learning Irish dancing all to myself.

In high school, before my accident, I was one of four dancers in the school play, Brigadoon. We were taught a Scottish Reel to perform during the play. This was the closest I got to Irish dancing. During practice I developed shin splints and had to ice them for relief. I didn't play sports as a child, never took dance lessons, so this was the first thing that allowed me to really be in my body. The shin splints were an added bonus only because they made me realize that I had to take care of my body and that my body had limits.

A few years later I lost my leg. I spent a few years readjusting to my new body and then, with full force, I spent a number of years trying lots of activities that allowed me to be in my body, to experience it fully, to test it's capacity and it's limits. I skied, I tried skydiving and scuba diving, I backpacked, I kayaked, I rockclimbed, I sailboarded. Though only a few of the activities stuck as ones I loved, trying all of them gave me the opportunity to find my body and see what it was made of.

Without any prodding from me (it's all my brother-in-law's doing), my daughter started Scottish Highland dancing when she was six years old, four years ago. She competes regularly and had a competition today. While the whole dance form and the competitions are sometimes too restrictive for my taste, I am so pleased that my daughter started learning - at such a young age - how to be in and how to use her body. She has developed such grace and poise from this practice, from being on stage and being judged. I hope she's developing the life long habits that I took so long to learn.

While Scottish Dancing is different than Irish dancing, I get to watch my daughter deftly and gracefully move to the ancient beat of the mournful bagpipes. And this is enough.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Day 20

Even thirty two years later, there are still times when I want to be normal. Sometimes I really miss having two legs.

I want to run. I want to skip down a long flight of stairs like I did as a child. I want to be able to wear high heels with a black sexy dress just once in my life. I want to ride a bike. I want to do yoga free from any damn adaptations.

But all that will never happen. I know that. And I still have days when the feeling comes up again, "I wish....." and I have to let it go.

There's a sweetness in longing, in wishing for something, when you know it's possible. When it's not, longing is a dangerous slope. I know there's more to life than running and a sexy little black dress. A lot more. And I've always wanted to suck all that I can from life and have it drip down my chin all sticky and sweet. That's what I really long for.

I've adapted over the years and created my own normal. My normal is a hop skip instead of running; climbing stairs two at a time; sitting on the floor with my prosthetic leg sticking out straight (usually getting in the way of the other people with whom I'm on the floor) and a myriad of other ways I've accommodated this body. Even my limp is normal for me. So normal, in fact, that when I see videos of myself, I wonder who the heck is the one limping. I don't feel myself limp so when I see my limp, I'm taken aback.

And now I'm making walking normal again. Today I took two walks! No blisters, no sores, just two lovely walks; one with my husband and one with my daughter. Taking these short walks is not in any way a physical challenge for them, but for me, it's not only a challenge, it's a victory! A sweet sticky one.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Day 19

One of the hardest parts about posting this blog at the beginning was the Shame I felt. I was so ashamed of my limitations. I was embarrassed to admit to the world that I cannot comfortably walk a mile. I've spent years far more capable and competent. It's been hard to admit to myself, let alone the world, than I am unable to walk far.

What I can see now, after two weeks of airing the details of my journey to walk a mile, is that my shame kept me stuck. My shame didn't cause the ill-fitting socket, nor did it cause the pain . My shame kept my mouth shut. My shame kept me from revealing who I really am. My shame kept me from reaching beyond where I was to who I want to be.

In making the goal to walk a mile, I had to take stock of where I was. I had to admit my limitations and say where I want to go. I don't care anymore how I got to the point that I couldn't comfortably walk a mile. It's simply my reality. I'm reminded of taking a road trip and losing my way. The point at which I made my goal to walk a mile was the point at which I realized I was lost and got out my map. I certainly didn't make a U-Turn, but I did change my course. I deliberately turned myself so I was going in a different direction.

Now that I've regained my bearings and have charted my new course, I don't care as much about my limitations. Instead of focusing on what I can't do, I'm paying attention to what I can do and how I'm improving.

Shame? No, not anymore. I think it's turning into pride.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Day 18

A short walk today.

I have a blister at the end of my residual limb. Each step causes searing pain up my little limb. As I was walking I reviewed my day, knowing I'll have to work until 9 pm and stand a lot at a function this evening. Standing on a blister hurts. I don't want to make this blister worse. I know when to quit, so I turned around.

So I'm inclined to ask, "What's right about this?"

The blister and it's accompanying pain gives me the opportunity to take care of myself. I've been on-the-go for over a week. There's been little "down time" in my life for ten days. I'm feeling overwhelmed. I haven't been eating as well or sleeping as much. The one positive thing I'm doing for my body is walking and exercising. Turning around this morning after three blocks was a way to honor my body where it is right now.

The other thing that's right about this is that a blister is a sign that my prosthetic leg is getting too big. Finding the correct socket fit is like shooting at a moving target, but blisters at the end of the limb typically mean it is hitting the bottom of the socket. If that's true, then I can say that my little limb is shifting shape because of my walking. And that's cool. That's physical results.

It's easy for me to whine about this. Instead I'll be proactive. I'll call my prosthetist today and make an appointment. Instead I'll focus on what I have done and how I'm seeing results. Instead I'll say, "Oh well." This isn't the end of the world. I've had blisters many times before. Giving the blister time to heal is the best thing I can do for my limb, the best thing I can do for myself.

I don't know if I'll be able to walk tomorrow. I won't know that until I put my leg on tomorrow morning. A big part of me wants to know, to plan, to have the security of knowing that I'll be following through on my commitment to walk. But the truth of the matter is that I don't know. It's OK to not know. I am OK hanging out in this gray area of the unknown for today.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Day 17

Fear was my companion on my walk this morning.

The only time I could fit a walk in today was 5:30 a.m., just eight hours after I'd finished seeing the movie The Lovely Bones with a friend. Among other things, the movie was disturbing and ignited my fear.

For the first eighteen years after my accident I was intermittently stalked by a man who had an amputee fetish. No matter if I lived in Kirkland, Seattle, or Bellingham, he found me, assumed a different persona - always someone loosely linked to my life - and called, trying to worm his way into my life. I lived in fear for many years, not knowing when he'd return.

It's been twenty years since a compassionate policeman found my stalker and put the fear of God into him. I haven't heard from him since, but the man in the movie last night, although far more disturbed and deranged than my stalker, reminded me of the ugliness in the world. I left the movie feeling a little sick to my stomach and unsafe.

I don't want to feel scared when I walk and I resent that I did this morning. I was hyper aware of my surroundings: the shadows from the bushes, the sound of cracking twigs, the squeak of a door. I took a slightly different route so I was walking on streets with better lighting. I planned how I could use my prosthetic leg as a weapon if I were attacked. I knew my screams would echo in the morning stillness and neighbors would come to my rescue.

This isn't the first time I've played out being attacked in my mind, but it's the first time in a very long time. My inability to run has always made me more aware of my vulnerability. I'm cautious of where I walk. If I ever were attacked, my body would instinctively go into Fight or Flight mode. Flight would not be an option for me so fighting is my only recourse. And I don't trust I'd do a very good job.

I've been feeling rather on top of the world with the success of my daily walk, like I'm harnessed to a large pretty balloon that is lifting me six inches off the ground. The complete abhorrence of the character in the movie last night and my fear this morning has been like a pin popping that balloon.

I know that through the course of my day I'll have positive encounters and emotions which will help erase the disturbing images of the movie and my morning walk. They'll get tucked away and my positive actions will pump air back into my balloon. There's no guarantee that I'll never be attacked but I don't want to give that fear any more energy today.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Day 16

Ever since I became a mom 13 years ago, I've worried about how my disability affects my family.

I worried when my firstborn, during his toddler years ran away from me while we were walking around the block. He just ran. Into the street. I can't run, but I can do a little hop, skip to gain speed, but still, his chubby little two year old legs were faster than mine. Screaming at him to stop just sent him into a round of giggles. As he ran down the street he turned his head with a willful "catch me if you can" look. I learned to breathe and trust - and hold his hand tight.

I didn't like the attention I received from all the children at the playground in the summertime when my son was young. I wore shorts, never one afraid of exposing my leg, and was the playground magnet for all the kids. My son learned the story of how I lost my leg, not mother to son, but as I told it to the myriad of children wondering "what happened?" I learned to set boundaries.

When my kids were 3 and 6, I developed a fat foot. Blood pooled in my foot making it swell like a little balloon; it was very uncomfortable. I had to sit a lot for a few summers when the heat was extreme instead of jumping in the sprinkler with my kids. I learned to be creative and invented a game we could play. I was the woman at the soda shop and they were the waiters getting me milkshakes and cakes and cookies - all on the other side of the sprinkler. Peals of laughter issued forth as they ran to and fro under the rainbow of water delivering my goodies to me as I sat on my "throne".

More than I care to admit, I've said, "I'm done. I can't do anymore." I've learned to care for my body even when my heart wants to continue.

When I went to Mountain School, an experiential camp in the North Cascades, with my son's class few years ago, I didn't know if I would be able to keep up. I let the teacher know I could help with everything but the hikes. I did hike, in large thanks to my son who was there with me, every step of the way offering a hand as we climbed and descended the hills. I learned to accept the selfless help from my growing son with a full heart.

My husband doesn't have a wife who can casually take a hike with him or ride a bike downtown with him. He's more OK with it than I am.

But over the past few weeks something simple and beautiful has happened. I'm not just taking a walk to increase my stamina. Nearly every day, Mark accompanies me on my walk. Twenty to thirty minutes of uninterrupted time with my husband to catch up on our days. there's something quintessentially romantic about an elderly couple walking hand in hand talking about something or nothing at all. When I walk with Mark this image comes up. I hope I'm setting the stage for being able to take hand-in-hand walks with him when we're old.

Sometimes the kids come walking as well. Walking is kind of like driving in the car. There's not the intensity of sitting across a table talking to each other. Conversation can be casual or in depth. Walking in the dark makes the conversation feel even more intimate. When I walk with my son and daughter I get more in depth answers to the question, "How was your day?" More than just, "Fine." comes. And I love it.

The rewards of my daily walk are rippling out into more areas of life than I expected. Walking with my family, casually, lovingly, is one of the best.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Day 15

My life is fairly ruled by the clock. There is little I do that is not monitored by time. Even my creative endeavors are limited to the few hours here or there that I fit in between my other responsibilities. I like to be efficient with my time so I am a multi-tasker. I find no glory in chores that require being done over and over again like washing dishes or doing the laundry. I think of all the other things I could be doing with my time.

I do relax, but there's a time limit to it. There's a To Do list to get done and one of my greatest joys is crossing things from my list. Accomplishments mean a great deal to me and time gives me the opportunity to do them.

I cannot bring this mentality to my walks. Since I received this new leg, I have become a slow walker. I prefer to walk fast because the momentum carries the weight of my p leg, but I learned early in this "mile walk" endeavor that walking slower alleviates some of my pain. When my family joins me in my walk, I'm occasionally left behind; their normal gate is still too fast for me. In order to walk my current route, I have to give myself a half an hour. Able-bodied people could walk that in fifteen minutes. Think of the things I could be doing with that extra fifteen minutes!

I can be resentful. I can be angry. I can be whiny. And I can also be accepting. It's my choice.

So I ask myself, "What's right about walking slowly?" The answers are plentiful. I get to spend a half an hour outside instead of just fifteen minutes. I get to notice the buds swelling on the bushes. I get to bathe in the moonlight for a little longer. I am reminded of my backpacking trips in my twenties. Especially with a full backpack on, I was a slow hiker. And, like then, I get to notice more, like the bulbs poking their heads out of the earth. I get to linger longer near the house with the intensely fragrant Daphne Adora. I get to watch the birds in the trees sing their song.

I find it nice to give myself a break from the clock and enjoy the here and now. It's my choice. And I choose to look at what's right about SLOW.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Day 14

Part of the reason I haven't exercised in so long, aside from the challenge of getting a new leg made, is that I'm very good at rationalizing. "Oh, it's raining, I can't go for a walk now." Or "I had a hard day at work." Or "I need to do laundry and the dishes." You get the idea.

Well, today I desperately wanted to rationalize why I didn't need to walk. I have one of the best rationalizations in the book: I was gone over 12 hours to attend a funeral. There was lots of driving, lots of transitions and lots of emotions. For the last hour of the drive home, I tried to settle into why I don't need to walk tonight: I'm exhausted. I'm spent. I need to relax. I deserve to relax. We need to get the kids to bed.

But tonight I couldn't buy into the rationalizations. Tonight they didn't stick it. Tonight I knew that I actually had it in me to take a walk. And my intuition told me it would even be good for me - on every level - if I did.

So, like the mighty hiker-in-training that I am, I took my walk. The moon's bright glow bathed me in calmness. The crisp air cleansed me of the difficulties of the day. I am grateful for the ability to take this walk. I am proud of myself for keeping this commitment to myself.

And I am rationalizing that push-ups and my physical therapy exercises will have to wait until tomorrow. In my book, 10:30 is a silly time to exercise.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Day 13

Two years ago my daughter was Dorothy for Halloween. Boy, was I jealous. She got to wear a pair of ruby slippers! When I was a girl The Wizard of Oz aired once a year on TV. When it came on my family of eight huddled around the TV with our pajamas on, eyes glued to the set. It's a long movie, so when I was tired, I would hold my eyes open just to watch the end.

When I was in college I spent time reading all 16 Oz books written by L. Frank Baum. I was still recovering from my accident and the fantasy these books offered was a welcome relief from the pain I was desperately avoiding. I didn't notice that Dorothy was a heroine or that her entourage were symbolic of her journey.

Since then I've been traveling my own yellow brick road. Brick by brick I've walked as I've searched for my way home. I've met my inner Scarecrow and discovered my brains - and my wisdom. Like the Scarecrow I doubt my knowing and can convince my self that "I don't know." I've met my inner Lion and realized my inner courage. After my accident I was quite surprised at my undaunting ability to keep moving and to challenge myself in so many ways. I feel like I'm just meeting inner Tin Man and finding my heart, not the heart that loves others, that heart has always been with me. I'm discovering the heart that allows me to love myself.

Like Dorothy, I find it hard to remember that the home I yearn for is right here inside me. But my journey now is all about walking home to myself, to my wisdom, my courage and my heart.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Day 12

Who invented push-ups, anyway?

For my training I did exercises today. I started out by doing 45 push-ups - from the knees. My arms are shaking and wobbly. I feel it in my core muscles, too. Push-ups are a killer exercise.

My physical therapist told me that our Gluteus Maximus muscles are the ones that determine how strong our gait is. The stronger my butt, the stronger my gait. The stronger my gait, the easier it will be to go on a 2 mile hike. After a lot of trial and error, my physical therapist and I found a way for me to do my butt exercises without tweaking other body parts. I stand up,lean on the kitchen counter and move one leg at a time in circles, off to the side, that kind of thing. I haven't seen my therapist for a few months and it's been that long since I've done the exercises. I was definitely the kind of patient, this go around, that wanted my physical therapist to do most of the work for me. Physical therapy doesn't work that way. I know that. I just didn't have the motivation to do the exercises. Every time I went in there, we evaluated my pain, I rated my pain. The exercises caused new little pains, so we talked about that pain. In essence we were focusing on the pain.

Now I'm focusing on what I want: a strong, healthy body that will take me into the 2nd half of my life. I don't need to focus on the pain and I don't need to try and get rid of it altogether. What I'm focusing on is changing my relationship to the pain.

Even the pain caused by those push-ups!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Day 11

When I was 13 years old Sue, a wonderful young friend of my mom's, took me on my first backpacking trip at Mt. Rainier. It was truly one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I didn't know how magnificent and expansive the natural world could be. Though I was raised Catholic, that backpacking trip convinced me that God existed everywhere.

Each summer for a number of years after, Sue took us on backpacking trips around the state. None compared to St. Andrew's park at Rainier, but each trip exposed me to more of nature's grandeur and delight.

After I lost my leg, at 17 years old, I didn't think I'd backpack again. Sue gave me a year to heal, but then got me back on trail. The trip was hot, arduous and painful. I was a bitch. But there were pockets of relief when a vista, the cedar's pungent odor, or a deer sighting would stir my soul and I forgot that a part of me was missing. I felt so complete and whole in nature.

I did more backpacking after that, mostly in my twenties. During the past ten years I've taken occasional hikes and two years ago took my family on a 2 mile backpacking trip in the Cascades. It was one of the most beautiful trails I've ever been on, full of cedar, fern, and woodland wildflowers. There were many unexpected steps on the trail which I wasn't prepared for physically or emotionally. Mark helped me up, standing on the stair above me with his hand outstretched, waiting to pull me up. The kids, with their boundless energy, were way ahead of us. The trail was longer than the promised one mile. When a fellow hiker, on his way down, assured us we were really close, Mark insisted that I drop my backpack on the side of the trail and offered to come back for it when we found camp. I obliged immediately.

Without the weight of the backpack, climbing the stairs was much easier. I asked him to run ahead to check on the kids. I actually wanted to be alone. With the trees. I didn't know if I was saying hello or goodbye to them. I didn't know if I'd ever get back on trail after this trip, it was so difficult. I cried tears of joy that I was there again. It was enough in that moment.

But the woods call me. I want to go back. So I've decided that walking my daughter to school and back - 1 mile - isn't enough. I've changed my goal and am proud to announce that I'm in training to go back on trail. I am going to go on a TWO mile hike, hopefully somewhere close to home, perhaps in the Chuckanut mountains.

I love the Olympic Games. They will be starting soon just north of us in Vancouver B.C.. When I was a girl I always wanted to be an ice skater. Well, ice skating isn't in my future, a two mile hike is. And I'm in training. Perhaps not as vigorously as an Olympic champion, but something deep is driving me like I imagine drives them. I need to do this - because the trees call, because I want to know that I can still access that part of my life, because it's simply not asking too much to go on a two mile hike and because I want to feel my wholeness in nature.

Tomorrow I'll do push-ups.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Day 10

I was humbled during my walk today.

I rushed home from work and hurried as I got the kids doing chores and homework, prepared dinner, and got ready for company tonight. In the mail was a letter from my childhood friend. She and I only exchange Christmas cards anymore, but this year she wrote a note in response to my card. As I read her card, time slowed down as I slowly took in what she wrote. She told me about her father's and sister's deaths. I had immediate flashbacks to sitting around their family dinner table for countless meals, laughing at her father, who I adored. He could make this shy little girl laugh like no one else could at that time in my life. Her sister, older than us, was always kind and supportive. And way too young to die. My heart aches for my friend's loss.

I went for my walk, thinking about my friend and her grief. My thoughts turned to the thousands of people in Haiti. People in so much pain; so many kinds of pain. And I wonder how they are coping or if shock is their coping mechanism right now. I heard devastating reports on the news today about how long it will take to unbury all the people out of the rubble. Months, perhaps a year. A sudden and temporary burial plot. My heart went out to the thousands of people in Haiti, those who died and those who survived.

My pain seems so small compared to what so many people go through each day. It's so cliche to say it could be worse, but the fact is, it could. I am humbled as I remember that we each have something share with the world about our pain, even if it is never spoken. How we each deal with our pain sends a ripple out into the world.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Day 9

Structure. I love it and I hate it.

I hate it when it confines me and forces me to stay within a box I don't want to be in.
I love structure when it defines the parameters of my influence. I especially love structure as it relates to my walking.

We walked a new route today. It's a warm sunny day so we went down to a park near the water for our walk. I loved seeing all the people out skating, picnicking, and playing at the playground, but it meant that I was outside my comfort zone. After only 8 days I've developed a routine with my walking. After just 8 days I've created a structure to my walk. And today I stepped outside that structure.

I was a little grumpy, not knowing where my half-way point was, only able to rely on the clock for how much farther I had to walk. It was so much easier to focus on my discomfort today than when I have the luxury of walking within my structure.

I love the idea of spontaneity; I love to be spontaneous. I don't always appreciate the inconvenience of it, especially when I walk. Ambiguity doesn't serve me well when I'm walking. I need to know how far I'm going, what the terrain is like, what's expected of me. I wish I could be more spontaneous with my walking. Countless times in my life someone will ask me to go on a walk with them or suggest we walk to the store instead of drive. This usually sends me into a little panic, wondering if I can do it or not, especially without pain. I've learned to honor my body and say no, but I don't like saying no. I want to say "Yes" to as much in life as possible and I sometimes resent my leg for holding me back.

Perhaps I've learned how to say "No" too well. Perhaps I've said "No" when I could have said "Yes." Perhaps I've underestimated myself for a long time. I used to have the mental fortitude to carry on through the discomfort, through the pain, through the sweat. Not only has my body gotten weak, but so has my backbone. It wasn't until I became pregnant that I ever felt really disabled. It's been a long 14 years since then. It's time to create and keep the structure of my walk until I can trust my body again.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Day 8

I'm conflicted.

I added four blocks to my walk today AND I did the entire walk without stopping.
This makes me think that the pain issue has been because of my lack of motivation, my lack of walking. Which means that I have more influence over my walking than I thought I did. I've been telling myself I can't walk because it hurts. And now I am discovering that it hurts because I haven't been walking. This is a bitter pill to swallow. Before I can get too excited about the fact that I have more control over this situation that I previously thought, I have to be accountable for how I got here in the first place. I want to just skip over this part, but I'm going to do things differently this time. I'll let this sit with me and allow myself to accept the part I'm accountable for - without reasons, explanations or excuses. Cuz there's plenty of those. The bottom line is, I didn't give my body the priority it needed to thrive.

After I lost my leg I immediately went into survivor mode. In my twenties I needed to explore my body and, in the process of trying different activities, I found myself thriving. But when I got pregnant, everything came crashing down on me. Being physical was simply too hard. In fact, being pregnant was the first time I ever felt disabled. Regarding my leg, I've been surviving the past 14 years. It's time to thrive again. Which means, like it did in my twenties, that I need to move beyond my disability as a way to define myself and remember that I am bigger than my disability.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Day 7

Walking is amazing. It does so much more than strengthen the body; it feeds the soul. As Mark and I were walking down the hill, our neighbor saw us as she was driving by. She stopped and turned off her car so we could chat for a few minutes. The dark of winter has kept us all inside and unconnected. It was nice to be out and available to the opportunity to catch up with her.

Then I ran into a my friend's daughter. I heard her mom was in the hospital yesterday, waiting to have her baby. Her daughter broke the exciting news that her baby sister had arrived - and that all were well and healthy. I came back home and emailed a group of friends, who were all waiting, with the news.

I live in a great neighborhood. When I first moved here 7 years ago I was a little unsettled by how nice everyone was. I felt like I should wear pearls all the time; I felt like I had walked onto the set of Leave It To Beaver. But this has become my 'normal' now and I am so grateful to be a part of a community that wants community. We all do our part, beginning with friendly hellos and often deepening into much more.

Bellingham is my Soul town. My accident happened just 6 miles south of here in the Chuckanut mountains. This is the town the hospital rushed me to. Nine months later I started college here at Western Washington University. Alone for the first time, getting my adult feet wet, I established my patterns in dealing with my amputation. Some good, some not so good. When we returned seven years ago, it was 25 years after the accident. I felt like I was given the chance to change some of the patterns that weren't serving anymore. I had a new leg made when I first moved here; I started writing, and, knowing I was done bearing children, I knew I was in that next phase of my physical life: life after giving birth. Bellingham has given me ample opportunity to re-birth myself into the person I've always wanted to become. My gestation period is just a little longer than I expected.

And that's OK.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Day 6

My pain talked to me today. I heard a request to slow down. I'm not a fast walker by two-legged standards but I do walk as fast as I can. The faster I walk, the more momentum I get going and the lighter my prosthesis feels. The whole leg weighs about 15 pounds which is a lot to lug around. When I slow down my pace the weight of the leg is more pronounced. But pain told me to slow down today.

Lo and behold. Slowing my pace helped. The vice loosened its grip on my residual limb to a tolerable level. I found a gait that was fast enough to gain some momentum and slow enough to allow my muscles some relief. The only times I had to stop on the way home was for Murphy.

Which makes me wonder. Is this a fit issue or have I lost muscle mass the past two years and need to build it up again?

When Mark first hugged me, many years ago, one of his first comments was on how strong my back was. I was so proud of myself when he noticed that. My strength was a result of how I compensated for my missing limb.

I want to feel strong again. Last fall I went to physical therapy for other aches and pains I have as a result of being a long term amputee. Each week in the small PT room as my therapist asked me to try yet another exercise that was physically taxing for me, I was reminded that I want to be strong again. I had about 40% success rate doing my exercises at home between appointments. More often than not I found reasons, excuses, rationalizations about why I couldn't do my exercises. I just wasn't ready to make the leap yet, the leap into change.

So why, when the desire is so deep, is it so hard to change a habit? After just six days I've already made this a part of my daily routine. I've already seen small benefits. In just six days. I've taken the leap. I think I'm flying.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Day 5

I just returned from a wet and windy walk. I was reminded of being a young girl and how I loved to walk in the rain. It's refreshing, cool and warm at the same time. A good walk.

I was up at Western Washington University today for a meeting. I was reminded of being a freshman there just nine months after my accident and how painful that first year was - walking from class to class, from the dorm to the Union Building and the cafeteria. But then I remembered that the second year was painful, as were the third and the fourth years. Looking back I was surprised to realize that my leg has always caused me some kind of pain. There hasn't been a time in my life, since the accident, that I haven't been in pain. In looking back at my relationship to pain I see a progression from anger to acceptance.

I used to get so angry when my pain reared its ugly head. God forbid you were the person next to me when I couldn't take another step. The pain would ignite the anger that lay simmering constantly underneath, the anger that I lost my leg in the first place. It was so hard to know what to do with all that anger. I know now that my anger created resistance and often made the pain worse, or at least it felt worse since the pain was the only thing I focused on.

Acceptance has been such a blessing. It's taken years and lots of stories to get here, but acceptance allows me to be open to my pain. When I am truly accepting, I can have a conversation with pain. When it escalates, I move into it, even bless it sometimes. I feel a warmth wash through the pain and then it lessens in intensity. I can't get rid of the pain, but I can choose my relationship to the pain. Sometimes pain is telling me to slow down. Sometimes pain is telling me something is wrong with the fit of the socket. And, I believe, sometimes pain is telling me I have something else to learn - about pain? about self-care? about patience?

There's always something else to learn.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Day 4

Someone asked me why I don't get the fit of my prosthesis fixed. While that seems the obvious answer to my problem, it's something my prosthetist and I have been working on for 2 years. It's a long boring story, but the long and the short of it is that we haven't found a good fit yet.

Making the knee, ankle, and foot is a science. Making the socket, the part that doesn't fit right, is an art. My prosthetist made me a leg 7 years ago and it was the best fit I've ever had. He's proven to me he's an artist. This time, however, regardless of everything we've tried, I continue to have pain.

I don't believe this has happened for a reason, but I do believe I get to learn something from this - if I choose. Believe me, I've had my pity parties. But pity parties are lonely. Even when my husband sits with me and validates my feelings, I'm still intensely alone at the party. And that's when I find something else besides self-pity to hold onto, something to connect me to the bigger picture, something to help make sense of all this.

One thing I'm grateful to have learned is patience. When I first went to my prosthetist to get the new leg made he said it would be done in a month, six weeks tops. It's been 27 months and three sockets later and we're still no closer to a comfortable leg. And there's a part of me, a big part of me, that's OK with that. I'm learning patience. Early in the process I told myself that I won't learn patience if I get what I want when I want it. When I have another set-back, when an appointment gets canceled, when a part doesn't come in, I take a deep breath. No one is making this happen. My prosthetist, bless his heart, has gone over and beyond the call of duty to accommodate my needs.

We ponder why this isn't working. We think it may be because I've been an amputee for 32 years now and certain muscles have atrophied making a fit more challenging. But I don't even know if a reason is necessary. Being patient with the process is. So that's what I do - most of the time. Just don't ask my husband to verify that. He's the one who catches my in my pity parties.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Day 3

A warm rain-free walk tonight. I did my same route and feel comfortable with the familiarity of it. I can almost predict when I'll need to stop for relief.

Someone reminded me: "Dare not to compare" when I walk. A tall order. And it's the first thing I do. I know people who run marathons, for pity's sake. And I'm trying to walk a mile.

But ultimately I know, deep down, that comparing myself to others takes me away from myself. When I judge myself against someone else's standards, abilities, or values, I don't own my own. I know I limit myself further by allowing others to be my barometer for success. Besides, it makes me crazy. One minute I compare myself to this person, the next minute to that person. It's much easier and saner to just be myself.

Confucius said that a Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Well, these are my steps. My limpy, gimpy, sometimes painful steps. I don't think I'll walk a thousand miles, but even my 'one mile' starts with one of my steps. No one else can do this for me and no one else can do it the way I can. I need to embrace and accept my steps, no matter what they look like - or how they feel - as good enough for now. They'll get less painful; they'll get more fluid. But if I don't accept how I walk right now, I'll never improve.

So, from here on out, when I find I'm comparing myself to the able-bodied, beautifully sleek, athletic bodies out there, I'll instead focus on what I've got. One hell of a unique body. And I'll be grateful I can walk at all.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Day 2

If there's a shortcut to my emotions, it's walking. If I want to know how I'm really feeling about my body and my leg, underneath all the daily numbing activities, I walk. But seeing how I haven't walked much in over 2 years, there's a lot that hasn't been discovered.
Today's walk revealed a gem. Not a new one, but one I feel every time I get a new prosthetic leg made: How many times do I have to lose my leg?
My walk tonight was actually good. On my way home from work I clocked how far I walked yesterday: 2/3 of a mile. Given that my goal is to walk a mile, I was quite full of myself and puffed up. I decided to do the same route tonight. It's 3 1/2 blocks to the hill and the hill is one block long. I walk down the hill and right back up again and walk the 3 1/2 blocks back home on level ground. On the walk to the hill tonight I didn't have to stop nearly as much as yesterday. The pain wasn't as bad. Have I already built up some muscle? Murphy made me stop three times to scoop his poop (yes, Murphy is a dog). On the way home, though, the pain came more frequently and so did my stops for relief.
When I had this leg made over two years ago, the intention was to fit me with the most advanced technology known to amputees, the C Leg, the first in robotic legs. But that's just the knee part, the part that attaches to the socket. The socket, made from plastic, fits around my residual limb, conforming exactly (at least that's the intention)to my limb's dimensions and is held on by suction. This is the third socket we've tried over the two years and it still doesn't fit. The pain feels like a vice grip squeezing my limb, gently at first and then the pressure increases so suddenly my only option is to stop.
The fifth stop tonight on the way back from the hill is when I was filled with intense sadness. Losing my leg hasn't been a single event. I've lost my leg many times over the past 32 years. But how did I lose so much this time? Even after the accident when I lost my leg at 17 years old I didn't lose this much functioning. How did this happen?
I have to admit that I've allowed this to happen. If I was able to walk tonight, then I could have been walking for the last two years. I've had a hard couple of years for varying reasons and I can admit now that walking and taking care of my body came last. In fact, my body was hardly considered.
Well, starting yesterday, that's all changing. Not only am I considering this precious vessel of mine, I'm putting her #1 on the list.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

My first walk

I can't believe I am blogging. It's pushing my "You're so self-indulgent" button, but I'm forging ahead, despite what my critic keeps yelling in my ear.... "Who cares about what you have to say?" "Who the hell do you think you are?"

Actually I'm a woman who has lived with a prosthetic leg for 32 years. And for the past 2 years and 3 months I've had a very hard time walking. I can walk around the house, the office, the grocery store, but the mall? Around the neighborhood? Pain. And who invites pain? I don't. So I don't walk more than what's required of me throughout the normal course of a day.

But I started a workshop this weekend in which I had to commit to a goal. A Big goal. A Stretch. And while I have pain because of the fit of my prosthetic leg, I still want to walk. I have been avoiding walking for a long time because of the physical pain and because of the emotional pain. I hate that walking is hard. I hate that I've become such a wimp. And, ultimately, I hate that I don't have a leg. But that's usually only when I walk. And try on cute clothes.

So my goal is to walk my daughter to school, drop her off and walk back home. One mile. By February 26th - seven weeks from now. In order to reach that goal I committed to walking 10 minutes the first week and increase my time by 5 minutes each week. I know I need to build my strength and confidence back up.
It's hard to let go of my judgments about this goal. What a wimp I have become. Other people in the workshop are doing 5 or 10 k runs. I'm just trying to walk a lousy mile.

I just returned from my first walk. I underestimated myself. I knew I wanted to walk the only hill in the neighborhood. I took me ten minutes just to get to the hill and go down. Granted, not all of that was walking. At least one time each block I have to stop to alleviate my pain. The pain is because my residual limb (most people call it a "stump"; I used to call it a "stump", but I simply can't do that anymore. It reminds me of a tree that's been hacked away. Yes, my leg was whacked off, but I don't need to conjure that image up every time I talk about it. Besides, "residual limb" has an air of sophistication to it.) doesn't relax when I walk, the muscle stays contracted. The pain starts off as mild discomfort and increases until it's truly painful. I stop walking, allow the muscle to relax and start the process over again. Block by block.
Then I had to climb the hill and walk back home which took another ten minutes. On the way back home I walked more slowly, partly to slow down how quickly the pain returned. "What's the point?" I asked my husband, "If I walk this slowly, does it benefit me at all?" I was embarrassed when he pointed out that I was breathing heavily - indicating that my heart rate is up. What a wimp. But I felt like a winner. I walked twenty minutes instead of ten on my first day out in a long time.