Friday, February 26, 2010

Day 48

Today is the last day of my goal. Today my program ends. I have been taking a series of self-empowerment workshops through Excellence Northwest. Each workshop builds upon the last, ending with The Practice, the workshop I'm currently finishing. In early January, at the beginning of The Practice, each of us had to declare a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, something we wanted to accomplish in seven weeks. It all culminates tomorrow night at the Gala - a grand party where we all get to profess what we've accomplished.

One of my biggest accomplishments has been reconnecting with my body. Ever since I became an amputee 32 years ago, I have never walked everyday for 48 days in a row. I've been physical in many ways, but always for shorter spurts of time. Walking everyday has given me the opportunity to settle into my body again, accept where it is, and make choices about where I want it to be. In ways my daily walk for seven weeks has been more empowering than sky diving, skiing or any of the other activities I've done. I can still surprise myself.

Reconnecting with my body has been like rekindling the flame with an old lover. It's been very familiar, yet new at the same time. There has been a level of comfort involved, but a new trust that needed to be built. In recommitting to my body, I am recommitting to my whole self and to my future.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me in this goal by reading my blog and through your kind and encouraging words.

Though The Practice may be finished, though I may have achieved my Big Hairy Audacious Goal, this isn't over. In fact, I feel like I've just begun. Come back to my blog, which I will now post to twice a week, and see what my next challenge will be.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Day 47

Body image.

Big topic. One I've been wanting to write about for the last 47 days, but haven't known what size bite to chew off. I could write about women and body image in general, but that's only part of my story. Body image for me has been a constatntly changing landscape serving as a backdrop to whatever story I've been living.

In high school, I was hyper aware of every one of my imperfections: thunder thigh, big gut, small chest and red hair. I walked the crowded high school hallways with my books pinned against my chest, my arms crossed tightly across them, hiding myself from the glares, not only of boys, but other girls.

After I lost my leg, I knew that my leg, or lack of it, had the potential to turn men away from me. I knew I would be disgusting to some men. I was so thankful that my prosthetic leg covered up my residual limb so that nobody needed to see it. When I went swimming I quickly took off my leg as close to the pool as possible, jumped to the pool and slide in quietly. I tried to avoid stares but, having been on the other side, knew that people couldn't help themselves. Of course they would sneak a peak. I would, too.

What was so hard is that I never knew why people were looking at me. In college, walking down the street, if a guy was looking at me I'd take it as a compliment, until I realized he was staring at my limp or my leg. Having such a visible difference was confusing for me as a young woman. I didn't know whether I was being looked at as pretty or freakish.

In my twenties I felt strong. I was involved in amputee soccer and skiing and was using my body a lot. I almost didn't care what people thought of me because I was in love with what I was doing. I knew, with each new activity I did, that I came close to not being to do that activity at all. Had the car hit me a few inches higher, I could have been paralyzed. Had the car hit me with a little more force, I could have lost my other leg. The activities I did were made even sweeter by the fact that I nearly lost the ability to do them at all.

When I became a mom I started to feel like what I heard many other women talk about in terms of their body image: the sadness of my sagging breasts, the tummy that wouldn't go away, the pregnancy weight that stuck like glue to my butt, and all the other physical shifts that happen from pregnancy and childbirth. I felt like a dowdy mom. In this respect I felt average, one of the gang. I took comfort in this; it was the first time since high school that I could comisserate with friends on the same playing field.

And now? I revisit landscapes from my past,depending on the story of the day. Some days I still walk through life trying to hide myself. Some days I feel on top of the world, able to do anything, proud of and thankful for my body. As I age, the frumpiness lingers, but I'm trying to find a new perspective in how I value and admire an aging body. When I look at other women my age or older I mostly see beautiful people. Maybe not in the classic sense or the Hollywood sense. I see women who have lived life and who's bodies tell the story.

A few years ago I went to the Korean day spa in Lynnwood. My friend and I first visited all the dry sauna rooms in which we wore our robes. After we had gotten good and hot, we went to the hot tub room. I knew I'd have to take my prosthetic leg off and hop around soI mentally prepared myself for being naked in front of other women. I didn't want them to look at me but I quickly realized that was unrealistic. We were all looking at each other. Out of the corners of our eyes, as we threw our head back in laughter as we chatted with our friends. We looked. And what I saw were amazing bodies. Some large, some skinny, some inbetween. But each body had a story, many stories. A scar on a breast, a tattoo on a hip, a welt on a arm, wrinkles all over a face. Those bodies were, to me, far more beautiful than anything I could see in the movies. And my naked body, with half of my leg missing, had it's own story. That's all. Just a story. But I'm sure some of those other women could see beauty in my story just as I saw beauty in theirs.

I think that was just a small bite.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Day 46

When I was young I celebrated Lent. I usually gave something up like candy or, when I was older, swearing. I remember hearing that by changing behavior for the forty days, the length of the Lenten season, our habits change. I feel like I've developed a new habit in walking these past 46 days.

It's not a question anymore whether I'll walk or not. My daily walk has become a part of the family routine like taking out the garbage and eating dinner together. My husband asks when I'll fit it in each day to see if he can come with me. When I invited Tessa to come on my walk tonight she said, "Can I go tomorrow night instead? It's raining tonight." Sure, I said, both of us knowing a walk is in my future tomorrow.

I like the comfort of knowing I'm using my body everyday. I kind of even understand why people exercise as a way to relieve stress. I find that I'm less tense after a walk, more relaxed. Even if I'm grumbly about an issue when I first start out, by the time I get home, I've usually thought it through.

Now that I've met two goals, first my mile walk, then my two mile walk, well the FOUR mile hike (yes, I'm still proud of myself), I'm wondering what to strive for now. I like having something to work towards. I want the next one to be a stretch. Now that I know my body better, I know how much more I can ask of her. I'll ponder this over the next few days.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Day 45

A month from today I turn "50"! I can't wait.

As I said before, I've always wanted to be an old lady; turning 50 feels like I'm stepping onto that path. Just dipping my toes into the waters. I'll go swimming in the Old Lady lake later, but soon I'll just test the waters.

Being young at heart is important to me and so I am returning to my daring youth and taking my family to Whistler for my birthday so we can all ride the zip line. I'm exhilarated just thinking about it. And terrified. I can't imagine having to step off the platform and into the abyss.

When I was in my twenties I went skydiving two times. Once with a friend and again about a year later with a group of other amputees. The first time was a challenge, the second time was terrifying. When it was time to step out of the plan and onto a little tiny step, I looked down (the wrong thing to do) and said, "I can't do it." The plane circled around, but I was given a warning: Say no again and we'll fly you back to earth. I hadn't paid good money for a short plane ride, so I made myself step out of the plane and onto the tiny little step. When they told me to let go, I did. I spread my arms and counted to ten and then pulled the cord. I was safe. I was floating. I was flying, or as close as I could in human form.

There's something about taking these risks that reminds me of not only my mortality, but also of my spirit. The courage to step into my fear and right through it, trusting that I will be OK, is more exciting than floating through the air. Knowing that I have the fortitude and the guts carries me through the more mundane parts of life. The memory of those experiences stay with me, reminding me that I am a risk-taker.

After I had children, taking these kinds of risks wasn't worth it to me. My dad drowned when I was 13 years old and I was unwilling to do anything that put my life at risk and leave my children without a mother.

My kids are older now and I can do the zip line with them. I can share my joy, my screams, and my Hot Damns with them. I can show them how fun risk can be.

I want to step off the zip line platform on the day I turn 50 and remind myself that I have the courage to step into every day of my life. I want to rekindle that younger part of myself that was willing to fly instead of take the safe way back to earth.

Some may call this a mid-life crisis, the desire to return to my youth. I call it mid-life clarity. Finding out, again, that living life to it's fullest is what's important.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Day 44

When I woke up this morning and walked to the kitchen to make my coffee, I could feel almost every muscle in my long leg and in my butt. Amazing. With the all the skiing, hiking, and soccer I did in my twenties, you'd think I'd have discovered my butt muscles before, but I hadn't.

Maybe it's because my backside had never been so jiggly as it's gotten lately. Maybe because I went from losing my leg to exercising whenever I used it. Maybe I just wasn't as tuned in to my body in my twenties. But I was this morning and I have to say that having buns of steel is a seductive prize. I wouldn't set out with that as my goal, but if it is a side benefit, I'll take it.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Day 43

Another day of walking. This time in an asphalt jungle. We headed up to Vancouver today to feel the Olympic spirit. What we really felt was the Canadian spirit for their love of hockey. I've never seen so many people wearing their country's "gear."

We probably walked three miles today and it was much harder than yesterday's four miles. I think there are a few reasons for that. Walking on asphalt is much harder, as I'm sure it is for anyone. My lower back really feels the impact. Also, when I was hiking up, up, up yesterday, my prosthetic leg couldn't make a full stride. On the uphill, my prosthetic leg can only make half a stride, from full extension up to meeting my long leg. That means that my prothesis doesn't have the opportunity to rub on my backside so much. Today, after three miles of full strides, my backside is feeling pretty raw.

But, for the most part, I'm feeling good. I need an Advil to cut the incessant ache and a night of sleep will help with the raw spot.

I will say this: in my post yesterday I wrote that maybe Tessa's hurt ankle was a blessing in disguise. It wasn't. I would have loved to have had Mark and Tessa there with me during my accomplishment. It was really nice to walk with the family today, bantering, joking and having a good time. I wish I could have had that yesterday; I'm sure it would have helped.

My hikes aren't over, though, so there will be other opportunities for the family to hike with me. Then I won't need to hike with ruby slippers because "home" will always be with me.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Day 42

YAAAAAAHOOOOOOOOO! I did it! And then some. Boy Howdy am I thrilled.

I sit with a glass of champagne and an aching lower body as I recall the events of the 2 1/2 hours I spent in the Chuckanut mountains today.

I really wanted to hike up to Fragrance Lake, so the initial plan was to drive one car to the parking lot near the lake and leave it there. Then, when we were done hiking the two miles up to the lake, we could walk to the car and drive down to the car at the trail head. But, truth be told, there was something in me that not only desperately wanted to hike up and down, but knew I could. When it came time to leave the house I had to decide, do we take both cars or can I commit to 4 miles?

I committed.

We drove to the trail head and started up the trail. The sun was shining and there were scores of other people hiking the same trail. What was I thinking that I might see some trail-side plants? It's still February! Instead there was a sea of sword ferns blanketing the forests floor. Deep deep green amidst the brown duff of fir and cedar.

After we hit the half way point 45 minutes into the hike, Tessa twisted her ankle. She didn't want it to hurt, but Mark and I could tell it did. Reluctantly she and Mark headed back to the car and I decided to go on by myself the rest of the way.

Maybe this was a blessing in disguise. I'm used to hiking alone; in the past my friends often had to keep their own pace. They always waited for me at a resting point, but I am used to being with my thoughts and my panting breathe as I walk alone.

As I did, I thought about how much easier this all was than I expected. What was I thinking limiting myself to 2 miles? I can do 6 or 8! But then I rounded another switchback and wondered when the hell the lake would appear! The last half mile was tough, more on my lungs than my legs.

I finally got to the lake about 45 minutes after parting from Mark and Tessa. Teary eyed, puffed up from this accomplishment, I kept walking until I found a bench. I sat for about 5 minutes, relished the moment, washed my four (!) heart rocks in the lake and headed back down.

This C-leg is amazing. I can walk foot over foot, bearing weight on my prosthetic leg while it's bent. Walking down was a breeze. When I've hiked in the past, this is the part that really tweaks my lower back. But today, I walked down easily and quickly, probably in an hour. As I walked down the trail, it was the first time in a long time that walking felt so natural that I wanted to run. I ached to have my body let loose and run down the hill, the breeze flowing through my hair. Do nearly 50 year olds, even two-legged ones, run down hiking trails? I don't think so. I did what any dignified nearly-50 year old would do and walked down the trail. But I swear, it was like I was walking with ruby slippers on.

When I arrived at the trail head, Mark and Tessa were in the car waiting for me. I thought I would cry; I thought I would feel utter relief. Instead I felt blissed out. I was all smiles.

What dawned on me today with intense clarity is this: When I think of myself as disabled, I am. When I think of myself as not disabled, I'm not. I think Tessa was right: I'm disabled and I'm not. My leg teaches me about the paradox of life.

Today, I felt alive and my own brand of normal. Holy cow, I walked FOUR miles today!


Friday, February 19, 2010

Day 41

Tomorrow is the big day and I'm so excited. Tomorrow I'm taking my 2 mile hike in the woods.

I so look forward to being in the woods, smelling the wet earth, seeing the budding trees and forest floor plants. I'm sure I'll try to recall each plant's name; I studied ethnobotany in college and loved becoming acquainted with each plant's use.

I look forward to huffing my way up the hill. I usually grumble because I hate to sweat. I'll likely wonder when it will all be over, but the exhilaration at the end will make it all worth it.

I'm going to be conscious of breaking a pattern tomorrow. You see, even though there's so much anticipation before I'm physical, before leaving the house, as I'm getting ready, I can get pretty grumbly. It comes off as if I'm mad at everybody else. I've reviewed this behavior enough times to know that I really just get scared. I get scared that whatever I'm about to do will be hard. I get scared that I'll look foolish. I get scared that I'll fail. Any irritation, anything that goes wrong just exacerbates my fear, so I'll be aware of being authentic. Instead of snapping at my family and masking my fear in anger, I'll just say, "I'm scared." Even if I don't know what I'm scared of in the moment. A wise woman recently told me that the physical feelings of being scared and being excited are the same. So I guess it's really my choice about how I express those feelings.

I want to have fun tomorrow. I want to remember that no matter how far I go, what I'm most looking forward to is being in the woods. I can hike in half a mile and have a similar experience to that which I'd have two miles up. My intention, however, is to hike the full two miles.

Now, if I could just do the whole hike with ruby slippers on. How swell would that be?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Day 40

The feedback I get from other people is interesting: most people don’t see or think of me as disabled.

There’s a huge part of me that appreciates that and prides myself in that. I don't want pity; I don't want to be treated differently. I remember what it's like to have two legs and I know that having only one leg does not make me different than other people.

Then there’s a part of me that is confused by all of that. I deal with my leg on a daily basis. It is clear to me that my body does not work the same as two-legged bodies. It takes me energy to accommodate the loss of my leg in my life, if not physically, then emotionally. Not in a huge way, but the loss is there, everyday. I don’t mourn it daily, I deal with it daily. I don’t bemoan the loss, I’ve accepted it. Since I remember what it's like to have two legs, I also know that having only one leg does make me different than other people.

It’s a hard line to balance, recognizing my limits and not being defined by them. That’s easier for me to do when I’m alone, but once I’m reflected by other people, the tune changes.

When I hear from other people that they see me as normal, after the initial glow, it seems to minimize what I deal with. Being labeled as normal fails to recognize all that I do to manage living with one leg. Another hard line to balance – the need to be recognized for dealing with a difference and the need to be recognized for being normal.

I think what I understand now is that there's a tug of war between my spiritual body and my physical body. My physical body is challenged and as it ages, it's challenged even further because of the loss of my leg. Physically I don't feel exceptionally normal. It's my spiritual body that feels normal. The rest of my limbs could be cut from my physical body, but that won't cut out my spiritual body. My essence, my true nature, the part of me that transcends the physical is rich and deep.

I’ve become acutely aware over the years that there are so many hidden challenges that millions of people deal with on a daily basis. Perhaps what makes us all truly normal is having our own private challenge in life, accepting it as our own, and learning to grow from that challenge. I know that I've grown as a result of being an amputee.There is a plethora of lessons I've learned in life just because I don't have my leg. Has the loss of my leg been worth it? Absolutely. Would I change how my life turned out? Absolutely not.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Day 39

Ever since I was a little girl I've wanted to be an old lady. I've always carried an image of myself as wrinkled with a wispy gray bun sitting in a rocking chair. Children will come sit on my lap and revel in my kind council. I imagined myself emanating wisdom.

I turn fifty in five weeks and, while I'm nowhere near my image of being an old lady, I am on my way. My hair is already gray and I've gathered a bit of wisdom on my journey.

What I didn't factor into the equation was the toll life takes on my body. Regardless of my amputation, but in many respects because of it, my body is showing the signs of good old wear and tear. I need to get bifocals; my bones creak when I stand from a sitting position; I get heartburn. How did this happen?

Ever since my accident aches and pains are a normal part of life for me, which was unusual for my age. My peer group didn't grumble about tendinitis, bursitis, or swollen ankles. I know that, in many respects, my body is older than my chronological age. It made me feel a little freakish and lonely. And I dealt with the pain by ignoring it, getting angry with it, and hiding it.

But now that my friends are getting older I finally get to commiserate with them. They too know how hard it is to stand after sitting for an hour. I empathize when I hear them complain about sore muscles or a bad back. Their bodies are starting the wear and tear process, too. While I don't wish this on anyone, I feel like I have company!

Not that I like to spend a lot of time whining about my body. What I didn't expect about aging is how young I would feel on the inside. That old lady with a bun sitting in the rocker? When I was a girl I thought of her as quiet, soft and gentle. I didn't realize that I would grow up and, instead of sitting in a rocker, I'd want to be listening to rock music.

Just so long as I stay young at heart, I'm not too concerned about my body.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Day 38

Today I made a decision. For the next week I am not going to use any disabled parking. I want to be aware of how much I depend on it and how much I use it as the easy way.

It took about ten years before I could consider getting a disabled placard for my car. Once I had one, I used it, not all the time, but definitely when my leg was tender or painful.

Since I've had kids I've so easily rationalized why I can use it. When they were little and I was getting back down to my normal weight (read: I was still heavy) I did need to use it. Getting around the grocery store holding a baby was a challenge in itself. I knew my limits and that didn't include trekking across a parking lot.

I usually feel awkward getting out of my car, though. I feel like I need to explain to the stranger who walks by me, looking at me with judgmental eyes, why I'm justified in using this disabled parking space. I know I look normal, but there have been a number of years when my walking has not been normal. But the stranger doesn't know that. The stranger only sees me, a normal looking person, get out of the car. I make sure my placard is hung quite visibly on the rearview mirror. No one can question me if I have a bonafide placard.

As I was pulling into a disabled spot today, out of habit and ease, it dawned on me that, in fact, I'm quite capable of parking at the far end of the parking lot, walking all the way to the store, walking around the store and actually walking back to the car. If I can walk for a half and hour everyday, I can certainly walk across a parking lot.

So this tells me two things. First, that I'm becoming more aware of my habits and the stories I tell myself about my disability. I am learning to question myself a little bit and see if there's another story to tell. Second, I am becoming stronger. Even though I felt like I took ten giant steps backwards during my walk today (I had to stop on every block because my residual limb was getting the vice grip feeling again), the fact of the matter is that I walk at least 2/3 of a mile every day.

So, I want to change my story this week. In the new story, I'm strong and capable. I am someone who walks across the parking lot to the store.

With a smile on my face and a spring in my step.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Day 37

Yesterday started out as a drippy wet walk in the woods. At the end of my hour the sun was shining and the newly emerging leaves were painfully green, so intensely were they glistening.

Today was a mellow neighborhood walk in the sun with my children . Not a "sunglasses day", but it wasn't raining.

I'm still pondering the whole disability issue - how much choice I have about being disabled and how my attitude affects my disability. Can I have a disability and not be disabled?

I have to figure this one out.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Day 36

I took an hour walk today on Sehome hill, a beautiful arboretum behind Western Washington University. I used to take lots of walks there when I first started college, right after my accident.

I was so grateful for Sehome hill, a lush, luscious, vibrantly green forest that was, with effort, accessible to me. Walking was very painful and arduous those first few years after the accident. I kept walking in spite of that because intrinsically I knew that I had to. I didn't want life to pass me by. I wanted to live as much as I could.

As I was walking today, I pondered what makes me disabled. I questioned whether I'm even truly disabled. When I was a young eighteen year old, I couldn't think of myself as disabled. I flat out refused. I spent energy learning to stretch, expand, reach and find my limits, of which there were few. I wasn't interested in being disabled so I wasn't. I prided myself on being able to just keep up with the friends who slowed down enough for me to do so. I had a can-do attitude. In my twenties, anything was possible, almost.

When I had kids, all my energy went into them, not pushing my physical limits. I found there were new limits to explore: how much sleep I could go without; how long I could comfort a crying baby; how patient I could be playing dinosaurs for hours; how much I could love when my child was sad. Pushing those boundaries had nothing to do with my leg and never will.

Being physical went by the wayside. I allowed that to happen. But I'm realizing that the slow decline, the imperceptible descent into inactivity shaped my attitude about my body and my abilities. So much so that gradually I started to think of myself as disabled. Then I started to call myself disabled. What I thought was simply calling a spade a spade was in fact a shift in attitude.

Walking the same paths today I walked over thirty years ago put me in touch with the young woman who refused to be disabled. It reminded me that, in fact, I have a choice in the matter. How attached am I to identifying myself as a disabled person? What I realized on my walk today is that I get to choose my attitude toward my body and, in turn, make a choice about whether or not I'm disabled.

Despite the static limitations of my body - I'll never grow my leg back - life can be heaven or it can be hell. It's all in what I make it. It doesn't even really matter what the issue is. Lack of money, ill health, strained relationships. My relationship to those situations will determine how happy I am.

I'm turning fifty in about six weeks, but there's a big part of me that's still an eighteen year who wants to live as much as I can. Now I understand that it's my choice. Disabled or not.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Day 35

Over the past few days I've asked my kids a question: Do you think you have a disabled mom?

Luke said, "No, but I wish you could run with me and take me to the Y." I love that my son wants to run with me. What I would give to run with him, but that's just not in the cards. But my son doesn't think I'm disabled. I like that.

Tessa said, "Well, yes and no." This answer spurred a lengthy conversation while we were taking my walk together. The long and the short of it is that Yes, Mom is an amputee and, by definition she is disabled. And No, Mom is normal, so by definition, she's not disabled. I challenged her a little on this. "There's some normal things I can't do, like some of the other mom's. So and So runs and So and So bikes and So and So dances," I said.

"Well, Mom," Tessa explained, "that's because they're good at those things." I didn't explain that they're good at those activities because they have two legs and can actually engage in them. I heard what was underneath, or at least what I wanted to be underneath that statement.

I'm good at other things. Where I excel in life may not be, well, OK, I'm nearly fifty so the writing is on the wall, the things I excel at ARE NOT in the physical realm. I know that. I get that. I'm OK with that. My gifts lie elsewhere.

What I'm really OK with is that my kids don't mope around because they have a mom that is disabled and ruining their life by making it little due to inactivity. Deep down I know that's never been the case, but there's always been that fear that my disability puts a major damper on their lives. Sometimes, yes. But most of the time, to them I'm just a normal mom.

I guess I'm doing something right.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Day 34

I love progress!

When I look back to how I was in the world just two months ago I am amazed at how different I interact with the world, especially in terms of walking. Over the past three years with the never ending leg-in-progress, I slowly shifted my attitude toward walking. So slowly that I barely realized that it had changed.

At first my modifications were justified and understandable. My first leg-in-progress was quite uncomfortable and I had to say no to walking the kids to school anymore. I limited my trips to the mall (even more than normal!) because it was simply too far to walk. I realized my world had become quite small when walking around Fred Meyer was a challenge. And so I easily justified why getting up out of the living room chair to answer the phone was too hard. "Honey, could you get the phone?" or "Honey, could you get me a glass of water?" Who could deny me that when it's painful to get up and walk?

And yet, I see now how I dug my own grave of limited ability. After my accident life was cumbersome. Prosthetic legs back then weighed more than they do now and fit differently so they felt like a ball and chain. That said, my seventeen year old body was not interested in being sedentary and jumped at any opportunity to "do it myself." Over thirty years of lugging this leg around, having two children, and simple aging had left me wanting to rest. I wasn't jumping up anymore saying, "Here, I'll do it!" No, I was fine if someone else did it. I just slowly allowed myself to become sedentary and I didn't hardly realize it. Not walking became my new normal.

And then there came a point in my life and I knew it was time to get back in my body or not. And if I chose not to then I would be forever looking at life from my living room chair. I met a 65 year old woman a few weeks ago who started working out at the gym when she was 60 years old. "I wish I had started years ago," she said, "I feel so much younger. Imagine how I'd feel now if I had started when I was 50."

Well, this year I turn 50. While I don't plan on joining a gym, daily walks are fast becoming a part of my new normal. It's not easy, but it's not hard, either. It's just progress.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Day 33

Today I pulled out the Bionic Woman t-Shirt some friends gave me a few years ago when I first got this new leg. I haven't worn the T-shirt yet because I haven't felt like I was deserving. I had this incredible state-of-the-art knee yet I couldn't walk around the block without stopping for a rest. Lindsay Wagner I was not.

When I first took possession of this leg, with the new knee (the C-leg), and I put it on in my prosthetist's office, I became emotional, overcome by the significance of this new technology and what it means for people such as myself and the quality of our lives. I am now able to twist at the ankle when I walk, something I didn't even realize my real ankle does naturally. I can walk down stairs, one foot over the other, instead of taking them one by one like a toddler. I can walk over uneven ground (which, to an above-knee amputee is anything outside the house) with the confidence that my knee won't buckle. This knee is amazing in its ability to support my body weight when it is bent.

I have a "peg leg" that I use when I'm around the water. A metal pylon is attached to a simple socket. At the end of the pylon is a basic rubber foot. Walking in a peg leg makes me look like Peg Leg Pete. Makes me want to chug whiskey form a jug and cuss. And it makes me think of all the amputees in the past who lived with so much pain because of these crude ill-fitting prosthetic legs.

I recently read an article in last month's National Geographic about the bionic age of replicating body parts, from eyes and ears to arms and legs. While my leg is not as advanced as the arm the article highlighted, which is crudely controlled by brain messages, I am so appreciative of technology and proud to be a small part of this historic time in prosthetics.

My Bionic Woman t-shirt is in the laundry, getting ready for me to wear tomorrow. I feel like I deserve to wear it now. I will never be Lindsay Wagner, but I'm claiming what I've got. And what I've accomplished.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Day 32

I think I put my leg on crooked today. No, I'm not kidding. It happens every now and then and I only notice it if I take a long walk. Like my daily walk. My skin becomes irritated and it's quite uncomfortable.

I took most of the day off of work so I could go to lunch with my sister, who was in town today. Murphy's law was in effect and both of my kids stayed home sick. My son is old enough to take care of his sister, but I still don't like leaving them alone when they're sick. Which I did. Three times. The first was for an hour meeting at work. I came home, snuggled on the couch and watched a movie with them. Then I left to see my sister for a two hour lunch. When I returned we played a roaring game of Monopoly. Then I went on my walk.

When I started my walk I noticed the tell tale signs of 'crooked leg' by the nagging irritation on my skin where my prosthetic leg meets my skin, just under my bum. It was quite uncomfortable at the beginning of my walk. "I'll just walk a few blocks," I told myself and then immediately questioned that decision. Am I being kind to myself and protecting my skin or am I finding an excuse to go back home to the kids? Truth be told it was an excuse.

I kept walking and realized how hard it is to take time away from my kids for just me. I didn't feel so guilty going to work and having lunch with my sister. Those are both rationalized easily. Of course I have to go to work. It's my job. Of course I would see my sister. She's not in Bellingham very often. But leave for a half an hour walk just for me? That's much harder for me to rationalize.

A half hour was a long enough time to find a few good rationalizations. What did I tell my kids, indirectly, by taking my thirty first walk today? I told them that I cherish my body. I value exercise. I am committed. I want to be strong. I work for what I want. I am persistent. I see the value of working toward a goal.

And, funny thing, by the time I turned around to walk back home, my skin didn't hurt nearly as much.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Day 31

Yoohoo! Day 30. I've walked everyday for thirty days! I'm so proud of myself. Looking back I think I must have missed a day in there somewhere. But I didn't. I didn't skip a single day.

I'm a dabbler. I test lots of water, sticking my toes in and wading around for a bit and then I usually get bored. So I put my toes back in my comfy shoes and walk away. But not this time. This time I sticking with it. I feel the momentum spurring me on and keeping me going. At this point it would take a different kind of effort to not walk.

Admittedly there are days when I feel inconvenienced by the time it takes to walk. When I get home from work and have only an hour with the family before I have to go to a meeting and a half an hour of that is a walk, I tend to contract, shrink back and re-think my priorities. But I've always made myself #1 and taken the walk. I ask my family to go with me so I can still spend time with them. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't.

I used to tell myself that I'm a commitaphobe. What I understand about myself now is that I'm actually a very committed person; I am able to take on something and stick with it. In fact I find it harder to give something up than to be persistent. The longer I walk, the more invested I am in continuing and the less interested I am in giving it up. The longer I walk, the deeper the benefits. The longer I walk, the happier I am.

How can I give that up?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Day 30

A few weeks ago I saw the schedule of classes for the YMCA. A class that caught my eye was teaching hula hooping. I know, I know.... a hula hoop class. Go figure. I can do that at home.

Yesterday I read a story in the Crab Creek Review about a girl who "hooped" all the time. Like, all the time. A good reminder that I don't want to get extreme, about anything. Ten minutes a day would be good for me.

This afternoon I went to get my daughter's hula hoop out of the garage. She has two big hula hoops made from black PVC pipe and decorated with fun festive colored tape. These hula hoops are bigger in circumference making them easier to use because they take longer to circumnavigate one's waist so less hip movement is needed.

This will be easy, I thought. It's been a few years since I've hooped and I forgot. I forgot how much effort it takes. I forgot how much it engages my core muscles. I simply forgot that people who hoop just make it look easy. But it isn't.

My daughter counted while I hooped. After each fall of the hoop she announced my time. "Eight seconds, Mommy." "Twelve seconds, Mommy." I got up to eighteen seconds. I don't say that with an ounce of pride. I am, however, quite humbled. I saw the hula hooper as I was driving through Fairhaven the other day. Now she makes it look effortless.

Maybe I will sign up for that class afterall.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Day 29

Today I upped the ante and took a 45 minute walk. In order to prepare for my two mile hike in the woods, we went to Lake Padden instead of staying on my neighborhood sidewalks and my comfort zone.

We walked on the main path around the lake for about twenty minutes and then took a side path that was muddier, full of ups and downs and roots and rocks. When I walk on terrain like this I need to look at the ground so I know where to place my prosthetic foot each step. It's easy for me to trip on any bump in my path.

Keeping my eyes to the ground used to be boring because I only focused on two things: I focused on putting one foot in front of the other and I focused on my resentment. In order to enjoy the beauty around me, I had to stop. I sorely missed walking as I took in the trees and moss and ferns. Walking in the woods has been a soul centering activity since I was a child. I felt cheated that I couldn't take advantage of the beauty while I was in it, unless I stopped.

And then I realized that there's a lot to see right where I was looking. My kayak buddy, Sue, got me hooked on finding heart rocks. So instead of resentment I excitedly look for heart rocks. If I'm on a path that doesn't have rocks, then I look for any beauty that I can find.

Looking for heart rocks is one of my favorite past times. I haven't had the opportunity to look for heart rocks much in the last two years because I haven't been walking. In the last four weeks my walks have centered around my neighborhood streets where rock hearts are at a minimum.

Today when I walked in the woods, eyes focused on the ground, I was excited to see if a heart rock would appear. I walked a little slower so I could scan the earth. Sometimes larger rocks, partially buried, look like heart rocks. Once I unbury the rest of the rock I discover that just the exposed part of the rock was a heart. I like these rocks because they are "heart rock wannabes." They know some day they'll be heart rocks and they're just a little impatient. Then there are the rocks that are "nearly heart rocks"; in reality they are triangles and it will take just a little more time before their hearts are exposed.

I love heart rocks. I love the metaphor they pose. Years and years of erosion and weather have slowly stripped away layers and ground down the granite until the heart of the rock is revealed.

I wasn't finding a heart rock today. I don't always find one when I look, which makes them extra special, but today I felt like I needed to find one. It had been so long since I had. No sooner had I asked my daughter to help me find one than I heard, "Look, Mommy, here's one."

I squealed with delight as she placed the full heart in my hand. I placed it in my pocket. And there it remains, a reminder of how I stretched my boundaries today.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Day 28

I've had an interesting relationship to phantom pain over the last 32 years. Phantom pain is pain that feels very real in the part of my leg that is missing. For the first 15 years after the accident I had phantom pain multiple times a day. It felt like a crowbar to the shin bone or someone pounding a nail into my big toe. Every time the pain announced its presence it would take my breath away, quite literally. It lasted only five to ten seconds and took everything I had to get through it. I was embarrassed when people saw me wince in pain and I was angry at the pain for invading my day.

My doctors told me it wasn't real pain, intimating that it was in my head. Pain is pain and I didn't believe that my mind could fabricate something akin to torture.

On the fifteenth anniversary of my accident, I realized that I had been waiting for an apology from the man who hit me with his car. That night I figured that, if I wanted one, I better call him and ask for it, since he hadn't called me to offer one. It's a long story, but the long and the short of it is that we did meet each other over Valentine's day weekend seventeen years ago. Though we saw each other at the trial two years after the accident, we weren't allowed to talk to each other, so this was our first time ever talking to each other.

The afternoon we spent together we talked for hours. We were able to cry. We were able to listen to each other's perspective. A lot happened to me that weekend. One significant change was that, for the two weeks directly after my visit with him, I didn't have phantom pain once. For two whole weeks. It had been fifteen years and I hadn't gone a day without phantom pain and then I went for two weeks without it. When it did come back into my life, the frequency was reduced to four or five times a week, not a day.

Phantom pain has come and gone from my life since that meeting seventeen years ago. For the past two years I've had very little because, I believe, I haven't been walking as much and irritating the nerve endings.

Well, that's not the case anymore. I walk everyday and I've felt an increase in my phantom pain. I use my child birth breathing techniques to get through the pain instead of holding my breath like I used to. I listen to the pain and I'm gentle with it. I'm not angry at the pain anymore. I just try to soften around it and let it be.

I'm not happy to have this pain again, but I don't resent it either. If anything, I know there may be a lesson in the crowbar whacks. And if there isn't, then that's OK, too.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Day 27

I had a lovely walk with my husband today. One of my favorite activities is taking a walk and holding his hand. Sometimes it's hard to hold hands while I walk. The natural swing of my arms helps with my gait; taking that away creates more effort. Today all was in alignment and I got to walk in the sunshine holding my husband's hand.

I couldn't ask for more.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Day 26

I took my walk at 5:00 tonight and it was still light!

I can't believe how different I feel. Walking is so much easier. Not just my daily walk, but my daily walking.... from the car to my office, around the office, through the grocery store. It's all just so much easier. I feel lighter.

During my walk tonight I thought about the myriad of other ways I need to take care of my body. I'm walking because I want to be healthy, but walking alone doesn't create health.

I'm only scratching the surface of my disconnect with my body. I've always known that I hide from my body, but I've tucked that understanding away in a dark closet. Now that I'm shedding a little light in there, I feel my body nagging at me to take this all a step further. "Eat better," she whispers. "Take your supplements," she reminds me. "Call the dentist and take care of that tooth," she prods. Before, I would let these words fly by me like a chilly winter wind. Now, I'm starting to listen.

I realize how ingrained and comfortable habits are. How deeply comfortable, even when the behavior isn't good for me. Sugar is a habit I'm loath to give up; it brings such joy and delight. But I'm paying more attention to the aftermath of sugar and the headache I have an hour later. But in the moment, the comfort is worth the denial. My negative self body talk is another habit and one I am only just noticing. God forbid I ever talk about someone else as rudely as I talk to myself about myself. And really, do I even mean it or am I just in the habit of sending these negative, highly critical messages to myself?

And I realize how good I am at fear. I fear the dentist just about as much as I fear being tortured. The last time I had to get a crown I sat in the dentist's chair and cried. I finally left, without getting the crown, I was so anxiety ridden about the procedure. Going back to get that crown made was one of the bravest things I've done. And I fear the dermatologist because every time I go in I have to get more pre-cancerous cells burned off. I used to be more accepting and tolerant of pain; age has made me more vulnerable to pain.

Perhaps, now that I'm feeling lighter, I can lift the burden of habits and fear and ease my load even further. Perhaps saying "No" to the next cookie and picking up the phone to call the dentist will feel as good as my daily walk.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Day 25

I have a long history of dissonance with the term "Disability". I spent many years after my accident trying to deny I had a disability and was offended if anyone called me disabled. I always felt like I was at a disadvantage to healthy two-legged people; "disabled" suggested that I wasn't able to be physical. So I focused on my abilities and desperately tried to find out what they were. Being called "disabled" only reminded me of that which I was avoiding. So I set out to proved to myself that I was able.

In my early twenties (about 5 years after my accident) I learned to downhill ski with other amputees. I had a blast, not only because of the thrill of the sport, but because I was around other people who were like me. For the first time. We didn't spend time comparing stories of our amputations or talking about how we dealt with it, we simply had a great time together. My second year of skiing I was on the disabled ski team and met some amazing folks with physical disabilities of all kinds: CP, quadriplegics, paraplegics, and hearing and sight impaired folks. Each person was a role model for me in how to buck up and be in charge of my life. I haven't laughed as much in my life as I did tipping back a pint (or two) in the ski lodge at the Regional Ski races. It was like we were all wrapped in joy because we were pushing our boundaries. I never felt disabled with these folks.

It wasn't until eight years after I lost my leg that I finally relented and got a disabled placard for my car. I finally tired of parking too far away from my destination and rationalized that there had to be a few perks to my situation. Parking close is one of them.

I spent over five years as a sea kayaker. Sue, my beloved kayak buddy, and I did many day trips throughout the year and each summer found a new 2 - 5 day salt water excursion. We loaded up our kayaks with everything but the kitchen sink (including the boxed wine), put on our headsets and paddled into the sunset. Literally. I loved being able to carry myself through the world on my own accord, without the aid of anything but a paddle. No car, no bike (well, I don't ride bikes, but you get what I mean). Just me and the water. Easier than backpacking and yet much the same (except a box of wine doesn't fit in a pack very well). I never felt disabled with Sue or my kayak.

Pregnancy is what got me. I began my slow descent into disability when I got pregnant. Now don't get me wrong, I'd cut off my right arm if I had to in order to have my two children. There is nothing I wouldn't give to be their mother. But pregnancy took it's toll, what with the weight gain and the shift in hip bones. I had to redefine myself. I had to admit my disability in a way I never did before. I lost a lot of physical function and descended into the world of disability. The term finally fit.

I've waxed and waned in my abilities since I've had my two children. I never would have thought that I would label myself a "disabled mom", but I do. I have to say that these days, I'm feeling a lot less disabled. That I am able to partake in one of life's most basic functions again, walking, has elevated my confidence and my self-image. I don't have to say, "no, kids, I can't walk there." Instead I'm getting to the point where I don't have an internal moment of panic when I see how far away I have to park or how far I have to walk for a function with my kids. I'm just like all the other moms walking casually to a game or an event.

And I love it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Day 24

Today I celebrate Imbolc, the ancient Celtic holiday that marks the beginning of spring. Back in the day, when crops were vital and the sun's return ensured a good harvest, winter was a scary time. Would the sun really return?

The beginning of February, Imbolc, is the midpoint between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox and marks the time when the earth starts to thaw, the days grow a little longer and the time to plant seeds draws near. Like standing on a threshold, winter is behind us and spring looms before us. This is a time of both seasons - winter can whimper its last breath and spring whispers its arrival: snow can still fall even though the delicate crocus are poking their heads out of the earth.

I love how the earth mirrors my life and is, in fact, a metaphor for my life's cycles. In the circle of the year, Imbolc is the time of hope. I, too, am cycling back round to hopefulness around my body and my ability to take care of it.

I'm reminded of one of my favorite quotes at Imbolc. Albert Camus said, "In the midst of winter I learned that there was in me an invincible summer." On my walk tonight I felt the hope, not only of spring's return, and ultimately summer, but that my body is returning to me - or I am returning to my body.

I was talking to my children the other day about how my walks are helping me in a myriad of ways. Not only am I walking, but I'm keeping all my joints lubricated. Aches and pains that bothered me just a few months ago are drastically better. My mood is better and I've even lost a few pounds. I'm much more aware of the food I put in my body. Even when it's junk, I'm not eating mindlessly. Every cookie that enters my mouth is well considered.

That I'm bringing this kind of awareness to my body is hopeful indeed. I've spent years assuming my body will take care of itself, essentially ignoring my body. I've been afraid of getting to close to this body that I spent years thinking had betrayed me. I've taken my body for granted and have not honored it as the precious vehicle that it is.

I'm not at the point of doing all the right things yet and, quite frankly, I don't know that I ever will. But I am hopeful that I'm able to take care of my body and create a new, more loving relationship to her.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Day 23

"What would I find out about the rain if I didn't run inside?"

I saw this quote years ago and love it. I don't know who wrote it, but s/he was probably a Washingtonian.

We've had a long dry spell, but tonight the rain fell gently for my walk. I wore my hooded parka so as not to ruin my hairdo. Yes, I'm kind of particular about my hair. But my hood made it hard to hear Mark and Tessa when they were talking and gave me tunnel vision. And then I remembered this quote.

So I risked my do and took off my hood.

We lived on a wooded acre growing up and I absolutely loved walking through the woods in the rain. Rain dripping off the end of my nose; rain catching on my eyelashes, rain running down my neck. Tonight the rain fell soft and steady. My hair flattened from its weight, but I didn't care. Without my hood, my face was exposed to the rain and was cleansed by each drop.

It's become second nature for me to run inside when it's raining. I don't want to get my shoes wet or have to dry off my clothes. I don't want my hair to get ruined or my make-up to run. I just think of the inconvenience of rain. Tonight I was reminded of how much I love walking in the rain. Just like the smell of oatmeal on a winter morning, rain on my face makes me feel like a child again.

And, similarly, it's easy for me to duck my head when I'm feeling drenched by life. I want to hide in my hood and protect myself from the deluge. I think only of how inconvenient and hard it all is. After tonight, I'll remember that there's a bonus when I poke my head out from beneath my hood. I'll remember that I might find something I love if I just take a risk.