Colorado; Trip Like No Other - A Stream of Consciousness About Challenges, Anxiety, Fear, and Coping
Well, at this point it’s almost embarrassing to give my update. In Colorado, “relaxing” vacation, supposed to ski a couple of runs or so each day, have some independent time with my husband, and really try to heal. Well – day 3, my mother has a burst cyst in her calf – beyond painful and requiring ER visit, and wheelchair – on a good day a walker – sigh. I take Jack skiing, knowing that my kids are slightly traumatized by now the grandmother going to the ER (they are still traumatized from mommy being in the hospital three days, particularly the little one who witnessed the whole accident). The first run, I stupidly take with Jack a run in the back bowls that has some powder and crusted bumps. This is not ideal for someone nursing a broken elbow (yes – it takes a LOOOOOONG time to heal and the x-ray still shows a large opening in the bone – sliced in half and supported by a ridiculous bionic concoction that looks like it came directly out of a sci-fi movie) and I turned. My brain instinctively went to protect my left side, which would be the BEST way to fall when the snow was soft. Instead, I plowed forward and my ski caught and I could hear the tearing, feel it, binding came off.
Immediately, my heart was pounding through my chest – completely out of my chest. My hands were both shaky (the left one, unfortunately, is baseline pretty shaky still). This sense of “oh fuck, fuck, fuck” sat like an elephant on me and I was too shaky to even get my ski on – taking several minutes to finally set it up to put my boot back on. I was so scared skiing down the rest of the run and then skiing down to the bottom at record speed. Fear, panic, my knee – I busted my knee. This is just too much for me to handle, the “I can’t, I can’t” over and over singing like a death knell type mantra over and over in my head. My 9 year-old saying, “Mom, it's going to be alright – you didn’t do much to it – it’s okay – mom it’s okay,” the pleas to get me out of my negative dissociative space. The feelings that I’m a failure as a mother; my children have witnessed too much pain, accidents, trauma, and now I’m just giving up – “I give up, I give up, I can’t do this, I can’t do this.” Great mantra to repeat over and over again, right? I would have failed any of my students who did this during winter study class (just kidding), but in all sincerity this was the oppositive of positive thinking, and stopping the spiral of negativity and doom and gloom.
My energy channeled towards “I can’t do this.” I need to get off the mountain, walk to the condo (lots of thoughts on throwing my skis out or taking a hammer to them) and walk to the orthopedic clinic. Auto mode – ski boots off, sneakers on, yes of course I need to walk to the orthopedic clinic – I need to prove to myself, I can walk – I know running (a passion of mine and a real outlet) is probably fucked, but I need to be able to walk – yoga has been messed up with my dumb bionic arm (though I’m improving and slowly am able to work myself back into a whole and fulfilling practice with the acceptance that I cannot do everything – that my body is new and needs to acclimate and heal before engaging in wreckless yoga practices). I had always used swimming as a go-to for any injuries. Those of you who knew me when I broke my knee cap hiking down pine cobble (yes and continuing to get down and driving myself to the ER – this is what dissociation and fight or flight mode does!) may remember the lady walking around miles and miles in a straight legged splint as well as swimming with a buoy between the legs to keep the legs still. Water was a sound proof haven from the outside world and from my own thoughts.
I got into the pool for the first time since after my accident while out here in Colorado – I didn’t sink (despite my kids’ odds against me with my heavy stainless steel arm), but the metal plates hitting the water in my arm and the black and blue that still remains because of the plate made swimming unenjoyable, depressing, and a reminder of negative thoughts and “I can’t or I will never be able to – that’s my ultimate negative mantra (you can fill in the blank).”
Walking and listening to the orthopedist and knowing that this was not a severe injury – it just doesn’t register. To me, everything is messed up; my capacity to move forward and to gain perspective and to reacclimate myself to a new norm and routine that could be positive and fulfilling even if it didn’t, for the time being, incorporate everything that I loved. I have become an expert at picking up the pieces, assessing my own capability, adjusting, and finding some pleasure (maybe not as much) in a different exercise and mindful-movement routine that naturally drugs me with the endorphins to deal with adversity, anxiety, and A LOT. But, I had not been healed from the major trauma of my arm, and the heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach before coming to Colorado that I wasn’t going to be okay and the self-blame that, because I had this feeling, I wasn’t okay and my family wasn’t.
The day before we left for Colorado, I woke up with a bad ear infection not from an illness, but from allergies. I took antibiotics and Tylenol, Sudafed, and Advil and geared up for the plane. At the airport, we boarded the plane – 3 kids, Mindi (my service dog), Ben, and myself, only to have to deplane after 1 hour with the carry-on luggage and then reboard 1.5 hours after that, the same plane! I kept thinking to myself that some higher power (even though I’m not a very religious person) had warned me, “do not go to Colorado; I have given you an ear infection, you still have a broken arm from the last “trip” skiing, the plane has mechanical issues and is delayed, you should not go,” and, because I had not listened or I listened, but I was not listened to, I was somehow being punished through being injured and through my mom’s fluke burst cyst and pain as well.
I’m picking up writing this blog 5 days later. I’m now home; back in Williamstown. My knee feels somewhat better, but I still am afraid to try running so I have been taking Mindi on long walks and trying to not obsess over “you’ll never run again” or any other body injuries. I have collected myself and surrounded myself with the supports that are comforting to me; friends, physical therapists, family and activities that are soothing – painting, drawing, and knitting as well as walking and practicing yoga. I have come to accept that my arm will need surgery again if I want to stop feeling the tremendous pain on the medial side of the arm that is a result of one of the metal plates, which can be removed 6 months after the initial surgery.
I have come to accept that this metal plate hurts and causes my arm to appear black and blue (which it is), because of the way it hits virtually anything (especially the sad reality that the resistance that water has against it when I try swimming is particularly painful). I also have come to recognize that extreme temperatures (polar plunges or hot tubs) cause pain in the arm as well and that in order for me to move on, this sensation and these realities need to be incorporated into my mind at least until the next surgery. Then, there is the reality of anticipating going “under” again, reopening up the large scar in the arm, that still feels very much unhealed, and having the set of stitches again just as summer hits, but, also the knowledge that without removing this metal plate at this time, there might be too much scar tissue that develops around the metal plate to ever remove it and I will have this painful sensation for the rest of my life. Though, there is also the reality that another surgery could make things worse? Could they?
Sigh… well those are the arm questions, but the trip brought up much more than just the arm. The trip brought up the fragility complex that I have that I feel broken and my body has been through too much and I will not be able to ever live pain free and recover fully from anything. I took one fall after being so careful of days 1 and 2 skiing; I had just skied half days and stopped when I felt tired. One run, one fall and I felt the tearing, panic sensation. Despite reassurance that this was a minor injury and I would be back to running quickly, I just can’t believe any good news. My thoughts; “if I just hadn’t hurt my arm and could dive into my yoga practice fully and completely, then I wouldn’t be so angry about this knee. Why am I cursed? What is next that is going to happen? I’m scared to keep going.” My mom, my fun off-ski companion in Colorado and wonderful babysitter of the kiddos so Ben and I could get some one on one time, unable to walk, unable to really leave the condo aside from PT and doctors appointments.
It’s rare that I get to Colorado these days and rare that my mom is there as well; the memories of the fun times shopping, walking the streets in the village, and the disappointment that my kids and I did not get to enjoy her company in a way that we normally do. Then there’s anger – anger at everything – anger that I can’t catch a break and that everything is so damn hard. There’s a mountain to climb on every side and there’s just anger at not being able to be injured, cared for, and nurtured in a way that I craved and needed while out in Colorado. There’s also the anger that I told my husband that I worried about this trip. I worried about traveling with the kiddos must 2 months after a life changing, traumatic event and with a broken arm, skiing out in Colorado and the pressure to ski with my son who dreams of skiing the hardest runs, and coping with an anniversary of an assault midweek while on a stressful vacation.
Anger – depletes mind and body of energy, and can prevent healing, as well as getting the support and care from others to help oneself. Lower energy (even if one does not recognize that they are burnt out or depleted) results in more anger that is channeled at oneself for being in this situation (how stupid could I be to ski after my arm? Why didn’t I just fall onto my side?), others for putting them in this situation (why didn’t Ben listen to me? I begged him starting one month ago that we shouldn’t go on this trip and that we needed to figure something out, because the kids were looking forward to it), and that is manifested through anxiety (I’m cursed, what else is going to happen to me?), obsessiveness (my knee hurts, it’s never getting better; my arm, well, that’s just fucked), and the “if only” thinking (“if only I hadn’t hurt my knee, I would be able to cope with my mom being unable to help and hurt, Henry’s difficult behavior as a result of the trauma of my accident, Jack’s indecisiveness and obsessiveness, and feeling like I only had myself to take care of myself.”). The reality is that “if only” doesn’t work, because there is always something that is an impediment or an obstacle and the “what if” in trying to prepare for the worst-case scenario doesn’t work either, since uncertainty is something that we have to accept and we cannot preemptively prepare for. I learned this after repeated traumas; traumas that in my most wild nightmares, I could not have dreamt or imagined.
So, as I mentioned many many words and thoughts ago, I’m continuing this blog now that I’m safely home. The rest of the trip – we survived even after Jack went to the ER for a sore throat at 4:30am and got strep, Henry felt slightly sick, and we returned home only for Ben to have strep throat. At this point on the trip, we just resigned to the fact that one can never predict what is going to happen especially in the Sosne household. The tension between Ben and I slowly started to dissipate, but the anger of not feeling taken care of, not being listened to, and of having to support myself as well as co-support so many dependents when I was emotionally and physically hurting, has turned into passivity, resignation, and just sadness. While I have a ton of trouble conveying all of these thoughts and emotions verbally, I can write and write – pounding the computer’s keyboard, mindfully hearing and listening to the pitter/patter of me typing or throwing up thoughts and emotions onto an inanimate object, that can’t erase my emotions or thoughts, but simply records them.
When I first came home, I immediately felt this whirlwind reality hit me. It seemed easier in Colorado to be accepting of my physical limitations; I had a routine that I had developed after twisting my knee, and I never ran into anyone I knew so there was a nice anonymity as well as a way to be sad and distant without being asked “what’s wrong?” It seemed doable as I continued to live in a dissociated state. In Williamstown, there’s a slight break in the dissociative state, which makes it harder since my survival and my functioning depends on some degree of compartmentalization, numbness, and dissociation at this time. There’s too much to process and cope with, so it’s imperative that my mind is able to use these not so wonderful coping skills in order to slowly unravel and process. There’s a constant fear that the gates of the compartments will unlock, and that I will not be able to cope with all of the traumas, anxieties, and sadness that I’m left with. However, there’s also a constant fear and worry that I’m emotionally numb when it comes to extreme feelings that I may have. Why haven’t I cried through all of this? Why do memories and flashbacks not elicit crying, sadness, and depressive symptoms that render me less functional and that others can see? Why am I hidden and at some point, I’m not going to be able to and what happens then? Will I fall apart? I’m embarrassed to think about what this might look like and worried that I might just ruin my children; it’s not just my health that’s at stake, but there’s as well.
Then there’s the constant wonder; am I fit to be a mother, a wife, a mentor? What happens if I fall apart and can’t pick up the pieces?
As you can see, I’m clearly getting myself going down the negative spiral – see how quickly that can happen when recording a stream of consciousness? I will have to take each anxiety and fear and integrate them into myself and come up with a new routine in Williamstown that is somewhat familiar, but also that is unique to this present moment in response to how my mind and body is in the present moment.
I will stop now with this rambling only to say that accepting where one is now in the present moment is SOOOOOOOOO hard. Visualizing what one was able to do just a week ago or what one thinks that they “should” be doing is much easier than seeing oneself in the present moment, accepting oneself, and finding pleasure and comfort in the moment.
I’m always looking for advice, comments, responses, conversations….