Monday, November 26, 2012

Being a Wallflower

It has been a couple of months since I last posted anything. There wasn't anything wrong, It was just that so many things have changed in such drastic and unimaginable ways that I lost myself a bit in all of it. I had become so used to my own limitations, however temporary or permanent they may be and while I didn't realize I was pretty much giving up, I resigned myself to the idea that things were just the way they were. I could walk again and was thankful for that. Was it really so important that I be able to ride a bicycle, skate, run, jump, hike, scuba dive or any of the other activities I love?

So, I stopped trying. It was so much easier not to almost fall off a bike or risk the disappointment of my body not being able to do something and just settle into what I had become instead of striving and reaching for more. I was walking, which was more than so many other people who had gone through my situation. Why be greedy and why risk failing?

I sat back while others did what I could not. I would see people on TV and know that not so long ago, I could have done the same thing and maybe have done it even better. Then I would tell myself that those days were over and to not be sad since I had already had so many wonderfully incredible experiences in my life. So I took a few steps back and let others do what I would have done and still wanted to do, but I was scared. I am not a person used to failing or underachieving. I am also a person that takes failure or anything less than perfection very personal, and with that looming in front of me, I stepped out of my life and into the assumed safety of settling for what seemed to be.

I might have stayed in that situation had it not been for a couple of seemingly minor, yet major things that happened. Frist, I was reading “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky and there is a point when Charlie, the main character and narrator of the book is told by his teacher, “Sometimes people use thought to not participate in life,” I saw a lot of myself reflected back in that sentence. I was suddenly aware I had traded participation for observation and had become quite adept at coming up with reasons not to do something. I wanted to break out of that, but the fear was more powerful than my willpower. That is, until one of the stops on the road trip I did with Ulco.

Ulco had come to the US to see how I was getting along since we last saw each other in Dar es Salaam almost six months earlier. My balance was still unreliable and I was dealing with major bouts of depression. Ulco decided to use his holiday to come to the US and see places like the Grand Canyon.

It was a few days into the trip when we arrived in Bryce Canyon, Utah. In Bryce, the road and parking areas are along the rim of the canyon, several hundred feet above the canyon floor. Ulco decided we should go for a hike of about a mile, uphill along the rim. I wanted to, I really did, but as soon as I found the first excuse not to go, I told Ulco I would wait for him and he could do the hike on his own. I was angry at myself and jealous of his ability to just do what he wanted, but I put it all out of my mind and told myself it was just the way things were and the way things would be. A few minutes later, Ulco phoned me. I could see him further up the path and he was calling to tell me the path was not bad at all and that he thought I should just try it. I decided to do it, if for no other reason than to prove to him I couldn't so he would not push me for the rest of the two weeks we had ahead of us.

I caught up to Ulco and indeed, it wasn't bad at all. The slope was not too steep and the views of the canyon were beyond spectacular. As soon as I realized we we walking past another parking area on our way up, I plotted that I would wait there while Ulco pulled the car up and I could just drive out. That was when I saw it. There on the path leading up to the lookout point was a walker. It was almost identical to the one I used when I first got out of the hospital. Suddenly months of memories came flooding back. I remembered not even being able to stand up without help. I remembered the walker, the first steps I took without it, walking the perimeter of the compound, being able to stand in the shower again, learning to walk down stairs. It was almost exactly ten months to the day I lost the ability to walk, that I was hiking unaided in one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. I made it to the top lookout point. Then fear struck. I had to go back down the same path and I tend to get vertigo on my right side, even when walking next to a swimming pool. I had to walk down with the steep cliffs on my right side. A fall would mean being seriously injured at best and more likely than not, killed. I was suddenly in a battle between my fear, panic and doubt on one side and determination on the other. We walked back down with Ulco keeping himself between me and the edge and before I knew it, we were back at the place we started. I did it.

We paused to take a few more pictures when we saw the sign for a two mile trail which would wind from the top of the canyon, down to the canyon floor and then back up. Ulco wanted to do it and I decided to try it. The first trail had been easy, but the trail we were looking at was labeled as moderate. I wasn't sure I was up for it, but decided to do it. It was not so much for the challenge as it was due to the fact I wanted pictures from within the canyon. Ulco and I have a sort of friendly photo competition and I wasn't about to let him have a series of photos from that trip that I didn't have. We started down the cliff on a zig-zag trail that descended incredibly fast and soon we were in the cool shade of the canyon. Then, one of my worst fears came to be. I fell. I had tried to go up a slope a bit to get a picture and stepped on what turned out to be loose gravel. I started sliding and didn't know how to stop. There was a small, shallow crevice in my way that I would either get tripped by or have to get over. I remember yelling for Ulco and sliding down, somehow getting over the crevice and stopping myself when I went up against the cliff face of one of the rocks. The whole thing had lasted two or three seconds and looking back, there was no real danger, but I was most definitely shaken and when I sat down to regroup, I felt the tears come.

I felt them come, but stopped them. I was in the bottom of a canyon, a mile in either direction and hundreds of feet up to get out. It was no time to panic or give into any feelings of doubt. The only way I was getting out was to keep it together, ignore the fear and walk. And that is exactly what I did, and I made my way to the top all in one piece and with the knowledge and pride that I did it. Over the next couple of weeks, there would be hikes and climbing on rocks. I may not have done it as fast or as graceful as I used to. I may have stopped and rested more often than I ever did before, but the fact I did it made me realize that the only true defeat is giving up and the events that happened during the trip make me realize that I am not built to be just a bystander.

So these days, I am participating in life as much as I am observing it. Perhaps even a little more.

1 comment:

  1. So glad you got over that hurdle of fear, now you can really soar to new heights literally and figuretavly Looking forward to seeing you next month LOTS of Love Jan