Reading a cacophony of year end wrap-ups and new years’ resolutions I wanted to share mine because I felt, well, I have had a year. But each time I sat down to write the words eluded me. I felt a strong responsibility to say something inspirational and profound. Something that would mark an end of a horrible year and begin a new year with shiny new wisdom.
I know I was supposed to feel grateful and be grateful, because almost everyone told me I should be. But the truth is I didn’t feel grateful for a significant part of this year, I felt angry, cheated, depressed and afraid – all the time. I was in pain, vulnerable and pulled out of my life in a nanosecond and confined to a chair in my living room for four months. The more people told me how grateful I should be the more utterly depressed I felt.
Instead, I had a year where I literally felt every possible human emotion – where it felt like I cried my body weight in tears. The hardest to articulate is that I often felt opposing emotions simultaneously, deep love and debilitating fear. I would move from terror to broken, panic, from rage to humiliation and love then resignation, and then, I would feel it all over again on an unrelenting loop.
Trauma has many insidious symptoms but the worst of its’ symptoms robs you of hope – your ability to see the possibilities of good things ever happening again. One year ago, I was driving to work in the New Year full of ideas, plans, hopes and a brand-new day planner ready to take on the challenges of work and community. I never made it. Instead my every fear played out in a blur of broken bones, pain meds and cloudy memories with surgery, pain, hospitals, physio, and trying to keep your mental health intact when your family had to feed, dress and bathe you.
I still have trouble looking forward with fresh hope and optimism. The accident took something from me that I am still trying to name and then force back into place. Perhaps this is the reason I couldn’t write my wrap-up, because I am looking for the lessons and finding dull platitudes. Gratitude can be elusive.
A year later I still have pain, I am still healing, I still rarely sleep and I am still trying day by day to come to terms with my new limitations. I live in constant dread that my surgeon will tell me I need more surgery – more hospitals, more healing & pain, more time sidelined from my life. It hangs over me. I dream about it and it drains me of courage. I miss my body before the accident. I miss my strength, both physical and mental.
This past year each time I worked so very hard to get up – literally and figuratively – something took my legs out from underneath me. As the universe would have it, the accident wasn’t the only thing I had to endure. You can stumble so many times before you need to take a knee, to stay down.
My year didn’t end well. The joy and health and readiness to take on the world which I dreamed of feeling at the one-year mark didn’t come. My community work, and I, came under fire. I am long used to privileged white men coming at me, it comes with my feminist badge, but this was so very different.
Community activism comes at such a cost, because the political is personal, we live and breathe our battles, and there is little room left in our spirit to cope with community cannibalism in a world where solidarity or at the very least a mutual and respectful distance is necessary for our survival. I lost people in my circle that I loved, and part of me lost hope in activism with them. It seemed my only reflection for the year would be of profound loss on so many levels.
My work life and activism are fairly public but I try to keep a part of my personal life private, mostly for self care and to protect the people in my life from the backlash that I have learned to live alongside with. This year, those two worlds crashed together, and I am still trying to understand what that means. Advocacy teaches you very fast to build and wear your armour and to polish it daily, because it is sadly a necessary survival mechanism.
What I do know is that every time this year that I worked to get myself up, my family was there. My partner fed me with patience and humour, slept in the living room with me for a month, took three months off work to nurse my wounds and my often very tenuous mental health. My children stayed with us, figured out the nightmare of health insurance, helped me walk again, cheered me on through endless and painful physio and stayed with me through so many appointments I cannot count. They loved me unconditionally when I cried, laughed, and through every little bit of recovery. They stilled the pain and fear by creating beautiful moments of structure in my day: chocolate in the morning, tea together at night, tending to my scars, and – I can still remember – cheers when I was able to take a drink with a straw on my own for the first time.
The community outpouring of support after my accident was overwhelming, and it helped me in ways that words cannot capture.
My neighbours in my tiny rural cove also fed us, visited, and cheered me on as I slowly walked past their houses.
And, my daughter Shelby is still with us. It is right there that I find a deep profound gratitude. Something, I can’t really speak about.
As the year ended in sadness, there they were again – these pillars of support. Steadfast.
So, I am trying to turn the lack of hope for the future, that trauma stains you with, into something else. As cliché as it sounds, to work on living in the moment. To saying authentically and without fear what is on your mind, to tell the people around you love them, to feel and be in the moment, as best I can. To breathe and to find gratitude in the small things again. To always remember when the world went sideways for me, I was surrounded with people who loved me, and people who put their lives on hold to care for me and my daughter. Through all of this an unspoken, renewed and strengthened bond formed that connects us and shapes our lives now. The knowledge that someone always has your back, is healing on a cellular level and changes how you see and move through the world.
The lesson perhaps is that this crazy beautiful life can be taken from you in a moment.
It really is a brutally short time that we are here. And, it truly matters who is there for you when the unthinkable happens.
Love is the only answer.
2 Replies to “In search of the elusive lessons of 2018”
Jenny, what a beautiful and courageous piece. Remarkable.
So powerful and real Jenny. I think this speaks to any reader who has experienced trauma. Trauma is an individual journey that has no set start and stop date. It’s often a grab bag of overwhelming thoughts, memories and emotions. Your piece is authentic and your voice amazing. Thank you