This past week, I was given some new information. Life is generally reliable that way. If you’re not sure what you should do about something, chances are you don’t have all of the information yet, and if you hang around and wait, some more will come along and add a bit of clarity.
I have been feeling bad, and not just physically. If my depression were a pool, I’d be making steady progress towards the deep end. I figure I’m in up to my armpits right now, and, more and more often, I find I’ve wandered in above my head. I can’t climb out of the pool, but I brought a raft, and it’s anger, and if I use that, I can keep my head up even as the water gets impossibly deep.
So that’s been my tool, of late. Not even anger so much as defensive crankiness. And of course, the very people who deserve it the least are the ones most often at the business end of it. One of my best friends said to me, as we were walking back from lunch yesterday, “You have to stop being surprised that people want to do things with you. You have to start realizing that people like you and want to help you.”
It was a novel idea to me, but she’s right. My first instinct is always to withdraw, to assume the negative rather than the positive. I was mercilessly teased and bullied growing up, and at some point I cultivated the habit of instinctively pulling away from people around me to guard against it. I said as much to my friend, and she said, “Those people are gone now. We all grew up.”
We all grew up. Have I? I don’t know how a grown-up is supposed to handle this. I know how to act towards other people, but as far as how to act towards myself, I’m at a loss. I don’t know where the boundaries are; how much is too much to ask of a friend? How do I know if my expectations are reasonable or not? From the inside, I see a pathetically weak, broken woman, unable to participate in most activities, her life depressingly small, full of ‘less than,’ rather than ‘in addition to.’ I don’t understand why anyone would want to be around a person like that.
But that’s not who my friends see; according to my best friend, it’s quite the opposite. They see someone strong and tenacious in spirit, who refuses to allow her life to be any less than it has to be. And they want to be around that person. And I suppose I would, too.
But on the inside, I feel weak, broken, and used up. I’m angry with myself for hating my old life, as though I somehow brought this on myself. I don’t want to be strong any more. I want to find the smallest possible life I can so I can lock myself inside it, close my eyes and plug my ears, and stop having to be anything at all. I want to give up, but I don’t know what that looks like, and I have this irrational fear that whenever I do give up, it will have been too soon, and if only I’d waited a little longer I would have seen that there is a way out of this after all. And then I will feel stupid that I resigned myself to an awful future that never came to be.
I pushed too hard in physical therapy on Tuesday, and my shoulder became swollen and inflamed as a result. On Thursday, while the therapist was gently working through the area to make sure I wasn’t holding any tension, I admitted to her that I was scared I wasn’t going to get any better. She assured me I shouldn’t think about it that way; it’s just that some people are more sensitive than others, and we needed to modify my treatment progression to account for the way my muscles reacted. “You just respond differently,” she added.
I’m so sick of being different. I wish I was just like everyone else. Some people are upset to find out that they’re just like everyone else. I’d be ecstatic.
I have a doctor’s appointment in a couple of weeks, at which I will have to arrange for another medical parking pass at the university. Mine expires at the end of the month, and I’ll need to renew it for my summer class. Back when I applied for it, it seemed unlikely that I’d be needing it for the whole semester. Now the end of the semester is here and I’m not much better than I was when it started, and it seems naïve to have assumed that I’d be well enough by now to stop using it. Three months ago, getting better was a ‘when.’ Now it’s an ‘if.’
It is starting to look like I will need a hang tag for my car, too. When I’m loaded down with a heavy bag or box, I cannot walk very far, and in some cases I’ll need to be able to park close to the entrance of my destination and use a handicapped parking space. But I continue to meet my fate sideways, my head turned back towards my past and what I’m leaving behind, so I don’t have to stare down the narrow, black tunnel in the other direction.
I am reminded of when Momma Ape finally broke down and applied for handicapped license plates for her truck. The rest of us celebrated that she was finally asking for something she had long been entitled to, but I remember she was more resigned than happy. Now I know why. It’s the same reason why I continue to make only little, reversible concessions for my physical limitations.
I can put a hang tag in my glove compartment and pretend I don’t have it, but if I drive around with handicapped plates, I might as well have them emblazoned on my chest like a scarlet wheelchair, announcing to the world that I am broken beyond repair. I feel like everyone will be looking at me and wondering what is wrong with me, and either judging me as someone who is taking advantage, or pitying me as someone who has to lead a confined life of supplemental props and handles. Special. Different.
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Were you crawling around inside my head 20 years ago? How fortunate that your friend, a very good friend, told you what others see. I still struggle with having to ask for help and holding back on invitations to museums, etc., because who would relish pushing my “stroller?” I was genuinely shocked when one friend said she would be happy to take me shopping. Just a few weeks ago, another very busy friend volunteered to do the same. I shouldn’t have been surprised. If the roles were switched; if my friends needed serious help while I had fully functioning arms and legs then of course I would be happy to help them. You are the same way. You’d be right there too, first in line to assist your friends.
As for the pool of depression, keep your head tilted back so you can stay above water. Momma Ape, Papa Ape, Sister Ape, Niece Ape, we all need you to be here with us in whatever way you can. And we will all stand by you as you evolve into the new, even more amazing You.
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