I don't think I will ever be able to shake that feeling there on the beach, watching my husband be pulled limp and lifeless from the water. The terror of thinking he was dead, the relief when I heard him talking, the confusion as to why he couldn't move, and the heavy realization that I'd just witnessed my husband break his neck are feelings embedded deep within my being. Those feelings resurface now and then, but in truth, we've moved beyond them being a part of our daily life.
As with any life-changing incident, you go through stages as you begin to move forward. It's hard to classify what stage you're in when you're still living it, but I think we've finally moved from "we're still adjusting" to this life to "we've adjusted."
People often ask if this life gets easier as time goes by. I'm not sure if you can define it like that. There's certainly nothing "easy" about living with a spinal cord injury or taking care of someone who has one, especially when the injury is high up in the neck and results in no movement from the shoulders down and requires a ventilator for breathing. I think as time goes on, you definitely get more used to this life, and you get better at dealing with the demands and handling the urgent situations that crop up. But I don't think it ever gets easier.
When your life is changed by something like a spinal cord injury, it's almost like living in a parallel universe. Like living on one side of the glass where everything is different, everything is strange, everything is so confusing. And you're using every ounce of energy you have just to stay afloat. But on the other side of the glass, life continues as normal. You watch as your family and friends shed the shock of your injury and resume their regular lives. You see them celebrate milestones. You see pictures of them on vacation, and watch their kids grow. It's like watching what your life could have been like - should have been like - if this horrible thing hadn't happened.
You adjust, like we have, and you move forward, but in a very different way from everyone else around you.
And that never really changes much year to year.
But this year, something did change. Something happened that no one saw coming. Something that affected everyone.
I am, of course, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic. I feel like it came in slowly - we heard about this illness and watched as more and more people started getting sick. Then it hit with force and life on a global scale was turned upside down.
And for the first time in seven years, I felt like that glass between our world and the one outside started to dissolve.
When the quarantine orders were given and lockdown began, I started to notice a shift. People were no longer able to do what they had been doing all along, and I was intrigued by the way they reacted to this. Some rolled with the punches, some dug in their heels stubbornly, others completely lost their minds.
I watched as people traded new routines for old ones, shifted to staying inside instead of going out. They had to ration essentials and plan ahead to when they would go shopping for more instead of going on a whim. The had to turn everything inward and learn how to make it through isolation. Many worked harder than ever, putting the needs of others before their own. Many lost their jobs and scrambled to make sense of their new realities.
For the first time, I watched as the collective public struggled with adversities similar to what Jeff, Evie, and I have experienced for the past seven years.
And I'm going to be very honest here, observing how some people have reacted to change has been really difficult for me to witness.
I've watched videos of people fighting one another over a carton of toilet paper on the same day I've been told by the vendor who supplies Jeff's ventilator equipment that the tubing he uses to breathe is on backorder due to increased demand for people in hospitals infected with COVID-19.
I've seen people lamenting about how they can't breathe when they wear a mask while I remember back to when Jeff was newly injured and a nurse was cleaning his inner cannula. She removed the air, and I told her he couldn't breathe for more than a few seconds. She wasn't fast enough, and I watched as he gasped for air, his eyes rolled back into this head, and he passed out from not actually being able to pull air into his lungs. He woke up a few seconds later, crying, telling me he thought he had died.
I've watched people complain about being bored. About how they are at their wits end with spending so much goddam time with their family - the people they have CHOSEN to go through life with. About not being able to do what they want when they want. And all I can think is, "My god, these people wouldn't last a day in our life."
But for every person who has temper-tantrumed their way through this pandemic, there are others who have forged ahead and redefined what everyday life means. They've gained new skills. They've picked up old hobbies and found new ones. They've done something in their own life that has changed the lives of others. Even through adversity, they've continued moving forward.
I want to note here that there is no right or wrong way to react to a pandemic or to a life-changing event for that matter. But I do believe some reactions keep you stuck where you are, and others propel you forward. Believe me, Jeff and I have experienced the entire range of reactions during our seven years of living with his paralysis. There are days where all we want to do is complain and cry and scream at how unfair life has turned out for us. Then there are other days where we absolutely dominate this life with a confidence that only exists because we've triumphed through adversity.
We're still in this midst of this pandemic, and I don't know how any of this will turn out. My heart aches for the people who have become ill and for those who have lost loved ones. I don't believe that everything happens for a reason. But I do believe that good things can still be possible even when bad things seem to have taken over.
I think what it boils down to is attitude.
And that's what Jeff and I have tried to focus on the last seven years. Moving forward with a positive attitude. Sometimes that doesn't happen. But most of the time it does. And I think that's a big factor in how far we have come as individuals, as a couple, and as a family since his injury.
My hope is that going through something as challenging and life-changing as a pandemic will help make us - the collective us - more empathetic, less selfish, and more willing to face change with a positive mindset. Not everyone will be able to do that. (I am a firm believer that you can determine a lot about people by the way they handle change.) But if most of us can, then maybe we can be the wave that carries all of us forward.
Cheers to my husband for enduring the unimaginable for the last seven years.
Cheers to our daughter for handling more through your growing years than you know.
Cheers to me for keeping it all on track.
Let's keep moving forward.