I am standing in the middle of a long, dark tunnel. If I look behind me, I can see the pinpoint of light that is where I came from. If I look in front of me, there is a light that is my final destination, but that light always seems to be flickering and elusive. I want that light in front of me to be exactly the same as the light behind me, but I fear it won’t be. My biggest worry is that I have no idea what kind of light awaits me at the end of the tunnel.
The light behind me is my life before Key West in August 2019. I wouldn’t say it was blissfully happy, but overall, I was one happy camper. I was happy with my marriage, my child, my family, my job, my friends, and my health and body. Life was comfortable and I was highly satisfied. I could see my future out ahead of me very clearly, and I took comfort in that. I knew the steps I would have to take to reach that future.
Then Key West happened. Normally it’s one of the trips I most look forward to every year. I woke the morning of August 1 feeling just as excited as usual, but there was something bothering me: my back was sore. The pain in my back steadily grew more unbearable throughout the whole trip, to the point where it was debilitating. I suffered that whole trip.
Then as soon as I got home, my world turned upside down, and I wasn’t even aware it happened while it was happening. Complications from spinal surgery to fix 3 vertebrae that were lined up like stair steps left me numb and unable to move from the knees down, with some numbness up the outside of my legs and the back of my legs. Thus started my trip through this tunnel I am currently in.
I have been in this tunnel since August 8, 2019. I call it a tunnel because I feel closed in, trapped. My body traps my will. My body has altered everything — my marriage, my relationships, my job, my body, and my vision for the future. That’s the little, flickering light in front of me. I have no idea what my future looks like, and that uncertainty colors everything I see and everything I do.
And I hate it. I am the kind of person who follows directions, who sets goals, who takes deliberate steps to reach those goals. People keep likening my recovery journey to my marathon training. Except that they’re not alike at all. When I trained for the marathon, I followed a plan, and I knew that by following the plan, I would be able to finish the marathon. And I did. Yes, there were obstacles and uncertainties along the way, but it was implied that plan + effort = finish line. In my current situation, that equation doesn’t work. Instead, my equation looks like this: plan + effort = maybe walk again normally, maybe not — just wait and see, keep working though. I hate the uncertainty, and that hatred taints everything else in my life. My marriage seems compromised and less vibrant despite being more in love than ever with my husband. My relationships are changed, focusing so heavily on the limitations of my physical abilities. My job has changed in that I am now playing catch up after missing the first half of the school year and having to change the way I physically move about my environment. My health and relationship with my body is strained. I mostly hate my body and its limitations. Yes, I do have moments of celebration with my body when I can do something I couldn’t do (like use a regular cane instead of a walker, or walk unassisted, or bend down to pick something up off the floor), but those moments often turn quickly into thinking, “How sad is it to celebrate something so primary, something everyone else can do, something I used to be able to do without even thinking about it?” and then I am right back to that self-loathing.
I have such an impressive support system. I have family and friends and co-workers and doctors and therapists. Some of them are here for the long haul; some of them come and go. I am grateful for so many people who care about me and my progress, but I am resentful that my relationships now seem to revolve around my recovery. I don’t resent the people; I resent my situation permeating those relationships. That’s not anybody’s fault, well, except maybe mine for letting those relationships center around that. But my whole damn life revolves around that, and I never asked for it.
I have no idea what the rest of the tunnel path looks like. It’s dark, and the light at the end keeps flickering. The path ahead of me is often bumpy, sometimes smooth, and always unclear. I hate being in the dark, and I hate the lack of clarity. I wonder what my life will look like when I finally meet that elusive flickering light in front of me. Will it look like what is behind me, or will it look completely different? That unknown angers me, it saddens me, and it scares me.