I couldn’t do it.
I would die.
I would just curl up and cry and want to die.
People seriously say these things to me. I know they’re speaking from a place of shock, flattery, pity, moral support. It’s usually followed by a “you’re so strong” sort of comment. What I really notice is the expressions on their faces. They become almost trance-like, staring off in deep thought, forehead wrinkled and distraught, looking concerned and empathetic.
I don’t always know how to take that. I don’t feel strong. In fact, if you know me in real life you know I’m pretty damn lazy. The truth is I usually need a decent fire lit under my ass to get things done. I’ve survived having a stroke because having half your body taken from you overnight makes for a pretty decent fire under your ass. I also have a short fuse and little patience. If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself, right? I’m learning to cook because I need to eat healthy and it’s on me to make that happen. I’m learning to walk because I need to be able to get my own damn tampons off the shelf at Target. (OK maybe TMI, but have you tried sending your husband to do this? Ah hell, you would think I asked him to carry a burning stick of dynamite across the store.) I don’t take much shit because I’m impatient and I don’t have time. I can’t stay on my feet long, so if you’re in my way you’ll find out real quick that I need you to get a move on. I can be tenacious, but it’s out of necessity.
When we were kids, my father had an old Webster’s Dictionary. I don’t know what edition or year it was, but we knew it was old as it had a binding unlike any other book in the house. The binding was a faded old green fabric that was slowly stretching apart at the seams. The pages were thin and crinkly, like that of a bible or rolling papers. We had to maneuver it with two hands and drag it across the table, as it was too much book for our little hands to work with. Surely this was a special book. Surely this book would have swear words in it.
Sadly, the great big book of words did not have what we had hoped for under “F” or “S.” We held out hope for “B” and alas there it was: Bitch. The definition of course started with “a female dog” – duh! Boring! Skip ahead. The last sentence, ah yes, there it is: a disagreeable woman.
I was 8 years old and my brother only 6, but we thought this was the funniest damn thing ever. Twenty five years later, we still find ourselves snickering over drinks at the phrase. Lately I find myself embracing it. When I think about how I’ve coped so far with my medical trauma, I have to attribute it to being a disagreeable woman.
The doctor said I wouldn’t walk with a cane. I disagreed. They said I wouldn’t be able to do much on the computer. I disagreed. They still say I may not be able to drive or work or take care of my son. I disagree.
I can tell you the exact moment I felt something rage in me that made me take charge of this. It was Day 3 in the hospital. We had been told on Day 2 the stroke was over. At this point, I could still stand, walk, and sign my name. Yet I woke up that 3rd morning at 4am, attempted to roll over in my bed, and I couldn’t. My left side moved, but my right arm wouldn’t budge. Naturally, I panicked and thought maybe I was just hazy from sleep. I tried to use my leg to push my body to roll over, and that wouldn’t budge either. I was fully awake now with panic and horror. A moment later I had gone from pure fear to super fucking pissed. That was it. I’d had it.
Three days of family and doctors convening over my bed, making assessments and decisions about my care and here I was, lying alone in the dark, suddenly completely paralyzed on the right side of my body. Time to light fires of my own under several asses. I started with the night nurse. I was calm but commanding. I demanded a Neurologist come to my room and look me in the eye to tell me I wasn’t still having a stroke. If I was still having a stroke, why the hell wasn’t I being treated for it? My mind was so clear that morning. If being a bitch was going to save my life, then look out.
I can’t explain where this comes from. I don’t think it’s that I’m special or stronger than anyone else. I’m just a cynical sarcastic bitch who gets bored easily. I can’t sit in a room and cry forever. That shit just gets old. I’ve prevailed because there isn’t any other option. There just isn’t.
Those of you reading this that think you wouldn’t be able to deal with waking up one morning paralyzed, I disagree. I used to say that too until it happened. Yeah it sucks. I won’t lie. We all have our baggage and our crap and our darkness and our light. You have to give yourself a chance to acknowledge all of it. If you dwell in the darkness, you’ll never see the obvious: listen to your body, and it will listen to you. (And so will everyone else if they know what’s good for ‘em.)
"Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light." ~Albus Dumbledore