I wonder to what degree and in what ways our sense of personal freedom depends upon our physical status, our health and mobility.
On September 7 it will be three years since the saddle slipped when I was dismounting the beautiful matron Arabian mare WR Apris, and I lay on the ground screaming, unable to recognize my own voice. I was portaged to the local trauma center in an ambulance, strapped to a board, in a neck brace. Despite relaying to the paramedics that I had been drinking cheap champagne to work up my nerve to ride for the first time in a long while, they started a morphine drip. I lay in a fog for most of a day until I had surgery. After surgery I woke up in a high tech room, catheter in, leg in an immobilizer, morphine pump. I was terrified.
I now believe that my terror–disproportionate to even a leg fracture– arose from the fact that when I was all of one or two, I had to be in a full body cast for a year. The cast, of course, immobilized me. I have vague memories of being wrapped in plaster, being carried everywhere, deposited on the living room couch during the day, set in my crib at night. For years, I have felt deep anxiety when I lie down on my back alone in a room at night; I speculate that this has everything to do with being in the cast. From the time I was cut out of the cast into adulthood and now in my early 60’s, I’ve been afraid of falling, breaking, being trapped again.
Additionally, during the period in which one is confined to a cast, it is impossible to be touched, held. This must surely mean deep confusion and a sense of abandonment. Attachment theory posits that touch is essential to the development of a secure self.
In the wake of a spate of online research into children traumatized by full body casting, I continue to wonder if something as simple as having been confined in the cast at a critical time underlies the sense of profound incapacitation that has plagued me for many, many years. Maddeningly, I still have a voice within me that says “I can’t” around things involving taking physical risks. As a result, I did everything late in the game in physical therapy. Eventually I got out of bed and into a walker; eventually I began to build up my strength again by hopping for increasing distances– on one leg– standing between parallel bars in the PT room balancing, and trying my best to do what was asked of me.
But my intense phobia around re-injury felt like an unassailable mountain, and my shame at my fear became its own problem. I hit a bad emotional bottom; I would sit in my wheelchair looking out at the world and wonder if I would ever see my home again.
Living in a wheelchair universe for six months was illuminating. We were all disempowered and at the mercy of the staff and its schedules and whims together. I grew to love the other residents and to appreciate their courage.
I clung to the nursing home until one day in late winter in 2008, I was saddled with yet another in a series of roommates with dementia. I couldn’t take it; I had endured interrupted sleep for months. I gathered myself together and announced that I was leaving. The nursing home staff followed my taxi with my computer, my clothes, my files, my bags full of miscellany.
I was euphoric as I stood in our living room, looking around at my paintings and furniture, my kitchen. Then, I was terrified all over again, and overcome with agoraphobia. Our place was in the country; how would I function. But thankfully, over time, I overcame each and every fear that reared its homely head– fear of our stairs, fear of maneuvering from a to b without nurses close by.
Last spring I moved into a beautiful renovated hotel with my housing voucher, only to find myself surrounded by people in the throes of active addiction. I did not feel safe there, and did not believe I could adjust, although I had pined for just such a sanctuary. I also needed community and involvement and laughter and it was not to be had; the gorgeously appointed mezzanine had been staked out by an amazon who hated everyone else.
So it is that I mustered my courage to detach from my companion and our animals enough to rent an apartment that would work for me. I live in a brick ranch-style place in a four-plex; I can park fifteen feet from the front door, and I have a sense of having a little house to myself because I have a back door and an area for the dog. I write and rest in the morning and early afternoon; then my Golden Retriever Tess and I go out in my beaten up Ford Ranger to the country, where lately my companion and I have been having long candlelight talks, listening to NPR’s “Echoes” and on the weekends, great jazz.
I have been in my new digs for a year. Many things have improved and changed for me since giving myself permission to get out on my own and convincing myself I would be alright. I have mastered living in the world with very limited mobility, and I hope I will shortly be able to overcome my residual phobias around going to the doctor– I fear bad news, I fear more confinement, more surgery, the loss of my freedom again.
Recently I blogged about the concept of the inner child. That concept is helpful only to a point and then it is essential, I have found to practice viewing myself as integrated, whole and as capable of anyone else of anything I choose to do.
This is my definition of freedom at this time. I have been codependent with this community, my “wasband” and our animals for many years. I have always been afraid to strike out on my own and find out that I can do it. Clearly, if I can get this far, I can keep going.
What are your fears, and how have you overcome them? How do you view personal freedom?