(Before I get started on this heavy blog… I will preface by saying I’m posting photos that are not even a little bit related to what I will be writing about below. However, these photos represent moments of pure Happiness in my life! … And, let’s face it, we all need to keep that happy place in the forefront of our minds at all times.)
Over the course of the past month I’ve pretty much been on a hiatus from life, work, writing, posting blogs, going out, and enjoying life. For the first time in my spinal cord injury career I developed a severe case of Bronchitis. As I’ve previously mentioned time and time again being physically paralyzed can pale in comparison to the secondary complications we face with spinal cord injury. For example, pressure sores, respiratory infections, sepsis, urinary tract infections, etc. are just a few of the major culprits that can take many of us out for the count for weeks, and months on end.
Generally folks with spinal cord injury suffer from just a few secondary complications on a regular basis. I have always been Princess and the Pee when it comes to severe skin issues with pressure sores and osteoporosis. Knock on wood I have not suffered from many infections, respiratory issues, urinary tract infections, etc. However, this past month I was surrounded by a myriad of sick individuals in my household, which finally did me in. I started with a small cold that developed into bronchitis.
I have many spinal cord injury friends who suffer from upper respiratory infections all the time and I could always sympathize with what they were going through, but I could not empathize because I did not know what it felt like. I do now! The challenge with spinal cord injury, especially when you are a quadriplegic with paralyzed abdominal muscles and use your diaphragm to breathe, is that coughing, breathing, blowing your nose, etc. are tremendously challenging. You don’t have the core strength to bring up all of that nasty phlegm that gets stuck inside your lungs.
So, when you’re stuck with mountains of dark green phlegm in your lungs you literally have to have someone push on your stomach, lean forward, and hack up what feels like all of your internal organs coming out at the same time. It’s quite a process and extremely exhausting to cough to get the phlegm up & out. There are, of course, machines that can help with this, but they can come at a pretty hefty price.
I have been so fortunate to have my mother and my fiancé help me over the last few weeks on a regular basis every few hours to help me cough and get through the sheer misery of bronchitis. As many of you know who have suffered from upper respiratory infections, whether you are paralyzed or not, bronchitis is a beast because it can take weeks to clear itself up – if not months. I opted for a natural route of garlic nebulizers, inhalers, natural remedies, but eventually I had to suck it up and take antibiotics, which I’m not a big fan of. Slowly, but surely I recovered and life is slowly returning to normal.
What I found really interesting about the past month is how I almost forgot what life was like with constant medical problems. For almost 6 ½ straight years I was in and out of hospitals, surgeries, and was dealing with some sort of challenging medical predicament. However, over the last 2 years I’ve pretty much been the pinnacle of “paralyzed health” as I say 🙂 I try and remind myself every day to be humble and realize that anything can happen at any moment in life, but especially with spinal cord injury. I am always grateful when I wake up healthy, but I was very much surprised to find myself starting to subconsciously take for granted the new normal I had become accustomed to over the last 2 years of being healthy on a regular basis. It’s an interesting psychological phenomena how the brain can so quickly forget or rather repress traumatic experiences for survival!
I must say last month I felt helpless all over again as if I had just broken my neck 8 years ago. I couldn’t believe the rush of emotions that were overcoming my psyche on a daily basis. I felt as though so much of the mental progress I had made over the last several years to find an equilibrium of happiness had just flown out the door as I was coughing, crying, and cursing at the world for weeks on end. I just couldn’t stop thinking how unfair it was to be paralyzed. Seriously! I’m not sure if I was in shock when I first broke my neck, but I never went through any kind of grieving or depression after my accident. I was a girl on the go working towards recovery and survival, which did not leave much room for mental healing.
Years after my accident I had regressed to a point where I just didn’t want to go on anymore because I had completely skipped over the phase of grieving for the fact that I had broken my neck those many years ago. I worked very hard at trying to deal with my feelings and eventually I thought I had healed. For the most part I wake up pretty happy every day, appreciate that my circumstances could be way worse, and really don’t complain about much of anything. Many compliment me on my positive attitude, my perseverance, my determination, etc. While I appreciate so many of these compliments more than words could do justice, this past month I realized something quite profound with the help of my therapist. By the way, I think everybody in the world should have a therapist. … We all need help in some way on a regular basis 🙂
As I was being tended to day and night over the past month I started to develop a slight feeling of anger. I am completely physically dependent, especially in times of medical issues, on others. I always say please and thank you a thousand times, tell those helping me how much I appreciate it, profusely show my gratitude to everyone in my life, etc. I couldn’t figure out why I was and am still to an extent having these feelings of anger, sadness, and helplessness after eight years of the accident.
I even find myself creating self-sabotaging behaviors in my life, work, etc., and I just could not figure out why. It’s something that’s been on my mind for a while, but I usually just push down the feelings, push through my day with a smile on my face, and go about my business.
I was recently at a therapy session and explained to my therapist how I felt. For the past year I have even put on a brave face for my own therapist, which is so contradictory because they are the ones that you are supposed to be completely open about your feelings to. I finally broke down and told her how I was feeling, and she looked at me with a heartened glance. It’s as if I was having an “Ah-Ha” moment in my life all these years later.
I have read so many psychology books for work, my personal life, life, etc. I love the study of psychology as I am intimately familiar that we generally use about 5% of our conscious mind on a regular basis, leaving 95% of our subconscious mind to create all kinds of menacing unconscious thoughts, feelings, etc. Basically, we have two brains – an analytical one and an emotional one. This is no surprise, no breakthrough, and I’ve always been acutely aware of these facts. However, this is precisely my problem with so many things in life. I like to work with facts of life. I acknowledge that emotions are important, but I have always tried to keep them at bay for a multitude of reasons in order to live a mentally balanced life. It’s almost as if, for the first time in my life, I acknowledged, what many in psychology call the “Shadow Self.”
THE SHADOW SELF
For those of you unfamiliar with this concept… A brief Wikipedia excerpt:
“In Jungian psychology, the “shadow“, “Id“, or “shadow aspect/archetype” may refer to (1) an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself, or (2) the entirety of the unconscious, i.e., everything of which a person is not fully conscious. In short, the shadow is the “dark side”.
Because one tends to reject or remain ignorant of the least desirable aspects of one’s personality, the shadow is largely negative. There are, however, positive aspects that may also remain hidden in one’s shadow (especially in people with low self-esteem, anxieties, and false beliefs).”
I’ve always been aware of my shadow self, which I really thought I was in tune with, but I was trying to have my conscious mind control my unconscious one. This is such a silly concept now that I think about it because it’s like a lion tamer thinking that they can actually tame a lion, when in reality the lion can come up and tear you to shreds any time it chooses. If you feed it just enough it won’t attack you, but if you keep ignoring it and not feeding it – no matter how experienced you are at taming a wild beast – it will attack you none-the-less.
“I just want to nibble my little niece up every moment of the day!”
I sobbed to my therapist that I couldn’t understand why I was having feelings of anger in life or towards some people that were trying to help me or why was I sabotaging myself and some of my work endeavors when I 90% felt happy in life. I am so grateful for everything I have. She explained to me that there is an unconscious part inside me like a little child, very common in psychology, which had been repressed, and pushed down for so many years that she was trying to be heard in any way possible. Often times, many folks give the unconscious part of their psyche a name. I named my Panther just yesterday.
My therapist then explained to me that Panther never gets to come out to tell anyone how she feels. I was really fighting my therapist on this because I could not understand why Panther should be upset when she has everything she needs in life? Again, my therapist pointed out that I may have everything “I” need in my life, but she certainly does not. She never had the chance to grieve over the accident, she always has to put a smile on for those helping her no matter what otherwise the fear of people leaving her when she needs help terrifies her to death, she never gets to cry, I am always telling her to be quiet and shut up, and she is constantly being bullied by me.
We went into a role-play scenario next where I was going through a self-talk exercise when I mess something up with work or I don’t do something as perfectly as I would like, etc. At first I thought it was kind of silly, but the way in which I spoke to myself when I don’t do something up to my standards is completely appalling. I was telling myself how much of a failure I am, I’m not going to be successful in this or that, I should never complain about anything because I am so lucky, I am worthless, etc. I would honestly never talk to my worst enemy in this way, yet I was talking to myself like this on a regular basis? “What the hell” I thought to myself!
My therapist was telling me that I am literally repressing an internal part of myself on a regular basis and she is starting to fight back after all these years. She wants to be heard and her subtle ways of trying to come out as I try to rope her down is to sabotage me and my feelings, emotions, and personal behaviors. No one else in the world can see it … In fact, most people think I am the type of person who has everything completely together. Truthfully, I feel like I am too, but clearly I am ignoring a very large part of my unconscious being who is just not standing for it anymore!
” Sisterly Love”
My therapist told me that it is okay to still grieve for the fact that I broke my neck, to be angry, to have bad days, and most importantly to vocalize it to myself. I honestly thought at this point nobody wants to hear about the way I am feeling because breaking my neck is pretty much old news in my book, but clearly an internal part of me still grieves for the fact that I can’t do anything alone, I need help all the time, and it’s like she’s angry at me for taking that damn dive, and ruining her life! Again, I must reiterate the “conscious” part of me does not feel this way, but apparently the “subconscious” part of me still does even though I am not in tune with her yet.
What I find incredibly fascinating is that I’ve always been aware of this concept in psychology, but clearly I was not making a connection in my personal life. Sure I may have had the first part of my breakthrough with my therapist recently, but the work has barely begun. I now have to start listening to “Panther.” I have to pay attention to what she’s trying to tell me, when she is angry, when she is sad, and literally just sit with those feelings. I hesitantly told my therapist that I did not want to listen to her because she’s constantly trying to sabotage me, so why would I want to be friends with her? She told me that I don’t have to adopt her behaviors, but that we have to find a way to live together.
Honestly, I have no idea what this actually means. I have been having overwhelming emotions recently by just listening to her, which makes me terribly uncomfortable because I am a smiley happy person, and this exercise completely drains me. I’m not quite sure how I will create a new mental roadmap for myself in the future, but the journey has definitely begun. This blog goes out to Panther 😉
I started out with developing a simple, yet annoying, case of bronchitis and have ended up with a realization that life is this constant struggle, and mostly a struggle with yourself! I wish I could say I felt better, but I know the hard work is just about to begin. However, every fiber of my being just wants to experience happiness, but you cannot have the Ying without the Yang! After reading this blog and thinking critically about your own subconscious being … What is he/she telling you? What are you repressing on a regular baasis to just survive? What is your childlike version of yourself screaming about? A lot of interesting points to ponder in your own life 🙂
Let the self-exploration and discovery begin!