As many of you know, I don't go out much these days. I basically stay inside all winter, as it's near impossible for me to withstand the cold weather. I'm usually colder than everyone to begin with, so even with the heat on at a normal level, I'm shivering. My inability to move around and poor circulation make it very hard to warm up. Unless it's something very important, I try to avoid making plans with friends that require me to leave my apartment. Luckily, there's plenty of holidays and birthdays to keep me busy. Every year it seems to get a bit harder to meet up with friends, due to the fact that almost all my friends are married and/or have children. Although, I'm grateful that my friends make the effort to visit me, given everyone's hectic schedules. I have a reasonable excuse for staying indoors during the winter; it's the rest of the year that I struggle and to force myself to go out.
Before my accident, I was on the go non stop. I spent a great deal of time in my car and juggled a lot of responsibilities, in addition to hanging out with friends and family. Spring 2005 was probably the most hectic time in my life. I was always pressed for time, but none the less very happy. At the time, I had my full time teaching career, my apartment, traveled back and forth to PA (to visit friends and boyfriend) almost every weekend, put on three art shows for my students, joined a gym, was attending bar tending school, and taking a graduate course. I still managed to go out and enjoy my free time and genuinely looked forward to spending time with my friends and family (especially my boyfriend). I loved to shop. Even when my down time was scarce, I'd hit the mall and do a little shopping. I never ran short on reasons to buy new clothes! Despite all my spending, I was responsible with my finances and had no debt. I just enjoyed giving gifts and having new things. I was not married and had no children and was making a good salary, so I had no regrets treating myself. I'd have to say, I hit the mall about once a week. Buying clothes was my all time favorite thing to do at the mall. I enjoyed seeing all the latest fashions and had fun trying on clothes. It was always fun and exciting for me to have new things to wear.
I was comfortable with going out by myself, but I preferred being with friends (or boyfriend) most of the time. I'm a people person. Crowds never bothered me, in fact I kind of liked the hustle and bustle of the city. The more people there are, the more interesting things there were to see. I used to go to Manhattan regularly during my college years, for assignments. I could spend the entire day just seeing the sites and watching other people. I loved the diversity of the city and the fast paced nature of the people. Even simple things, like taking the subway, were interesting and fun for me. I could spent hours wandering around the museums. It didn't seem to matter how often I went; there was always something new to see and favorite areas to explore.
I've always enjoyed dancing. I missed out on parties and dancing during my college years (due in part to an ex-boyfriend). I say "missed out" because there were many opportunities and invites to go out that I turned down. I would've loved to be more social in college, but my choice to be with my boyfriend (during college) kept me from going. The positives to staying at home more were having good grades and tremendous focus. However, once I was single again, I found a sense of freedom and exilleration that I had been missing. I went to clubs and bars occasionally on the weekends and had fun dressing up and letting loose. Hanging out with some of my friends required along drive, but it was worth it. Dancing was a perfect stress relief and I had a lot of laughs with my friends. I was usually up for doing almost anything and perferred to go out versus staying at home. Apart from shopping and going dancing, I enjoyed seeing all of the latest movies and spent a lot of time eating out.
I've always piled a lot of responsibilities on my plate, but somehow managed to balance everything fine. I was rather good at time management and being organized, which made it possible to have a life outside of career. When I was still living with my parents, I can remember them getting annoyed at the fact that I was hardly ever around. They felt I treated home as a hotel, and only stopped by to sleep and shower. For the most part, they were right. I've been on the go almost my whole life, bouncing back and forth between divorced parents. I had moved out once, before I had my own apartment. Moving back wit my parents after having lived independently felt awkward and suffocating. I didn't waste much time planning on getting my place. It's not that I have anything against my parents, I just prefer to be free andindependent. I liked the feeling of not having to depend on anyone and the freedom to come and go as I pleased.
The thing my parents didn't realize was how many extra hours I stayed at work, or how many projects I was working on. I was usually the first teacher to arrive, and the last to leave. I never minded putting in extra time, because I loved my job. I was never asked to do a lot of the extra things I did, but they were important to me, and I was happy to sacrifice my time. I wanted my classroom to run a certain way and I wanted to be flexible in helping with responsibilities around school. The year of my accident I put on three art shows, worked on two murals and ran the yearbook club. I attended school even and maintained an ever changing display of my students' work. I don't think anyone in my life (apart from my boyfriend) realized exactly how much I was balancing at the time. I was stressed out, but I was also very proud of my achievements and was happy with my life.
As you can imagine, my life changed drastically after my injury and there are countless aspects of my "old life," that I've lost, or no longer enjoy. My desire (or lack there of) to go out is a perfect example of how my injury has had an impact on my life. Since my accident, the thought of going out is comparable to having a root canal; something you have to do, despite the pain. My apartment has become a safe haven for me, where it is easier to cope with my situation. I have more control over what I let in and it's easier to block things out. In the nursing home I had no peace. I wasn't happy at "home" and I was scared to go out. My computer was my only window to the world and even that was bittersweet. Everything I see reminds me of what I had, what I have and what I want. Every good memory has become painful, to some degree. Every time I leave the security of my apartment I risk being bombarded by reminders of my past and feelings of jealousy, shame and regret over what I lost. I can't help but compare myself to all the people I see. I can't help but feel embarrassed by the help I need and jealous of all the things I see other people doing.
I force myself to go out, because I feel like it's the right thing to do. I have been given opportunities to help other people in my situation through my artwork and I feel obligated to do what I can. I know it's not healthy for anyone to be a hermit. We (humanity) all need to socialize and share experiences with other people. I realize that the only way to keep my friends is to be a part of their lives and contribute what I can to my relationships with them. My grandma sometimes gets sad when her friends tell her about all the wonderful things their grandkids are doing. I understand the resentment she sometimes feels, because I know how hard it is for me to feel happy for other people, while I'm feeling miserable about myself. It's those times that I remind her (and myself) that the world is not gong to stop, just because I got hurt and that friendship is about give and take. Yes, it sucks that I'm paralyzed, but my situation shouldn't over shadow everyone else's happiness. I can''t expect people to mope around over what happened to me, nor do I want them too. I try to put my sadness aside and be happy for my friends, because I realize that everything is not about me. I can't expect anyone to want to be around me, if all I ever do is cry, complain and focus on the negative. I often do things that make me uncomfortable for the sake of my friends and family. If I gave in to my emotions and refused to hangout because I didn't feel up to it, I'd never go anywhere. I could easily isolate myself within a bubble and eventually people would stop inviting me and making an effort to include me. I wouldn't blame them.
My aides, nurses, family and friends all encourage me to go out more than I do. It's not to say that I get no enjoyment from going out; it's just that every experience comes with it's own level of sadness, embarrassment or anger. I try to balance pros and cons in my mind before I decide what to do. There are just certain things that are so uncomfortable that the small amount of fun or excitement I might have is greatly out weighed by my discomfort. Events like weddings and baby showers are outings that rank high on my discomfort list. Therefor, I avoid them, unless the people involved are extremely important to me and worth the inner turmoil. A perfect example of this would be my best friend's wedding. Not only did I attend the wedding, but I had to face multiple fears and tackle new experiences. It was my first time traveling by airplane after my accident. It was my first time to Florida, since my accident. It was also the first time I had to spend a night away from home, since my accident. The trip came with a lot of emotional discomfort, stress and anxiety. I put my feelings aside and committed myself to going, because I knew how important it was to my friends (bride & groom). They had both made a lot of sacrifices for me and supported me more than anyone, the first year after my accident. I refused to let my situation be an excuse and met the challenge head on, for the sake of my friends. There are times when I feel like the outcome is more important than my personal feelings and that I'd be selfish to not participate. I try to remind myself of the bigger picture. If I can give something back to those that are constantly giving to me, I put my feelings aside. If I feel like I can help others by letting people into my comfort zone, I do it.
I think it's easy for people to forget or make light of how different everything is for me. I think it's hard for people close to me to understand why I seldom go out. They compare me to the "old Christina," that was super outgoing and always on the run . That Christina no longer exists. My accident has changed the way I see the world and my desires to interact within it. It's often the activities I used to love the most that now bother me the most. The average, some times mundane things can be stressful and not worth doing for me. Things like going to the mall, grocery shopping, doctor visits, hanging out with friends and going out to eat are common activities that most people take for granted, because they don't have all the extra concerns that I do. In some aspects, I know I can't expect people to understand things from my perspective, because they haven't lived it and often don't know enough about paralysis to consider it.
Every time I leave my apartment I have a long list of things to worry about. Not to mention the fact that I can not just pick up go, on a whim, like before. I can't just pop in my car and go. I need help getting ready. I need special equipment and a modified car (ideally) to help transport me. I always have stress and worry over my catheter and the possibility of incontinence. I also have to consider who can accompany me, or help me at my destination. I have to consider accessibility; whether or not there will there be stairs where I'm going. If so, I have to find an alternate entrance, ramp or elevator. There are places that I can no longer go, because of my limitations. Climbing to the top of the Statue of Liberty comes to mind and luckily I have no interest in doing that. However, even places that claim accessibility are often clueless and poorly suited for wheelchairs.
The average person over looks things like curbs, doors, and the dimensions of most things. I don't have the luxury of ignoring small obstacles, like curbs. Dining out also has the added stress of having to be fed (like a baby) in front of countless strangers and most tables at restaurants are either too high or too low to sit close to everyone else. I find shopping a headache, because most stores cram too much stuff into a space and it makes it near impossible to navigate a wheelchair, without knocking things over, crashing into people (who tend to be oblivious to presence wheelchairs) or access areas all together. Try wheeling around Claire's if you don't believe me, or 90% of women's clothing stores. These days, I much rather shop online than go out. Seeing all the cute things I can't wear, like shorts, skirts, bikinis and high heeled shoes, just irks me and the fact that I can't try anything on takes out all the fun for me. Many of my friends in chairs make light of things and are less sensitive and have the mind set that people in chairs can do everything, just in a different way. While there is some truth to that way of thinking, there is also the reality that there are things that people that can not walk, just can't do. Personally, I put quality before quantity and recognize the fact that no matter what I "do" it will be a compromise. I refuse to put myself through discomfort unless I feel the outcome is worth it, or because I have no choice. Everyone deals with paralysis differently and their personality and life before paralysis plays a big role in their life with paralysis. I think it's important to recognize everyone as an individual and realize that every person's coping skills are different.