Today has been a very shitty day, in every sense of the word. I hate to resort to vulgarities, but I feel as though it is the only word that can appropriately express the level of exhaustion and anger that I currently feel. I've been struggling more than ever to keep my sanity, and keep pushing forward, and today is a classic example, of the overwhelming tragedy and frustration that paralysis has thrust into my life. Despite my best efforts, I'm forever left feeling like a prisoner within my own flesh, and wanting anything to escape. I feel the need to share today's events, so far, to highlight the ugliness of paralysis, and shine a light on many reasons why living with paralysis has been, and continues to be so challenging for me. I'd challenge anyone to live through a few days like today, and still be able to be joyful and find motivation for wanting to keep living, paralyzed.
Today started like many mornings have, since my accident; sleepless and in pain. I spent the better part of last night uncomfortable, with cold sweats, chills, and mystery chest pressure, keeping me awake. I lie in bed trying to find comfort in the only position that doesn't hurt my shoulders (on my back- which is never how I used to sleep), and toss and turn my head, from left, to right, and back again. All the while, my mind is racing at top speed- apparently, the only speed I have- and I'm trying my best to ignore my discomfort. It's amazing how uncomfortable I can be, despite that fact that I can't actually feel most of my body. The little I can feel is full of annoyances, and the littlest of movements can trigger a leg spasm, move my hair out of place, create an itch I can't scratch, tense up my arm, or any number of stupid little things, that I can try to ignore, or call someone for help. I end up ignoring about half of my impulses, out of decency and consideration for my family/aides. Either way, most every night is a restless night, full of inner turmoil and despair. I can't help but beat myself up, over my accident and cling to the life I had. All of my memories bring with them a certain amount of grief, and I have yet to find a way to let go of what I lost (in both potential for the future and in reality). I spend most my nights trying to distract myself from negative thoughts, and find enough peace to fall asleep. Unfortunately, even sleep is not an escape, as many nights are filled with bad dreams, that make waking up seem somewhat better. I pray and pray, and ask God for a cure, to take me, and spare me the suffering, or at the very least, give me some measure of understanding, as to why my life has to be so difficult. In that respect, last night was the same as every other night since my accident; no answers and little sleep. Once I finally did manage to fall asleep, it was nearly 9am and my nurse was already on her way.
My nurse arrived around nine thirty, and so began my bowel program, most certainly my most hated aspect of life with paralysis. Bleary eyed, sick to my stomach, and depressed to be starting off my day in such a horribly violating way, I say nothing as my mom and nurse begin to strip off my adult diaper (wonderfully sexy garment) and roll me on to the sling. Next, it's time to get pumped up into the hoyer lift, and take the adrenaline filled ride, across the room to my most hated piece of furniture, my commode. It's impossible to explain to fear and mix of sensations that go through my mind, as my body is suspended in mid air, with no means of stopping myself from falling, or way to brace myself for impact. The hoyer lift makes me feel like I'm floating through the air (not in a good way), and unless you are paralyzed, it's hard to imagine how terrifying a small "ride" can seem. It is one small aspect of life that I've learned to tolerate, and although it makes me on edge, once I'm safely strapped into my commode, or landed in my wheelchair, it's not a big deal, and something that makes caring for me easier on my family/aides. As scary as it can be sometimes, it beats getting picked up and carried, which is usually more painful, and more dangerous, for everyone involved. Once I got strapped into the commode, the nurse wheeled me into the bathroom to begin the bowel regime. It's an awful necessity, that has never gotten any easier to deal with.
The only comparison I can think of, to accurately describe my feelings toward bowel program is rape. Although I realize that is a very strong word, with very negative connotations, hear me out. Before my accident, I was a very self conscious person (still am) and had many issues regarding the bathroom (still do). I was very private and couldn't stand the thought of using public restrooms, outside of my home, and a very few select friends' home to EVER "go number two." I can count on one hand the number of times that in almost TWENTY FIVE YEARS of my life on my feet that my IBS forced me into the shame and embarrassment of violating my own code of bathroom conduct. I find everything about poop, and feces related actions (aka-passing gas) humiliating, unladylike, and disgusting. If I had a choice, I'd negate the whole process all together, and have said many times, to many doctors, that I'd gladly trade in food, for a liquid diet, if it meant I could not have to "go" again. Obviously, that is not and option; I must eat and therefore poo. Having a spinal cord injury has made my worst fears a reality. It is truly Hell on Earth. Not only am I forced into revealing ever flaw, and every inch of my naked body, I'm forced into being violated on a near daily basis. Incontinence, and the anxiety over accidents, practically rule my life. I feel shame and embarrassment having to have other adult human beings not only acutely aware of my bodily functions, but up close and personal, in my face, and in my space, whether I want them there or not. I'm forced into accepting another human being, put their finger up my rear end, multiple times, every other morning, to stimulate my body into doing a process, it should be able to do naturally, and on my own. Personal space and privacy are luxuries that do not exist in my life. This morning, like so many other mornings, I had to make a "choice" to accept help, and accept having a bowel regime, despite my embarrassment, loathing, and revulsion to the process, because my only other alternatives are to become impacted, septic, and die, or have a colostomy bag strapped to my side (a bag full of the single most hated and embarrassing thing possible, in my mind). Do you really consider that a choice? I'm forced into accepting the bizarre, unnatural and repulsive, because the only choice, is to become sicker and/or possibly die. My paralysis shoves bowel program down my throat, and silences my voice, because there is no viable alternative. My body no longer answers to me, therefore I'm forced into answering to other people. Right now there is no cure. There's life; paralyzed. Take it, or leave it. That is my only real choice.
My list for reasons to want to die vastly outweighs my reasons for staying. The thing that keeps me here is fear. I don't have a strong faith in God (like many people have). Instead, I have a mountain of fear and doubt. I was raised Catholic, and although I don't believe in much of the religion, I do hope that there is a God. Catholicism is not a very flexible, open-minded religion, in my experience. I attended Catholic school for the first ten years of my schooling, and although I don't buy into most of the rituals and the emphasis the Catholic church puts on going to church and the Pope, the lessons I learned as a child, still have a hold on me. I wish that I had a strong faith in God, any God, because I have seen what peace of mind and strength that faith has given to other people. One of the reasons that turned me off to my childhood belief in God, was the rigidness of the religion I grew up. I consider myself to be a very open minded, liberal person, and those aspects of my personality make it extremely hard for me to believe in the triumphalist type belief system of most organized religions. I've read a lot about (and watched documentaries) about various religions. I enjoy history. I enjoy philosophy and the history of how religions were formed, and came to be. I've read a lot of the Old & New Testament of the Bible throughout my life. It seems absurd to me that God, an omniscient, omnipotent being, that has the capacity to create our entire universe, would be hung over petty rituals and/or the name by which we call him/her/it/them. I can't believe that if there is a God, that he/she/it/them would punish damn someone to an eternity of suffering, despite that person being kind, and good, because that person wasn't born into the right culture, time, or place, or didn't worship him/her/it/them by the right name. I can't stand that people are willing to hurt other people in God's name. It's horribly asinine to think that such a powerful, all knowing being, would want their/his/hers/its creation to waste its energy and time on hurting one another. If most people would be open minded enough to learn about other religions and consider each other, as equal, human beings, it would be obvious, that there are basic messages that transcend all faiths; to love one another.
Before my accident I probably would've classified myself as an Atheist. Now I guess I'm Agnostic. I'm not really sold on any particular God(s) or religion, but I do want to believe in something. Catholicism is very clearly opposed to suicide. Catholicism very clearly states that the only path to heaven is Jesus. I have a VERY hard time accepting both of those "truths." I have a lot of friends of varying faiths, that are good people, that contribute to society in positive ways and are kind to their fellow man. I can't bring myself to worship a God that would condemn my loved ones and friends to a firey abyss, just because they don't call him Jesus. If there is an afterlife I have to believe it's open to all good human beings and that if there is any judgment, that it's fair and just. I'll never be sold on the thought that God would care about insignificant things like clothes or what type of food we eat. My Catholic upbringing causes me to have a lot of fear and anxiety over what will happen to my soul, if I have one. I want to believe that God is not as rigid, jealous and inflexible, as Christianity, Judaism or Islam would have us believe. People say God only gives us what we can handle, but I feel like my life is proof that that isn't true. I can't handle the curve ball that life (or God) has given me. There are so many paradoxes, that keep me always doubting and questioning. I mean, if God loves me, how can he/she/it/them let me suffer? If God has a plan for us, then how can we also have freewill? I'm a logical, realistic person, that makes it very hard for me to believe. I know having faith means blindly believing, but it's not something I can force. On the other hand, the teachings that I was brought up with, very clearly state that I will go to Hell if I give up on life. The thing is, I feel like my situation is not average and I don't know whether God would consider not accepting help, as suicide. I'm not an able bodied person, putting a gun to my head, because my marriage failed, or I lost money in the stock market. My life is sustained by very unconventional means. I'm not healthy. I'm suffering.
It is my doubt and confusion over my faith in God and refusing help that keeps me here. Although I do feel sorry for family, in that I know they would be sad if I died, I feel as though I have already given them 5 1/2 years extra time with me, and I feel that my suffering has been sufficient enough to feel satisfied that I've tried my best, and given them my best effort. I think it would be selfish of them, and cruel to expect any more from me, and hope that despite their grief, that they would understand my death would alleviate my suffering. Besides, if there truly is an afterlife they can draw strength from knowing we'll be reunited. What stops me from giving into my wish to die, is my uncertainty over what will happen to my soul. It's horrible having anxiety over a soul I'm not even convinced I have. All I have is doubt. I'd like to believe that if God does exist, he/she/it/they knows my heart better than anyone, and knows how much I've suffered and how sorry I feel for wanting to give up. I'm don't think refusing help is the same as a healthy person committing suicide. Like I've said in a previous response, if I technically "left my life in God's hands" I'd be dead. I can't care for myself. I'm only here because the resources exist to keep me here. The problem is, I'm not happy. I don't consider this a quality life. I know I have talents. I'm aware I'm gifted in writing and art. The problem is, it's not enough. While I might have the ability to still do certain things, they're not enough to fulfill me. It makes me frustrated, confused and angry that everyone (including God-evidently) would be fine and respect the fact that I don't want to live dependent on machines. I can refuse a vent and get into heaven, but I if I refuse my bowel program, I'm committing suicide and will be damned to hell. Quality of life means more to me than quantity. Most people don't want to admit, or can't understand how awful my life is. No one would want my life for themselves. It seems very harsh to me that I'm forced to endure so much pain and that God would punish me, for not wanting to suffer. It takes A LOT to keep me alive; living a life I hate. The rules of suicide and what God would or wouldn't consider suicide, seem very unfair, confusing and ambiguous. It's fear and doubt that keep me here.
It's fear that keeps me pushing forward, on days like today, when I'm worn down and feeling like I'm forced into accepting horrible conditions. This morning during bowel program, I felt horrible. I was clammy, with cold sweat, and shivering with cold (phantom feelings of cold, in limbs I can no longer feel, on the outside). I wanted to disappear and run away, but I couldn't. Bowel program is the only option available (that I'm even unwillingly up to considering), to give me any sort of regularity and combat against incontinence. It is not natural. There is no privacy. Embarrassment doesn't matter. This morning I had the added discomfort of nausea, which is the only thing equally horrible to bowel program. There I sat, half nude, strapped to a chair, over a toilet, bent with nausea, no means to stop it, or way to clean up, no where to hide, no relief, and all the while I'm enduring my nurse forcing my body to expel what I no longer can. In that moment of nausea I wanted to die. I prayed to God to take me. I couldn't imagine my life any worse. Doubled over with nausea, and choking back tears, I felt I needed to get back into bed, and hoped that lying down would offer some relief. While having bowel program in bed disgusts me way more than doing it over a toilet, it's something I was forced to accept, every night, for the first year and a half, after my injury. Although I hated the thought of having to do it, anything that might take the nausea away, in that moment, was worth doing. I asked my nurse to call my mom in for help, and they rolled me back into the room, and hastily began getting me ready for the hoyer ride back to bed. Just as they started to lift me up, and I felt as though I would vomit, my body decides to defecate, all over my bedroom floor. My mom, and nurse, highly aware of how much this would upset me, rushed around and try to contain the mess, while at the same time get me safely back into my bed. By this point, I'm numb. This is the point where the mind starts to short circuit, because it just can't handle any more trauma. As the nausea subsided, I landed in my bed, and my nurse began to tend to me, while I watched my mother scrub my beige carpet, for the next hour, filled with shoulder pain. What could I do but just lay there and accept it? It's mornings like today that make me want to scream in rage, in the unjustness of it, and makes finding a silver lining to life, near impossible. Who would want this type of life for themselves? The only motivating force in my life to keep going, is often the fact that I feel like I have no other choice. I have to take it, or leave it for what it is, no matter how unhappy I am, or how much I hate the "choices."
It's days like today that make me question God's existence and what he/she/it/they think about my life, and make me question why I should have to continue living. It seems so cruel to me, that society and my religion (the belief system that I was raised with) expect me to endure living with paralysis. I feel like a loving God would understand my suffering and understand my need to escape. Surely, my Earthly parents love me as much as God does, and yet I know if they had it within their power, they'd have healed me right away. I can't even ask them to help me end my suffering, because society rather keep me living, no matter the price I have to pay. It infuriates me that our society (based solely on our laws) values the "life" of 3-5 day old cells (blastocysts) enough to not want to use them for research that could potentially alleviate my suffering, and that of millions of LIVING people, just like me. Our laws dictate that they rather see those cells be thrown away, rather than help me. That's how little my suffering matters, how easy it is to look away. We treat our pets with more respect, compassion and dignity, than we do people like me (people with extreme disability and chronic, incurable illness). I don't get the option to die peacefully. I have to suffer. I feel as though it is irrational and hypocritical to ask me, to expect me to, to demand I live this way. How can we put such a high value on something that has no chance at ever living (outside a womb), and turn a deaf ear to people that live and suffer, every day? How is it that we are compassionate enough to not want to see an animal suffer (when we know there is no cure and prolonged suffering is inevitable), but not enough to allow me to die in peace, with dignity and respect? Instead, I'm asked to live an impossibly difficult life, that no one would ever choose for themselves. Why can't I have the same rights that my dog and cat have? I can't help but feel outraged, and desperately sad, at how trapped I am. I feel like I'm stuck with choices I don't want to choose, and no way out. So here I sit, forced to somehow keep moving forward, while keeping my sanity. It's a predicament I wouldn't wish on my worst of enemies.