Monday, August 21, 2017

Me, My Legs and I

It's hard for me to write about my own relationship with my body. My body has been the subject of so many posts, but always as the object of other people's either revulsion or derision. I want to claim some space and some air time and in doing so I push aside:

what happened in the mall yesterday when I got off the elevator to the horrified expressions about my body by mother and daughter

what happened in the gym when, for the first time another member, one that I've not seen before, came out of the weight room, saw me exercising and burst into laughter

what happened that made me have Joe move to block the view of people openly gawking at me when I was waiting in line to make a purchase

It isn't easy to push these aside. They all call to be written about, but that's not what I want to write about. I want to write about me, and my relationship with my body. It is after all mine and it makes sense that I would have my own issues with where I live.

Many of you know that I've been exercising. Most of the work I've been doing is upper body work but I've been moving into, very limited, lower body work. I discovered I can 'march in place' while sitting in the wheelchair. I can do leg lifts and foot circles. I can, when standing, lean against the wall and do some standing leg exercises. I have to be careful because falling is definitely an option with these ones. So, I am exercising as much of me as I can.

About a week or two ago I encountered a big ramp, long, steep and, I thought, impassible. Then without thinking I turned around and placed my back wheels at the base of the ramp. I lifted the foot pedals to give myself room. Then using my legs and my arms I started. Pushing with my legs, pulling with my arms, I quickly, really quickly, made the top of the ramp. I wasn't even breathing hard.

Later when thinking about it, I discounted the achievement. I had done it with the help of my legs, it didn't count. I used the same technique in a couple of other places and again, I dismissed these as non-accomplishments, I'd used my legs. In my mind, and I was set on this, it's only the arms that matter.

It was then I realized that I was angry at my legs.

I remember the exact moment my legs failed me. I remember having to leave 3/4 the way through a day long presentation because I'd lost the use of my legs. I remember getting out of bed to go to the bathroom and falling down, knocking furniture every which way. I remember being so frightened when I woke up in intensive care. I remember all of that. My legs gave out. My life changed.

Please do not read this and interpret it into the typical disability narrative, I am happy with who I am as a disabled person, I'm even grateful for this journey and what it's meant to me, but standing one day, falling the next takes some adjustment.

In all the busyness of hospitalization and the introduction of the wheelchair and the getting home and reestablishing new routines, I never had much time to think about my legs and their failure and the impact of that failure on my life. And because I didn't, I've discovered a kind of residual anger at my legs. I kind of developed an 'okay, you aren't going to work, I'll show you I don't need you' attitude. It's an attitude that served me well, but it's an attitude that needs both examination and resolution.

My legs don't do what they originally did. But they can add to my mobility, and that's okay. It counts. It matters. Getting up a long, steep, ramp, is getting up a long, steep, ramp. That's all. It doesn't matter how it's done, it's still my body doing it, it's still my independent action that got me to the top. It's still me doing it.

So, I'm working to make peace with my legs.

To accept them as possible solutions to impassible terrain.

And to have it matter to me that my arms and my legs can work together to get me further.

I have legs.

They help me sometimes.

I need to get over that.


ABEhrhardt said...

Don't forget to strengthen ANY muscle you have some control over.

I'm finding that since I started working on my lower back muscles, what walking I can do is better. I'm pushing them as hard as I can to compensate for the damage done by botched back surgery ten years ago, and the little bit of additional strength is worth the pain of getting it. (None of the PT-recommended exercises helped, so I'm glad to have figured out some on my own.)

Shannon said...

I get mad at my legs sometimes too and certainly would prefer it they would work again. I can't move them at all but they do help me - for stability during a transfer, for example, and I don't think they look bad, either. I don't like when paralyzed legs are described as "dead" or "gone" or "useless." I don't feel they are any of those things.

Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

Dave's post, and Shannon's response here, make me remember an occasion when I was in a group of people with various types of disabilities from different countries talking about things we don't like about the portrayal of disability in the media. One person (and this is a very rough paraphrase, I may have mis-remembered some nuances) said she really hates when people talk about disabled bodies as being "useless" bodies because, to her, this was HER body that she was living in, SHE was in this body, so therefore the body could not be useless, it enabled HER to exist and therefore served a valuable function.

Your legs are a part of you.

You are a valuable person.

Your legs are part of a valuable person.

Therefore, the legs are valuable also.

Shannon said...

I thought of a few other uses for my legs.. to rest things like packages on when I carry them. A lap for my son when he was little.

Rafael Ortiz said...

Dave, I'm sure that you're aware of what your blogging accomplishes beyond what you personally derive from it. I find it mind-blowing amazing of how I actually bumped into your blog. I'm not a religious kind of person, since I oscillate between different philosophical venues, but one thing that consistently smacks me in the face, is what coincidences mean. Something must be happening out there that it interferes with our lives. What I'm getting at is that it seems that you appeared in the realm of my reality as if I was expecting your arrival. I was reading Joe Bunting's book "Let's Write a Short Story," where he suggests that paying a blogging service is beneficial; however, in his blog one of his readers vehemently disagreed with this opinion, and she mentioned yours as proof that free-blogging can generate a large readership. I linked into your sight when I read her description of what you write about, and I found it fascinating. To be honest with you, what immediately made me turn to your page were two things that resonated in relation to what I find unfortunate about the gay world: that gay men, especially in our younger years, we're insensitive to our disabled gay brothers. Yes, I'm generalizing, in addition to the fact that this is also prevalent in the straight world, but it is what it is. I loved reading your blog, and I congratulate you for how you own your disability. I really admire you, because I always admire people that do things that I wonder if I am capable of doing. But I also want to thank you for something else. My neighbor, an elderly lady that I love very much, recently wasn't able to walk from her bed to the bathroom. The night before she was completely well, and this wasn't a cumulative situation. Reading your "ramp" blog encouraged me to do something I've been wanting to do with "Glory": to somehow tell her that she can still have a life. I'm going to tell her about your "ramp" moment. You reached the ramp top, and that was a success moment. But you know what, Dave, I'm not disabled in the same manner that you are, but I am in other ways, and I'm going to work on my ramp opportunities. Thank you! Rafael Ortiz-Sanoguet