It’s the anniversary of me destroying my back (which is probably why I’ve been more morbid than usual – sorry. Unicorns will return shortly.)
It was an enlightening if horrifying experience. Within a split second I went from being an above-averagely fit, strong-for-my-size, pretty physically capable person to a shambling wreck. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. The change to my quality of life and self-image wasn’t quantitative, but qualitative. Things weren’t the-same-but-muted; everything was completely different. I was forced to realise a lot of stuff about myself, my life, and the people around me.
I realised how much of my self-image and ego are wrapped around the fact that I’m An Independent Person Who Gets Shit Done. It’s not what I do, it’s who I am. I also get huge ego strokes out of doing stuff that other people couldn’t or wouldn’t (which, incidentally, is how I destroyed my back. Nothing’s free.). Being almost fully incapacitated took it all away. It wasn’t just a case of “what is my value?”, but literally a case of “who am I?” Who am I, if not only I can’t do the improbable, but I can’t even achieve the bare minimum? Who am I, if not only I can’t look after others, but can’t even look after myself?
I realised how much my identity had shaped my support net, which was essentially largely non-supportive. It wasn’t just a case of people not caring. It was simply a case of “you don’t ask, you don’t get”. I had not made any effort to surround myself with people willing and/or able to support me. Not only I hadn’t looked for support, but I tended to actually reject it, because I was Independent(TM). Therefore, when I needed people to help me, they simply weren’t there. Some weren’t able to help due to geography and/or greater commitments. Some turned out to be just not that way inclined. This started a pretty massive shift in my priorities regarding people. Some are no longer welcome around, others have been deprioritised.
I realised that my existence was completely hinged on my being physically able. I live on my own. My house is not accessible and would be difficult and costly to adapt. I am self-employed and the work is physical in nature. The village is about a mile away, a leisurely walk which became an impassable distance. My dogs need me to walk. Not having considered the possibility of physical incapacity, I’d not made any plans for it. Given the fact that I’m getting older every day, this is incautious.
I realised how it felt to be truly vulnerable, which took me by surprise. Being much smaller than the average person, I’d always been aware of my comparable weakness. However, I’ve always made up for it with a combination of cunning, ferocity, and the willingness to scarper. Well, out of those I was only left with the cunning. Not only I couldn’t run or fight, but I couldn’t even walk away briskly. I have never felt as defenceless. I also realised that this is how many people I know feel every day of their life. It was chilling.