March 14, 2019 by Julia
I broke my left arm while roller skating a week and a half ago. It happened on the rug that surrounds the roller rink, oddly enough, but the technicians at the orthopedic place I went to said this was common – people fall badly on the carpeting because they aren’t mentally prepared to fall, like they are when they’re actively roller skating. My feet went out from under me, and I fell backwards, all of my weight directly hitting the heel of my left hand, fracturing my wrist and elbow. I said, “OW!” and then “Shit!” and then “Sorry!” because a little kid had just asked if I was okay. To make matters worse, my husband had just boarded a five-hour flight that was (mercifully) taking him home from a business trip, and I was not only alone with my two kids, but one of their friends whom I’d offered to watch for a few hours. The girl’s dad had just left ten minutes before.
I didn’t know what to do first. Get ice? Text for help? Tell the kids the fun was coming to an abrupt halt? They kept asking when I was going to buy their water bottles. Kids are so self-centered. I was crying more out of fear than pain, I think, because I knew it was bad. The whole thing was bad. Also, my phone battery sucks and was dying. I settled for the most immediate task: get these freaking roller skates off me, and say goodbye to my reinvented self as a person who has conquered self-consciousness, clumsiness, and lack of athletic ability in order to go roller skating with her family these past few months. I really liked the idea of this person I was becoming, and the roller-skating skills had almost reached the level of fun. Goodbye to all that. Hello, darkness my old friend. Actually, I felt some relief at the thought that I could stop trying, now – and no one, including myself, would fault me for that.
Of course, because I am surrounded by good people, everyone came to my rescue. The dad, a friend, came back and watched the kids. He may have witnessed my ugly cry and he may be haunted by it all his days, but it is what it is. I took an Uber to urgent care. My parents came up from their home, an hour away. Dennis got off his flight that evening, once everything had been basically handled, and refrained from freaking out too much when he saw all the messages waiting for him.
So here I am, typing with one hand. It sounds melodramatic, but there is a kind of “before” and “after” to my journal entries and general sense of being, now. Certain occurrences can do this to us. I recognize that in the grand scheme, breaking an arm is not devastating by any means, and certainly not comparable to other major life events. But it does change so much, even when you know you will almost surely heal up just fine, and that this temporary disability won’t last forever – just two months or so. When you have used two hands for your whole life, it’s hard to mentally escape the loss of the one hand. That missing hand is there in all the minutiae of life. You have to relearn how to shower, get dressed, make coffee, pack lunches, open medication bottles, rip open cereal bags inside new boxes. You start to grip things with your knees and tear things with your teeth. You wonder how to stay warm outside when you can’t get your cement block of an arm into a coat. You decide not to attempt driving at the stern advice of the doctors – that in itself changes everything. You have to relearn what you can do, and what you can’t, and what you shouldn’t attempt unless you want to pay for it in pain.
I was so tired that first week. I was fascinated by the question of why I was so tired: was it because my bones were healing, or because my brain was adjusting to a new way of navigating the world?
The tiredness and pain and helplessness were teaching me all kinds of things. From where I stand today, I am grateful for the lessons. True, the first week of adjusting my expectations was rough. There were days of discouragement at the setback. I was bored by the difficulties, but they were all I could report to my husband at night. I felt panic hovering at the edges about the two big goals of my life right now: finish revisions on my novel for an interested agent, and get the house ready to sell in a month or two. But surprisingly, I feel so much less anxious now than I did a month ago. I joke about God teaching me a lesson by knocking me flat on my ass, but it’s kind of true. I got that snail tattoo a few years back to remind me to slow down; not sure if it has worked, yet. Broken bones are a little harder to ignore.
I was telling my friend Sarah that I am actually looking forward to my minor wrist surgery, because it means I get to lie in bed for most of the day, no one will expect anything from me, people will have sympathy for me and take care of me. She said that certainly says something about the need for self-care. And you know what I wish? I wish I could share my surgery day with all the exhausted adults out there (especially the parents and caretakers) – without the actual surgery part, of course. Doesn’t it sound like the ultimate luxury? Or am I just crazy? If it sounds heavenly to you, too – guess what? You need to slow down and take better care of yourself, too!
Sometimes I wish I could go by myself to a silent monastery for a weekend in the country.
Anyway, the biggest lesson for me, thus far, which I think has helped my anxiety A LOT, is: it’s okay to trust yourself. I realized that a lot of what I do to get through my days belies a mistrust of myself – all the personal scheduling and mapping out of my agenda for each day, all my rules and counting and keeping track, my frantic need for routine – all of that shows me now that I haven’t been trusting myself to do the right thing in any given moment. I set an alarm for twenty minutes when I need a quick nap – but why set the alarm if the kids are taken care of, and there are no pressing matters to handle? BECAUSE I HAVE THINGS TO DO, ALWAYS, DON’T YOU KNOW THAT?!? No, no, no. What do you have to do? You’re tired. It’s okay to rest. You are a basically good and caring person, with a strong work ethic, and when you have enough energy again, you will get back to work. No need to make a plan. It’s just you. You’ll know when the time is right. Allow yourself to feel things, and allow yourself to use all that knowledge you’ve been building for forty years, give yourself more space to react and change, depending on all the constantly changing circumstances of life, and know that things will work out okay. Trust.
I stopped planning out every minute of my day, and lo and behold, the house is still running to the best of my current ability, and the writing is still getting done. Fancy that! It’s like taking the training wheels off when you haven’t needed them for twenty years. I got this. I can coast, and pedal. Not literally, because my arm is broken. But mentally, right in this moment, anyway, I am good.
- Asking for help really sucks, for most of us. But we all have to accept help eventually. Just take the help and say thank you. You will get your chance to give back.
- People are kind when they know you need help, and that’s really encouraging about humanity. It’s a bit like getting birthday attention.
- When dire circumstances demand it, something else has to give. For example, I am letting go of neat laundry, for now, because it is not worth it. We are living out of baskets of clean, wrinkled, disorganized laundry. Each person has their own basket, at least. I’ve gotten a few complaints from the kids but I really don’t give a shit. If it bothers them enough, they can fold it and put it away themselves. Oh, what’s that, you don’t feel like it, kids? Well alrighty, then. No skin off my nose. (In fact, last night Jack did put his laundry in the right drawers – just unfolded.)
- Let go of the things you don’t actually care about that much, when you are suffering in other ways. My arm hurts, so I’m not going to bother putting on makeup. It’s not something I enjoy that much unless I’m going out somewhere fancy anyway. And mascara is annoying during spring allergy season – I don’t need any more physical annoyance, presently, thank you very much.
- Hang onto the things you really need, despite the suffering. I need a generally clean home in order to feel okay, most days. I attempt the basics on my own and am humbling myself enough to ask for more help from the family. I’m a people pleaser, and generally avoid pushing even my own family out of their comfort zone, but this need for basic tidiness and a good environment is real, and I can’t do it all by myself, especially now, as much as I’d like to at times. I need to keep writing. I need my relationships, and I need to read, and I need to keep basically grooming myself even though it takes twice as long, now. Pain and disability are good for helping you figure out what your most important needs are.
Silver linings, and all that. I’ll take them!