So Adam, Joe, and Megan journeyed together. A pilgrimage of many now.
Admittedly, I clung to anyone who showed me authentic support. Long before this time I came to realize how my condition alienated me from people; understandably, they never knew how to react. To be confronted with someones utter vulnerability is not an easy thing to do. The one major exception being the kind ladies at my parish who took me into their hearts! It was just like Frodo and the Ring. The Ring had a strange effect on the people around him, it seemed to polarize people. Either they began to turn on him, for lust of the ring, or they rallied behind him. More on Frodo later!
I became obsessed with counting.
It gives me chills to look back at the calendars of meticulous records I kept. I could tell you how every day went: I counted how many stairs I did in a day and even detailed how many constituted right legs and how many left legs, how many seconds I listened to an audio book, how many minutes I’d spend sitting, how many times I swung my arms around, how many times I shook my protein shake in the morning and with which arm, the number of dishes I removed from the dishwasher, etc. Anything I did, I counted. Through these records I could control to the smallest degree how much I increased over time. Also, I had factual numbers to argue against my over-active imagination and anxiety, and this was a critical weapon in my arsenal.
I crept and nibbled at my boundaries.
From walking I went to stairs, from darkness I went to tiny amounts of light, from silence to small snippets of audio books. Every increase ran a heavy risk of increasing my pain for varying lengths of time, varying from hours to days. If I remained steady without panicking, usually the pain would settle back to what it was at before the new increase. Once I was steady for a time, I could try upping the amount again. I’d go from doing twenty four stairs a day to twenty six and try that out for a week. It was grueling and exhausting work, but I kept chipping away, one step at a time.
Another unforeseen difficulty arose after my initial successes.
Sometimes I’d be so encouraged by my new abilities that I’d develop “Superman Syndrome”. Essentially, I’d feel like I was in control again and make some large new advancements. This usually didn’t cause pain immediately, but after it was too late I’d receive heaps of pain signals which would last for days. Imagine having all the chocolate chip cookies in the world, a completely empty stomach, and being told by a cranky old miser that you could only have one. Wouldn’t you try to sneak another? It wasn’t totally unlike Gollum’s insatiable hunger for the ring. It took great strength to resist these temptations, and to continue on at a healthy pace.
Every time I took more than was good for me, Joe was there to help.
He took my calls, told me a thousands times that the setbacks where just as important as the victories. He calmed me, told me I wasn’t doomed for failure. He confirmed my trust in God’s plan and carried me when I had no strength left. Notably, Joe never called me, and this was the way it had to be. I learned to ask for help and to express what I needed or didn’t need. This distinction was crucial because it taught me to exercise my own will again, to fight with my own action against the obstacles set before me.
I had Joe for aid, but Christ was the greatest support in my journey. Every few months after receiving the Holy Eucharist I would go to the chapel and let it all out. There, I would allow all the pressure and sorrow to release in an effusive outpouring. It was a small gift I could make to the most compassionate love in my life.
How could God allow such a horrible event in my life?
It was irrelevant. I knew He was guiding me, and on more than one occasion He showed me the depth of his love and care. When truly in love and knowing that we are beloved, we become more willing to exercise trust. I learned to exercise this trust, and it became a solace in the desert of my afflictions. There’s something a person may experience in the depths of their heart that is as undeniable as their own existence. A whisper, a soft word, or rather – The Word. Christ was the primary person who brought total trust to my otherwise dismal and hopeless condition.
At the two year point I hit the halfway mark.
I was spending just as much time walking around as I was lying down. Though I was limited by where or how I could walk, it was a remarkable achievement. In order to train myself to walk on uneven surfaces, I began making trips outdoors during my “up” periods. Imagine your neighbour making seven trips to the mailbox and back each day! Not only that, but he’d swing his arms around like a madman (Megan made me in order to increase my arm flexibility) and wave at you when you just wanted to drive quietly into the cul de sac unnoticed. What fond memories! My neighbours really rooted for my recovery.
As you can see, up until this point I’d seen some pretty harrowing and overwhelming obstacles. Tolkien shows great insight into human suffering and grief. The Lord of The Rings is a beautiful revelation of the deeper realities contained within our own lives. His epic tale is a poetic parallel to my own great adventure.
Once I decided to introduce sound back into my repertoire, my father picked up an audio book from our local library. The first story I would hear in many silent months would be The Fellowship of The Ring, the first book in Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of The Rings. Those few seconds I got to enjoy the spoken tale were unbearably delightful. As Gollum waited for his chance to snatch back the ring, so I waited in agony a whole day just to get three more minutes of the story. This was my only entertainment at the time, so it was a long wait. It also meant that when I did get some audio book time I listened carefully and enjoyed all aspects of the story I could pick up on. My tolerance for audio increased and likewise the amount of time I could listen. After a few weeks, I could get fifteen minutes a day comprised of smaller chunks. I progressed through book one and then on to book two: The Two Towers. My investment into the characters was enormous. Tolkien captured beautifully the essence of a long tedious journey done on foot; I could easily apply the story to my own experiences.
Frodo and Sam became extensions of my own capacity for adventure and the fellowship something akin to supporters.
I took the death of Gandalf with great sorrow. The pain of the characters was vivid and personal. It was irrelevant that I already knew of Gandalf’s eventual “resurrection”; I too needed a respite in the forests of Lothlorien to recuperate my desire for more adventure. On the flip side, I remember literally thrusting my arms in the air and cheering when Gimlee, emerging from the shadows screaming a war cry, saves Éomer during the siege of Helms Deep. My victory thrust was followed by half an hour of elation, and occasionally skipping, as I reconstructed the scene in my mind over and over again.
Inevitably and fortuitously, the company split up.
Sam’s burst into the icy waters of his own doom made me cry for appreciation of the beauty of such an action. His utter devotion to the end was stupefying. For me, Sam’s act of devotion was totally believable, thanks to Joe. I had seen my own friends depart and so it would be with the fellowship. The full support cast is whittled down to a skeleton crew. The extras peel off and the real fight comes down to the most unlikely characters, our friends the Hobbits.
My recovery didn’t carry the same heroic goal of “saving all good things”, but it was heavily weighted with consequence.
I had no days off. The thought of taking even an hour off left me in cold sweats. I couldn’t stop, to go back was unthinkable. To admit defeat would be to give up the last chance I ever had to succeed. The pressure was horrible; I had nothing which I could use to say, “Ok, lets stop for a moment and do something else.” I could do nothing else. The soft prison, my couch, was there waiting for me endlessly. Months and eventually years of darkness and little mobility crushed my spirit. The immensity of Frodo’s undertaking weighed heavily upon his shoulders as well. How could one small Hobbit carry the enormous burden of the ring? I also wondered just how much pressure I could endure, before I could take no more.
I hope you have enjoyed Part Two. Soon, I will post Part Three.