Self-pity seems like such a drag. Actually, some are lifted by it.
I know, because I was the Queen of Self-Pity for years.
After I woke from a coma to learn that I would have to learn to walk again, I despaired.
When I feared I wouldn’t return to my job, as a foreign correspondent covering South Asia, I was so despondent — and ashamed to admit it — that I only confessed this to one close friend.
And when my drug-clotted brain (morphine, etc.) became dulled after more than a month in hospital without moving, I seriously figured life was over.
Can’t walk? Not me: I was the one who skydived, traveled, skiied with a parachute, leapt off cliffs with a parasail … all for the lust of adventure, for the thrill of living.
After being badly wounded in an alleged al Qaeda attack in eastern Afghanistan, I endured dozens of surgeries in the battlefields of Afghanistan, then at military base hospitals in Uzbekistan, Turkey and Germany — all because I was saved by the U.S. Special Forces.
It took almost two months to be able to be lifted from my final hospital bed in Vancouver, Canada, for a bath — in a trough-like structure, by a team of nurses.
By the time I left Vancouver General Hospital, I was mulling suicide.
I was in a wheelchair, almost entirely dependent on my husband for everything. The humiliation of “falling” from full independence to near-total dependence seemed more unbearable some days than the pain.
Yet the wheelchair was freeing after a hospital bed (where I was, for awhile, tied to an ICU bed with restraints).
It was freeing for me and Hadi, because we could share fresh air together, finally. Only married 15 months when I was wounded, it was pure joy to be alone as a couple again, away from doctors, nurses, and many specialists.
We spent hours, then days, then weeks, wheeling the seawall around Stanley Park.
It was humiliating, then, when strangers would offer to push me somewhere.
It was more humiliating to be caught crying in public while struggling at the back of the wheelchair in downtown Vancouver, trying to walk, without Hadi’s aid. A stranger saw us arguing, and in a soothing voice, offered to help (we learned later she was a nurse). I was too proud, too angry, too hurt, to accept.
It was even more humiliating to use a walker, and I refused to use it outside our apartment. I felt like an overly dependent, whining, old woman when I graduated to a cane. The first time I met my family, walking with a cane, I was so embarrassed I wouldn’t speak (this was a lifetime first!).
But that cane took me places. As soon as I regained enough strength, Hadi and I rented a car and traveled the Pacific coast from British Columbia to California, keeping the ocean as close as possible every day. I still had to go to hospital for a procedure once a week, but our trip stretched from one week to three, as we celebrated my refound freedom. We just found hospitals along the way.
My Vancouver physiotherapist wasn’t amused that I was taking a vacation from our near-daily workouts.
Yet we hiked in rainforests and saw wild elk in Washington state meadows.
I was embarrassed to be seen in public with a cane.
I wouldn’t stand still for photos unless I could hide the cane from Hadi’s lens.
We walked beaches in three states; discovered Oregon’s fabulous sand dunes; and I wept with joy when we had a private lunch overlooking the ocean at the home of dear friends. They were misty-eyed too; it had been a long haul for all of us.
I met my goal of walking unaided by the first anniversary of the attack.
And now, at the 10th anniversary, I know this: Disability seemed then like the end of life.
It was, truly, the beginning.
How to get through the tough stuff, to start: One. Small. Thing.