life, laughter and finding your way back

I've been having a particular kind of moment lately - the sort of complicated mess of emotions that I don't know how else to identify. And it happened this weekend: I'll be laughing so much my cheeks ache a little (you may get it in your sides - I get it in my cheeks), and there's a twinge of pain in my hip, which is nothing out of the ordinary - but then crushing, consuming guilt sets in.

It's as if all it takes to bring me back down to a sobering existence is that small pain. A tiny calling card nestled in my hip socket, a reminder that life for me, right now, is not normal. And that small, dull ache is enough to open the door for a much bigger one.

I feel bad when I realize I'm having fun. I feel bad when I realize how large my smile was stretched across my face. I feel bad for forgetting my sadness for a second, for putting that burden down - because it feels like a dishonor of the struggle of the last few months of my life.

I feel sad, guilty and hurt, but most of all, I feel angry - because why can't I have a normal night once more?

In those moments, it's almost become necessary to have small conversations with myself. First, I need to check in : do I need to sit down? Should I probably ice my joint? Do I need to stop caring what everyone else will think and ask my friends if they have some Tylenol? 

The answer is almost always yes. I need to get out of my own stubborn way, to continue to ask for help which has, in many ways, been the most challenging aspect of my own healing.

And then I need to give myself permission to feel. In some ways, every day has started to feel like charting my way through new, increasingly murky waters. I'm no longer thinking about my injury, or my heartbreak, every hour upon the hour. But, confusingly, that makes the moments when I do remember sharper, somehow. With an extra edge of guilt. How did I possibly forget?

The mind, I've learned, is an incredible thing. For months, every morning when I opened my eyes, my mind was what I used to coach myself out of bed - knowing that standing up would take me at least ten minutes, and end with my hands braced against the wall, catching my breath.

My mind is also trying to protect me. And it's reached the point where I can stand up, walk to the shower and be halfway done with blow drying my hair before I catch sight of a necklace or a photo and remember that the world is no longer, at least for me, revolving as it once was.

My mind convinces me I'll never be able to run again. It also convinces me to take a few, shuffling, not-quite-yet-a-jog steps in my physical therapist's office.

My mind is there when I'm two plates deep into an annual Fourth of July cookout - one of my favorite days of the year - and it's there a moment later, when all I can think about are who couldn't join us for celebrations this year. It's there when my joy turns into deep, bitter guilt at even taking a minute away from being sad to enjoy food, friends and celebrations.

And then it's there, gently, telling me that it's okay to have these tiny moments of joy. To continue to pick up the small beads of light that I remain focused on in order to string together days, weeks, months of moving forward in this new unknown. 

It's okay to feel guilty, I told myself this weekend. It's okay to feel sad. It's okay to sit with a bag of (melting) frozen hash browns on your hip and be quiet for a minute, realizing that it's also okay for life to be bittersweet.

I feel like every day is a new, uniquely terrifying challenge. I'm learning how to physically and emotionally be myself again - at the same time. I'm learning to be happy and sad. I'm learning how to heal and still end some days crying until I fall asleep.

The only thing more terrifying than forcing myself to find the way back is to imagine that I'll be stuck forever. The best way I can think of to honor the last few months is to find my way back.

It's okay. It'sokay. It's okay.