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I want to unpack some of the common phrases we hear from disabled people about disability.

“Life goes on.”

What does that mean, really?

Most people know what it feels like to have your heart broken; I don’t just mean romantically, although that is certainly included.  Heartbreak can also come from thing like losing a job, losing a loved one, losing some sense of yourself that you always depended on that is now suddenly, somehow, gone forever.  Heartbreak can come to us in many ways.

What happens in the minutes, hours, and days that follow the first shock, the first state, of heartbreak?  I want to be literal about this: what happens following that moment of heartbreak, a moment that can come from either an immediate loss or from the realization of that loss?  

The first thing that happens is you go into shock.  If your loss is physical, your body experiences certain symptoms; if your loss is emotional, many of the same things happen.

Your autonomic nervous system slows your heartbeat, which causes blood pressure to drop.  Some people end up fainting from this.  Sensors in your blood vessels tell your heartbeat to increase, and it does so weakly, to try and compensate for the loss of blood pressure.  Oxygen intake in the lungs decreases, causing rapid breathing.  And the sweating – God, the sweating – is also caused by the heightened activity of the autonomic nervous system.  The phone call made to me by my mother out of the blue telling me that my father had died produced an immediate sheen of moisture all over my body.  I am not someone who sweats easily; as I raced around my house throwing things together into an overnight bag, beads of sweat ran down my face and my back, and it felt like someone had stuck needles into my armpits.  It felt as if my body temperature had gone up ten degrees in an instant.

The present moment is no more present in our lives than when something incredibly intense is happening to us.  The bottom of the inner well of our soul seems to shoot downward, and everything that happens around us is charged with meaning.  Our bodies release hormones called catecholamines, which include adrenaline and noradrenaline. These hormones can increase the availability of intuitive, instinctual and spontaneous actions.  Having done many powerful drugs in my life, I can tell you that the shock of a large ingestion of a psychedelic is not dissimilar.  And like a powerful psychedelic, while the chemicals that are released during shock may be the same in every body, different people may experience the effects in very different ways.  Sometimes we may look down at our hands and find that they are doing something we’re not aware of, or it may be that everything our hands do seems to exist in a sort of superreality where our sense of touch is greatly magnified.  Sometimes it can be both at once.  The end result is that the way we normally do things, the way we normally experience things changes, and it can feel as if someone else has taken up residence inside of us.  Our minds watch as our bodies and brains keep going even though the landscape around us, or inside of us, has completely changed. We become unmoored as the floor beneath us, the floor on top of which our identities are built, gives way.

Time marches on even as we are suspended from it.  How is it that the rude sun still rises?  When my father died suddenly from a heart attack at 55, my family and I sat in the hospital grieving room where the hours passed like minutes.  When they finally let us into the room where his body lay, we were told we had an hour.  An hour, a small nothing bit of time.  My mother and I sat on either side of him, holding his hands, soaking in the feeling of being with him again.  The time came when we had to leave him; that is, the time came when they had to start dealing with his body.  My mother and I each said our private goodbyes in the room.  When I had entered the room I was a daughter with two parents; I left with only one.

Who am I, we ask ourselves, now that all I know is changed, gone?  If my child no longer lives; if I finally understand that the person I love most in the world is no longer standing next to me, and never will again; if pieces are blown away from my body?  If I am no longer Dad; if I am no longer Wife; if I am no longer Whole?

This last one is what I experienced after the car accident that left me paralyzed.  I could no longer feel half of my body, but wasn’t I still me?  I remember laying in ICU and thinking: What part of my body is me?  If I lose a fingertip am I still me, or am I someone else, if only slightly?  No, it’s just a fingertip.  What about a whole finger? A thumb?  How much would I have to lose to cross over to being someone else?  I can’t feel my hips, my legs, my ass, my feet.  Where did they all go?  I can see them, but where are they?  Due to shock and heavy drugs, at this point I had not yet come to terms with the implications of my injury.  It took me a while to begin to realize that not only had half my body apparently disappeared, but key parts of my identity that were so ingrained I didn’t know they were me had gone as well.  I was a tree-climber, a swing-dancer, a floor-sitter, a ground-sleeper, a beach-walker, a forest-hiker.  Wasn’t I?

After ICU I began to give half my lower body its own identity.  I apologized to Legs when I dropped them; I told Legs to cooperate when I was trying to put my pants on; Legs was the one I yelled at and sometimes struck with my fists as they jumped, jolted and shook as I tried desperately to fall asleep.  

Sleep.  The last bastion of escape.  The first silence in the scream of trauma.  It was a blessing and a curse; sleep rested my exhausted soul that was working so hard to put things back together somehow, yet it set the stage for that coming waking moment, the one where I didn’t yet remember how things had changed, and then came realization like a cold, heavy, sopping wet curtain over my heart, like barbed wire wrapped around my brain.  

That first waking moment is the beginning of “life goes on”.  


If you'd like to see some of my sky pics, check out my photo blog at

Originally posted to Laurie Crosby on Sun Dec 16, 2012 at 08:37 PM PST.

Also republished by KosAbility and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  {{{Laurie}}} (3+ / 0-)

    I'm so sorry to hear about your father's death. How are you doing?

    "Do your little bit of good where you are; it is those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world." ~ Desmond Tutu

    by KelleyRN2 on Sun Dec 16, 2012 at 08:52:38 PM PST

    •  He died in 2007 (7+ / 0-)

      just to be clear; it wasn't recent.

      As for me, slowly moving on.  This last heartbreak has left me feeling...different.  Not the same person anymore.  But still kicking.

      •  [small smile] (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        puzzled, rosarugosa

        I like your blogger image.

        I, too, am not the same person anymore.  A tsunami of truth nearly overcame me a year ago and I am finally myself.  It took far, far too long to get there, perhaps I have only 25 years left.  If I had known who I was and what the truth was I never, ever would have made certain decisions, but I have to live with them now.

        You know, please excuse me, I don't believe for a second that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, what cruel horseshit. I have been battered and crushed and spit out into a place by life, now I have to believe in it to the point where I won't be tormented and sick all the time.  Oh ya, it will get better.  Yep.

        I know so very, very little, Lady.  Can comfort and solace be found pixels?  Beats me.  Yet I will still try, may the hands of this Earth and her sky carry you to a good, peaceful place.

        I will continue to try, I suppose, but, well, too much has gone wrong.  Still, as you say, it is soon time to go forth and kick it.  We shall see what happens.

  •  For me personally... (4+ / 0-) come-to-jeebus moment came whilst going through alcohol and drug withdrawal in early October of 1983.

    Did I want to live or did I want to die? Well, I knew how to die. Keep doing what I was doing and I would assuredly die.

    If I want to live, did I want my life to work or not work? A Not Working Life (despite the fact I was always employed!) was pretty much how I could define myself. I had run out of options. I had to make it work, especially in light of a 19 month old daughter.

    So I took every little step. If those little steps were too difficult, I took smaller ones until I could step with some small degree of confidence. Yes, I got some breaks along the way. But if I had not been working on myself instead of on those around me, I found my life working better than I ever dreamed it could.

    My Vietnam experience was rows of limbless, blown apart kids, wrapped in plaster and gauze and too many with the 10K meter stare. What was a 20 year old combat medic to say to them? "You're alive. It will get better." For some it was the truth, for some a lie. But for me it was sanity.

    Later it became my mantra.  And it came true for me.

    It will get better.

    "Wealthy the Spirit which knows its own flight. Stealthy the Hunter who slays his own fright. Blessed is the Traveler who journeys the length of the Light."

    by CanisMaximus on Sun Dec 16, 2012 at 09:31:20 PM PST

  •  Beautiful, gut-wrenching, truth (8+ / 0-)

    I lost a close friend in '01, gods has it really been more than ten years since I spoke with her? I can attest to what you felt and feel. You've spoken to the human condition.

    For me, it was like being cast into darkness. I was both numb and in unbearable pain. I was unable to truly function. I ate, showered, dressed like an automaton, because I knew intellectually I was supposed to do these things, but they were hollow and lifeless. All I could do was cry, and be tossed in the maelstrom of thoughts and emotions. It was like a hole had been blown in my mind and heart, a gaping pit opened inside me. It was like a fatal error had been introduced into my basic programming, my operating system of life, and it threatened to crash my whole system. Every path led to the blue screen of death. Fatal error. Missing components. Unable to proceed. Cannot recover. Unable to repair. Restart? Y/N.

    I don't know how many days I spent in that fog, but it was a total eclipse. Nothing mattered but that she was gone. I couldn't care about or think about anything else. It was all just shattered pieces. Debris. My past was a field of destruction, my present was darkness and pain, and the future... it was gone. Just gone. That normal sense of tomorrow and the next day and the path of a life stretching out into the distance was gone. Visibility zero. I could no longer see and feel a future. It was blackness.

    I eventually concluded that I had only one path available to me, to follow her wherever it was she'd gone. If she still existed somewhere, I'd find her on the other side. If not, I'd join her in nothingness. I was already mostly to nothingness as it was. It was the only solution I could find.

    I was fundamentally broken, non-functional. It goes beyond mere pain or sadness. It is a destruction of self. Suicide, death, was the only path because I literally could not live that way and in fact was not living at all. I was the undead.

    My ex finally forced the issue, realizing I was not getting better and in fact disintegrating before her eyes. She made me call the hospital and report my emergency. I ended up admitted to a mental health hospital where my recovery slowly began. Medication, therapy, support, and the guardianship of people that would keep me from harming myself. Trauma intervention and treatment.

    I prayed to gods I didn't even believe in to try and intervene on her behalf. I cried, and talked, and shared, and listened, and slowly began to assemble the pieces of a life like a puzzle. Slowly, I found a path forwards in the belief that she had not truly left me, that she was with me in spirit. My guardian angel. That true love can not die, like matter and energy itself, only change forms. She had changed forms, but she was there. I could feel her. And she would never be far away again.

    I still don't know whether that perception of spiritual presence was truth or a delusion I constructed in my mind to deal with it. The mind can create many coping mechanisms, convince itself of many things, to bear the unbearable. But my faith in her became my lifeline, and one way or the other her spirit saved me. Whether that spirit was and is a real supernatural presence of what was once a living breathing loved one or just a construct built of belief and memory and need, it stopped the bleeding, stopped the drowning. That spirit, her spirit, saved my life, protected my mind and heart during the process of healing and rebuilding. It became the cornerstone of the new sense of self I reconstructed from the shattered pieces of the old.

    I still love her, I still have faith in her, and I still like to believe she's near me and comes closer when I need her most. And I still plan to see her on the other side. I just understand and accept now that it's going to be a while. I was ready to go to her right then, but she said no, it's not time yet. She'll wait for me.

    One thing I learned in the hospital is that everyone grieves differently, but we all do. It's as universal as breathing. It's part of our shared humanity. Nobody's injury is quite the same, nobody heals quite the same, and nobody's scars look quite the same. Some don't survive to heal at all. But as living beings, we share the basics in common. We all breathe, we all love, we all can be hurt and killed and bereaved. We're more alike than different. And we're all in this life thing together.

    "Is there anybody listening? Is there anyone who sees what's going on? Read between the lines, criticize the words they're selling. Think for yourself, and feel the walls become sand beneath your feet." --Geoff Tate, Queensryche

    by DarthMeow504 on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 04:20:21 AM PST

  •  Life sucks, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    in my opinion.

    We get to go from one heartbreak and shock to another until we get to sleep for the last time.

    It starts with that damn slap to the bottom and continues for the rest of our lives.

    Not a thing we can do about it.

    Its harder to hit a moving target.

    by KatGirl on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 07:02:40 AM PST

  •  profound and beautiful (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wbr, rosarugosa

    example of the human condition. 'Life goes on' can be a blessing or a curse. There seems to be a constant glimmer of hope in all of our tragedies that is there for the taking, or not. The never ending paradox of pain and joy that is our human condition. We both love it and hate it naturally. Thank you for this important and intimate diary.

    you get what you give

    by chicagobleu on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 07:07:45 AM PST

  •  An unusual, sensitive post. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
  •  The will to live illustrates strength of character (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
  •  I had been thinking along these lines lately too, (0+ / 0-)

    about grief and how it changes us.  

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