Is it weird to learn lessons from your body the way most people learn lessons from a book or another person? Anyone else do this? Just me?
OK, fine — just me.
If it’s just me; let me at least explain why. I had a brain injury that resulted in some partial paralysis when I was a child and have been a keen observer of my body ever since.
Over the years, I’ve found myself asking — Am I regaining mobility in the left ankle? Am I tightening up in the left wrist? Is he going to stop hitting on me once he sees me get up from the bar and walk? Did they notice I spilled because I couldn’t carry a coffee mug with two hands?
You know, the usual questions we all observe about ourselves.
Although I’ve lived with a disability for almost thirty years, my body taught me more in 2022 than perhaps in any other year of my life. And now, while I’m a huge lover of Lizzo, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and the Eli Young Band’s “Bottom Line” may be my forever anthem, allow me to take us off of the Spotify Wrapped trend and share with you the top 3 lessons my body taught me this year instead.
1. Your shame monster isn’t a big deal to anyone.
Ten months ago, I aired my dirty shame laundry in the LA Times.
For decades, thinking of telling a guy that I wanted to date him terrified me. Throat closing; stomach sinking; practicing in front of your friends twenty times (please don’t call and ask them to recall) shame. The inner dialogue of “I have a physical disability. Is that a dating dealbreaker for men?” on repeat in my brain.
And then in February 2022, I shared my inner dialogue with the world through a newspaper column. Officially letting everyone know I had never been someone’s “girlfriend.”
I got a lot of responses to that article when it was published — ones that made you cringe, cry, and smile all at the same time.
The notable responses I didn’t get though were the ones I imagined receiving all those years buried under shame. Along the lines of “how embarrassing — you should think less of yourself for not being someone’s girlfriend” and “you probably never will be someone’s girlfriend when you walk that way.”
It took me a long time to be able to write that article and get over my inner shame dialogue. That said, I’m willing to bet the uplifting responses would have been the same if I published it ten years from now or ten years ago.
Regardless, I had to go through my process and what I learned was men’s perceptions of me weren’t holding me back; my own view of my body was holding me back and I needed to get over it.
And I’m thankful I did.
2. Your foundation is stronger than you think.
I had a “first” in December. Calm down, not that kind of “first”.
A “I can’t stand up from the toilet” first.
At this point, you’re probably asking why I was in this undesirable position and why I am now sharing it. Is she really trying to never date anyone?
No. I’m sharing it because there’s something big to be learned here.
I was stuck on the toilet because my lower back was spasming and I literally couldn’t stand up.
And as I was going through this pain, I did something I don’t normally do. I let my fear get the better of me — thinking the pain was the result of my mobility getting worse.
Two days later (I had managed to get up) and I was at my osteopath’s office — the osteopath with whom I’ve worked for the past two years to retrain my gait — and I was terrified he was going to tell me all of our work had been for naught.
As we finished our session and I braced myself for bad news, he said that he’d never seen my sacrum, the body’s foundational bone, more mobile, fluid, and in better shape.
Two days before, I had to summon all of my courage and fight my tears to even stand up from the toilet. And yet, despite the pain, my “foundation” had never been in better shape. My core and all of the rehab work I’ve been putting in weren’t shaken despite some temporary pain and inconvenience.
In 2022, this was a great reminder from my body to not go “worst case scenario” at the first signs of a potentially negative situation.
3. Scoot down that damn pyramid.
When I was in middle school, my mother told me I couldn’t go on a class trip to Mexico. She was scared that I would climb a Mayan ruin, get stuck at the top, and not be able to get back down. Her fear is so understandable, as I can now tell you from first-person experience. Those steps are no joke. And they are definitely not ADA-compliant.
When I finally made it to Teotihuacán this fall, I charged up the steps of the first courtyard listening to “Eye of the Tiger.” I got to the top and looked down, I thought — “oh shit.”
After three minutes of me staring at the stairs in despair, a lovely man named David, who hails from Utah, stepped in to give me his arm down. (David — if you’re reading this, my mother thanks you for not leaving me stranded)
Thirty minutes later though, I still hadn’t learned my limits. I was on top of another pyramid trying to figure out how I was going to maneuver down. With no Davids in sight, I took a different approach. I plopped down and scooted step by step on my butt until I reached the ground.
And when I reached the bottom, I’d never been more proud of myself for figuring out a way to have an experience on my own terms.
We all have different ways we measure our years.
I’m not going to quote the Rent lyrics but I could verbatim if you asked.
However you are starting 2023, my hope is that you are moving past any shame you don’t need to carry into this year, remembering all the hard work you put in this past year, and are going after the experience you want on your own terms — no matter how slow and steady.
Happy New Year — let’s get it!