Monday, September 3, 2012

Ordeals

So in the immediate aftermath of my bike accident, I experienced a rush of gratitude.  First of all, I was very aware that the accident could have been much, much worse.  I could have experienced severe brain damage or could even have died.  And yet, here I was, able to get up and walk out of the emergency room with my faculties intact.  Yes, I had a bunch of staples in my head, yes I ached from head to toe, and was on heavy meds to stave off pain from a healing concussion, and yes, I still couldn't remember much of the preceding eight hours.  But I was fundamentally sound, and was fully confident that I would achieve a full recovery.

Also, as soon as I was lucid enough to check out my Facebook account and my email, I was immediately aware of an outpouring of love and support from near and far.  My husband and our son Glen found numerous ways to remind me how dear I was to them.  I received very concrete support from close friends in the form of rides to and from the hospital and elsewhere, babysitting for our foster son, a loaned car (to help with getting our new foster son to and from school while we wait for the school system to sort things out with the bus), and meals brought by sisters from the Relief Society in my ward, by a brother in my ward, and by an old friend.  Friends came to visit, bringing or sending flowers, cards, chocolate cake and chocolate (!) and well wishes.  People called or emailed to let me know they were praying for me.  A friend of mine in my ward communicated my desire for a blessing to other members of the Priesthood, and so, shortly after the accident two brothers showed up to administer to me.  I can't begin to express my gratitude for all this: the very concrete physical and spiritual assistance, both for me and for my family, as well as the expressions of love reminding me that I actually matter to people.

All of that support became increasingly important because, despite a vivid awareness of how lucky I had been and how blessed I was,  in the days after the accident I also found myself fighting creeping stress, guilt, anxiety, and depression.

It began first in the form of literal terror, as vague memories of the accident and aftermath began returning.  These memories are still dream-like, but they are terrifying -- perhaps the reason they were blocked out in the first place.

In the immediate hours after the accident, I had a distinct feeling that God had spared me, God had protected me from the consequences of my own stupidity, and that was a good (though humbling) feeling.  God had even spared me from memory of the accident itself, and instead filled me with a sense of being cared for and sustained, and with knowledge that all would ultimately be well.  But in the following days, as memories of the accident filtered into my consciousness, I began to experience doubt.  Hadn't God also allowed this terrible, potentially deadly accident to happen in the first place?  Healing was going to be a longer, more difficult process than I had anticipated.  What if this were a punishment or a warning of some sort?  Had I done something to deserve God's anger?

Then there were the feelings of inadequacy that began to crop up.  My weakness and tiredness in the healing process has hindered my ability to function as a husband or a foster father.  Not only has meeting very basic needs taken literally everything out of me, but we have had to rely on the generosity of others to help meet basic needs -- like food and transportation.  That was undermining my sense of self-sufficiency, of competence.  I found myself wondering, "Why did this have to happen just after we became foster parents?"  I wondered if we should have become foster parents of a ten-year-old boy in the first place.

Yes, I kept telling myself the injuries were only temporary, and I would quickly experience a full recovery.  But I even began to experience doubts about that.  I began to encounter information on-line about concussions, and started learning about people whose recoveries had literally taken months or even years.  Some who had never recovered from all of the negative effects.  I began to worry.  I couldn't afford that.  What about work?  What about my teaching in the spring?  What about our foster son?

There were even moments when my primary support -- my relationship with my husband -- seemed to be breaking down.  For one thing, I became aware that there was a moment through this whole ordeal where Göran really believed that he might have lost me.  So he had had to deal with the terror of that potential loss, and his immediate response had been expressions of overwhelming relief and joy that I was OK.  I received from him some of the purest expressions of love I've ever received from him.  Which I really needed.  But then in the aftermath, he also began to experience feelings of potential abandonment.  I had almost left him.  Which started to come out in expressions of anger and blame.  "How could you be so careless as to ride your bike without a helmet?"  How dare you almost die and leave me?

Of course my recovery was putting extra pressure on him to pick up the slack caused by my inability to take care of things.  He took the day after the accident off work, to stay home and care for me and our foster son.  But then he went back to work the following day, and I remember feeling a kind of despair, thinking: "I'm not ready to deal with this on my own yet!"  Meanwhile, he was back at work, but with extra errands to run, extra work at home at the end of a long, stressful day. He dealt, I dealt, we have been dealing.  But it's been stressful.  There have been points where he felt like he'd been thrust into a "single-parenting" role.  And he expressed that in a way that I interpreted as blame.  And we've actually argued, and some words were said that probably shouldn't have been said.  And of course when I'm already feeling overwhelmed and physically exhausted, those kinds of arguments feel especially crushing.

And so the accumulation of terror (even just remembered terror), stress, guilt (including blaming myself for my own stupidity for not wearing a bike helmet), anxiety, fear for the future...  All of that started to simmer like some poisonous witch's brew, condensing into depression.  For the first time since my junior year in college, when I was at the low point in terms of dealing with my homosexuality, I was starting to have very dark thoughts.  Not full-blown suicidal ideation, but just passing thoughts like, Maybe it would have been easier or better if the accident could have been just a little worse.  Or, Life is just a little bit too hard.  The worst moments were the moments where I was starting to doubt the very things that matter most to me: my family and my faith.  What if God were punishing me for building my life around a same-sex relationship?

This accident has been harder than I ever could have expected it would be.

So, if I'm writing this now, it's partly because the worst is past.  (At my really low points, I couldn't even really write, which for me is pretty terrible, since I write basically like I breathe.)  If I'm sharing this, it's because I want this out there for anybody who has to go through this kind of trauma.  I feel it's my duty to just reassure anyone else who has to experience this that after an accident like this, it gets worse.  But then, miraculously, after the healing gradually starts to pick up steam, it gets much, much better.

Saturday, Göran and our foster son and I went on our first major family outing together (and my first major outing period) since the accident.  We went to see The Odd Life of Timothy Green.  The movie was suggested by our foster son.  And if you've seen the movie, you know that it's basically about being a foster parent.  And I was a sobbing mass through about 50% of the film, which reminded me that life is all about the love that we give to others, and it doesn't matter if I had to completely rearrange every other priority in my life -- give up my writing, my teaching, my whatever -- just so I could be a parent, it would be worth it.  I was beautifully reminded, life is worth living.  It is worth whatever it costs, just to love and care for whomever God sends us during our short time here.

Later that day, I also went on my first bike ride since the accident.  It was only four blocks, to and from a local food market to pick up a needed dinner ingredient.  I wore my helmet and rode exceedingly carefully.  And it felt a little bit weird.  But it was proof of my recovery.  Scabs have been falling off of my head, my elbows, my hips, my toes.  I haven't needed my pain meds since before the weekend.

Yesterday I went to Church for the first time since the accident.  My bishop asked me to report on my recovery in Priesthood Meeting.  I received many gentle hugs and hand clasps and expressions of love and gratitude from old and new friends in the ward.

One of the sisters who had brought food, and her father, who had also brought food, each bore their testimonies.  Here's the thing: I knew their testimonies of the Gospel, not from what they were saying over the pulpit, but from the concrete acts of compassion they've performed for me both before and after the accident.  And I just wept.  The Gospel is most real in the loving action it inspires.

And, in the final analysis, this accident, and the healing process it has required, have sounded new depths of my own faith, and shown me new aspects of my own testimony.  My scripture study the last few days has focused on 1 Corinthians 12-14, about how there's a unique, valued place and role for each of us in the Kingdom of God, for each of our gifts, but how -- regardless of what our individual gifts may be -- the higher law toward which we are all striving is that Pure Love of Christ.  This was a message I especially needed to be reminded of.

In my need, there's been an added depth in prayer, a humility before God it took this accident to teach me.  Sometimes we learn best how to trust God when reminders of how weak we are in ourselves make trust in him our only choice.  Sometimes we learn best how to love others through our own pain, which reminds us what it means to hurt, and how it feels when others reach out with hands of healing.

And in response to my doubts, my fear that God was punishing me...

In the aftermath of the accident, I found it extremely hard to remember my dreams.  It's not that I wasn't dreaming...  I was having very vivid dreams.  That much I knew.  But because of the concussion, I was waking up in a sort of fog, and I was forgetting my dreams much more quickly, and not feeling energetic enough to actually grab my laptop or a notebook to write them down.  The first dream I remembered clearly enough, and had enough energy to write down was on September 1.  It was one of those dreams where I had a very clear sense that it was a spiritual dream.  After I woke up, I prayed, and the Spirit spoke very clearly to me.  Following instructions I received during the blessing that was administered to me, I reread my patriarchal blessing recently, and the Spirit spoke to me through that as well.  And while the personal revelation I've received through the dream, and re-reading my patriarchal blessing, and more directly through the Spirit is very personal, I will say any lingering doubts that this accident was a divine punishment of any sort have been laid to rest.

This has been a lesson about trust, for which it's taken me time to become grateful (!!).  Probably my best lesson has been that busyness does not make us good people.  I could only learn that by being forced into quiescence.  Trust, patience, hope, caring and awareness of our interdependence do make us good people.  The very best kind of people we can be.

Still plenty to learn.  Wish me luck!

6 comments:

Andrew S said...

There's a lot of stuff that could be responded to, but I wanted just to pick out one thing

If I'm sharing this, it's because I want this out there for anybody who has to go through this kind of trauma. I feel it's my duty to just reassure anyone else who has to experience this that after an accident like this, it gets worse. But then, miraculously, after the healing gradually starts to pick up steam, it gets much, much better.

I think this is important. So often when we are in the middle of something (such as a downward emotional slide, depression, sickness or pain), we can't remember or appreciate or accept that there were better times, or that there will be better times. Yet, oddly enough, when we are in the middle of other things (the upswing, joy, wellness and recover), we can't remember or appreciate or accept that there were worse times, that there were times when we could not imagine things getting better (as they are).

So, without writing things down, then our lives kinda exist in these disparate stages...good times...bad times...and we don't connect the two, though we really should.

Dean Scott said...

Thank you for sharing, John. You and your family are incredibly strong. I admire your examples. I appreciate the love you receive from your ward, too.

J G-W said...

Andrew - In terms of classical dramatics, every story has a beginning, middle and end, and the middle part is always the part of the story where "complications" are introduced. Things always get more challenging in the middle... I wanted to skip right from Act I to Act III... In this case, life isn't letting me get away with that!

Thanks, Dean. I'm very grateful for my family and my ward!

tinita said...

Ever Since I really appreciate the passion of that work. I know its not easy at first but you guy keep strong. Keep up it.

the family Int.

Peter Colins said...

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Anonymous said...

John:
The gay sex is going to do you in. Remember, the Savior could not go personally to those who had defiled themselves in the flesh. Sexual sin will keep you from your Heavenly Father.