I will start my placement tomorrow. I will be working with the editorial team for the month of April. I’m excited and nervous, but I’m also nervous about the effect that this change in routine will have on my physical progress. I will not have the same flexibility with my time that I do as a student, and I will have to spend my evenings and weekends doing work that I have not finished in the time I have had off. I know that if I lose muscle tone and physical strength over the course of this month, I can get it back. I just have to figure out how to manage a both a work schedule and a demanding exercise and therapy schedule (and have a life at the same time). Many people do this: they work all day and go to the gym or zumba classes on their lunch breaks or after work. I understand that I shouldn’t see this as ‘that much’ of a challenge or a problem, but I know myself and I know that, at the end of the work day, all I want to do is go home and decompress. I often can’t find the energy to go back out again – or even do anything else – once the day is over.
I should use this fear of losing what I have gained to find a way to maintain what I have gained. I could find a pilates studio that is closer to where I live and will work. I could join the gym that is near my residence (though I hate the gym). I could walk home from work every day rather than taking the tube. As I write this, I realize that I have more options than I previously thought I did. I could just slack off physically for this whole month and focus on my placement, individual assignments, and group projects, but I have worked too hard and come too far with my therapy to back down now (especially when I know I have made progress in the fact that my left foot has once again stopped clunking).
When I finish my degree, I will once again face this dilemma (and I will for the rest of my working life): finding a balance between my commitment to rehabilitation and the rest of my life: work, socializing, traveling, writing, and being a happy healthy person. I have found that, over the years, rehabilitation has become my identity. I am no longer ‘a girl with a disability’ but ‘a girl with a fixable problem.’ I have enjoyed the process and I am entirely committed to it; it has become the grounding centre of who I am, the core of myself.
If I ever fully recover, I will have to build a new identity: an identity as a recovered person. This is different from the person I was and the person I have become. It’s an identity of a capable person who can walk down stairs that have no support, who can manage escalators in the tube station, who can stand up on the tube and read a book at the same time, who can carry a laundry basket down stairs without having to hold onto a rail or ask for assistance from someone else. It’s the identity of a ‘normal’ and ‘able-bodied’ person, which is an identity that I have never had and never known.
If I recover completely, how do I account for things I still can’t do or explain myself to people when any lingering evidence of my impairment once again resurfaces? I would feel strange saying to people, ‘I overcame a physical impairment but I sometimes still have challenges,’ because that contradicts the fact that I completely recovered. I suppose that there will always be things that are challenging for me, but this is true of everyone and in life. Everyone has challenges, even if they aren’t always visible. I just don’t know how to transform my language and my paradigm in order to reflect my complete recovery if it ever happens.
My pilates practice, yoga classes, gym-going, and any other form of physical activity will also take on new meaning if I recover. I will no longer use them as a method of cure, but as a way to stay healthy and strong, the way many ‘normal’ people exercise several times a week in order to be healthy. I won’t lie: I know that even if I recover entirely, I will still see my process as ‘maintaining my cure’ or ‘fighting to keep my cure so I don’t go back to where I used to be’. I am fully aware that if I don’t fight to maintain everything I gain in my physical journey, I will fall back. It has happened before and can happen again, but again: this is true of everyone. You have to maintain your physical self even if you recover from whiplash or lose your baby weight.
I am excited to start my placement tomorrow and to adapt to this new change in my life and my physical routine. It will help me build the exercise habits that I will maintain for my working life. I will figure out what works and what doesn’t work for me. I will try not to berate myself when things don’t work. I will put effort and time into both my placement and the physical things that do work. I will remain committed to both my recovery and my physical health. I’ll make it work.