Saturday, March 5, 2011

isolation, interdependency and imaginary brakes

[trigger warning for some frank talk about death and dying, car accidents and trauma]

Everyone's different of course, but a large part of my experience as a gimp and a survivor has been about isolation. i don't want that to be the default for my life, i'm working on it, but please understand that this opening doesn't come easily to me. 

i'm trying to embrace interdependency and it doesn't come naturally, which sounds kind of ridiculous. i mean, we need each other to survive, need connection, support, camaraderie to thrive, yeah? 

But when you've spent 25 years since nearly dying not living up to the car-crash-cliche of "it made me want to live every day of my life as though it were the last!", there is exposed this other, less sexy, cliche: i wanted to die. There. i said it. i wanted to die. Sometimes i wished the other car had been going just a little quicker. That when i fainted from the pain of it, that instead of simply breaking my own jaw on the asphalt, i had pushed the damage to my neck and back further, beyond life-saving. For years, i would spend days at a time in my room crying into my pillow, forcing tears out via some pretended deaths, because my teenage self couldn't understand why i was still here. 

i'd had a car accident a couple years previous and was only just beginning to heal from it, to get pieces of my already fucked with body back, when this most recent one happened. i wrote a piece about it in the first zine i ever made in 2003 (Piss In A Bucket), and i realized, now sober, how incredibly broken i still was. 

i'm still broken from it. 

Living in a big city doesn't help. i can't ride in a car without having a hundred mini panic attacks, without envisioning crashes; when someone is coming to visit me and they're driving, or going somewhere, anywhere, and driving, i imagine their deaths, a thousand mini deaths over and over. i can't get away from it, because it's everywhere, in the streets, in the movies, in my dreams, everywhere. My belly in knots, lump in my throat, my imaginary car brake always at the ready. Partners, lovers, friends, they're generally cool with it, and sometimes we can even have a giggle about it, because they know it's the only way i can not completely freak out, which is of no help to them driving. But it's embarrassing and exposing too. 

It's shows people how broken i am from it, but only parts of that brokenness. They don't always know the rest. They don't know that i wanted to die in that accident and that i still try to pry that open, and it still eludes me why i haven't lived every day as though it were my last (a tired cliche that causes shame in me for having had a different kind of response). Why i sit in my apartment, frozen sometimes. Why hours can pass and i won't even realize it (i do understand that some of this is based in head injury and ADHD stuff, i get that), but there are parts of me that just can't move: 

i am living in the body that saw it coming and froze.

i froze. And it made the injuries so much worse. Prediction and control made my life (more of) a fucking nightmare (than it otherwise would have been). And at 39 years old, i find myself, in all my work to just. let. go. of control and prediction and science and bureaucratizing my entire fucking life (fuck you, Derrick Jensen, for getting right into my goddamn head and twisting your brilliant knife around in there), i find myself grasping to hold on to some minor thread of these things because i don't think i know anything else. 

How do i explain who i am if i let go? How do i move forward? How do i connect when i so often think about how that connection will end in a car crash? If i let go, what if there is no one there? No footholds? No net? No jaws of life in the capable hands of some firefighter angel? Nothing? What if, after all of this, i'm on my own anyways? And when i do connect (and i certainly do, joyously!), what happens when all of my worst nightmares become truths? If and when my imaginary brake isn't there? How do i begin to count up the effects of all the thousands of mini-deaths on my heart? And the real ones i've known, all these losses wrapped in flimsy fiberglass? There is so much trauma there, wrapped up alongside full-meal portions of other traumas. PTSD is a fucking unrelenting craggyanaldouchenozzle, and i hate it. 

i'm trying to make peace with this stuff, but it's not easy. It's not something i want to share. i don't want to tell you that i wanted to die. i don't want to tell you that i'm afraid about the isolation; that i don't want to end up like my Mum; that i'm afraid about my future as a disabled person living in a system that isn't built for us, and in communities in which i feel i have to squeeze every fucking accommodation out of rather than having it be an exchange based on mutual aid. But i am and i do. So what now?

i mean, we do all know how this whole ride is going to end, it's just a matter of when and how. In the meantime, i want to let go! Be free! Do ridiculous shit! Do my stretches, do my dishes, do some yoga for fuck's sake! Read in the morning sunbeams. i have plans, big plans! And none of them revolve around this numbing, freezing, this isolation, this fear. But there it is nonetheless. There's got to be something freeing in all of this acknowledgment, yeah?


Unknown said...


i was in a car accident when i was sixteen that left me with temporary amnesia and a permanent (at least so far) traumatic brain injury, and a close friend of mine died. the first time i got behind the wheel of a car i just sobbed and sobbed. i couldn't even start it.
PTSD is a strange beast, and it seems to be different in every case. i still don't remember the 30 minutes before the accident, but i've unearthed terrible memories of abuse i experienced as a child. i've struggled with my own suicidal feelings and compulsions, a lot.
i don't think in my case there will be an end to my PTSD. and i've really accepted it. but that acceptance doesn't lessen the agony of those long nights. it just gives me some perspective.
i love your blog. i'm glad you are writing.
((((big hugs))))
oxox billie

romham a bear said...

billie, thank you so much for sharing this. it really is a strange beast for sure, eh? and so different for everyone. i remember every single moment of that accident, including the right before it hit and the after, where the guy (who had "Just had ONE[drink]!!!"] who hit us was directing traffic being ever so 'helpful' and my Mum, with all of her broken bones, launched her 4'11 1/2" shock body at him like a mama bear ripping at a salmon; the clothes they cut off me; the cookies from the Kmart that were ruined; how much water i sucked up from the pavement; what it felt like when they got to me, everything. But when i try to grasp fine detail of certain other traumas in my life so i can maybe get rid of them for good(or what? i dont know really), its like sucking mashed potatoes through a straw. Head injuries, denial, they can be powerful shit. Writing this blog has been so amazing for me, and im really seriously glad that folks are getting something from it and sharing their own stuff ... your fb group for starters :) Thank you too, for sharing your part in this whole thing.
bearhugs right back