Yesterday was Independence Day here in the U.S. I am a person who hates fireworks but I love the many traditions my family has on the 4th. Breakfast at grandma’s where we pick cereal boxes off the tree, the local parade, fried chicken for lunch and watching the Capital Fourth on our local PBS station in the evening.
I was thinking however over what independence has looked like so far in my journey out of my illness and towards recovery. I have experienced both the greatest level of dependence that I have had since I was ten and also the greatest amount of independence I have ever had. I have also learned how redefine what independence means to me.
At my lowest point over the past three years I had lost ALL of my indpenece. I became as dependent on others as I was when I was a child. I could be trusted to feed myself (a bsisic need and skill we learn as children) or even walk so I was placed in a wheelchair and on a feeding tube. This period in my life was so hard. Being in a wheelchair with strict instructions not to walk meant I depended on others to get virtually all my needs met. I couldn’t even get up and walk across the room to get something. I had to ask someone to do it for me. I was often forgotten in the group room after snack and the terrible sense that you can only sit and wait until someone remembers you is such a humbling and scary factor. I eventually was able to walk again and also have the feeding tube removed but that time in my life was so challenging. It makes me grateful that I regained the use of my legs and extremely awed by the people in life who use a wheelchair on day to day basis.
Treatment is a funny thing. You are there to learn how to reclaim your life but first you must hand it entirely over to a team of people who decide what is in your best interest at times without your input. It’s scary, challenging, humbling and can be motivating. You are no longer the only person responsible for your own safety. A team of people and bunches of techs and nurses are there to help you and that in itself means that you can not be trusted. During my treatment stays bathroom and bedroom doors were locked. You had to adhere to a strict schedule. Eat what was put in front of you. Sleep when they told you to sleep, read only what was approved, stay indoors at all times unless accompanied by a staff member (the unit was locked – you couldn’t just leave) and many other precautions that were there for your own safety. All the while learning how to be independent while being dependent on those around you. It’s sounds like a contradiction no?
It works however. I left treatment more prepared to face life on my own than I ever had been before. I had skills to use when life became hard, people to call to ask for help and plans on how to make my life my own as fully as possible. That being said the year and a half I have been home has been focused on defining what independence loos like for me.
No longer do I rely on the simple explanation that independence equals fianicial responsiblity, living on your own, making your own decisions. Nor do I go by the rules that say when you are eighteen you are an adult and when you turn 21 you really, really are an adult.
To me indpendence has come to mean something much different. Indpendence to me is relying on others but making that choice to do so. It means not living without other people’s help but being mature and trusted enough to ask for that help when needed. It is acknowledging that I have limitations because of my circumstances but choosing to alter my way of living to help me make the most of my life. It means going to appointments and taking responsibility for the work I do in therapy. It means being the one to make the decision if I need a higher level of care. It means having my own apartment but making choices about when to stay there based upon my safety and not simply a reckless desire to obtain indpenece based upon anyone else’s standards. I could go on but that is what indpendence at this time in my life looks like. A year from now it might look different especially with Ben’s help. But for now this is what indpence looks like in my life.
Happy Independence Day.