When it comes down to it, everything is relative.
Yesterday I wrote about my friend Anna who died from breast cancer; she left behind her two children and her husband.
I drive by Anna’s home every day, and my glimpse of her front door serves as a constant, profound reminder of her death. Anna’s house gives me a much-needed reality check, for in the ten seconds it takes to drive past her door, I more fully appreciate the people and other blessings in my life. It’s a fleeting perception, however.
Yes, my glass-half-full perspective fades so damn quickly.
This morning I fixated on negative things rather than upon the good stuff. Throughout the night I had vivid nightmares and woke up to cold, overcast weather that didn’t inspire much of anything. However, when I sat down to drink some coffee, I appreciated my Sunbox’s bright, cheerful light. I sat in front of the light for twenty peaceful minutes of quiet before everyone else woke up.
Then the school day preparations began: the girls were woke up, I helped them find their shoes, got them some breakfast, and so on. While I’m still a notorious enabler, Avonlea and Marilla are starting to do more and more tasks by themselves.
But there are other kids their age who will never get their shoes on, or stand up to find a shirt, or run. They attend the same public school as my children. When I reach the elementary school, I park in the lot and I walk the girls toward their classrooms. That’s when I spot the other kids. Like my view of Anna’s house, I see these students five days a week.
One boy is driven in a minivan to school that parks in the handicapped spot next to the cafeteria. I see his caregiver first take a wheelchair off the rear door and he cleans it thoroughly with antiseptic wipes. He places a brightly colored kid’s backpack on the wheelchair handles. Then he transfers the boy to the wheelchair, as the young student is quadriplegic and he’s paralyzed from the neck down. There are also two small school buses that transport other students who appear to be quadriplegic as well.
Whatever I write here won’t convey how heartbroken I feel when I see these kids. In an instant I know that any problem I have, including bipolar disorder, is nothing compared to what these students endure day in and day out for a lifetime. There are no remissions from quadriplegia.
Last year I walked around the high school track in the mornings. I observed school staff wheeling children with quadriplegia around the track for a few minutes so they could get some fresh air and sunlight. The kids could barely lift up their heads and they missed seeing the beautiful redwood trees surrounding the track. Some of the kids moaned loudly. When I passed by them, at first I was so depressed, I didn’t have the guts to look at them. When I began feeling a little better, I tried making eye contact with the kids to say hello, to acknowledge their presence, but their heads turned downwards and they couldn’t see me.
Now, after I drive away from the school each morning, I do something very selfish. I curse myself. It’s weird, because I believe in the power of affirmations and frankly I should know way better than to put myself down. It happens in a flash and in all honesty, it feels involuntary. My thought process goes something like this: I feel guilty for obsessing about my problems when there are young people handed a situation in life that I can’t begin to imagine. To me, the way they must live makes having bipolar disorder look like…I just deleted what I wrote because words fail me here. Bipolar disorder is hell; I don’t mean to minimize it. But it’s also largely an invisible disability. These kids live with one of the most apparent disabilities there is. Imagine the stigma they must face.
I am well aware that in creating my pity party, I’m not doing these kids any favors. Obviously, I need to cut out this self-recrimination crap. But it’s hard as hell to do it. Some people would advise me that if I feel so sorry for these kids, I should volunteer to help them out in some way. To that I answer: I’m a coward. I’m lazy. I don’t feel up to the task.
There’s no way to tie up this post neatly with a smug adage or axiom. We are always going to see others in worse dilemmas than our own. Have you encountered a similar situation? How do you feel? What do you do?