Last weekend an old friend called to catch up after a few years. We had planned the day and time of the call, so I made sure I had the energy for it and didn’t have anything else scheduled that day besides a massage. After half an hour of talking to him (he is as energetic and animated and happy as I used to be), my voice began to get hoarse and the shakes started. I was lying down while talking to him ~ this is always easier ~ but I was outside in the sun, so I moved in to the blow-up mattress that is now in our living room, trying to quiet my system. We talked for another half hour and I wanted to keep going ~ we still had more to cover ~ but I could hear myself slurring and now my head was hurting and my ears were ringing and the internal tremors were so pronounced I think the phone was twitching against my ear. It was wonderful to talk to him. Catching up with family and friends is always good for my mood and fans the flames of life force… but, I knew it had taken too much out of me.
I spent the next few hours resting and then left for my massage. I was driving myself because the place is very close to our house and the last time I was there it wasn’t a problem as long as they put me in the ground floor room and I didn’t have to climb up the steep stairs to the second floor. I don’t get massages very often, but, when I do, I really love them. I ask her to “make my muscles feel like I went running without any of the energy expenditure or lactic acid build up” and somehow she does. It really helps my neck pain and headaches, too.
So, I arrive and realise I have to park across the street instead of directly outside the door because my appointment is later in the afternoon than usual and there is no parking between 4pm and 6pm. I am already running a little late because, after the talk with my friend, every little thing I did caused my heart rate to go too high and I had to move very slowly to keep it under 105 bpms. The chair in my car has a manual lever that you crank to raise it up. My husband is 6’2″; he has it at the lowest setting. I am 5’0″; I have it at the highest. Never before did I realise how many times you have to crank it to raise the seat up. Crank, crank…rest, breathe…crank, crank…rest, breathe…. The things I never knew about aging and injury and illness: I need an automatic car! I need automatic seat movers! I need a bathroom that doesn’t involve going up and down stairs!
[That last comment was off-topic because, the day after the massage, having made it to the garden but needing to drink a lot of water to continue to flush toxins and keep my BP up, I squatted in a corner of the shrubs to pee. You never heard that. Don’t tell anyone. But it saved me about 200 steps]
So, I parked across the street and it was another of those oh-shit-I-never-realised-the-gradient-was-so-steep-here moments. I walked very slowly and carefully ~ carrying my far-too-heavy purse ~ the few steps that brought me directly across from the door to the massage place. My heart was hammering, so I stopped there and waited. And waited and waited. Another bad thing about a later Friday appointment: there was WAY more traffic than usual.
Now, back in Ireland, there are crosswalks, but you certainly don’t need one to cross the road. It was like a game of Frogger: cars didn’t slow down and you bounced your way through lanes of traffic, working diagonally towards the place you were going so as not to waste precious time with right angles. We were quite skilled at it. I would get annoyed if a car slowed down when I was in the street because he/she was just messing with my timing and rhythm. I would wave them on: go, go, go… I have other lanes of traffic to sync my gait with… But here in Seattle? People are aghast if you don’t use a proper crosswalk with a proper green man telling you to properly proceed. Within a few years of being here, I had been given THREE jaywalking tickets ~ and the fines were hefty!
[Another quick aside: I was given the first ticket when I was 23 or 24. I had been heckled by someone outside a bar after closing and was walking home alone when I saw he was following me. I made a bee-line diagonally across the street to get to my apartment as fast as possible and, in the middle of the road, I felt a hand on my shoulder and wheeled around to hit it off of me, thinking it was the guy from outside the bar. It was a cop. He said, “You’re jaywalking. Don’t you answer when someone calls you?” I said, “No, it’s 2 in the morning, some creepster was following me, I was just trying to get home. I didn’t hear you.” He said, “Come with me” and motioned to the footpath back the way I had come. And then slooowly, smirkily and assholey, wrote me a ticket. I had been drinking and I was scared and I was pissed off. I said, “Jaywalking? Can’t you go catch some rapists or something?” And, I swear to god, his answer was: “Actually, there aren’t very many rapes around here.” I still get fired up thinking about it!]
SO, after waiting long minutes for the traffic to be clear in both directions, so I could slowly make my way across the street to the massage place, knowing I was now about 5 minutes late, I decided it wasn’t going to happen and I would have to cross the first side when it was clear and then weave through the cars stopped at the traffic light on the far side. But, when you have this illness, you can’t hop or skip or hurry your steps… you can’t really lift an arm to wave thank you. And the people in the cars looked at me like I was SO rude and one person raised their palms up as if to say “What the fuck?” and I realised the light had turned green and I was still doing my sloth-walk to the curb. I tried to look remorseful, I mouthed
“I have this mitochondrial dysfunction and dysautonomia issues and weak muscles. I know I look able-bodied, but I’m not, please be patient” “sorry” to the driver. It was the longest walk across a road in my life.
Then I had to tackle the 5 steps up to the door (oh no, this is too much) and, when I walked in, the owner and my massage therapist were sitting in the waiting room – waiting. For me. I sat down. The owner (whom I know from my old life) said, “I was starting to get worried. You’re always early.” I burst into tears. I still hadn’t caught my breath and time was ticking away and I was embarrassed that parking across the street had caused me such problems.
“My heart rate… It took me longer than I anticipated to get across the street,” I said.
My massage therapist (who knows all about my illness) said, “To get to the crosswalk?”
I thought about the crosswalk
100 miles half a block away. “God no. I could never make it to the crosswalk.”
The owner said, “Next time you should park on the next street over.”
I said, “But that’s a lot more steps to walk.”
He halfway joked, “You need a Segway.”
I said, “I wouldn’t be able to stand.” Because, believe me, I have considered every option out there.
The three of us just sat there for a minute and I felt the panicky, trapped feeling I get every time I realise just how difficult every inch of the world can be and how ill-equipped society is to help. Every moment takes energy and every day needs to be so carefully thought out in advance. Nobody can understand this unless they live it.
Afterwards, my massage therapist surprised me by running out to get her car so she could DRIVE ME ACROSS THE STREET. I wish I had taken a photo ~ it was literally across the street and down a few car lengths. The gesture was so kind and generous after I had her now running about 15 minutes behind, that I didn’t bother telling her that walking uphill to her car idling in the alley and clambering into her tall SUV was as difficult as walking unaided back to my car on the downhill slope.
Gratitude for the day: for all the healthy people that go above and beyond to understand and accommodate and have compassion for people with disabilities.