After the Fall
It is three o'clock in the morning and I should be sleeping. I'm furious with myself, and not because I have been jolted awake by the dulcet tones of my husband's snoring. I woke because I have a head cold, which makes breathing difficult and gives me a headache. But I woke thinking, what could I do with my impossible hair? I desperately need a haircut. The answer came to me while I was sleeping that in the meantime, I might wear a headscarf. Without thinking, my inner nag immediately dismissed the idea as ridiculous: "I don't want to look like the Queen!"

With a familiar, clenching wretchedness, I immediately realized that my life only resembles cold porridge because I allow it to. Don't bully yourselves, my children. The story of Auntie Fran's life so far is How Not to Live. If you take nothing else from me, perhaps you may at least collect this understanding: when we allow ourselves to listen to the voice of disapproval for most of our lives, if we are careless in this way, we will probably surround ourselves not with brightness, color, freedom, choices, and good friends, but only with bits and pieces, the butt ends of everyone else's cigarettes: they get to light up, inhale, and blow smoke in our direction.We pick fag ends off the pavement and wonder why life is such a drag.

When I get ill, when I cough and sneeze and blow hot and cold, this is a reminder that I am letting myself live a crap life: that I must propel myself outside and take time to relax in the sunshine. I also need to eat, to treat myself to lunch, instead of surveying the remnants of last night's supper from which I might, if only I am diligent enough, fashion for myself a possible plate of soup. Why live on leftovers? I need to eat fresh food. I am not a dog. Actually, if I were a dog, I would probably treat myself better.

Why have I believed that I am worth less? Not worth the joy and pleased expectations that other people take as their birthright? Voices of disapproval tend to shout more loudly than sweet words of love, so they have claimed my attention. Out of bad habit, I have accepted the critical voice in my head and come to believe that the solidity offered by resentment is the only way out of tiredness and passivity that threatened to drown me. I have gone out of my way to find things to feel resentful about, even though most of this drama was running in my own head. Believing that strife and unhappiness were inevitable, I have put up with half-heartedness, sorrow, and frustration. I have run away many times, from bullies, from unloving boyfriends, from piss-poor jobs. Getting away from the critic in my head is altogether more difficult.

What I can use to help me is recognition. At least I now understand what I am doing and I can use my anger to propel myself away from the habits of self-hatred that are taking too long to die. They are so entrenched that I don't even notice them until they pile up in front of me so that I can hardly move: isolation, insomnia, ill temper, bad food, boredom --- all familiar signs that I need to make changes.

There is no time like the present, they say. So tomorrow I may buy a silk scarf --- what a gorgeous idea --- and a new pair of soft leather gloves to shield my hands from a fresh bout of disapproval; one of my thumbs is badly bitten again, and I want it to heal up quickly. I renew a vow I have made many times, to leave my hands in peace.

§   §   §

I didn't go to town, though I did promise myself I would. Instead, I decided to change the sheets on my daughter's bed, do two loads of washing and get them all dried outside. Not quite the shopping heaven I planned, though I have now made an appointment to get my hair cut, so maybe I will also fit in some lunch and the purchase of scarf and gloves . . . I have to start, sometime, to treat myself like a lady.

On the other hand, my careful shoots of optimism sometimes take a battering. Last week my husband and I went to a different supermarket from our usual. As we left, the pavement sloped down and I pitched forward, dropping the bags I was carrying and clonking my head on a trash can. My specs fell off and I broke a glass jar of large green olives, which wept brine over the pavement. I thought, "At least it is not the eggs" before I wept loudly and got to my feet, slowly rescuing bananas and jettisoning shards of glass as people walked past, unsure how to help. Oddly, I could not stop crying: I was probably slightly concussed. New and shaky caution creeps around the edges of my optimism and will, if I am not careful, make me even less ambitious than usual to venture out, which would be a pity. In this life it seems I will walk a tightrope between normal hopes and bruising reality.

--- From Trapped: My Life with Cerebral Palsy
Fran Macilvey
©2014 Skyhorse Publishing
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