I think I understand the Slough of Despond.* I have cried more in the last month than I have in the last seven months. My feelings are close to the surface. My fear is a jagged edge.
It seems ridiculous. I have a prescription for a new physical therapist. He has great expectations for the use of my affected hand and my future ability to walk with more confidence. What’s to feel bad about? But, since he took strength measurements of my hands and legs, I know my own weakness. I am living proof that sometimes our brains and bodies get their wires crossed. My muscles aren’t getting the right message – or they aren’t getting the message right.
I have lived each day since my stroke teetering on the edge of acceptance. In the gray area between being content with where I am and striving to get better. I could live my life and do okay – but suddenly I know how much of my body is non-functioning. Not only have I ignored particular muscles and their uses – I have forgotten they were there. I have learned to live without them no matter how awkwardly. I haven’t been confronted with my limitations so conclusively since I was in rehab over a year ago.
The P.T. has given me some “stroke” balls to start working my hand in anticipation of being able to open my fingers. He has shown me the exercise in which I will place the equivalent of 30 pegs in a cribbage board. What??? I can’t pick up one peg. Also, I’m like a baby: if I get something in my clutches no one can make me let it go! And I am worried because I hate exercise. Do I want to get better enough to schedule myself? I don’t know if I have the will. I am a sloth. I want results without work. (I also have that optimistic personality that assumes I am doing just fine!)**
Unlike me, my family is full of will. My husband, my sons and daughters, and all their partners exhibit admirable strength and tenacity. my son-in-law just exercised his way thru cancer treatment. Three of my granddaughters have finished marathons in the last year. Two of my grandsons do rugged long distance mountain bike races for fun. So will my family look at me in the same way if I can’t do it? Will they love me in spite of my physical and mental weakness?
And what if it isn’t even possible? Should I get my hopes up to have them dashed? Am I destined to feel guilty and undeserving every night knowing I have failed to fulfill the vows I make every morning?
So the root of my sorrow is fear. Can I do it? Will it work? Will I be loved no matter what?
I don’t know. Last week I was able to pick up two pegs and eventually put them in a hole. They weren’t cribbage board pegs – they were Playskool pegs. But, progress!
I’ll keep trying. And all signs indicate that I will keep crying.
* The Slough of Despond ( “swamp of despair”) is a fictional, deep bog in John Bunyan’s allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress, into which the protagonist Christian sinks under the weight of his sins and his sense of guilt for them.
It is described in the text:
‘This miry Slough is such a place as cannot be mended; it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore is it called the Slough of Despond: for still as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there ariseth in his soul many fears, and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place; and this is the reason of the badness of this ground.’ Wikipedia
** I have been told in no uncertain terms that optimism is not my friend in this situation. I am not going to magically improve at this point, and I would be better off to see myself realistically.