Smoke Signals To 5G: The Value Of Walls

My original titles were: Breaking Down Walls; Crashing Through Walls; and, Hitting the Wall, but as I was thinking about the piece, I began to look at the situation differently. 

I have been very frustrated with my post-concussion journey. It seems at every turn, as soon as I think I’m ready to forge ahead, I hit the same invisible wall. Before the accident, everything in my life ran on 5G. In fact, the school year leading up to getting hit by the drunk driver, I was teaching full time: AP language, Creative Writing, Black Box Theater, English 11 and English 10; I was the senior class advisor, the spring musical director, working full time, managing the lives of my family: husband, three kids, and our dog. That meant that many weekends were taken up with school functions, cooking and selling for the senior class, for which I enlisted the help of my children in addition to wrangling the seniors, planning dances, the prom, and other events. The winter and spring were even more hectic as I was rehearsing till late in the evening many nights. Making matters more difficult was the fact that I had never taught theater, been a senior advisor, or directed a musical. It turned out just fine though with three award nominations for the show and a spectacular prom. Only a few days after the prom, I had the accident. I missed the prestigious awards show for my theater kids, I missed the end-of-year festivities and graduation of my seniors and began the long slow journey that has been my life since.

I was trying to explain what the experience was like the other day and my mom’s old rotary phone flashed through my mind. Anyone my age will remember how much you hated dialing someone’s number with zeros and nines in a hurry. It took forever for the dial to clatter back from 1. “But it’s worse than that,” I mused. When things are bad my ability to articulate my thoughts and complete a task or function slows down to smoke signals. My kids have become adept at interpreting my smoke signal utterances, and I often find myself searching for my older daughter’s face, eyes pleading with her to understand. Imagine being used to communicating prolifically at the speed of light – fiber optically and then being forced to send out signals from a foggy mountaintop in the hopes someone will see and interpret your meaning correctly. It’s blindingly frustrating. The agitation and anxiety it causes, in turn, makes it even harder to think. 

So why do I let it get that far?? It’s not at all because I try to reduce myself to a dizzy, garbled sentence-salad mess, it’s only because I keep trying to break that wall. I rest my brain enough to be able to function and even think or write reasonably well (thank God for Grammarly!). Inevitably, I feel like I can take on more and start to do so: revise and edit my son’s college essay, take a long walk with the dog, go to church, maybe make a college visit for a few hours with my son, or drive the five minutes to and from one of their schools to drop them off if they missed the bus. Them BAM!! POW! WHAP! I’m batman gollywopped into a smoke signal stupor. Even if I have rested for a few days between each thing, it becomes too much, and my brain shuts down like an overheated computer. Immoveable, unable to function, frozen, stopped in my tracks. 

I’ve worked with my therapists to plan, to schedule, to try to take the requisite breaks my brain needs to compensate but even as I write these words my head is beginning to spin, and my typing rate has decreased. The next word becomes harder and harder to find. How do you not despair in a situation like this? Do I keep thinking about the wall I want to shatter? Do I rest to make my run at it another day – despite having been knocked on my ass so many times? Or do I start to think about the wall differently?

Perhaps the wall isn’t meant for me to straddle, hurtle over or smash through, maybe the wall functions more like a tendon or muscle. It has its limits – chances are if you haven’t been doing splits on a daily basis, your groin will revolt at being asked to do so. But that doesn’t mean you won’t ever get there, it just means that you have to keep practicing the stretch and if you overdo it – you will be forced to wait for the damage to repair itself before you begin again. Man! That is a harsh lesson. It’s one I understand only because I had been an athlete in high school. When both ankles had to be reconstructed because I had not allowed injuries to heal, I put myself in a position of never being able to play sports again. The recovery was long, Each day I am greeted with a cacophony of cracking ankles and knees when I get out of bed. The cracking will never go away, and if I ever decide to stop getting up for a while, those cracking fibers will be that much harder to break through when I finally do rise again. So I must continue to crack and stretch, so I don’t lose the progress I have already made. In truth, I am farther along than I was this time last year, struggling on all fours to crawl to the bathroom, the world spinning in five different directions at once.

Perhaps, the wall is protecting me from my own propensity to always push too hard. When I think of it that way, I am reminded of other walls I’ve encountered, the most valuable of which was the wall I hit nine years ago.

I had never had difficulty finding work when I wanted it. That year, however, was different, I could not get a job anywhere! My frustration level was through the roof – I had three small children to help care for and not a job in sight. I sat next to my mother venting. Trust in God, she said. She thought there may be a reason why I wasn’t working and asked me to help her fix up her place while I waited for a bite on the job market. I did and in the process was blessed to spend a lot of extra time with her that I wouldn’t have had I been teaching. When she suffered the massive stroke that would take her to heaven some 38 days later, I had had the opportunity to spend so many more moments with her which were infinitely more precious after her loss. That wall was valuable, maybe this one is too.

So, rather than running into it at top speed only to bounce backward five steps, like Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption, I must content myself with a rock hammer to break through this wall slowly, slowly, but right on time. 

Isaiah 26:3 Thou wilt keep him in perfect peacewhose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. 

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