A year after the stroke, when I was 20, I ventured out to Florence for a year of study abroad. Since I was freshly out from under the watchful eyes of my parents and beloved medical practitioners, I was in a place where I desperately needed to be: independent, yet supported. In a foreign land living with several roommates in an apartment, where I’d learn the basics of living on my own.
I was really open with my flatmates about my physical condition, since I knew that I would need their support with certain activities, like tying my shoes or learning to prepare food for the first time. Or, because we were on foot all the time, simply slowing down their pace so I could keep up.
All three of my flatmates told me they understood, but one in particular had a lot of difficulty with me. (We’ll call her Sally.) She would often antagonize me, whether directly or passive aggressively, while initially pretending to accept me as I was.
One day, I was walking around town, window shopping. To my surprise and delight, I saw that legwarmers had come into style.
I was ecstatic!
It sounds silly. And sure, it kind of was — but little things are the stuff of life. A life is nothing if not the collage of little moments over time.
But at that juncture of my life, I was still wearing gym shoes every day because I still wore my AFO for ankle and foot support. As a result, I wasn’t dressing the way I wanted to each day. I’d been wearing jeans for 12+ months.
I’m not making jeans or gym shoes wrong — plenty of people are more than happy to wear them daily. But I wasn’t one of those people. I longed for more options, more flare.
One of the less obvious ways stroke had suppressed my quality of life (we’re talking beyond basic needs, here) was in limiting the way I wanted to express myself. Whether it was physically (in dance, in speed, the way I articulated once I began speaking again) or artistically, I felt like I’d been muted.
It affected my self-image, and consequently, my self-esteem. That semester, I took a fashion design class, and didn’t even end up completing my final project because the technical drawings were too difficult for me to create manually, as this was done old-school, with straight edges. As a creative (and as a diligent student), it was a huge blow to my ego to let go of finishing that project.
So when I saw those legwarmers, my spirit lit up. They would cover my AFO — the last thing I wanted to do was show off my condition to everyone on the streets — and I’d be stylin’ at the same time.
Quickly as I could, I snatched up a pair of cream scaldamuscoli, and I “ran” home to show off to my roommates.
Sally was not impressed.
I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t happy for me. “I can wear skirts now!” I insisted, shaking the legwarmers in the air. I hadn’t worn a skirt in forever. They were burning a hole through my closet door.
I was crushed by Sally’s lack of enthusiasm. Now, I’ve had 11 years to develop into who I am today, which means I’ve witnessed numerous other reactions to me and my physical condition — not all of which have felt warm and fuzzy — so it no longer has a strong impact on me.
I bring up this story today because I hit a huge, a massive milestone last night. In order to do it any justice, I needed to preface it with this story.
Take a look:
(I will go into more detail on magnet therapy in my next post.)
The idea of trekking out to the city in a pair of heels sounds like a minor feat — even impractical — but any of you reading this who can relate will feel my truth in your heart. The experience of having your self-expression muted is painful.
It’s a subtle pain we carry through life, almost as though it isn’t there, but it’s a wound nonetheless. To suddenly be able to take a peek under the bandage and see, for the first time in a long time, that the wound no longer festers, but has healed, is a sweet, delicious freedom.
So if you have been carrying that pain around with you, just know that even if it takes years, freedom is in your reach, too. Have the faith and courage to believe it, and you will see it come true for you.
To our healing,
Have you had a breakthrough moment lately that is a way bigger deal than it may seem from an outside perspective? If so, please do me a favor and take a moment to truly savor and celebrate this win. Share it with your closest friends and family — and with me, if you like, in the comments below!