Plateaus (or beating good enough)

My doctors have always told me to expect plateaus when it comes to my recovery. They said that it’s completely normal to have upward changes in my ability and then for a while I’ll flatten out and stay there for a while before starting to gain again. They said this as a way of encouragement. They didn’t want me to be sad or disheartened when I didn’t see improvements. They knew how I live for improvements, no matter how miniscule. I monitor my abilities (or lack thereof) so closely that I am usually able to perceive any change, no matter how slight. It’s those changes that motivate me to keep trying.

What my doctors didn’t realize is that I am lazy. Give me any excuse to not have to try, and I will take it. Yes, I want to walk. More than anything in the whole world I want to walk (mostly because I want to drive and regain normality). But, I’m also very lazy. I am still hoping that I will just wake up one day fixed. Afterall, I went to sleep and woke up broken. Why can’t it work in reverse?

But my doctors gave me an out. A reason to not push it. I would stand for 35 minutes (a target I hit 2 or 3 weeks ago) and then I sit down. Blame it on the plateau. I’m not doing any longer because there’s a plateau. I walked to a spare room in my house, about 50 or 60 feet (Note to self: measure so I know, cause that’s important!) and haven’t walked any further. Plateau again.

Somehow, plateau became synonymous with “good enough”. Am I saying there aren’t plateaus? No way. There are for sure plateaus. There are times that I try my absolute 110% hardest and I can’t do any better. But, if I’m not trying my hardest, and settling for good enough, then it’s not a plateau. My mom pointed this out in her honest-in-a-way-that-only-my-mother-can-be way. She told me the other day that I was giving up. And why was I not trying harder. I met this comment with my normal eye roll, shrug and “You don’t understand mom!” (Yes, I do revert to a twelve year old when I have no real rational argument.) She replied “No, I don’t understand. But I see what’s going on.”

This conversation started because my dad’s birthday is coming up. His birthday request is to have me to come to their house- a place I haven’t been in 10 months, because there are 4 stairs to get to the patio on the side of the house. He’s only asking that I get to the patio, because inside there are much more steps that there’s no way I could conquer. He’s asking for me to try to figure out the 4 steps. And the narrow bathroom. I think I owe it to the man to try to figure out those problems. This started the conversation with “I can’t.” My mom said that she knew this request by my dad would be like a carrot on a stick in front of a horse. At first I resented that comment because it almost seems like I want to be in this wheelchair or like I’m not trying. But, as my stubbornness left me, I was forced to realize she was right. (I HATE ADMITTING THAT!!) I had given myself solace in plateau when really I was hiding in good enough.

So this weekend, with the metaphorical dangling carrot in front of me, I pushed myself. I have 2 things I have to master: bathroom and stairs. I focused on bathroom this weekend. Because the doorway is 22 inches and my wheelchair is almost double that, I’m going to have to walk. So the hubs and I practiced. I strapped on my braces, wheeled to the doorway of the bathroom, got up on my walker and went for it. I walked the 7 or so feet to the toilet, turned around and managed to sit. When I toilet is only 16 inches off the ground, and you have pretty much no leg control, it’s hard to sit gracefully. Our biggest concern was to try to go easily enough to not shatter the porcelain. But I did it. Using as much control as I could muster, and relying a lot on my arms, I sat. It was the first time I sat on a toilet from a standing position in 9 and a half months. First time I sat without my wheelchair being directly next to me. That is a weird thing. But also a completely motivating thing! Inspiring even! But, before I could revel in that, I had to practice standing up. Standing from 16 inches with no leg control is even harder. The hubs held the walker and I tried to lift myself. Attempt 1. Fail. Attempt 2. Fail. Attempt 3. Fail. My arms just weren’t strong enough to get me up high enough to swing my legs under me. I was trying to contain my frustration. The hubs asked if I wanted my wheelchair. Every part of my brain was screaming “YES!!!” But, then, that damn dangling carrot of my dad’s party was there in front of my eyes. I had to do this. Attempt 4. Success! I was finally able to figure out how to maneuver myself so I could get halfway, muster some energy for a second push into all the way. And I did it! And then, just to push it, I walked all the way back out to the family room (about 50-60 feet). During the walk back, I didn’t even need to sit once. I took two little rest breaks, but was able to stand the whole time. Another first! I felt like Rocky at the top of those steps doing a victory dance!

So, I still have those pesky stairs to figure out. But, I figure worst case, I can always lower to the ground and scoot up the stairs on my bottom. Or I can be carried in my wheelchair like an empress being carried in a chariot. That’s the easier part to figure out. And that’s the task for next weekend. Because now I have realized that I can’t let good enough and plateau become the same thing. And I need to push as much as is humanly possible because the plateaus will come naturally. I can’t fabricate them out of laziness if I’m truly dedicated to getting back on my feet.  And I have to remember that the euphoric high that comes along with accomplishing new goals  is better than giving into (or fabricating) plateaus and good enough!