There’s a certain kind of courage required to get up after falling. To move forward again after grinding to a halt. Especially when what will happen when you stand, when you move forward, is so uncertain. It’s not an obvious kind of courage. Not the courage needed to walk into a burning building, face down an armed person, or take on a mob. It’s not even the kind of courage needed to challenge an orthodoxy or tackle an injustice.
Instead it’s a quiet, shy kind of courage. It’s the kind of courage that helps you get up time and time again. Drives you to move forward time and time again. Each time a little less certain that up can in fact be achieved. Each time a little closer to the day when up will no longer be an option. Each time the courage to get up and move must be summoned while the possibility of both up and forward being achievable is in fact a lottery – at the behest of fate much more than one’s will.
Falling (and its denouement – landing) is, by comparison, easy. Especially now that MS has taught me that how I fall, how I land, is no longer in my control. Nerves and muscles cannot react quickly enough to minimise the fall. The watching brain is reduced to the status of impotent viewer of a rather predictable drama it failed to anticipate and cannot mitigate. Falling is now simply an unavoidable drama – like the repeats of old crime shows and soap operas that litter our tv schedules. It’s a drama with only vital question – how will I land?
Landing, by contrast, contains all the seeds of a good drama: danger; the unknown; the inevitable shock of discovery as the impacts make themselves known in a violent flash.
The shock unfolds and the watching brain switches into detective mode. What hurts, what can I move, what will I do now, who can help, how bad will this be? Adrenaline and shock help the frightened soul and battered body through the first few moments. Pain kicks in to direct the brain’s attention to the obvious physical damage, and protect it a little longer from the more insidious, harder to treat, psychological impacts.
The physical damage will mostly heal with time, medication, rest, exercise. That bit requires little courage, mainly just patience. But the psychological damage that falling does, well that requires something altogether harder to deliver.
The knowledge of one’s inability to control events and protect oneself is insidious and powerful. It deprives us of all the comforts of denial and ignorance and forces the inevitability of some rather out of fashion concepts – suffering, pain, death – fully to the forefront of our minds. These ancient ideas seem so antithetical to our contemporary values. Surely suffering is simply a sign of failure? Surely a life free from pain is a right? Wait, you mean death is not optional? Call the manager, I have a complaint to make…
I have learnt to fall, learnt that falling can be resisted but never fully prevented when MS is your life partner. But I am still learning how to get up. Since what up means changes each time. Who I am, where I am, what is happening around and to me, all these change each time I fall. It took me a long time to realise that just because an approach had worked in the past there was no guarantee it would work the next time.
Indeed there was a good chance that relying on the familiar routines will be counter productive. The muscle that once could be counted upon to aid the effort to get up no longer works, or has been the recipient of the latest fall’s damage. The meditation that once helped calm panic may now simply trigger it. The exercise routine may simply aggravate an injury or cause a spiralling depression as the progressive decline of capacity that is the most upsetting feature of MS is forced into view.
From the most basic, like how to move safely into a comfortable position, to the most complex, like how to rebuild shaken confidence, what worked before may well not work this time. But here’s the tricky bit – there is no knowing until you try. Getting up after a fall is a lesson in the inevitability of failure to learning and accomplishment. There is no perfect way to get up, physically or psychologically, after a fall. There are some basic principles, and some lessons learned, that can be brought to bear. But whether they will work, and if they don’t what will, only the circumstances of fate will teach us.
We crave familiarity, we human creatures. We seek routine, value the sensation of being skilled at something, feel good when we can think ‘aha, I know how to do this’. Our comfort zone is a very small space indeed, packed with what makes us feel (to use a lovely old Scottish word something akin to the notion of hygge) – cheery. It’s the cave to which we retreat when the world seems too big a challenge for us. Denied our cheery hideaway, forced out of the cave into the unknown world of a new now, we are left distraught, panicked, fearful. My old tricks are not working. That *should* have worked. Oh god I don’t think I can do this.
But if we can hold on to the one anchor that will remain unchanged no matter what, we have a chance. That anchor is simply that we are good at learning from failure. Despite everything that our modern world thinks about the idea of failing, something older in us knows that there is no human accomplishment, from surviving birth to navigating death, that has not been the result of the simple mantra ‘try, fail, try again’. Every thing that was ever created by human hand and mind is the result of our ability to fail over and over again without giving up.
I fell. I got up. I tried some things to help. Some old, some new. Some worked. Some didn’t. Everything changes, even change itself. There is no end to reach. No perfect. There is just constantly trying.
There is a certain kind of courage required to get up after falling. The courage to try.