Last week was a week of setbacks both physical and emotional. I have been so optimistic about my new found mobility that I have perhaps overestimated my abilities. Early on in the week, when a watery sun had broken through the clouds, I made the children pack their wetsuits and towels into rucksacks and set off on the half hour walk to get to our favourite bathing spot in the river.
The walk takes us across fields, scrambling down banks and ducking through overgrown brambles and bracken. What I had failed to take into consideration is the effect the continual rain has had on the ground. Whilst climbing a steep embankment in a field, the sodden earth under my feet shifted and I slipped on the wet grass sending my weight heavily through my fused ankle joint, arms pinwheeling frantically to avoid falling over completely. My eldest son grabbed at my rucksack, steadying me but the damage had been done and a sharp pain stabbed through the side of my ankle joint making me limp slowly back home.
The pain receded but was still present on Friday, when I challenged the kids and I to a morning tree surfing at the Tamar Trails centre in Cornwall. The trail would take us over 50 feet in the air between trees in the lush woodlands on a series of rope bridges, swings and zip wires. This I knew was going to test me to my limits, not only physically demanding but also overcoming the vertigo that had plagued me since the concussion sustained during the accident.
It had rained heavily overnight and clouds hung heavy in the air threatening a fresh downpour as we arrived at the Tamar Trails centre to get kitted out in our harnesses and sign various disclaimers about hurtling to our demise from a great height.
The safety briefing over, we walked up into the woodlands and the instructor opened the gate to the treetop trail entrance. A series of wobbly planks led out over a steep drop to a small tree platform where we would individually transfer our safety clips to another wire suspended over a precarious looking rope bridge. He wished us luck, then set back to harness up the next group of thrill seekers.
For safety I had put my youngest son in the middle between my eldest son and myself, so that we could assist him with his safety clips. My eldest made quick work of the first challenge, walking confidently across the wide spaced planks even though there were no handrails after the first few planks. He reached the platform and clipped himself to the safety ring. My youngest then set out, slightly more cautiously, then faster as he grew in confidence.
Then it was my turn. I stepped onto the first plank, which dipped and bobbed alarmingly, I instinctively grabbed the side rail. ‘Look mummy’, yelled my youngest enthusiastically as he stuck out his foot and gave the interlinked planks a big shove, sending them all jumping towards me. Yelping, I clung to the sides with renewed vigour. When the planks had stopped moving, I shuffled further forward until the handrails petered out. There was still a good 7 feet of planks to cross until I reached the safety of the platform. My sons yelled something encouraging but I could no longer hear them as suddenly my head felt light and I could hear the blood pounding in my ears. Trying to propel myself forward whilst balancing on my bad leg, my limb felt weak and unbalanced. With nothing to hold onto I was suddenly dizzy and sick with fear. When I reached the platform, my hands were shaking and I was gripped by a panic that was reminiscent of the PTSD that gripped me in the years following the accident.
The next rope bridge swayed high above the ground leading the course higher and higher into the tree canopy and I realised that this was one challenge that I couldn’t conquer both physically or mentally. Instructor-less, we were stuck on a small platform, barely big enough to hold us, the safety rings set up so that you could not go backwards around the course. There was no other option, I was going to have to call for help. My phone left in the car, I enlisted the children and together we yelled for an instructor to come and rescue us.
Abashed and shamefaced, I watched the young instructor bound effortlessly across to our platform where I had to explain that I had fallen at the first hurdle and was too scared to go on. I made the walk of shame back to the trail centre, where with an audience of a twenty or so German exchange students, I had to hand back my safety equipment; my children now signed up to a junior trail that did not need my involvement.
These two incidents have brought all my vulnerabilities back into sharp focus. My physical weakness and emotional fragility, things that I thought I was overcoming, were exposed as still very much a present concern. I felt them more keenly perhaps because both occurred whilst I was with my children in a position of responsibility as the sole adult. My confidence has been shaken and I’m not sure what to do next to regain my sense of momentum. Forward motion has been necessary for me throughout my recovery to retain any semblance of positivity.
This week has been three steps forward, two steps back.