The Get Up
How will you react when life knocks you down?
On December 25, 2020, just after a family pancake breakfast I fell in the doorway between the dining room and living room.
Haley and Chase were somewhere taking inventory of their Christmas presents and Dylan sat at the table, unblinking, playing the Nintendo Switch Santa brought him.
I suspect most of us have never seen ourselves fall. The severity of our falls are measured by the reactions of others. The oohs and ahhs. The shrieks, the gasps, the sighs. But what if no one witnesses our fall?
Since I’ve never seen myself fall I can only describe it as a moment of pure panic. As if blindfolded, pants ringing my ankles, a pair of unlaced roller skates on my feet, and pushed on an ice rink, surrounded by 100 high school bullies armed with gas-powered leaf blowers on full tilt.
It’s happening. The motherboard in my head flickers like someone spilled orange juice on it. Blip. Blip. Gravity pulls. I reach for the kitchen table with my left hand as my right arm windmills and windmills and windmills. Both knees lock then liquefy. The tendons in my left shoulder, still tender from a fall in September, scream and I jerk my left hand from the table like it’s a hot stove. Blip. Blip. Gravity pulls. My right hand swipes for a wall that’s too far. I’m going down. I turn my head sideways and my knees, no longer liquid, but bony and real, piledrive the kitchen tile. I’m face down on the kitchen floor, holding my breath, staring at pancake crumbs under the table.
“What was that!?” Cindy yells from the kitchen.
“I think dad just fell,” Dylan replies. (I later found out he never took his eyes off of his Nintendo.)
There are footsteps, the electronic jingle of Mario Kart, and Frank Sinatra sings “Let it Snow” of the living room speakers.
“Oh my God, are you okay?”
“I think I’m fine.”
“Does anything hurt?”
When I first started falling, I would try to bounce up quickly hoping to create the illusion the fall never happened. But I’m older now. Less spry. Tired. And reluctantly, more accepting in a there’s-no-use-in-crying-over-spilled-milk kind of way. So I lay there and conduct a head to toe body scan to see if any areas need immediate medical attention.
Face: I run my tongue over my teeth. I sniff. I blink a few times. Good.
Shoulders: I wiggle my left shoulder. Then my right. Good.
Hips: I shift my weight to my right hip. Then the left. Good.
Knees: There’s some throbbing in both knees but when I flex them the pain doesn’t increase. They seem to be okay.
“No, I think I’m good.”
“Do you want me to help you up?”
“No. I’m fine. Just let me lay here for a while.”
I’m embarrassed. Frustrated. Defeated. I hate falling. Yes, I hate the physical pain falling brings but what hurts more is the emotional pain in falling causes. A few months ago, my doctor used the term “movement disorder.” Seven years of living with a hole in my brain I had never considered the term movement disorder.
“Your increased falling might indicate the movement disorder is advancing.”
But you don’t have to have a hole in your brain to have a movement disorder. Don’t we all fear moving forward? The embarrassment and shame that result from falling and failing? A new career. A new school. A new relationship. A new resolution. The fear of moving forward, taking action petrifies us into a physical and moral freeze. We are scared to move.
I guess it makes sense that my last post of 2020 is about falling down. A year in which the whole world fell down. Throughout the year, I heard the line, “I just want things to go back the way they were.” But going back or remaining in the same unwanted place or situation is a movement disorder. Don’t fool yourself, not moving is a movement disorder. We all resist change. Especially, when we’re forced to change. Like we did were forced to change in 2020. But we adapted. We grew accustomed to the “new normal.” We “masked up” and leaned into the changes of 2020 and adapted to the present.
Cindy is back in the kitchen washing dishes. On my knees, I tell myself to “get up” and hold the edge of the kitchen table and pull myself up until I’m on my feet again. Dylan thumbs the Nintendo buttons. Cindy washes dishes. The other kids do not investigate the thud. Frank Sinatra pleads the winter sky to keep snowing.
No one witnesses my get up. No one hears my “get up” but me. So I stand like an invisible suburban superhero with pancake crumbs clinging to my chin.
In my work with the National Ataxia Foundation, I’ve met many people who’ve been afflicted with ataxia their entire lives. A lifetime of falling. A lifetime of getting up. I am always humbled and inspired by their stories. Their courage and fortitude to get up and keep going, everyday, despite knowing the next fall looms in the not too distant future.
We all have a private voice in our head. Our private voice is our coach, our narrator, our companion, and maybe our greatest enemy. What we tell ourselves in our hard, earthly minutes will affect the hours, weeks, months, and years that follow. The trajectory of our lives often depends on what the voice inside our head says and the language it uses when we’re face down on the kitchen floor.
I know Christmas morning is not the right morning to sit the kids down and give them a dad lecture: Developing your internal voice: How to condition yourself to triumph over hard times. Instead, I’ll write this post so that maybe in 2040, when my kids are stressed and frustrated with their adult lives, and they surf the internet for answers, they can read about how their dad fell on the kitchen floor on Christmas morning of 2020, how no one seemed to care, and how he got up.
If something should happen to me and this blog is my only way to communicate with my kids in the future—I want them to know that their internal voice is the most powerful thing they will ever own (more powerful than a gas-powered leaf blower). Do not ignore the power of that voice. Do not let other people’s external voice trump your internal voice. Just because an external voice is louder than your internal voice doesn’t mean it deserves to be listened to. Take time to condition an internal voice this is strong and reliable.
A voice you can trust.
A voice that will help you overcome life’s challenges.
A voice that urges you to, “Get up. Grab a broom and start sweeping.” The kitchen floor is a mess.
Happy New Year!!! Thank you for reading, commenting on, and sharing my blog. Thank you for letting me share my story with you. My interactions with WoFo supporters have helped me get up, strengthen my voice, broaden my perspectives, and navigate the troubled seas of 2020. I hope my writing has done the same for you. I wish you courage and peace in 2021!
If you like this post, you may also like:
Need some encouragement? Some perspective? This hardworking, almost-handsome, suburban soccer dad can help. Subscribe and, like a pizza, get my posts delivered to your door (your email inbox). No spam. Just posts.