Down the Rabbit Hole

“If you don’t know where you are going any road can take you there.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland


The sentence leapt off the page: “After reviewing your medical documentation, it is clear that you meet the criteria for total disability.”

Door number three. I reread that sentence twice, three, four times before I let myself believe it was real. The shock gave way to startled laughter on my part; then incredulity. A huge weight rolled off my shoulders. The tension that had grabbed and squeezed my heart for months as I worried about this very crossroads – all gone. Wiped away by a single phrase: “total disability.”

I was not going to be forced back to work, or through a retraining program and then the demands of relaunching a new career. The compulsive concerns that woke me up in the wee hours of the morning – gone. For example, CBD oil was the best pain medication for me, but it was controversial. Being a vice principal was a daily exercise in listening to unsolicited criticism. All it would take is one parent to complain to the superintendent about how the “stoned VP” had managed their child. I dreaded navigating that messiness with an unsupportive or misinformed supervisor.

Unconsciously, I’d been bracing for another decade or more of struggle to keep our family afloat and grimly plugging away at earning a living until I could collapse into retirement. But the future would not be an endless treadmill of working, rising pain, medications, rising pain, more medications, hospitalization, medical leave, return to work. Wash, rinse, repeat.

It would be something else, which I would struggle to navigate in the ensuing years. An enormous cavern had opened up in my life, which would lead me into some very dark corners as I struggled with the many losses involved in navigating total disability. In short order, life would feel shapeless and grey, a barren landscape of grief.

But I did not see that in the early moments of elation and relief. My mind was preoccupied by noticing how my body had been unconsciously carrying a heavy burden of tension and worry. It observed how my frame felt lighter and movement was fluid. It seemed I was almost floating. I left a giddy and garbled message on my husband’s cell phone as I walked into the studio.

It was only later, at the end of the class, when I found myself updating Mike on the news that the glee began to fizzle. In fact, I looked plaintively at him, asking “Is it possible that I am really that disabled?” Wisely, he said nothing, but the letter had confirmed what he had known and seen all along: my injuries were severe. It would take a very long time and an endless amount of patience to finally bring down the pain thresholds that still held me in their grip. He knew what I had yet to fully comprehend:

My job was not to return to my previous life. Instead, it was to build a totally new one.


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