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Different people face death differently. They say that facing it changes you, and I've got to admit, I've found that to be the case for myself.

To make a long story short, I had a mild accident that was misdiagnosed (torn muscle mistaken for a sprain) and in the finding of the real diagnosis, a syrinx (cyst) was found in my spine that runs the length of my ribcage, essentially plus a vertebrae on each end (C7-L1, 3mm avg width, 4mm max width at T7-8 for those of you that know what that means). Syringomyelia. Prognosis: terminal without treatment, possible quadriplegia with treatment.

Just to amend the worries, at this point it appears it's been with me all my life and is "normal" for me. But it was months getting to that point. Did I have a brain tumor causing the cyst? Was the cyst growing? How fast was it growing? How long did I have to live?

These are the moments when your faith is tested, and tested hard. I'm pleased to report it didn't fail me. The problem with the kind of faith I have however, is that while I knew all would happen as it was supposed to, I had no way of knowing if "how it's supposed to" included a future for me or not. Regrets? I wanted to ride my colt. I didn't want to be a burden on my husband through the quadriplegia stage. Death I could face. Quadriplegia... not so much. But with a few stutters, for the most part I handled it pretty well. My mom and sister were hysterical of course, and my husband and I... well we tried to avoid the subject because neither one of us wanted to think of all the things we'd never get to do. I wrote up the few items I wanted sent and to whom, who needed to be notified, and for the most part left it at that. Every so often I slipped - who wouldn't? - but most often my frustration and anger was directed at the fact that I couldn't go do the things I wanted to do because of the doctor's appointments. I couldn't go visit friends in distant places. I wasn't physically capable of spending my time in the pasture with Train. We did what we could, but there was always paperwork or doctor appointments in the way.

Then it came to the point where they said "Well you're not dying tomorrow, so you might as well go to work." Here's me, finally no longer having a doctor's visit every day, and now I have to spend what could be my last few weeks walking, going into the office. So much for "live like you were dying."

I actually laughed about it with my coworkers at the office. I called myself Schrödinger's cat - nobody knew if I was alive or dead yet, so they figured they'd put me to work until they figured it out. Two days before the final MRIs that would tell the tale, I'm laughing with my coworkers about it. "Well, if you don't see me Friday you can assume I have a brain tumor after all, and my husband will try to let you know what's going on, but at least we'll know at last." The day before the tests the survival instinct kicked in full force. My mind was at peace, my body was cramping, my throat was closing, and I was panicking. It's a very strange sensation to observe the body panic while the mind is still. It's a very difficult proposition to remain an observer, and thus maintain control, while this is going on.

What none of you may know is that I've spent a long time feeling like a sham. All these masks I have... the one I show at work, the one at home, the one at the barn, the ones online... So many masks. They resolved down to two while I was out and going through this slow waiting process. I've been broken a very long time. Many things happened to me, between childhood and adolescence, that destroyed my self-respect. I always thought I had no self esteem. That wasn't it at all. I had no self-respect. Sounds like the same thing, but it isn't. But it was the reason for the masks - the masks allowed me to behave like a "normal" person with this crucial piece missing. The masks that had resolved down to two. I liked one of them. Unfortunately, the other was at the center of my existence, was the one I considered me - and it was the one with no self-respect. It was almost as if in self-defense when that self-respect was shattered I locked it away in another part of me, one that could come out when needed, and that became the masks. That became the one mask that was the combination of Jaelle, of Lead Mare, of Applications Developer. The other mask was the me dying in her own blood, unworthy of salvation. The other mask was the one I thought was me.

All I knew walking into that office on Sept 29 was that I was going to be sedated, have MRIs done and some other tests, and that if something operable was found - if my fall had caused a blood clot that had formed a tumor or something - I may go into emergency brain surgery. If they syrinx was growing fast I may go into emergency spinal surgery and quite possibly never walk again. When I went into the office all that was scheduled was MRIs. In a standard MRI machine. I'm quite claustrophobic, and an oversized patient. I barely fit in the machine. And there was no sedation. And I would be in there for 3 hours or more.

The first two sets of MRIs I'd had done I went... elsewhere. I didn't know about the syrinx, I didn't know anything except that one of my helpers said there was something really wrong, and I felt a hole in my spine. It was done over two days, nothing took too long so I just... journeyed while it was happening. An hour's not long to check out. 3 hours... already the panic was setting in. Confined so I couldn't move... I have restless legs syndrome. 3 hours unable to move is tantamount to torture.

As it happened it got split into blocks and I got a break after about 2 hours. Still, there was no escape. Not only did I have to face claustrophobia, but I had to accept that my last coherent moments might BE claustrophobia. Perhaps it would be better if they found a tumor, I thought. Perhaps it would be better if I just died now.

And something inside me welled up and strangled that thought. That other mask stepped forward demanding to know if I was insane. What about Train? Who else could handle him right now? What about my projects at work? What about Rich? What about my mother, my clan, the friends I'd made... the friends I'd made that for some reason *looked up to me?* Give up like that? What a waste. What stupidity. What ever made me think that if I just checked out like that, the world would be a better place? How dared that pitiful mask that practically took pride in its own brokenness think IT got to make the decisions on MY life?

And I got dragged back to the beginning. Back to where I lost my self-respect. Back to where I started my slow destructive down spiral. You don't even BELIEVE the bullcrap that led to that anymore! How DARE you let it ruin your life, 15 years later. How dare you let people believe in you, trust in you, put their faith in you, and then say "Oh well, it sucked while it lasted." BULL! You have everything you ever wanted. You wanted a husband who adored you, who'd stand with you to the end - and there he sits. You wanted your horse - and he's in the pasture waiting for you to come home. You wanted to be successful at your career - and you've got that in spades. You wanted to BE somebody. And you are. What about all the people who have faith in you? You EARNED that. Joe left Greenwood Clan, possibly one of the most precious things to him, to YOU, and you're going to throw all that away for WHAT? Because you're blind to what everyone else sees? Because someone 15 years ago hurt you?

And on September 29, in that MRI machine, that girl that was created, who scurried around trying to keep everyone happy except herself so she wouldn't get hurt anymore, who had forgotten how to want or think for herself because that got her hit, was laid to rest. The masks fused, and what was left... was me.

It took a few more days for reality to set in. October 4 I found out I was going to live, and what's more I was going to be riding again in April if all went as the doctor predicted. I'd been steadily losing weight for no apparent reason, which I hope continues. I've pulled out clothes that I never thought I'd wear again and am wearing them to work so my pants don't fall off me if I step on the now-over-long hems. Unfortunately, it was also this day that the realization struck me what had happened, which caused its own set of problems but hopefully they're in the past now. My husband is coping with the changes in me, and actually seems quite pleased that I actually have opinions of my own at last.

And now the exploration begins, and the shoring up of the borders. I found the girl I was 15 years ago, before she was beaten out of certain aspects of my life and before I began identifying with her more than with the me that I've always liked best. I used to say I always liked myself best at the stable - but that me is with me all the time now. I am Lead Mare, at least of my own life. I am the captain of my own ship again, no longer looking to others to lead me where I need to go unless I actually need help with something. When people offer help I say "Thank you" rather than "oh I couldn't put you out." When my legs are knocked out from under me - and during the week after my realization they were - my wings unfurl and I realize I don't need a leg to stand on, because I can fly.

And, as Mary-Chapin Carpenter put it, "Why walk when you can fly?"

-JLSD 10/17/05

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