My back hadn’t felt good since a recent trip. I’d lugged heavy luggage up and down way too many flights of stairs, and although the shoes I’d worn – with my orthotics! – were good solid shoes, they perhaps hadn’t been right for so much walking. But I figured that things would sort themselves out after a few weeks back home in my normal routine again.
I was in my apartment one Saturday morning, bending down to pick something up, when my back ‘went’. I sank to the floor, the pain so intense that I struggled to catch my breath. My legs tingled and I felt panic rising. Was this a stroke? Was I going to be paralyzed?
I was at the farthest point in the house from a phone and I couldn’t move for the pain. I waited about 10 minutes, trying to calm myself with deep breaths, then managed to shuffle on my butt down the hallway towards the kitchen and found my cell phone. With that in my hand, I hauled myself on to a chair and sat trying to work out what to do. I didn’t need an ambulance, but I wanted someone to know what was going on, so I called my daughter.
“Do you want me to come over, Mum?”
“No.” She had a one-year-old to look after. “I just need you to know I’m not feeling too great.”
And then I started crying.
“Seriously, Mum, are you okay? Do you want me to come over?”
I couldn’t answer.
And then she asked…”Are you feeling very vulnerable?”
Bingo. She’d hit the nail on the head.
Sprawled out there on the floor, in pain, unable to reach my phone, alone and frightened, that’s exactly what I’d felt. And angry too. After years and years of nursing my ex-husband through all his emergencies, the one time I could have done with someone there to help me, I was on my own.
To cut a long story short, although I got treatment for my back, I have been left with some issues, and those issues have forced me to face my vulnerabilities head on and deal with them.
My personal vulnerability, for now, is a health issue. Yours may be financial, for another person it could be safety or security, someone else’s may be loss of family, loneliness, depression. You name them, our vulnerabilities are out there.
So, from someone who has no expertise, except having experienced one particular vulnerability myself, here are my thoughts to best protect yourself.
1) If it’s an emergency, don’t mess around. Call 911/999 if it’s a life-threatening health or safety issue. If it’s still a crisis – not a life-threatening one, but you still need help – reach out to family, friends or other professional organisations that can help in that crisis moment.
2) Once the immediate crisis is over and has been dealt with, face your vulnerability straight on. Can you give it a name? What steps can you take to stop/prevent/reduce the risk of it happening again?
Given that mine was a health crisis, but not life-threatening, I rested over the weekend, then made appointments to see my doctor and physio as soon as I could. (I’m very lucky, living in a country with free health care, as I know this isn’t an option for everyone.) I got appropriate treatment, continue to do daily exercises to strengthen my back muscles, ensure I have over-the-counter pain medications in the house should I need them, always wear decent supportive shoes when I go out, have cut my luggage down to the bare minimum when I travel, check in with a friend via e-mail, and text my daughter, every morning, just to make sure we’re all okay, etc. If yours is a financial, physical, or emotional vulnerability, list the steps you can take to better protect yourself in the future. Ask a professional for advice. Talk it over with someone who has been in a similar situation.
3) We’re all getting older and the reality is that this vulnerability – or another one – could strike at any time. There are no guarantees in life, but remember this – you got through this crisis, you can do it again. You’re stronger than you think. Trust in yourself, try to find people who can support you, be prepared, keep your attitude as positive as you can… and it should all work out.