“I Don’t Want To Be Me Today”

Struggling

Struggling

Those were the words I whispered to my nurse in the shower this morning. I was in the midst of a panic attack which had started shortly after I woke up. Early on after my injury I had them all the time, but now I only get one or two a month. At the earliest signs I have learned to take the medication prescribed for them. Waiting, hoping it will go away only allows it to get more developed. Once the symptoms start, it’s just a matter of time. I’ve never been diagnosed with PTSD, but I have most of the symptoms. They usually begin with my legs. There is an overpowering, all-consuming urge to move them and at times, like today, that’s combined with the fact that they feel like solid cement. There are no words to convey the overpowering attitude that takes over my mind. These attacks are characterized by facial distortions, crying and the feeling of being totally out of control. Sometimes I thrash and want to throw myself out of bed, but it is impossible because of the quadriplegia. It scares the hell out of me.

At times like this I have seriously considered smoking marijuana in an effort to totally change the way I feel. I have never smoked it before and am anxious about my mind would react to it. Craig Hospital, where I did my rehabilitation, is strongly opposed to marijuana use by those who have been paralyzed.

This morning it took almost 3 hours for my medication to take effect. The peaceful calm that I feel when it kicks in is a welcome relief to the terrible anxiety I have been feeling. Usually, after I’m up I get tired and fall asleep for a while. The struggle one goes through can only be understood by one who has been through it. It’s all consuming.
The question at this point becomes what can one do about it? The feeling, while it is going on, is like being possessed and rational thought is impossible. Well-meaning intentions of others are irrelevant. It’s been over 17 years now and I have no idea or advice for dealing with these. The only good thing about them is that they always end.

If You Can’t Laugh—How’d You Get Here?

If an individual has a disability, they will be greatly aided in their journey through life with a sense of humor. We have all heard the expression, laughter is the best medicine and I am absolutely sure that this is true. Being realistic I think developing a sense of humor may take some time after the onset of a disability. It’s my feelings, if the disability limits the person in certain ways the individual may well have to go through a grieving process.

Going to the dentist on Halloween

Going to the dentist on Halloween


In my own case my quadriplegia has rendered 75% to 80% of my body paralyzed. While the paralysis starts below my armpits my arms have also been greatly affected. They have limited range of motion, intermittent feeling at best and my hands have little to no grip.
Regardless of the cause of the disability an individual has every right to feel anger, bitterness, frustration and wonder “Why me?” Depending on the circumstances, these feelings can fall onto quite a continuum. My “accident” was the result of a condition called Shore Break which was known by the National Park Service to exist in the Virgin Islands, but was pretty much kept from the beach goers. Hawaii requires, by law, warning signs be posted on any of its beaches where this condition exists. While bitter about their choice not to warn people the situation was easier for me to accept knowing it occurred while doing something I loved. How victims deal with things like being struck by a drunk driver I’ll never know, but I do know one must move on. Accepting what has happened is the beginning, a first step.
Out to eat with my new bib

Out to eat with my new bib

In spite of an individual’s situation, what good is wallowing in self-pity going to do? After due time, one must move on. Humor can aid in that process. Even for able-bodied individuals, being able to find humor in things, being able to laugh at oneself and the situations one finds themselves in is cathartic. In no way do I mean to imply this is easy or will come naturally to most people, but “gallows humor” can really be beneficial. So my question to you is “What’s in your wallet?” Only kidding, it’s “If you can’t laugh, how’d you get here?”

Stepping Up

At Craig Hospital, where I did my rehabilitation, they talked about how people would react to me, post injury. They said there would be former friends who would fade out of my life and others who would step up and assume a much more significant role. I didn’t realize at the time how true that would be. While some have virtually disappeared, several people have assumed a significantly greater role and others who I barely knew or didn’t know at all have helped facilitate the return of my quality of life. As a C6 quadriplegic my life is one of dependency. I may like to kid myself into believing I have a lot of independence, but the truth is I don’t. I’m dependent on others for my food, hygiene, dressing, even getting into and out of my wheelchair. My wife Marge and my nurses Rhonda, Char and Kelli see to those needs and at times do much more.

Me in the old days

Me in the old days


One person, in particular, has really stepped up. He is not the only one, but Steve Robinson, a former coworker has stepped up like no other. Steve takes me hunting, to lacrosse games and does so much more. What would my life be like without friends like him I can’t imagine? Thankfully, I don’t have to.
Does Steve realize the important role he plays in my life? Does he understand what my life would be like without his unselfish generosity? Does he have any concept how impossible it is to find the words to help him to understand how much his stepping up affects my quality of life?
Steve with Andy and me at Blue Mountain Museum

Steve with Andy and me at Blue Mountain Museum

Steve and I dog sledding

Steve and I dog sledding


Now I have a chance to do something for him. Steve and I worked together on the school’s outdoor adventure course. On September 17th the Northern New York United Way is having a fundraiser called Over the Edge. Steve is going over the edge. Steve wrote “Over 20 years ago a good friend and a former South Jefferson colleague introduced me to the power and excitement of a ropes course. I know that if he could, he would have been one of the first to sign up for this United Way fundraiser. I will be doing the rappel in recognition of my friend and mentor.”

I would like to take this opportunity to ask my friends, if possible to consider making a donation to Steve effort. If so you can go to Steve’s Home Page to donate. Thanks to Steve and all of you.

Celebrating Steve's retirement with my first beer in over 25 years

Celebrating Steve’s retirement with my first beer in over 25 years

The Times They Are A-Changin’

Those words are the title of the Bob Dylan song written in 1964 which has become a classic. The song discusses societal changes that were taking place. It covers a variety of new attitudes that were going to happen, Dylan believed, regardless of résistance. While the song says nothing about disability or the disabled community I would imagine it would be fairly easy for Dylan to add a verse today discussing societal changes happening towards individuals with disabilities.

Peta-Murgatroyd & Niles DiMarco

Peta-Murgatroyd & Niles DiMarco

Just this month (May 2016) we have seen three sign posts that I would present as examples of what is happening in our society today. The most recent would be the presenting of the Mirror Ball Trophy on Dancing with the Stars to Niles DiMarco, who won the championship despite the fact that he never heard a note of music the entire time. Niles was born deaf, but refused to allow that to stop him from obtaining goals that many would believe were impossible. In my opinion the most poignant part of all the season was when they stopped all music while he was dancing so the audience could see the challenge he was dealing with.

Charlie Linville

Charlie Linville


The second event occurred May 19 when 30 year old Charlie Linville, an Afghan war veteran and amputee, summited Mount Everest. As if to remind us how difficult, dangerous and demanding this still is, within a couple days of his accomplishment three climbers died while trying to summit.

The final event occurred earlier in May as the Invictus (which means unconquered) Games the place for three days in Orlando Florida. The concept of the games was the brainchild of Prince Harry of the United Kingdom. Knowing firsthand the sacrifices the men and women of the armed forces make to defend our freedom and way of life he decided to begin the games as a tribute to those who had made personal and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The Invictus Games featured 500 competitors from 15 nations: Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States of America. We have reached a point where our society is so interested in happenings like these that the games were televised on ESPNU. The courage and strength of these individuals were on display for the entire world to see.

The entire United States team of athletes gather on stage during the closing ceremony at the Invictus Games, Thursday, May 12, 2016, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

The entire United States team of athletes gather on stage during the closing ceremony at the Invictus Games, Thursday, May 12, 2016, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

It is my feelings that these and other events in our society show that The Times Are A-Changin’ and most people are becoming more receptive to those with differences regardless of how they present themselves.

Through No Fault of Our Own

Within recent days I’ve received emails from several friends all struggling with the challenges presented to them by their disabilities. Of them, I am the oldest and I’m pretty sure I have been dealing with my disability the longest. I wish I could do something or make a potion that would make these challenges disappear. But, I know, as they do, that dealing with these crises is not that simple.

Andy and his grandson

Andy and his grandson

Early on, after my injury, it was so important to me for people to understand that my injury was the result of an act of nature rather than a situation I had brought on myself by poor behavioral choices (i.e. Drunk driving). I didn’t want people thinking he got what he deserved. I was always grateful that my quadriplegia was the result of my pursuing an activity that I loved. Even though I was standing in waist deep water when caught by the wave I had actually been body surfing for several hours. A couple of the emails were from people who had been injured while mountain biking. Another was result of the onset of cancer and complications after a stem cell transplant. All causes were out of the individuals’ control. Why them, why me, these are questions we may never find the answers to. Personally, I feel all my pre-accident life was a preparation for my life now. It is comforting to me to think Handihelp, the blog and my public speaking may be helping others, which is all I wanted to do when I became a teacher.

What can be done, what words can be said to ease the physical and mental struggles that those of us in the disabled community deal with almost daily. It’s been my observation over the years that the best “solution” lies in the individual’s mental makeup. The single most important factor is an attitude which can be manipulated. If you look at my early blogs, most of them deal with that topic. When speaking to groups there are a number of observations that I have made over the past 17 years that I believe will be helpful in putting life and life challenges in perspective.

* Life is not fair and owes us nothing.
* Anger, over time, is detrimental to moving on.
* Life is precious; each day is a gift and one should take some personal time each day
to enjoy it.
* Life can be good again, enjoyable again, but it will never be the same. The
sooner a person realizes and accepts that, the better off they will be.
* The most powerful “tool” we have in adjusting to our situation is our mind/attitude.
* It may be difficult, but to ask for help is not a sign of weakness, and
there are many people who wish to help, but you may have to take the initial step.
* Love is an amazing thing, the more one gives, the more one has to give.
* A pet can play a major role in the life of an individual with a disability.
* Love makes everything easier.
* You can’t do it alone. Friends make our lifestyle much more bearable.
* There is a solution to most of the challenges one faces. It’s just a matter of how
much thought, time and effort you are willing to commit to finding it.
* Frustration and struggle will always be part of this new lifestyle.
* Nothing comes without sacrifice.
* Advice is easy to give, but much more difficult to take and even harder to act on.
* Laughter is essential.
* We are all stronger and more capable than we think.
* Life is full of risk.

What a comfort she was

What a comfort she was

Will this help others? I hope so, but it has helped me.

The Rainbow Comes and Goes

This is the title of the new book written by Gloria Vanderbilt and her son Anderson Cooper. This morning they were on Live with Kelly and Michael. I thought the book title was an amazing metaphor for life. Years ago I wrote a blog called Talks Cheap – Test Time, which was about my struggle between positive attitude and depression / suicide. At the time, my blog was being carried by a website in Australia. They refused to publish it because not only did it talk about suicide, but it also mentioned some ways I thought about doing it. They felt it was a bad idea to share this with their readers. I argued with them that it is important for others to know that they are not alone in their struggles for a meaningful life and that life is full of challenges. They still refused, so we parted company.

I believe it is difficult for most able-bodied people to understand the roller coaster of emotions many individuals with disabilities go through on a daily basis. When I am with others, regardless how bad I feel, I am always able to project the image of one who is in control and well-adjusted to my situation. But, like the rainbow that comes and goes, when I am alone, or just Marge, at times the frustrations just seem to be overwhelming. It’s difficult to reach out to others because of their lack of understanding or I don’t want to project the image of one who is struggling to cope.

The Rainbow

The Rainbow

Many factors prove to be a continuing struggle which is often difficult to handle. Some of the frustrations are the same that were present prior to my injury, but the coping mechanisms I used are no longer available. When I was younger and getting “hyper” my kids would say “Dad, you need a physical fix”. I could go jogging, biking, kayaking or hop in my truck and drive up into the state forest land by myself. None of those are options anymore. The spontaneity is almost completely absent from my life. Plus, there are now new factors that compound the old ones. Weather is one, health and fitness for a couple of others. Even though I was sequestered most of the winter and it’s now April I’m still housebound. Part of my frustration right now is that it’s sunny and absolutely beautiful out, but the wind chill the last few days has been in the middle teens and this pattern is supposed to continue. Add to this the almost constant nagging health issues that happens to be present most of the time or that I’m unable to get my weight under control and you end up with a situation that seems almost overwhelming. At times like this, it’s almost impossible for me to motivate myself to do anything. The thing I want to do the most is to be out in the natural environment and that’s almost impossible. People have suggested going shopping or out to eat or to the movies, but none of these are what I really want to be doing or need to do to quiet the demons.

This blog is one attempt to relieve some of my frustrations. Knowing that there are others who will read this and understand what I am saying is comforting. To know there are some who will read it and say, “Oh, I’m not the only one struggling with these issues” also makes me feel better. After all, we must remember that the rainbow comes and goes!

He’s Gone

In 1957 a Rock& Roll group named the Chantels had a hit called He’s Gone. Part of the lyrics are below:
“He’s gone (he’s gone)
I don’t know where
But he’s gone (he’s gone)
I must have done something wrong
He is gone (he’s gone)

I’m sorry (he’s gone)
For what I’ve done
To make you leave me…”

To hear the song, click He’s Gone.

Yesterday was Easter Sunday. Marge and I decided to go down to Lake Ontario. There is a beautiful wheelchair accessible trail not far from our home. It was sunny and around 640. Lake Ontario is quite large and the vista is similar to being at the ocean. It always reminds me of how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things and I love that. As I sat there looking out over the vastness of the water I had a strong reminder that he was gone. He’d been gone for some time, but the memory still engulfed me. Strangely enough, I can’t remember him anymore. I guess it’s a way to protect myself. In the beginning I missed him all the time and was very bitter he had left me. For years I had very vivid dreams of what it was like when he was around, but that has changed too. Like the song says, I’m sorry for what I’ve done to make you leave me, but I know it was nothing that I did that made him leave.

I realized yesterday he really had gone and that I can’t remember him anymore, his walking, jogging or spontaneous lifestyle, etcetera. As the Chantels’ sing “I don’t know where, but he’s gone” and don’t really care anymore. My life is very different without him and that’s okay. However, I now truly believe and that’s very reassuring that he left for a reason.

He's Gone

He’s Gone


He's Here

He’s Here