It’s been a while. Almost two years. And yes, it does appear that this pandemic and the mandatory “shelter-in-place” orders that I and many others (and probably all of us soon) are dealing with was the kick in the butt for me to share an update. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say, because I most certainly have. It seems that having a dog and a cat wasn’t enough of a challenge for Brita and me, so we decided to add another being into the household. (Why only pick up poop for two animals when the smelly world of diapers awaits!)
Last year we had the incredible joy of welcoming our daughter, Yara, into our family. I won’t even try to describe the feeling of becoming a father because, frankly, I can’t. No post or update could even begin to sum up the magnitude of this monumental experience. All I will say is that all the cliches I’ve heard are true. It’s beautiful and transformative and magical and challenging and humbling and everything else. More than anything, it’s given me a new purpose, joy and objective in life.
I started writing this blog simply as a means of keeping my family and close friends informed of the steps in my recovery from spinal cord injury. Unexpectedly, it grew and turned into something so much bigger than I ever expected. Throughout this growth, I promised myself that I would only write and post my thoughts here when it came from a genuine place and a true desire to share something that I felt needed to be shared. Nothing forced or contrived and no posting just for the sake of posting.
As it turned out, the impetus for me writing my book was the feedback and comments I received from so many of you. I would have never had the idea of pouring countless hours into trying to publish a book – a truly insane and financially stupid endeavor – had it not been for the reception I received from readers of this blog. I’m forever grateful to all of you for that. While my book is not in the top 10, or 100, or 1,000, or 10,000 on the bestseller list, I have zero regrets. Completing the book and getting my story out there has been fulfilling in and of itself.
But the truth is that after publishing the book, finding numerous ways of seeking press, giving book talks and interviews on my story, all the while continuing to do speaking engagements, I was TIRED. Tired of chronicling everything, tired of putting myself out there, tired of trying to reach more and more people, and tired of hearing myself talk (17 hours in a studio reading and recording the audiobook version of my memoir magnified this to another level…).
Self-promotion just doesn’t come naturally to me which – I’m well aware – makes me an awkward fit for our current time. It’s also why I participate so little in social media. Condensing my thoughts into 280 character tweets, or snapping “perfect” instagram shots with clever hashtags, or competing with puppies, babies and semi-coherent political rants on Facebook… just ain’t my thing.
Which brings me to this moment. I still choose this medium for sharing because I like it the best. For the record, I’m still working hard on my recovery, doing everything I can to get stronger everyday, and seeking the most effective ways to do so. But I’m no longer certain that my posts and updates can be limited to the state of my physical recovery from here on out. And I’m not sure I want them to be. There’s a lot that I want to share beyond my injury or my physical body and this seems like a great opportunity to expand the scope of my website to be something more.
My love of cooking and my passion for food as healing; my experiences traveling near and far; my challenges and successes with fatherhood; my impressions on a society where – despite what we’re led to believe – people seem further and further disconnected from each other, and from the planet – these are some of the themes I look forward to exploring and sharing more about here.
I guess it’s fitting that on this 100th post of my blog, I’m changing things up. Blame it on the pandemic and I hope you’ll stick around for the ride. 🙂
Like everyone else, I’ve been doing my best to remain sane and healthy while staying at home and praying that COVID19 doesn’t get me. For years now, swimming has been my main form of exercise and I’ve never gone more than a couple of days without getting in the pool. The water is my happy place, where I can clear my mind, relieve my daily physical pain, and where I have the most physical freedom. (I’ve written about it many times like here, here and here).
With all the pools closed for weeks, and unable to turn my bathtub into a workable substitute, I had to get creative. Despite the fact that I live next to the ocean, I don’t love swimming in it. Waves and currents are difficult with how I swim and the water is bone-numbingly frigid at its very warmest. But desperate times call for desperate measures. So the other day Brita and I dusted off our wetsuits and thermal caps and decided to jump into the bay. Within 30 seconds, I had that familiar splitting headache across my forehead from the ~55°F water, but it receded with every stroke and I was able to focus on the birds and sky above, and take a much needed mental break from anything having to do with quarantines, hand washing, and impending economic collapse. No need to worry about social distancing when the only thing around me are seagulls and kelp. It was joyful, necessary and extremely fulfilling.
I hope all of you are able to find your own little version of this for yourselves, and create some space and calm during this surreal and bizarre time.
I never had a dog in my life. I wasn’t ever asked to dog sit and I didn’t ever spend more than a couple of hours with dogs who belonged to friends or family. I felt certain that at some point in the future I would own a dog, but I never had a lifestyle that would justify having a dog. I didn’t have a predictable schedule, I traveled a lot, and spent many weekends away from home.
It was in the initial years after my injury that I first learned about service dogs and what they could do for people with spinal cord injuries. I met a few people with service dogs and only then did I start to comprehend just how amazing these pets were. Not only were they well-trained to perform a variety of tasks for their owners, they were also bred and raised to be docile, calm, and friendly to nearly every person (and other pet) they met. I found out that the primary organization raising these dogs — Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) — was based an hour north of my home. I did some research, found out that I would easily qualify, and I began the application process.
After many months of paperwork, phone calls, and an in-person interview, I was placed on the waitlist and told it would take two years to get my dog. During that time, I didn’t think much about the dog since I knew that it was a very long time to wait and I wanted to manage my expectations and delay the excitement until the opportunity finally arrived.
A couple of months ago, the long wait finally came to an end when I was invited to attend team training at CCI’s headquarters and get my dog. This would involve two full weeks of me living at their campus and spending entire days learning everything about these dogs in general, and how to work with my dog in particular.
As I began the two-week training I was simultaneously excited, yet nervous. I had spent all of the time since my spinal cord injury working towards improving my body while also learning how to move through the world and navigate through my day-to-day activities and I still had plenty of struggles and challenges.
And so I wondered, how would having a dog impact everything? Of course, it would help me in a number of ways, but how could I take care of another living thing when I could barely handle myself?
This is where I have to give huge credit to CCI and their program. From beginning to end, they had everything covered. They had informative lectures, plenty of hands-on training with the dogs, and a dedicated staff of dog trainers who were thorough, committed to ensuring our success, and willing to answer questions, of which I had many. The rooms and common areas they provided for us to live in were clean, well appointed, organized, and comfortable.
Most importantly, at the end of the two weeks, not only did I feel confident and capable of the many aspects of caring for my new companion, I was excited to bring home my dog and start a new chapter of life with a new friend.
Which brings me to Tortilla.
He’s awesome, and yes, that’s his name. Because they spend two years teaching them 40+ commands and meticulously training them using their names, CCI gives the dogs their name for life. Anyone who knows me will appreciate the fact that I got the one dog in the entire group that had a food related name, not to mention such a delicious item essential to a taco, burrito, enchilada, chimichanga, and many more. And it doesn’t hurt that he kinda looks like a tortilla…
So far it has been fantastic. I’ve surprised even myself with how quickly I’ve adapted to life with Tortilla and how much help, pleasure, and pure joy I get from having him with me. He charms everyone he meets and he even gets along with our sweet, yet temperamental, cat.
A huge thank you to Canine Companions for Independence for everything they did for me, not to mention the thousands of other lives they have helped over the years.
We’ve all been there before. You’re at a party or social gathering and you find yourself cornered by someone who can’t stop talking. Escape seems impossible. You don’t want to be rude but it’s obvious that the person thinks what they’re saying is much more interesting than it actually is so you start to scheme an exit plan. The easiest excuses are usually the bathroom or the need to get a drink or food but sometimes it’s not quite so easy. At this point, whether conscious or not, your body language starts to indicate your immediate desire for an end to the conversation.
Maybe your eyes wander around the room, desperately seeking the welcoming face of a friend, or you start to lean or move away from the person, or your hands and body give some other cues that you’re simply not engaged in the conversation. One way or another, you finally make your way out and are grateful for the social freedom that seemed unobtainable just moments ago.
While scenarios like this are difficult enough, navigating them is even more challenging if you’re a wheelchair user.
I’ve written previously about the challenges of moving through the world two feet shorter than most others and how it impacts my mentality, but I’m long overdue to share a few thoughts on the differences of body language cues that I’ve encountered. I share these not only to express my perspective (and yes, to vent a little bit…) but hopefully to educate and raise awareness for others for when they’re talking to someone using a wheelchair or who simply can’t walk or move “normally”, particularly in crowds.
1) Just because I’m sitting and facing you doesn’t mean I’m interested in what you’re saying.
I know it’s blunt but I have to be 100% honest. This is my number one pet peeve and my most common body language struggle when it comes to social interactions.
Countless times, I’ve been stuck talking to someone (or, I should say, listening impatiently to them) and they’re clueless that for whatever reason, I’m not interested anymore. My theory is that because I’m sitting down and facing them and, yes, looking up at them, they think that I’m a captive audience. And I can understand some of the reasoning for that. I think it’s natural that if you’re standing above and talking down (literally, not figuratively) to people, you’re inclined to think that they are interested in listening to you. Think of a teacher in a classroom or a performer onstage or a speaker talking to a roomful of seated people.
But there have been too many times where I’ve tried to subtly express my disinterest in the conversation and only been met by the person continuing to talk at me. And because they’re standing right in front of me and blocking me from seeing most of the room, it’s hard for me to find an obvious excuse to cut the conversation short.
Like it or not, our respective physical presence has a huge impact on the way we interact. If a seven foot tall person is towering over you and talking, you’re more likely to listen than if it’s someone who’s much shorter than you. But if you’re the person with a larger physical presence, that presence can feel intimidating and cornering.
And that brings me to point number two…
2) Body language is muted when you’re not using your whole body
I’ve been in too many situations where I’ve needed to quickly leave a conversation (i.e. urgently need to use the restroom, wanting to catch someone before they leave, or just simply being in a rush to leave) and my body language cues are not being picked up by the person(s) I’m talking to. I can’t step back or lean to a side or fidget the way an able-bodied person could that would likely convey the need to let me out! On top of that, because I can’t see above people’s shoulders, it’s nearly impossible for me to look around the room and make eye contact with someone else to call out for a conversation rescue.
3) Being cornered or trapped in any way is very limiting and unpleasant
I think everyone can relate…. This situation has occurred to me the most frequently in restaurants or large mealtime gatherings. I’ll find myself at a table that’s difficult to get in and out of. Therefore, not only do I feel awkward having to ask people to move or bump into purses hanging off the back of a chair, I’m less inclined to want to use the restroom or simply get up and leave the table for any reason. And so I unwittingly accept that I’m stuck, and it’s not very fun.
I used to love parties and concerts, crowds and gatherings, and being in a big group of people. But often times now, these situations make me anxious and uncomfortable and so I avoid them. But I will say that I’ve become EXTREMELY grateful and appreciative of people when they DO recognize these physical challenges and go out of their way to pick up my cues or simply ask me what I need. It makes all the difference in the world.
So let’s all try to be more mindful of how we move through the world, how we converse with others, and the social and body language cues that we encounter. And if you see someone in a wheelchair or physically limited, be extra nice and considerate of them. You may think your story is super interesting, and there’s a chance that it is, but they may just be dying to have a bite of food or use the bathroom. 🙂
I could not be more thrilled, excited, proud (and relieved) to announce the publish of my book, “Little Big Steps – A Life-Changing Injury and the Inspirational Journey to Overcome the Odds.”
I’ve been working on it for almost three years and I have to credit all of you, readers of my blog and supporters of my recovery, for giving me the inspiration and motivation to take on this project.
If it weren’t for all the feedback and interest that I received about some of my early blog posts, I would not have known to dig into these stories, expand and explore the depth in each of them, and understand that I could actually be capable of turning them into a larger story. But here I am, a couple years later and with a book that I think can be interesting to all people, not just those dealing with a traumatic or life-changing event or adversity in their lives. Although the story of my injury and ensuing recovery is very unique to me, in writing this book I have selected the moments, perspectives, and experiences from my journey that are likely the most informative and relevant to readers.
So let this be my shameless plug. I ain’t no JK Rowling or Malcolm Gladwell, but with a strong wave of support and early sales of the book, especially in these initial days, I can make myself known to the bookselling gods, so please check it out! All the info and links to buy are on my book page.
It’s available in print and all e-book formats (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, etc.) and for you listener/readers, the audiobook will be ready in just a few days. If you have enjoyed my writing and blog posts at any point, then the book is for you! Or maybe for a friend or family member? At the very least, an ornamental piece?
Thank you for all your support and for helping me make this happen.
I have a very vivid memory of the first day of school in fourth grade. I remember the begrudging acceptance that summer vacation was over, the yearning for just one more long day spent outside and out of the confines of school, and looking up at the calendar on the wall, next to the teacher’s desk, with SEPTEMBER folded open. I remember thinking to myself that it could literally be an eternity before all those ensuing months would pass, the calendar would flip to June and the liberation of summer would commence anew.
I don’t know about all of you but for the elementary school me, nine months felt like—and turned out to be—a very long time. By the time the following summer came, it seemed like I had been through endless glances at the calendar and a brutally long build up to the end of the school year.
We all know that as we get older, time does indeed move faster since a week, month, or year represents a smaller and smaller fraction of our full lives.
Today marks five years since my life was turned upside down by a spinal cord injury. Five years since everything I knew about my body and how I interacted with the world was broken, shattered, and left to be pieced back together (literally and figuratively).
Five years. 260 weeks. Half a decade. Has it felt like a long time? Or has it gone by fast? The answer, as you can probably imagine, is both.
On the one hand, five years have gone by surprisingly quickly. The weeks and months do seem to pass faster and faster every year. And I can very clearly remember my life before July 8, 2012 and it doesn’t seem like a long time ago at all. Maybe it’s because nearly every night in my dreams I walk, run, play sports and have more control over my body than I do in waking hours. Sometimes, in a lucid dream, I realize what’s happening and I tell myself to savor every second of it, knowing that I will inevitably wake up and go back to a very different reality.
But on the other hand, five years has also felt like a five-term life sentence in prison. To think that I’ve woken up 1825 days and encountered this body is still terrifying. To recognize how many singular moments of struggle, pain and discomfort I’ve experienced is mind-numbing and overwhelming. I can’t even conceptualize how many times I’ve had the wish, prayer and desire to somehow get rid of the impacts of this injury and go back to a day-to-day life that doesn’t need to be planned around managing pain and obsessively analyzing sidewalks, curbs, stairs, ramps and building access. Thousands of times? Millions? Possibly.
When it comes to the time frame of my injury—and especially when I’m approaching an anniversary—people often ask me two related questions:
1. Has living with this injury become easier at all?
2. Have I gotten used to it?
The short answer to both questions is an unequivocal NO.
I’m sorry if that’s not what people want to hear but it’s the truth. I’ve heard other people say, “oh you’ll get used to it” or “it’s not that bad once you figure things out.” In fact, I’ll never forget the hospital worker who told me—just days after my surgery—to look at the bright side: “At least when you go to a baseball game or crowded event you’ll have a comfortable chair to sit in and won’t have to stand in line!” (How or why the hospital employed and allowed that person to speak to people early after their injuries is still beyond me…)
I know of many people who’ve suffered spinal cord injuries who have said that things did get easier after a while, that they did get used to using a wheelchair and while I respect each person’s individual opinion and experience, that approach has not worked for me, and I’m not sure it ever will. I’ve been told I’m hard-headed (true); I’ve been told that my effort to improve my body and work on my recovery is simply delaying the inevitable; and I’ve been told that this injury can’t be beat, so the sooner I “accept my current condition”, the happier I’ll be.
Yes this recovery hasn’t gone as fast as I would like. Yes I haven’t reached all of my physical or functional goals yet. And yes there is still a long ways to go. But if I had listened to those voices early on, there’s no way I could have stood up and asked Brita to marry me. There’s no way I could have gained enough strength in my abdominals, back and core to train for and complete a five-mile swim. And there’s no way I would have continued to gain physical breakthroughs and new neurological connections in my third, fourth, and fifth years after the injury, long after that two-year window when the doctors said the healing would surely stop.
The truth is that it’s because of, not in spite of, my commitment to my objectives and diligence that some things have gotten easier. But while certain challenges have lessened or been addressed with novel solutions, new challenges have always arisen.
Reducing pain or discomfort in one part of my body has resulted in new pain somewhere else. Because I have sensation all over my body, I am not disconnected from my lower body and know that being in any one position is uncomfortable and unwise. I still have to plan every single day around minimizing physical pain and how much time I spend in the wheelchair.
The psychological burden of dealing with this injury has become more manageable, but by no means would I say that it’s something I’ve become used to. The truth is that it sucked five years ago when I woke up in the hospital, and while many things have changed and improved, it still sucks today. Again, I’m sorry if this isn’t the narrative or story that people want to hear but I’ve only been sincere and genuine in this blog and so I share all of this with the utmost honesty.
One thing I admit I have learned and accepted is how to find joy and embrace moments of happiness despite all of my day-to-day challenges. For the first few years after my injury, I lived with a mindset that I could not and should not allow myself to feel happiness because that would somehow concede and accept defeat. I’ve learned—through the wisdom, love and support of my family, friends and most of all my incredible very-soon-to-be-wife Brita—to allow joy and happiness back into my life.
I no longer push away those experiences. I no longer think of joyful emotions as distractions from my commitment and pursuit of a healthier and stronger body and a more fulfilled life.
So where do all these ramblings leave me right now, on this five year anniversary and moving forward?
I am still working just as hard as ever on improving my condition. I refuse to live a life of perpetual discomfort and pain. I refuse to accept externally imposed limitations and societal and medical customs of what living with a disability should be like. I refuse to abide by a narrative that “it’s all ok now,” that “things aren’t so bad,” that time has healed all the wounds.
I will continue to listen to my body first and foremost. I will work hard and keep striving for new connections and improvements. I will push myself as long as the fire in me burns (and it’s burning as strong as ever now). I will rest when it is needed and beneficial and I will continue to carve out my own path to a better, healthier, more functional, more fulfilling life.
I am still bitter about the prognoses and outdated expectations that the medical establishment set for me. Instead of telling me that all the healing would occur in one year or two max, that after that I wouldn’t get better, I wonder where I would be now if they had provided more encouragement, support and validation for the potential to continue improving for many years to come. Although I never took them for their word or accepted their arbitrary prognostications, I know that those words impacted me profoundly.
In addition to the pursuit of my personal recovery objectives, I will continue to do everything I can to educate, inform, and alter the ubiquitous approach that our medical system still teaches and promotes to people dealing with spinal cord injuries. There is no place for a method that takes away hope and possibility from so many people in their most vulnerable time. This must change.
The human spirit is strong. The will to work towards something seemingly unachievable should not be discouraged or doubted. And our individual and subjective understanding of time, of what days and months and years mean to each of us, and what we each want to do with our limited time on this planet, should be explored and revered.
I never thought I could make it through five years of living with this injury, but I have. And I hope to continue on my path for another five, fifteen or fifty years to come.
When I started writing this blog in November of 2012, just five months after I suffered a traumatic spinal cord injury, my intention was only to have an honest and unobtrusive way to keep my family and friends updated on the process of my recovery: the struggles, challenges, objectives, achievements, breakthroughs and thought processes behind this insane journey. I didn’t want to crowd everyone’s inbox with emails or spew out random thoughts or take to social media for these updates, so I figured I would write a blog and have it out there for whomever was interested in staying in the loop.
Little did I know where this would lead…
Thanks to all of you and your continued interest, support, encouragement and readership, the blog continued to grow and reach more people than I could ever imagine. Within a few months of me launching this website and sharing my story, I was getting readers and messages from all over the world. People were asking questions, seeking advice (for which I had very little to provide…), searching for perspective, and often times, relating some of the experiences I was sharing to their own respective experiences. I also learned that there were many people out there — with spinal cord injuries or other medical conditions or just life challenges — who could identify with some of the larger issues that I would sometimes raise.
I was flattered to have anyone outside of my personal social community care or read about my story and it wasn’t until many of you commented and told me that you wanted to know more about a specific story, that you were curious about something I had shared and asked me to delve more into it, that I got the idea for doing something bigger.
Well, I can now say that that bigger something is coming very soon.
For the better part of the last two years — and with increasing intensity, energy, time and commitment — I have been turning the story of my recovery into a book. And this book is coming to fruition now as I am in the final process of revisions and edits to get it ready to publish.
This blog has been so many positive things for me but I didn’t expect that it would spark the creative effort and undertaking of completing a full-on memoir of my experience. But alas, that’s where we are.
I will be posting more info very soon about the book — including a landing page where you can sign up to get updates and have access to an advance copy, as well as a specific timeline for the final publish (summer reading anyone???) — but for now, I want to thank all of you for the incredible support and commitment you’ve shown me in reading my blog, commenting, sharing your perspectives and launching this crazy little idea within me that will hopefully turn into something real and tangible very soon.
I always have, and still continue to read and respond to every single comment that has ever been posted on this blog and if it weren’t for the conversations that you have all initiated with me, this likely would not have happened. So thank you. I’m grateful to have this opportunity. And I’m excited to share the larger story very soon…
I wrote this post for the new Story of the Month series that my non-profit (No Limits Collaborative) just started. Feel free to check out our site if you haven’t already. More great things to come!
There I was, sitting in a flimsy collapsible wheelchair on the tarmac, with the hot starry sky above me and hundreds of frantic and upset travelers walking past me to ascend the stairs into the massive Boeing 777. Most people didn’t seem to notice me as they scrambled past and those that did make eye contact glanced away quickly, seemingly pitying me as they climbed up into the airplane.
Living with a spinal cord injury is not easy, to say the least. Getting around town and into and out of cars and buildings and houses to get through day-to-day life is difficult enough. But traveling internationally presents a host of new challenges that one must overcome just to get from point A to point B.
Last month, I had just finished a trip to Chile for continued physical therapy and rehab and after weaving our way through the traffic-clogged streets of Santiago, the taxi had dropped my buddy and I off at the airport with plenty of time to catch our overnight Air Canada flight. We had arrived quite early, informed the grumpy man behind the check in desk that I would need an aisle chair to get onto the plane, and once he indifferently nodded and shrugged us away, we had made our way to the gate to wait for our plane to board.
I have traveled on planes enough since my injury to know that I must communicate my needs repeatedly and meticulously to different members of the airline at all the different parts of the airport in order to ensure that everything happens smoothly: that the airline has an aisle chair with which to board me onto the plane (personal wheelchairs are too wide and bulky for the narrow aisle), that we can take apart my wheelchair and stow parts, if not all of it, in the closets and overhead bins – much to the frequent dismay of the flight attendants who usually refuse to remove their personal belongings to make room, before they sometimes finally concede – and that we can board the plane before all of the other travelers in order to easily get to our seats. So this time, as any other, we had communicated all of this and assumed that things were in order.
The airline didn’t announce that the flight was delayed, it just became clear when an hour had passed after our boarding time and nothing had happened. The Air Canada staff didn’t even seem to know where the plane was (we were in a ground level gate without the jetway to the plane so no one could see it) and didn’t ease the travelers’ concerns by staying silent. Things started to get a little tense, as expected, since most of the travelers had connecting flights to catch in Toronto and it was clear that many would miss their connections.
Finally, we were told that the plane was on the tarmac and that buses would shuttle us there to board. Immediately, I recognized the challenge this would pose to me and I flagged down the Air Canada employee who wasn’t frantically running around trying to quell the unrest. It turned out that he was the manager and I politely explained my situation to him and asked if they had a plan to get me into the plane. He blinked and stared back at me in silence. I repeated my request, this time a bit more forcefully and he waved his hand at me dismissively, crossed his arms and just stood there apathetically.
Some people believe that it can be easier and better to speak a foreign language when one is angry or intoxicated, likely from a lack of inhibition or restraint. As such, after two weeks in Chile, my Spanish was flowing strong and following the uninspiring response from the Air Canada manager, the verbal tirade that flowed out of me felt so natural that I even surprised myself with the extent of my vocabulary and the grammatical accuracy of my complex sentences. The manager shrugged and walked away.
A few minutes later, a friendly young guy wearing a Santiago Airport t-shirt and assisting an elderly woman in a wheelchair approached me. Upset at how I was being treated by the Air Canada staff, he offered to help. “Estos huevónes no saben nada,” he said. These idiots don’t know anything. He had seen someone in a wheelchair get into a plane from the tarmac before and said that the airport had a specific device that he would try to secure to help us. I was simultaneously baffled and grateful when he took out his personal cell phone and started making calls. A few minutes later, despite the continued confusion and indifference of the actual Air Canada staff, friendly young guy assured us that we would be ok. “No te preoccupes.” Don’t worry, he said with a smile.
And that’s how I ended up on the tarmac, almost four hours after our designated departure time, with the plane towering behind me as friendly young guy attached the wheelchair I was sitting in to a device with small wheels and levers that would slowly climb up each stair, all the way up to the plane door.
I don’t think Air Canada realized or appreciated just how helpful friendly young guy had been since they had completely excused themselves from helping me and never once took initiative to resolve the unexpected set of events. Even when we finally got into the plane, they didn’t have an aisle chair available and seemed surprised and annoyed to have to “deal with me.” Thankfully, my buddy is the strongest person I know and he effortlessly piggybacked me from the flimsy wheelchair to my seat.
I’m not sure what the moral of the story is, maybe just that sometimes no amount of preparation or communication will be enough to assure a smooth journey. Or maybe that when traveling, especially internationally, one should be prepared for any kind of adversity or challenge. Or maybe that there are kind, generous people out there and it’s imperative to be grateful for them. Or maybe just that Air Canada really sucks and needs to step up their game. Probably all of the above…
I want to be exhausted. I want to push myself beyond what I thought was imaginable and then push more. I want that feeling of satisfaction that comes with knowing that I have absolutely nothing left in the tank. And, until recently, I hadn’t found this feeling for years.
I’ve mentioned fatigue quite a bit throughout my posts and it’s always something I struggle to describe clearly. The conversations are often like this:
Them: “How long do you do that exercise before you get tired?”
Me: “It’s hard to say. There are so many factors that go into how I’m doing on a particular day that it’s not always easy to know why my body reacts in certain ways. Some days, I’ll be really tight and it will be hard to move because of that. Other days I just might not connect to the muscles that I want.”
Them: “So you’re just tired from the beginning? Or from something you did the day before?”
Me: “Um… kinda… but not really. It’s not tired, it’s just that I may not have the ability to get the neurological connection to make the movement.”
Them: “You mean like you’re sore? Your muscles just don’t respond?”
Me: “Yeah sorta like the responding. It’s not soreness. I haven’t felt sore at all in years. At least not in my legs. I’m always sore in my shoulders, neck and arms, like, all the time. But with my legs it’s just… I don’t know… it’s hard to describe.”
And that’s usually where I give up.
In my last post, I talked about neurological fatigue, that unique sensation that best describes that sensation of not being able to connect to a movement or to specific muscles in my lower body. Recently, on my most recent trip to visit Alejandra and applying the lessons of her one-0f-a-kind Neurokinetic Pilates method, I finally found exhaustion. And not the esoteric neurological kind that I have a hard time describing. Just good ol’ fashioned “I want to collapse and lay down and not move” exhaustion. And it felt amazing.
I’ve written extensively about how Alejandra is always able to find and make new connections within my body, and this time was no exception. On the first day I see her, she always asks me what my objective is for the time I’m with her. This time, I repeated the same exact thing I told her last year: that I want to get the connection for hip flexion, that is, to pick up one foot and take a step already…
Unlike last year when she told me that she didn’t think I was ready for that yet and I needed to work on a bunch of other movements in order to get myself strong enough to even be able to attempt hip flexion, this trip was a different story. Alejandra agreed that it was the right time that I try to start tackling this immense challenge for me: going against gravity to lift a foot off the ground step it in front of the other. Sounds simple, but not for me.
Alejandra did what she always does, she took the exercises I was doing (which I shared with videos in my last post), and pushed me much further beyond my comfort zone. The result was that for the first time in years, I was actually 100% physically and mentally tired and exhausted after each day of working with her. She was able to find the limits of both my physical fatigue as well as my neurological fatigue, crush them both and push me much further into an entirely new realm of exhaustion.
My videos are below. The significant thing to understand is that until I saw her, I was doing similar exercises always facing forwards on the CoreAlign machine, with the comfort and security of the ladder in front of me and with both arms bracing me. With her, we turned everything sideways, so that there was literally nothing in front of my knees and I could only hold on with one arm. To say that it pushed my boundaries is a massive understatement and now I have the satisfaction of knowing that in just a couple of weeks, she was able to dramatically push my limits and get me to work in that sweet spot of struggle, abject fear that I may collapse, and the ensuing accomplishment.
And I can finally remember, and relive, the feeling of exhaustion.
With a new year comes new accomplishments and new objectives in my journey of recovery. The last few months of 2016 brought with them the ability for me to work harder and longer in a standing position, relying greatly on the Core Align, the piece of Pilates equipment with sliding carts under my feet and a wooden ladder in front of me that has become the most fundamental tool for my rehab.
Only a few months ago, standing and exercising at the Core Align would end with exhaustion after no more than thirty minutes. More than physical or muscle fatigue (which people always ask me about) the thing that would get me the most would be what I refer to as neurological fatigue.
It’s difficult to describe exactly what this feels like but suffice it to say that getting my body into positions that challenge my flexibility, balance, and endurance and then trying to connect to a new movement and push myself as much as possible results in my entire neurological system feeling tired. I’ve been flooding my lower body with so many signals from my brain and telling it to move using the limited pathways of my damaged spinal cord that after a while, the signals just don’t get through as efficiently or successfully as before. It’s as if you have two lanes of fast moving traffic (the signal from my brain) with cars, buses and trucks flying down the roadway and after some time, the two lanes turn into one and the one lane turns into a narrow street which only a car can pass. By the end of it, the traffic can still get through and provide the message to the other side, but it’s much slower.
Much of the work I’m doing now is finding new exercises and movements that tread the line of being so challenging that they seem nearly impossible, and then doing so many repetitions and working through them so hard that I reach neurological fatigue, and then pushing just a bit more. Through this process, the line of exhaustion keeps getting pushed further, my strength improves and I’m able to maintain the connections I’ve made in a standing position more effectively and for a longer duration.
The videos below – aside from showing my first foray into wearing spandex, a necessary item during these chilly winter mornings – indicate just how far I’ve come in the second half of 2016. In each video, I’m working on one specific aspect of the walking and gait cycle that will each contribute to being able to take steps. The shaking in my legs that sometimes occurs (which I’ve written about previously) is a clear indication of reaching that point of neurological fatigue. So without any further ado, let’s get into it:
Working on holding my front knee bent and strong while pulling forward with the back leg also bent. It wasn’t that long ago that I was unable to hold my weight in one leg bent for any amount of time; now it’s longer and stronger and more effortless.
“The Running Man” Anyone who grew up in the early 90s remembers MC Hammer, his baggy pants and the ubiquitous and memorable dance move that he made famous. Now I’m doing my own version of the Running Man by alternating lunges back and forth on both legs, trying to become faster at sending those neurological signals from my brain and telling my body to switch left and right while maintaining good alignment and body position.
Holding a lunge, then rotating open and finding space and flexibility in my ribcage and thoracic spine. Again, only a few weeks before, I couldn’t conceive of staying in a lunge and doing any other kind of movement. It just would have been too much for my neurological system to handle; now it’s become more manageable.
Hopefully this gives a little taste of where I’m at and where I’m moving towards in this new year. More updates to come very soon.