Struggle is not a dirty word!

When did struggle become a dirty word? It seems people are afraid to say they had to work hard for something, or that there were obstacles. Everyone is always competing for best and prancing around like some proud peacock. “I barely had to do homework and got 4.3 GPA.” “I don’t even have to work out to look this good.” “Everything in life just comes naturally to me.” [Insert condescending laugh here.]

But why is any of that something to brag about? And why do people think they can talk big and not have the world see right through it? What’s wrong with things not coming naturally? What’s wrong with falling? I would think the person who falls and picks themselves up only to finally succeed is the bigger person.

I admit my faults (and I have many!). I am terrible in math and had to have a tutor in high school to help me through Algebra II and Pre-calc. He barely hung in there through physics though. I played softball throughout my childhood and sucked at running, so I learned to hit the ball far, or to do a mean bunt, so I had a smidgeon of a chance to make it to first base. I took the LSAT twice to get a good enough score to make it into the law school where I really wanted to go. In that same vein, I took the bar twice. I’m not ashamed at that. I’m proud of myself for not completely falling apart when I didn’t pass the first time (despite almost every single one of my friends passing) and studying hard enough to make it through the second.

I feel like not admitting struggle or failure or hardship makes those experiences seem dirty. And that in turn, makes it harder on other people who aren’t perfect. They feel even worse about themselves if they screw up.

You may be wondering what brought along this rant. I’m just tired of looking to people for inspiration and them trying to pass everything off as easy. I watched a Youtube video of a girl folding up her wheelchair to put into her car so I could learn how to do it. She claims it was the first time and she glided right to her car, bing bang boom, put it away smoothly in 1 minute. The first time I tried, I ended up a sweaty, tire-marked, crying mess because it was frustratingly difficult. Now that I’ve been doing it for several weeks, I’ve gotten the hang of it, though I usually still end up sweaty and tire-marked. Those things seem unavoidable. But, I felt like I wasn’t good enough because I couldn’t do it as easily as her. And after my own experience, I question whether that really was her first time. If it was, kudos for her. But why phrase things that make other people feel bad if they can’t do it as well?

The one that really irks me is Amy Van Dyken-Rouen. I keep seeing interview with her where she claims that she’s not really had any mental breakdowns because she is just so happy to be alive. If that is true, then I am 100% genuinely happy for her. But, I 100% genuinely do not believe her. Being in a wheelchair sucks. Having your mobility taken away from you sucks. Learning how to function in a world meant for people on two legs sucks. Is it all bad? Of course not! But to not admit that it sucks is a bold faced lie!

I think that I am a pretty positive person. I think that I am able to look at situations and find the good in them, generally speaking. But to say that having your world ripped away and completely changed in a matter of moments is not hard just doesn’t seem believable. And pretending otherwise does a disservice to people who do struggle. When I was in the hospital, after spending a week in ICU, the psychiatrists came in and wanted to give me anti-depressants. It was normal for them for people to freak out. In fact, I think they were worried because I wasn’t depressed. (I tried to explain the difference between suckyness and depression, but all they ever responded with was “Pill?”) What worked for me was having the most amazing priest in the history of priests come by my room several times a week to let me just vent and cry. And then I would be ok and return back to physical therapy and my attempts at positivity.

When I got home from the hospital, adjusting to daily life was hard. Having to rely on care takers to get me places was hard. Having to rely on the hubs to help me shower or go out in public after he had a long day at work was hard. I felt like such a burden. And that is difficult for an independent person. That’s difficult for any kind of person. But I worked through it. Now that I have my independence back, I struggle with my wheelchair. And I still struggle through PT. And I still struggle with simple things like putting my pants on. A few weeks ago I fell to the floor in a public restroom while trying to transfer from the toilet to the chair. That was tough. (And so incredibly disgusting!!!! I’m still washing my hands just thinking about it!)

This isn’t a pity party. This is just meant to show that life isn’t easy. Life is full of struggles. And when people try to play it off like it’s easy for them, it makes the rest of us feel bad. That’s what creates depression. There’s no shame in admitting that things are hard. There’s no shame in saying “Yeah, that sucked, but I’m getting through it!” Maybe being truthful makes the better person.

One year later

One year ago today was the day that changed my life. Was it the worst day of my life? No. I still consider that to be March 27, 1991. That was the date of my first major back surgery, and the date that my grandpa died. Despite the fact that that surgery saved the ability for my young self to walk and regain a normal lifestyle, that was the worst day of my life. One year ago today, I lost the ability to walk. It sounds weird to phrase it that day, but I think it’s appropriate. It’s not gone completely, it’s just hiding somewhere within my inner being. According to 5 O’Clock Shadow, my nerves are like a congested freeway and we just need the lanes to open up for the traffic to go freely. It may seem weird when people break things down like that, but that’s where my comprehension level is. When it has to do with medical issues and my body, my brain turns into that of a 10 year old. I can wrap my mind around that. Other PTs try telling me in their scholarly fashion “nerves regenerate at 1 millimeter per month and so far you’re showing excellent growth patterns.” My eyes will glaze over. Freeways and traffic I can relate to! I grew up driving in the traffic mecca of the world: Los Angeles. Traffic I get.

I keep thinking back to last year. I wonder if there was a precise moment when my legs went limp. This time last year I was under the knife. Had it already happened? Was it happening around now, as I sit hear one year later, eating left over pasta from last night’s dinner and typing this blog? If the doctors had ended the surgery now, would I have been able to skip out of the hospital? It’s a weird thing to think about.

I don’t know how to feel today, other than amazed at the fact that it’s already been a year. Am I sad? Indifferent? Optimistic? I don’t know. Is it possible to be all of the above? Obviously I’m bummed. I don’t think anyone hopes that one day they’ll get to have a permanent seat from now on. Though, to be fair, that is a perk: I never have to worry about finding a place to sit in public. But am I that bummed? It’s not like life is over. I’ve still been able to work, although it definitely took some figuring out as far as logistical planning goes. But, I’ve actually had my best year yet at my firm. So that wasn’t impacted. And I just got back from an amazing two week road trip with the hubs (more on that to come in a different blog). So I can still travel. I’m still able to swim. I can drive now. I have a new wheelchair coming any day now, so I’ll be 100% independent. I plan on ordering an attachment for said new wheelchair which will turn my wheelchair into a tricycle, so I can go on walks easier with the hubs and the dogs. Then there’s the weekly pain in the butt sessions with 5 O’Clock Shadow which keep me hopeful for the future. And the therapy I do at home helps me keep fighting to be back on my feet. So, is life really so bad?

This past weekend was my baby niece’s second birthday party. I watched other people running around playing with her, or carrying her and that made me sad. There was a pony ride involved and I couldn’t help her. I can honestly say that not being able to keep up with her or do all the things other people can with her has been the hardest part of this whole thing. But then I look for the positive: at her birthday party, I was like home base. I was seated in my wheelchair in a particular area out of the way of all the playing children, and she knew I was there. She would periodically make her way over to me with a toy or a blanket.

Maybe being non-mobile isn’t a terrible thing. Maybe it’s taught me that it’s ok to sit down for a while. That you don’t always have to be moving about. It’s definitely taught me patience. I know how frustrated clients can be when it seems things are taking forever and they don’t understand why. It’s taught me empathy for that frustration. It’s taught me to be resourceful and how to figure things out. This past year has taught be to get over my stubbornness and to ask for help. That’s it’s ok to need people. It doesn’t make you weak to not be able to do something 100% on your own. It’s definitely taught me to trust and who I can trust. It’s taught me who is truly there for me and who my real friends are. It’s taught me to meet challenges. It’s taught me that gravity can be really fun when rolling down hill and the wind is in your face. It’s also taught me that gravity can be really scary when rolling down hill and the wind is in your face. It’s taught me that sometimes life just sucks for no apparent reason and you just have to keep rolling.

One year ago today was the day that changed my life forever. And I don’t think it was in a bad way.

Drill Sergeant, et al

You know those people who compare everything they’re doing now to things they did before?  And the things they did before were always so much better?  (Ex: Oh, I like this bakery, but the bakery in my hometown made the MOST delicious cupcakes.  They were so fresh and yummy.  But, I mean, these are good too…….)  There’s a word to describe those people: annoying.

I hate to admit it, but I am one of those annoying people.  I hear myself doing it, and I can’t stop it.  The words spew out of my mouth before I can shut it.  Before I can even think to shut it.  But, to be fair, I find myself only really doing it (that I notice anyway) when it comes to my rehabilitation.  This is so not fair to my current physical therapists.  They’re really great.  I see them two to three times a week and they push me and encourage me.

The problem is that I had the benefit of going to the best in-house rehabilitation facility in the world.  I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere.  Possibly it was in the reviews I gave them.  But no matter, it was the best.  I was there for a little over four weeks.  I went in a crying, sniveling, scaredy cat.  (I left in a similar state, but that’s beside the point.)

Drill Sergeant:  My main physical therapist was often referred to (by me) as the Drill Sergeant.  Sometimes, when he was especially cruel, I referred to him by other names.  But, that was usually under my breath or after he was gone.  Also, besides the point.  He was seriously the best though.  He pushed me and did not let me get away with any of my normal tricks (read: trying to fake through exercises to just get them done with).  I remember one set in particular when I got stuck on the number 6 because he kept. making. me. do. it. over. and. over. and. over.  If it was sloppy, redo it.  If it was weak, redo it.  If he wasn’t paying attention, redo it.  I used my never fail trick of crying in frustration.  He let me sit for a minute to calm down.  Then he made me redo it.  I know, you’re thinking why was he the best.  It’s because even though he put the “UGH!!!” in “tough”, he was super fun and hilarious.  He cracked jokes while torturing me and made it somewhat fun.

Dr. S: Because Drill Sergeant seemed to always be on vacation or on days off, my other main physical therapist was Dr. S.  She was the complete opposite of Drill Sergeant.  While Drill Sergeant was crazy hyper and silly, she was mellow with an awesome dry sense of humor.  She pushed me just as hard and was always quick to answer all of my technical “But why?” questions.  She was a PhD which, I think she should have bragged about more.  Seriously.  If I had my doctorate, I’d probably throw that into any conversation several times.  “Would you like bread on your table?”  “Well, since I’m a doctor, yes.”  See, it works very naturally.  Dr. S and I also had a ton in common, which probably also led to me liking her so much.  We had the same first name.  We got married on the same day.  She often vacationed (and got proposed to) in the city where I live.  She’s from Chicago and I love the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  Her husband is English and mine speaks English.  See, the similarities are endless!  We’re practically the same person.

All of the other PT’s there were amazing as well.  I worked with just about all of them.  And the aide’s were great too!  They all got used to my emotional roller coaster of a recovery and were quick with the support and encouragement or with the kleenex.  I’m surprised none of them obtained stock in Kleenex.  Seriously, I cried a lot.

[Sidenote: My OT’s were so amazing that they will get their own post later on.  I mean, the people who gave me my first shower after 2.5 weeks and taught me how to pull on pants while sitting on a toilet deserve their own post for sure.]

When I was an inpatient, I was in therapy 1000 hours a day.  Ok, I think it was really 3-4 hours, but it felt like 1000.  I was always drained by the end.  OT started out fun.  They brought in Connect 4 for me to play.  Um, yes.  I can play a game.  They got more cruel from there.  Making me sit on the edge of a bed.  For a few days, that was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.  I specifically remember saying that I hang out with criminals on a daily basis for work (I’m a criminal defense attorney) and that doesn’t cause me any worries.  But they want me to sit on the edge of the bed and I was going to hyperventilate.  It’s really a very scary thing when you’re in pain, have no control of your body or legs, and can’t even feel them on the ground.  But, they got me going little by little.  They knew exactly what they were doing and how to do it.  In PT, it started out as torture.  My very first session, they tried to have me stand while strapped, buckled, barred and cushioned into a frame structure.  I stood for a “nanosecond” as that PT told me, all while crying, yelling, cussing and snot flowing.  The weird thing was that for all my freaking out, my go to reflex was to hold my breath and close my eyes.  Apparently I felt it was better to pass out blindly.  To this day, the common trend in my rehab is the command “Breathe!”  But, I eventually went from a nanosecond to an entire second to minutes.  They never pushed me more than I could do.  They mixed it up so I wouldn’t burn out.  They answered my annoying questions.  They put up with my emotions and terrible jokes.

So, it’s no wonder that at my new outpatient facility they’re going to hear repeatedly “Oh, at CS they had me do it like [this].”  Or “My PT at CS would have me do it like [that].”  You’d think they were rockstars the way I talk about them, or that they were the inventors of physical therapy itself.  But, in my limited world of rehabilitation, they are and they did.