Blue Bird Days

For several years after embarking on my chariot (wheelchair) ride, I experienced a brooding sadness. No one knew about it, only me. After the second year, I pinpointed it to occur for a couple of months in the fall. It dissipated as subtly as it appeared.

In the third and final year, I realized it was a mild depression. This sadness resulted from my association with the month of my SCI, September, and the loss of participating in favorite fall activities and exhilarating winter sports. This realization began my resurrection.

I had already grieved the death of sojourning the remainder of my life via feet (although I do believe in miracles). Now, it was time to bury old dreams and resurrect new hopes.

I leased an apartment in a newly completed complex. I recall the prediction of a possible evening snow. With the late-night news came the announcement that, indeed, it was snowing.

I threw on a shawl, wheeled out to the sidewalk, and laid my head back as silent snowflakes sifted softly onto my face. I lingered there for the longest, drinking in the peaceful beauty, and praising God, out loud.

Yes, I remember wondering if my neighbors thought I was crazy; but my joy trumped worrying about what they thought. I missed the snow. Just because I couldn’t ski or cross country in it, didn’t lessen my delight. I was in heaven. (A “crippling” half-inch accumulation of snow caused all schools to be closed the next day. What?)

In recognizing my sadness, I could open the mental windows for fresh ideas to circulate. My desire to do something about it, to find happiness in other ways, was the door to my freedom. Choosing to make the emotional change adjusting to disability, put me on my healing path.

My first book, Views From My Chariot: A Wheelchair Oddity http://booklocker.com/books/6235.html , is a beginner course for you to recognize fresh ideas that will revive your hopes for a promising future after disability, resuscitate mental clarity for strength to push forward, and encourage you to open the door to the productive, fulfilling future that awaits you. It’s your choice.

Still, snow is rare in Alabama, but that doesn’t limit my experiencing it. Warren Miller Entertainment provides me vicarious thrills “catchin’ air” around the world. Mostly, they film heli-skiing and backcountry skiing, WAY beyond my expertise. But this way, everyday is a blue bird day on champagne powder for me!

“On your left!”

SWUSH!

Thanks-giving

I like rocks. I’m good at rock-paper-scissors. And as a child, I was skilled with a hammer; not in its traditional sense. It was wielding the ordinary claw hammer cracking Brazil nuts out of their shells on our brick hearth; and, as a young geologist in my driveway searching for crystals hidden unpredictably inside its rocks. These “diamonds” were my treasures.

I also LOVE flowers! If I had frivolous monies, I would have a fresh, heavenly scented bouquet delivered weekly: Calla lilies with eucalyptus and camellias in December, cheery daffodils in January, macho pansies in February, Carolina jasmine in April, May’s Asian peonies and, to the most important, the Mayflower, of course.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful for the Mayflower departing Plymouth, England on September 6, 1620 with 102 passengers to land in the new world at my favorite rock (real emeralds and real diamonds aside), Plymouth Rock. Believing in their destiny with the hope for a better world, 102 brave pilgrims (travelers) courageously sacrificed security and comfort for the dream of independence and religious freedom.

A week or so after land was sighted (November 9th), they set foot on the new world.

In Native graves they found baskets of maize (which was probably their first meal) and iron kettles. They reburied the maize for spring planting. They also found Native American homes with mats, implements, corn, and beans of all colors.

Although fifty-percent died the first winter, there were fifty-three Pilgrims and ninety Native Americans who celebrated the first harvest in the new world the following fall, 1621. Squanto, who served as an interpreter (She learned English, probably as a slave in England.) and taught the Pilgrims how to catch eel and grow corn, is credited for the Pilgrim’s success.

It was President Abraham Lincoln who in 1863 officially declared that the fourth Thursday in November be celebrated as a time of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficient Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

Can you give me an AMEN!

My Hero

Before I get to my hero, here’s the back-story:

I have three cats, but this is about “the boys,” my two male felines, Fred Astaire and Laptop.

Fred was a feral that I domesticated. Intentionally, I didn’t use the word “tamed” because his first year in captivity he eat through my screened-in porch, four times! I decided it was cruel (and expensive) trying to make him an indoor cat. Weather permitting, I let him out once-a-week.

Two years later, I saved Laptop from getting euthanized. By three-years-of-age, he weighed a hefty eighteen-and-a-half- pounds. I decided he needed more exercise than he was getting indoors. So, he and Fred get an hour romp outdoors weekly. (As of this posting, Laptop has lost 3 pounds.)

I let them out into the wild through my kitchen door. Thus, my kitchen door has become the stimulus–the association for escape, like food was to Pavlov’s dogs’ salivation responce. Even when I casually pass by the kitchen door, the boys rush me. And, as guests say their good-byes at the door, Fred sprawls in front of it or circles their legs meowing. Laptop doesn’t waste energy until the door is opened; then, he springs for it. My disability prevents me from running after them. Unless they’re napping, it’s a zoo trying to get out without a prison-break!

In spite of being stealthy and giving directions to friends not to give the boys a heads-up–a polite knock on the door–the sound of the UPS truck belied my best-laid plans.

I heard the brakes as the truck stopped in front of my house then, the sliding of its merchandise door. I went to the kitchen to meet him. Immediately, eight paws with two expectant tails pointing north joined me.

Through a barely cracked door I coaxed the man in brown: “When you come in, stomp your feet to deter my two cats from escaping. They will try to run out.”

He affirmed by nodding his head.

With a scanner in his left hand and two large stacked boxes in his right, he side-stomped through the half-open door. As he walked toward the kitchen table, Laptop saw the opportunity and made a break for the wide-open. I shrieked.

In mid-stride, the man in brown side-pressed Laptop, now in mid-air, against the door with his left calf then, swiped him like a credit card back into the kitchen…never losing his balance or a box. I slammed the door behind him with, “Thank you! You must have pets.”

He slid the boxes onto the table, quickly scanned them with, “Oh, yes.” and was back out the door.

It was a bird…a plane…the UPS man. My hero!

Dear Caregiver,

If you’re the lone caregiver for a loved one disabled from injury, disease, or illness, exhaustion can needlessly add to your stress. Aside from grieving the loss of the person you once knew, the future you hoped to share together as changed significantly.

Maybe you were sports enthusiasts, movie-goers, appreciators of the arts, or dedicated game-players. Now that you can’t easily go to an athletic event, the theater, museum, concert, or continue as club members, is there something you can substitute for it? And, would you consider offerring your loved one the opportunity to experience it with another? For instance:

Once-in-a-blue-moon, anticipate an IMAX ‘excellent’ adventure.

PBS performances, high school, and/or college drama departments are options for plays, operas, even concerts. Most schools and amphitheaters are accessible these days. I’ve found that students, as well as faculty, from the university in my town are open to performing in homes. A friend presented me with the gift of an ensemble singing Christmas carols to their own instrumentation. As well, poetry recitation, storytelling, dancing, playing instruments, karaoke, drawing, or painting are sensory experiences to share together.

Take a virtual museum tour or try this: My “Soul Soaring-No Wheelchair Needed article on 09/14/2012  http://conversationswithcynthia.com/2012/09/14/soul-soaring-n…elchair-needed/

Concerning that serpent of guilt, its motive is to isolate and depress you. Finding a network of support to lighten your burden is a mandatory life-line.

http://apparalyzed.com/disability-directory/disability-forums-chat/ has a forum specifically for spouses and parents caring for family members of SCI, in addition to information on health issues, technology and assistive technology, sports, travel, research/cure/treatment news, and much more for your loved one to connect with. It’s an active, informative, stimulating site.

Barry J. Jacobs’ book, The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers, is a soothing balm for caregivers. Although it is based on caring for an aging parent, you can learn what he has gleaned from his own personal experience, as well, as a clinical psychologist and family therapist.  http://www.emotionalsurvivalguide.com/book.htm

Just as important as reaching out for support, you must take care of yourself.

After my release from five months in SCI rehab, I lived with my sister and brother-in-law for about three or four months before leasing an apartment and going back to work. During that time, our church organized a daily schedule to relieve my, then pregnant, sister.

On a two-week rotation, one day every other week, a new friend picked me up around 11:30am to carry me to her home for lunch. Back then, most husbands came home for lunch. The couple, their young children included, shared their meal with me. Dad went back to work, children took a nap, and we visited until nap was over. Normally, I was home by 4:00pm.

It was the perfect opportunity for me to learn to adapt in different environments, build confidence in my abilities instead of focusing on my new disability, and to make new friends.

Not sharing your care-giving can pose a dilemma. When you have cared so attentively that your loved one wants ONLY you to assist and care for them, how can you find the necessary respite? It’s a ‘Catch-22’ situation. It appears self-defeating. I’ve been on both sides.

On one hand, you were there when they were admitted into the hospital, during rehabilitation, and first came home. You know best how-to.

You fear no other knows what is best for them or will care for them as you do. You fear the repercussion between you and your loved one if you seek outside help. You know you will feel guilty, and you fear what others may think, if you do.

You are sacrificing and compromising your mental and physical health for theirs.

On the other hand, your loved one knows you know how-to. He/she feels comfortable with you and feels confident in your hands. They don’t want to adjust to another person because it will be unfamiliar. They don’t want to sacrifice their preferences. They fear the unknown.

Your loved one can not make a full adjustment to his/her situation, or turn that corner toward independence, until they’ve allowed other’s help. It’s interesting that when they get caught between the ‘rock-and-a-hard-place’ that their wheels of avoidance figure out ‘how-to’ for themselves.

When we sulk at the suggestion of assistance from friends, other family members, or hired help, you feel resentment. When we threaten withholding our love or giving up, you feel anger. When we threaten to harm ourselves, you feel guilt and hopelessness.

Allow us these confusing emotions; only don’t take them personally. It isn’t really about you; it’s you fear talking. If fear isn’t faced, it will always be the bully pushing us around.

Love yourself enough to Seek support, Assistance, and You-time to quell the negative emotions eating away inside. Notice the acronym, SAY. Saying it out load–straight-up– is the first step toward a viable solution to living joyfully and at peace with each other.

YOU ARE INVALUABLE; not just to your loved ones.

Dear Family,

I don’t have many disabled friends, although time and again, friends and friends-of-friends give me numbers to call of people adjusting to a disability, disease, or illness. In addition to living with a disability, my counseling experience seems the perfect fit. I can listen with an empathetic ear, answer personal questions, and offer practical solutions for daily living. Before moving away, one of these women became a dear friend.

She was a go-getter. Obstacles were met with determination. She thought of tomorrow as the result of what she made of today. She was, and I’m sure she still is, a trooper. We lost touch after she and her husband moved. It was fun with the both of us rolling around together in our homes. I hadn’t been in a room full of wheelchairs since rehab!

From all the conversations getting to know my comrades-on-wheels, with the exclusion of my friend Julie, this is what I’ve found: Most of them succumbed to disability.

Understandably, they were overwhelmed with the drastic lifestyle change. But, the added stress of dashed dreams, the uncertainty of tomorrow, and pressure to adjust before the impact of the new reality had sunk in, brought an emotional tailspin—depression. This is when family is needed the most, but it was their families that seemed to be the insurmountable barrier to their emotional freedom and physical independence.

Caustic remarks fueled emotional eruptions. Innuendos, hints, and sarcastic tones of unspoken resentments from care-giving family members were destructive to all; particularly, the ones with broken wings. They couldn’t fly away to safety, and healing. They were sentenced to flop around and be pecked to death.

The saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” is untrue. Words maim, as well.

Family should be a safe environment nurturing us back into a productive life. Even so, it’s difficult for you who love us to stand back and watch the struggle—dressing, feeding, wheeling ourselves—when you could easily do it for us. But, we need to be allowed the struggles. This not only increases our endurance but also our confidence toward independence.

We need to care for ourselves, apply make-up, or shave. We need time for our doubts and confusion to settle. We need time to gain confidence on the slippery slope of acceptance toward a healthy adjustment. We need to be encouraged to hope, to make plans for a new future. Because when the time comes, we need to know we will be okay on our own. After all, isn’t this true for anyone?

We don’t want to feel helpless. We don’t need to feel we’re a burden. Help us not to be either.

We are aware that it’s a difficult adjustment for you. We do know you’re suffering, as well. Your dreams for and with us have been altered. You miss the way we were. You feel guilty because you do. It’s natural. It’s okay. You have your own adjustment. Together, we can do it.

Once we gain emotional freedom, prove our independence, and begin to laugh again, you can push us around.  We’ll accept a freebie, any day.

THANK YOU!