"If you're going through Hell, keep going."
-Winston Churchill

Dec 29, 2011

You cannot start a new chapter until you end the previous one. Goodbye 2011

Season’s Greetings! I hope everyone reading this has had a warm, safe and happy holiday with the ones that you love. I am a year older and 2012 is only days away- typical time for many of us to reflect on the past year. By this time of the year I always think the same thing, “Wow, time sure has gone by fast.” That is a severe understatement for this year; days seem to go by so quick that I cannot keep up. Time is a precious thing many of us take for granted. What matters is how you use your time. Are you spending it with people you love? Are you making yourself a better person? Or are you spending it not making the most out of it? You cannot sit back and wait for your world to turn into what you want it to be- you have to work for it. You have to want it enough that you fight for it. Days when you don't want to, you do it anyway. This is how I feel about my recovery. I know I have made great progress, but I'm disappointed in myself for not working harder to make more. On one hand, I give myself a break because this was still my first year. I am a little over 18 months post-injury so I am in a stage where sometimes I feel like I know everything there is to know about my injury, but then I am still experiencing new things and learning different ways to improvise and adapt that makes the injury/lifestyle feel so new. For instance, recently I have learned how to independently go into the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face. One day I even managed to get in the pantry and get me a spoonful of peanut butter by myself! Things I could definitely not do this time last year. However, looking back now to this time last year, I was probably a lot more depressed than I wanted to admit; it was my first birthday, Christmas and New Year in the chair. One of my most favorite times of years yet I did not feel the spirit of the season. Then, in January, I was denied Medicaid and all therapy stopped. Therapy not only gave me the chance to physically work out, but was also the only place I went repeatedly and was able to socialize with other people aside from my family. Not to mention having to adjust to relocating back home, whereas most my friends lived in Hattiesburg or New Orleans. Also having to adjust to being back in my house where I used to be able to do so much more that I could no longer do (get in the whirlpool bath, lay on the chaise, eat at the bar, sleep in MY wonderful queen-size bed). Then my relationships with people who I was extremely close to drastically changed. I'm sure there were also some “seasonal blues” involved as well because last year was extremely cold and nasty. Every aspect of my life had changed and I know it takes time to adjust, but it was so much to deal with that I shut down and did not follow through with my promise to myself to push as hard as I could every day.

Then in April, I decided to do something about it. I created Help Katy Back to Rehab and life has not been the same since. Each day I would get excited to check the page and see what new things had developed. Having so many people, most of whom I've never met, believe in me and support me was the hand that I needed to pick me up. That page has truly changed my life and so much good has come out of it. Other than raising money for me to go back to rehab, I also made a whole new group of friends- both online and off. I have learned that I can inspire people, which in turn inspired me more to make the accident and my injury have as much purpose as possible. I read a quote the other day that really hit me, “Maybe your sole purpose in life is to serve as a warning to others.” I can use my story to either prevent an accident happening to someone else, or inspire just one person to live their life the best way they can. That you can live your life without drama and negativity; reminding yourself every day that life can change in the blink of an eye; time goes by so quickly and once it's gone, it's not coming back. There's no Mulligan when it comes to your decisions in life. If I can make somebody realize that, then it is worth it. Because really, that is the only option there is. Life truly is what you make of it. My injury has slowed me down but it has not changed my passions, my goals, or my quality of life. If anything, I appreciate little things so much more now than I ever did before. I have learned so much more about myself this past year and a half then I think I knew before. Prior to the accident I never thought of myself as a strong person, at least not the kind of person who could handle such a drastic change with my head held high. But to me it was simply the one thing I kept repeating to myself: there is no other choice. And that really applies to any situation in this life that you find yourself in where you do not have any control over what has happened (such as my injury). It is inevitable that there will be hard times in your life, that you will struggle without knowing why and find yourself stuck in a situation that you do not know how to control. But the one thing you can control is your attitude, and that makes all the difference in the world. You could sit, sulk, cry and pout all you want, but it won't do you a lick of good. Time will go by, wasted because you decided to let yourself be defeated by a situation you could not control. Or you learn to grab the bull by the horns, thank God you're alive, and start to count your blessings and not your problems.

               So this is how I will start 2012, equipped with the knowledge and the drive to really push myself this New Year, the knowledge to know that life is tough but I am tougher. I will admit, without sugarcoating, that I have been lazy this year. I have not pushed my body like I told myself I would. I have not worked as hard as I told myself I would, know that I can, and must do in order to achieve my goals. I will not get anywhere if I don't take the first step, so to say. I cannot control the fact that my injury has already happened, but I can do as much as I can, physically and mentally, to get myself back to where I need to be. Where I am at now in my life, not finished with school, out of work, and fully dependent on somebody, is just a speed bump. Before my accident, I was going nowhere fast and God told me to slow down. It has always taken drastic measures to get through to me. Now that I can look back on the year and realize how much further along I could be I get angry with myself. I will use that emotion to push myself on the days that I hurt; the days I don't want to get up and do hours of intense therapy. I will allow myself to feel angry to give me that push that I need on days where I feel weak. I will feel that anger without letting it consume me, but to instead let it motivate me. I will use that emotion while constantly reminding myself that nothing will change if I don't make it happen. Now that I have Mary as my personal care attendant to help me with my exercises, I have no excuse not to do it. Like I said, you cannot sit back and wait for your world to turn into what you want it to be. Carpe Diem!

               So long 2011, I have learned so much more than I ever expected. I am ready to put this year behind me and move forward into a happier, more productive, more self-aware, and more knowledgeable year. I look forward to reading this post again when we find ourselves approaching 2013 so I can smile and be proud of everything I will push myself to do in 2012. All the while remembering that this is merely a year, and in the grand scheme of things, that is not that long at all. These are things that take time, dedication, and determination. I must remind myself to be patient. The things that I want to accomplish will not happen overnight, or even over a week. I will have to complete the small pieces of the puzzle before I can see the whole picture. As the saying goes: Rome was not built in a day. 

               In less than a month (Jan 18) I have my bladder surgery. I pray that the recovery will be smooth and quick. In March I will be traveling to Oxford, MS, to be awarded as the Sigma Nu Charity Bowl recipient at Ole Miss. In April I will be traveling to Atlanta to attend the Shepherd center. During all this, I am also preparing myself to start the process of being evaluated to drive. Yes, driving a car. It is scary but I am so excited and ready for what great independence that will give me! It is going to be a big year; I can feel it in my bones. There are great things waiting to happen. I am keeping my goals high but realistic: to be able to transfer myself from bed to chair; to be in my manual chair 50% of the time; to be driving; and enroll in online classes in the fall. These are not New Year’s resolutions (because I can never keep my New Year's resolutions); these are New Year’s “absolutely-no-excuses-will-most-definitely-do-must-dos.” Simple as that... That made sense, right?
               I will conclude on one final note: please be extra careful this holiday weekend. Do not get behind the wheel after drinking; do not let your friends drive or ride with someone who has been drinking; and even if you are as sober as can be, pay special attention to everyone else on the road. While you may practice safe driving, the person in front of you may not. Don't get distracted by cell phone or other people in the car. If you have not already heard, there is a service offered by AAA to prevent people from drinking and driving. Tipsy Tow offered by AAA- you don't have to be an AAA member, from 6pm-6am on New Year's Eve/Day they will take your drunk self and your car home for FREE. Save this number 1-800-222-4357. Don't make a quick decision that could last a lifetime- or end a lifetime.
               I wish you all a very happy New Year! Thank you for staying by my side this last year and welcoming 2012 with me. I hope to get in another good blog update before my surgery. And if you need more inspiration to put yourself in the right frame of mind for the New Year, be sure to read this article: 30 things to stop doing to yourself. It can definitely help you to lead a better quality of life and is a constant inspiration for me! God bless!

Dec 12, 2011

Conquering your fears

Do the thing you fear to do and keep on doing it... that is the quickest and surest way ever yet discovered to conquer fear." -Dale Carnegie.

And today I did just that. I had the honor of being invited to speak to a group of fifth graders in Lucedale, MS, this afternoon. This may come as a surprise to some of you, considering the amount of media coverage I have thrown myself into and for those that know me personally, but I absolutely hate public speaking. I get nervous, scared, awkward, and dry-mouth like a beast. But just a few hours ago I conquered that fear. I sat in front of this group and told them my story of what happened, my hospital and rehab experience, keeping a positive attitude, and how to treat people with disabilities. The kids were so well behaved, focused, and interested. They asked tons of questions! Some were kind of funny, such as, can service dogs talk? How long was I in the helicopter? Others I hated to have to answer truthfully, like, did I think I was going to die? What emotions did I feel? It is definitely not my intention to scare them, but to know that I can prevent one person from diving in shallow water, it is all worth it. I even have one little boy keep coming up with inventions so that I could go fishing and hunting with him. I daresay I have a little admirer! I even got graded at the end of it (apparently they are studying how to speak to a group- loud and clear, making eye contact, good vocabulary, and grammatically correct). I am happy to say I got an A+! I even got my mother to record me, however, something in the video camera went haywire and we only got a little over a minute out of the 40 minutes I spoke.

I'm so happy that I decided to face my fear and do my very first public speaking event. It is so important to me to educate children, not only about the injury and prevention, but also about staying positive, never giving up, and treating people with disabilities just the same as they would their peers. Sadly, it is almost adults who need to be taught this more so than the children. Anywhere I go in public, people stare. Some even openly gawk. 8 times out of 10 it is an adult; adults who should know better that it is rude and impolite to act in such a manner. It is probably the one thing that gives me the most anxiety when going out in public- the looks. I understand that with children they are fascinated by the chair, but I would have no problem with the child, or an adult, asking me what happened. I find it a lot less rude to ask rather than continue to stare. It seems as if though because I'm in a wheelchair, people do not think I have the same interests, goals, and daily activities as I did prior to my accident. It is probably the thing I hate most about my situation is being treated differently. I am no different than I was one year, six months and two days ago (tomorrow, 12/13, is my 1.5 year anniversary). I just have to do things a little different. Adapt and improvise has been my mantra along this journey. Nearly everything is possible with a little creativity, hard work, and deep faith. 

One other quick point I want to make that coincides with having people stare at me in public; it is a fantastic quote that came from another young woman with a spinal cord injury that I've had the pleasure of getting to know via Facebook. This is something that her friend said and she never forgot it. When I expressed my feelings of anxiety in public, she relayed it to me, and I daresay, I could not have said it better myself.
"I remember Randy Snow putting his arm around me and saying “Michael, see that guy, he drives that car to be noticed, and that woman does her hair a specific way so people pay attention to her. People develop ways of moving, of talking, of interacting all with the hopes of being noticed. When we come into a room, people will always notice us. We have what everyone wants; it’s just a matter of what we do with it.”

Each day, I get a better understanding of what I will do with my attention. Watch out world, this is just the beginning! Create your own destiny, folks. 

Have a Merry Christmas! Next time I blog, I’ll be a year older. So long 24, you have taught me a lot! God bless.