Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Things I Can't Do
The students didn't seem to mind sticking around after class was over to get their questions answered. When we were finished they followed me out so that they could see how I handle stairs and some of them gathered around to see how the modifications to my car work. I answered a few more questions at the car and then headed home for the night.
Later that evening, and over the next several days, I found myself thinking about one particular question that had been asked. One student had asked "what I can't do now that I could do before the accident?" My answer had been that over the last three and a half years I had adapted to a point where there wasn't much that I couldn't do. But the more I've thought about it, the more I realize that my answer just wasn't true. The fact is that there is a lot that I can't do.
I don't think about these things very often because, well, it's depressing. I prefer to focus on what I can do. For instance, when it comes to day to day activities, I'm fairly self sufficient. I can drive, take care of my hygiene, cook (to some extent), clean (create the illusion that my house is clean), grocery shop, pump gas, etc... All of those things are more difficult than they used to be, but I have adapted to the point that I don't mind the difficulty. So, when people ask what I need help with, or just simply can't do at all, I automatically think about the day to day activities that I couldn't do at all three years ago but am now able to do independently.
I prefer to think about the positive things that I can do as opposed to the negative thoughts that start with "I can't". I do think it's important, especially for anyone going into the medical care industry, to understand how limiting the loss of my legs has been. The list of things that I can't do is much longer than one might expect. (Don't worry, I'm not going into the full list here, but I am going to give some examples.)
The things that can be the most frustrating are the things that I still feel that I should be able to do. These things include stuff like simple home maintenance. I can't cut my grass. I can't get into my attic for storage or to get things out of storage(the attic is only accessible by extension ladder). I can't get into my crawlspace to check the plumbing, ductwork, or exterior vents. I can't sit comfortably in a bath tub to soak in hot water while reading a book, sipping some wine, and listening to light jazz (I used to love to do that).
(If you are now trying to figure out why I can't sit in a bathtub, let me explain. The first issue is that I can't get my wheelchair into the one bathroom in my house that has a tub. However, even that doesn't stop me, as I am able to get on the floor in the living room, scoot into the bath room on the floor, brace myself between the toilet and the edge of the tub, raise myslef up, carefully balance on the edge of the tub, and lower myself into the tub. Once in the tub, though, I am unable to comfortably lie back, rest my head on the edge of the tub, and enjoy a good book while I soak. I have discovered that, without knees and feet to press against the floor of the tub, I slip under the water as soon as I lay back. This is niether conducive to reading or breathing!)
The things that are dissappointing are the things that I've never experienced. For example, carrying my future bride over the threshold (don't get excited, there's still no one vying for that position), sky diving, scuba diving, teaching my future children (need the future wife first) how to climb trees, etc... One of the most dissappointing things for me is that I will never get to experience carrying my future son or daughter inside from the car after they have fallen asleep during a late car ride home. (When I was a little kid I used to pretend to be asleep whenever we got home late so that Dad would carry me inside and take me up to bed.) I've always wanted to experience the other side of that, to be the Dad carrying the sleepy kid! Now I never will.
The things that hurt, are the things that I will never do again. Some of these are things that I could, possibly, still do, but the experience just wouldn't be worth the difficulty. For example, backpacking, taking a long day hike through the woods, speluncking (caving), white water rafting, canoeing, kyaking, swimming in the ocean, rock climbing. Some of these things, though, are simply things that I will never, no matter how much I try, get to experience again. I will never feel the grass between my toes on a warm spring day. I will never have a foot massage again, I will never jump, or climb, or run, or play frisbee, or so many other things that I can't even think of...
You can see why I don't dwell on the "I can't" or the "I'll never" statements. They're too damn depressing and they can paralyze you if you let them. It's so much better to focus on the "I can" statements. However, there is one more thing that I'll never be able to do again, that makes each of the new "I can" statements more difficult, and far more special in the end. Can any of you guess what that thing that I'll never be able to do again is? I will tell you that it has a dramatic impact on my perceptions of each new thing that I attempt.
Simply put, I will never be able to look at something new with the excitement of someone who feels like they are invincible. Everytime I travel to a new place, everytime I have the opportunity to try something new, I have to fight through a certain level of fear. I had a great opportunity to go skiing in February. I would have been with a group of people with disabilities similar to mine and there were experienced people there to provide training. If you've been following this blog for a while, you should be aware that I loved to ski before the accident and I truly want to do it again. I didn't know anyone going on the ski trip, I was unfamilliar with the area we would be skiing in, and I wasn't sure what to do with my legs while skiing. I chickened out. Maybe next year...
Sunday, April 19, 2009
The Mayor's Advisory Council
As many of you know, I haven't been able to find a job since my position was eliminated in March of 2008. After I returned to my career in the hospitality industry I became increasingly frustrated by the fact that I could no longer perform my responsibilities the way I had before the accident. Yes, I could still do my job, but it was no longer emotionally, mentally, or physically rewarding. Essentially, as a result of my physical limitations, I couldn't do the part of my job that I enjoyed. While my employer would never admit this, I believe that my value as the Director of Operations was diminished by my physical limitations. It's a safe bet that this impacted the decision to eliminate the Director of Operations position at my property. (The point I'm trying to make is that if I still had the ability to lead the staff in the physical way that I had before I lost my legs then my position would have been too valuable to the operation to eliminate.)
Living with a disability has opened my eyes to a whole new world. It makes it very hard to deal with the petty complaints that a manager in the hospitality industry has to address. After my position was eliminated I made a decision to look for work that would be related to helping others with disabilities. Of course, my job search was interrupted by the surgery, infections, and additional surgeries last summer. Once my recovery was well underway I started looking for work again, but our economy has not helped. I'm able to survive (barely) on the Social Security Disability that I receive each month, so I'm focusing on networking in the hopes that the right job will surface. The Mayor's Advisory Council would give me an opportunity to help people and network at the same time.
When I heard about the vacancy on the Council I applied to be a member, and went through an interview process in November. I hadn't heard anything since then and decided that they had chosen someone else to fill the vacancy. However, at the beginning of March, I received a letter from the Mayor's office informing me that I had been appointed to the Advisory Council! I have attended two meetings so far and have enjoyed meeting the other council members. We have several goals for the year, and I will be part of a subcommittee that has been tasked with developing a disability awareness training video that will air on the local government access channel. I'm really looking forward to seeing where this new path will take me!
Monday, April 06, 2009
A Leap of Faith
This time the reason for the delay is that I've been struggling over how to say what I'm going to write about, or whether to say it at all. The subject, "A Leap of Faith" should give you a clue that what I am about to write could be considered controversial by some. Before I get into this, I feel that I need to ask that you remember that, if you choose to read more into this than what is written, that is your choice. Please do not make assumptions about my views based on what I'm saying, or not saying, as the case may be.
I believe there is a divine force at work in this world. (OK, I will say this about my views: you can call the divine force I'm speaking about whatever you want. I don't believe that it cares what we call it.) I have witnessed, and been part of, events that just simply can't be explained without it. I believe that this divine force can be focused through prayer, meditation, or whatever you want to call it. I also believe that there are times when you have to accept that events are beyond your control and abandon yourself to this divine force. That's when a leap of faith is required. That leap of faith can take on many different forms. Recently I found myself in a situation that required such a leap of faith.
The day before my birthday I received a phone call from a close friend. He was in tears and was having trouble speaking. What he told me was that he had "lost everything" and had decided that he was going to kill himself before he lost his wife too. He said that he wouldn't do it that day or the next, because it was my birthday (this really made me mad), but that he would do it sometime during the next week. My friend has dealt with depression for a long time, and I have talked him off the figurative ledge more than once, but something about this was different. There was a desperation in his voice that had never been there before.
He had been out of work for quite a while and had made the mistake (a result of pride and irrational thinking) of trying to live as if nothing had changed. He had been trying to find a job, but was having no luck, which made him feel unwanted and useless. His wife, who does work, has never been involved in their finances and had no idea how dire their situation had become. The day before, he had received a letter from an attorney informing him that the mortgage on their house was going to be foreclosed. He was so paralyzed by fear that he could not see a way out, was unable to do anything to help himself, and was convinced that his wife (who, by the way, loves him very much) would leave him when she learned of the situation.
I was so upset by his call that, after trying to reason with him and failing to change his mind, I called my minister. My minister gave me some much needed direction, unfortunately my friend refused to play along with my plan to get him help. As a result, I decided to confront him face to face. Before going to see him I called a friend, one of the police officers who had pulled me out of the wreckage of my vehicle three and a half years ago, to find out if the police could do anything if I felt my friend was a danger to himself. He confirmed for me that the police could have him involuntarily committed to a stress center based on what I knew at that point. He also gave me the number to a stress center so that I could get some professional advice before I confronted him.
I spent much of the next day (my birthday) with my friend trying to convince him that there was a way out of this that did not involve ending his life. In my mind the way out was facing his fear, telling his wife about what he was going through, and their financial situation, but he wouldn't listen. However, I was able to get a promise out of him that he wouldn't do anything until the following Thursday. He wanted to spend "one last weekend with his wife" and he knew that I wanted time to figure something out, which is why he made the promise. I didn't call the police at that point because I knew he wouldn't do anything over the weekend, but I wasn't too confident that his promise would hold until Thursday.
While at his house he had given me a list of people (and their phone numbers) to call "afterwards" to help support his wife. One of the people on the list was an old co-worker who I hadn't seen (or spoken to) in over six years. I knew that this person had dealt with some serious challenges in his life and that he might be the only one who could make my friend reconsider his suicidal thoughts. After I left his house I spoke with someone at the stress center whose advice was to tell my friend's wife what was going on and, if necessary, to call the police.
Knowing my friend, and his wife, I knew that telling her was not the right answer. I agreed that she needed to know, but it needed to come from him. I also knew that calling the police would only make him feel cornered and that it would make matters worse. That evening I enjoyed a nice birthday dinner with my family and tried to put this out of my mind for the time being. (I was mildly successful.)
The next day I called the person from the list that I mentioned earlier. After I explained the situation he immediately drove to Indianapolis from where he lives, which is an hour away. We went to my friend's house (unannounced) and again confronted him face to face about his emotional state. Together we were able to convince him that he had to tell his wife and get a promise from him that he would not do anything to harm himself. However, he refused to tell her that night and wanted to spend the following day (Sunday) with her without bringing this issue to light. We made a plan to come back on Monday evening to support them while he opened up to her.
After three sleepless nights I went to church on Sunday morning and could barely think about anything else. I spoke to my Sunday School group about it and one of them provided me with the business card of a professional counselor who just happens to be a member of our congregation. As I walked to the sanctuary for the worship service I was finally realizing how much all of this was affecting me. I was emotionally drained, worried about my friend, and scared that I was taking an awful risk by not forcing him to get professional help immediately. Also, I knew I was not equipped to handle these issues but could see no way out for myself without my friend feeling like he had lost my friendship in addition to everything else!
The worship service brought me a level of clarity that was entirely unexpected! It's important to note that at the beginning of each year our Senior Pastor plans his sermons for the entire year. That being said, imagine my surprise to sit in a service that, from the opening hymn, to the readings, to the sermon itself, and the closing hymn, was a complete recap of the conversations that I had been having with my friend over the past few days and the struggle that I was dealing with internally! During the service I gradually became aware of a calmness in my spirit and became resigned to the fact that I didn't have any power over this situation. I decided that I needed to stop struggling with whether I was handling this situation the right way and trust that we were on the right path in regards to my friend's (and his wife's) well being.
When the service was over, the counselor (that I mentioned earlier) approached me. (Obviously someone from my Sunday School group had mentioned my situation to him.) We exchanged numbers and spoke later that day. In addition to offering to be there for my friend he also gave me the answer I needed about how to remove myself from the situation. That answer was to tell my friend, in no uncertain terms, that he had to get professional help because I couldn't do this for him anymore. My continued support (and emotional well being) required that he do this for me as well as himself.
That Monday I spent the day with my friend and helped him get things in order for when he would speak to his wife that evening. We had a nice dinner together and then he finally broke the news to her. I'm happy to report that she took the news better than any of us expected and was extremely supportive. Together they have figured out how to save their house and get their finances back on track.
With a little added pressure from his wife, my friend agreed to get counseling and has now had three sessions. He is enjoying the process and seems to be making progress. He is still monopolizing much of my time because he has some basic transportation issues to resolve, but I don't mind spending the time with him. Isn't it interesting that this has happened during a time when I'm unemployed, and therefore free to assist as needed?
Please understand that I haven't written this for comments about what a great friend I am, or compliments about how I've handled this. I've written this because, during a time of such depression, I feel that it is important for people to see real world examples of situations turning out good in the end. I took a leap of faith in trusting that things were going to work out. My friend took his own leap of faith (though he still refuses to admit it) in facing his fears instead of taking his life to escape them. There is a divine force at work in the world, but sometimes you have to take that leap of faith to let it work in your life.