Friday, April 15, 2011

My Pets

My pets are one of the few things that make me smile. Ordinarily, I'm a cat lover. Growing up, I had two households (my dad & stepmom's house, in NJ and my mom & stepdad's house in PA). I lived primarily with my dad, and stepmom, and visited my mom & stepdad on weekends and during school vacations. At my dad's we had a strict "no mammal" pet policy. My dad maintained a fish aquarium, and my stepmom has two parrots (one Amazon , name Rocky, and a Goffin Cockatoo, named Noel). While the parrots can be amusing, only my stepmom can actually handle Rocky, and Noel is a bit neurotic. Neither of them provided me, with any companionship. At my mom's we always had a ton of cats, outside dogs, and various small critters, over the years (guinea pigs, lizards, parakeets and rabbit). I was especially attached to three cats, whom I grew up with, Nusy, Gizmo and Mitzoo. My mother had Nusy, every since I was a baby. We got Gizmo when I was around four, and Mitzoo when I was about seven. I was most attached to Gizmo, who lived the longest (she died shortly after I began going to college), and I spent the most time with. She was super lovable, affectionate and sweet. Even as an old cat, she had the cutest high pitch mew, that sounded just like a kitten.

I love dogs, but I've always preferred cats. As an adult, most of my boyfriends had dogs, and both my little sisters, and brother each had dogs. I've been around them nearly my whole life, love playing with them, and being around them, just never owned one of my own, until recently. I'm an animal lover, in general, and like all kinds of little critters. I especially love little, fury mammals. I enjoyed playing with my guinea pigs, at my mom's when I was young, and always felt I was missing something, not having a pet of my own, at my dad's. It wasn't until I was almost finished with college, that I managed to convince my dad, to let me break the "no mammal" rule, and bring home a pet. I adopted a chinchilla, who I named Tskushi (after an anime character), from my mentor, Mr. Grace. He had been my high school art teacher, and mentor for my junior filed work, and student teaching. When I found out he had experience breeding chinchillas, and had a few up for adoption, I just HAD to have one. At first I convinced my boyfriend at the time, to let me keep her at his place, but later moved her home, to my parents house. I thought my dad would pitch a fit, but instead he fell in love her, and played with her, and enjoyed her company, just as much as I did. In fact, when I first brought up the idea of moving out, he asked if I wouldn't mind leaving Tskushi behind, because he'd grown so attached to her.

When I moved out and got my first apartment, one of the most exciting aspects to my new found freedom, and independence was getting my own cat. I adopted a pretty, little grey and white cat, from my grandparents. They had inherited her from a friend, who had initially just asked them to watch her temporarily. They already had two other cats, and I felt like they were struggling to care for them, so I offered to take "Tinkerbell" who I later changed her name to Bella. I moved into my first place in April, 2005 (precisely six years ago, today). I only got to enjoy living in my apartment, and with Bella, for two months, before my injury. Even though our time together was short lived, I quickly fell in love with her, and really enjoyed her company. She had a big personality, and demanded a lot of attention, which I kind of liked. She's was super chatty, and would meow my ear off, as soon as I got home from work, every day.

The funny thing was, I didn't realize that she was pregnant when I adopted her (she was only around seven months old, had a small frame, and had been an indoor cat). Both her, and my grandparents' other cat, were not neutered, and had apparently conceived a kitten, just before I took her. Three weeks before my accident, I came home to a big surprise. I had just finished bar tending school (I had lined up a bar tending job for summer employment), and came home late that night. I opened the door to my apartment, and Bella greeted me, as usual, meowing away, about who knows what, when out of her little cubbyhole, crawls out a small, grey thing. At first, I was shocked, and thought maybe she's somehow caught a mouse. I crouched down, to get a better look, and realized it was a kitten! Immediately, I called my boyfriend (who was already on his way over) and started freaking out, and frantically searching my apartment for the rest of the litter. We searched high and low, and found no signs of any other kittens. I thought that was bizarre, and called an emergency vetinary hotline, to get advice. They told me, it could take hours, in between labor, and to stay up with her, and monitor her through the night. By the next morning, we still only had one, small grey kitten, so we took mother, and daughter to the vet to get examined. They took some xrays and determined that Bella had an abnormally small "litter", of one, most likely due to the fact that she and the father cat, were both very young in age. I was pleased, that they were both healthy, and decided to keep the new addition to the family. We named her Rosa (the initial choice was "Axel"-based of the lead singer from Guns'n'Roses-but given the fact we found out she was a girl, we came up with a compromise). Rosa had just opened her eyes, and had begun running around when I got hurt. When my apartment got closed down, my best friend Erin adopted them both. Now Erin, and her husband have Rosa, and my grandparents have Bella. I've had the chance to "cat sit" for them, various times, throughout the past six years.

After my accident, I spent a year and a half living in a nursing home. In January 2007, I got myself out, and into an apartment of my own. For the first year living here, I lived with a roommate. Steve and I had been high school classmates, and had got back in touch, shortly before my accident. He really helped me out, by agreeing to room with me. Although I have no functional mobility, the state only provides me with eight hours of having a home health aide, per day. It was crucial for me to have a roommate, to have the safety, and security, of having someone here at night, in case of emergency. Steve and I got along well, and I enjoyed our time living together. As an added bonus, Steve brought along his cat Maynerd (aka Manny) to keep us company. I really enjoyed having Manny around, especially during the day, when I was alone in the apartment by myself.

After living here for about a year, Steve and his girlfriend (now wife) decided they wanted to get a place of their own. I had a new roommate lined up, but he backed out at the last minute, leaving me in a tight spot. I asked my sister Kati, if she wouldn't mind coming to stay with me for a while. She agreed, and moved in with her dog Precious, who I knew, since before my accident. Precious is a golden retriever, cocker spaniel, corgy mixed breed. She's super affection, lovable, mild mannered and very well behaved. Having her here has been really great. She's super loyal, and loves to keep me company. She often lays near my wheelchair, or beside my bed. Everyone that meets her, just loves her.

Once Manny had left, I felt like I really missed having a cat. I discussed the idea of getting one, with Kati, and my mom, and they both agreed they'd be willing to help me take care of one. We adopted Tommy, around Halloween, 2008. I had searched for a while, online and ended up finding him through his foster family. Since we already had Precious, it was important for me to adopt a "dog friendly" cat. Tommy is just that! In fact, we think he thinks he IS a dog. He plays well with dogs, is EXTREMELY outgoing, curious & smart. He even wears a harness & takes walks with the dogs (I'm serious).

Tommy is a little too smart! He can open all of the doors in my apartment, so we had to change my doorknob from a lever, to a round knob. When I first got him, I had an environmental control unit, that I could control, by tapping a button, on my pillow, with my head & give verbal commands. If I needed help, I'd tap the button, and say "get Steve", which would in turn, sound an alarm in Steve's room (now my sister's room). For some reason, instead of just pouncing on my sister, and waking her up, he'd come barreling into my MY room, meowing for food, at 5 or 6 am. Then, I'd sound the alarm, and he'd go charging off, towards the second bedroom. The routine got old, fast, and I opted for the different knob, which he's since given up trying. He will on occassion bust into the bathroom, on guests, if they forget to lock the door. He's one of a kind (my family has owned many, many cats). He got very attached to my mom (who plays with, walks, & feeds him), and could care less about me. He is catlike in the one aspect, that he requires a 50/50 relationship. I can't offer him much, so he's not interested in me. That's the main reason I got Naama.

Naama is my very first dog. She is a Miniature Pinscher, with a BIG personality! I always thought if I were to get a dog, I'd want a small, short hair breed. Being a cat person, I like the idea of being able to carry my pet, and be able to have my pet on my lap, and in bed with me. She was a spur of the moment purchase. A friend of mine, who I met online (playing Maple Story) had come to visit. We took her to see my art exhibit, and then to a local mall, to my favorite restaurant chain, the Rainforest Cafe. We made the mistake (in a good way) to stop in the pet store on the way out & I fell in love with Naama. I'd always wanted a mini-pin & really wanted the companionship. I named her after my friend, Naama. She's the best thing (being) I ever bought. She's super cute & sassy. She makes me laugh. She's super spoiled, and she knows it! She's definitely got a "diva" complex, and can at times, be a total drama queen! She's the closest thing I have to a child, and I love buying her cute little outfits to wear. She's got quite a wardrobe, and I get a kick out of seeing her prance around, in her clothes. She's been great for Tommy, and they play well together. They can both get pretty hyper, and Precious is too old to be bothered. Tommy and Naama make good playmates and I just love watching the two of them interact. Having pets has definitely been a spirit lifting experience for me. They can make me smile, even on my worst ways. I'm truly thankful for their love and companionship.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Paralyzed Without Joy

An online friend of mine Laurie, recently asked me if I'd read any blog postings, by a woman named Heather, who writes a blog called "Paralyzed With Joy!" Heather had left a comment, on one of my previous posts. I saw the comment that she sent to me, and have to be honest, in that I wrote her off as a religious fanatic, and never visited her blog (until the other day, when Laurie brought it up). I'm ashamed to admit that, because it sounds presumptions and rude of me, and that's not usually how I am. It's wrong of me to judge her for saying that she's "joyful," just like I feel it's wrong for people to judge me, and expect me to be happy. Her comment just rubbed me the wrong way, because I disagree with the notion that "God did this to me." I take full responsibility for my mistake. Perhaps, it's because she was injured, through someone else, slamming into her car, breaking her neck. She wasn't at fault, and I'm guessing finds comfort, in the line of thinking that it all happened as part of "God's plan." I stupidly dove into a shallow pool. My foolish mistake cost me my health, and the life I loved. Although, I didn't intentionally dive, to harm myself, and there were many variables in play, it's my actions that ultimately caused my injury. God didn't push me into the pool, nor do I believe (if such a being exists) he/she/it/they planned this life for me. I don't believe in destiny, or predetermined futures.

I know she didn't intend to offend me, no one ever does, when dishing out religious counseling, or offering up scripture. It's just hard, for me, as a skeptic, and often cynic, to accept. While I am grateful for any feedback I get, it is hard for me to accept, when it's coming from a religious perspective. She's not the first to offer up words of "divine wisdom," nor will she be the last. Though appreciated, I take every word of advice with a grain of salt, because no one but me, has to live in my shoes, and knows my suffering, better than me. As far as religion goes, no one can offer up proof, that their beliefs are truth, you either believe it, or you don't. Personally, I have a hard time believing in a God that would WANT THIS life for me.

Laurie and I met through Facebook. She has MS, and got to know me, by reading my blogs. One day, she decided to write to via Facebook, and shared some of her story with me. Although there is a generation gap between us, we share a lot of interests in common. She was also a teacher. We've been writing emails back and forth for some time now, discussing all sorts of things, like languages, movies, pets, religion, family, friends, and our personal struggles, dealing with our disabilities and adapting to life with paralysis. Right now Laurie still has much more functional movement than me, but is continuingly having to adapt to her degenerative disease. I often wonder if it would've made it any easier on me, if I'd gradually lost my abilities, versus losing everything over night. Either way, paralysis sucks, and we both struggle to find answers for "Why us?" and searching for reasons to keep moving forward, despite it all. It helps having a kindred spirit, to talk to, even if you're each having a rough day. Although it makes me sad to know other people are effected by paralysis, it helps having others to turn to, that know what it's like to need help, and having lost independence. It especially helps having someone to talk to that is like minded, and shares a similar perspective, and attitude, towards THIS lifestyle.

Laurie is like me, in that she is disatified with compromise, and hates the ever growing number of limitations that paralysis has forced upon her. We are both very unhappy with the indignities of paralysis, and would most certainly never describe living with such lack of freedom, and forced dependence as "joyful." The mere name of Heather's blog irritates me. How anyone could possibly be "paralyzed with joy" is beyond me. I can't help but think she's insane, for saying things like "On a scale of one to ten (ten being the most satisfied with life) she is a ten" or six years post spinal cord injury, she's "the happiest she's ever been." On one hand, I want to slap myself, for being so critical, and judgmental. Clearly, I don't know anything about this woman, besides the fact that she is paralyzed, and apparently happy. Who am I to say she should, or shouldn't be happy, just because I have such a hard time coping with the changes in my own life, and hate every aspect of being paralyzed? On the other hand, a part of me is even jealous, that someone in a similar condition to me, could be so happy, when I'm so miserable. I know the secret to her happiness, and understand how it gives her such a rosy perspective on life. The source of her happiness, is something I wish I had, but can't force upon myself, and that is blind faith. I've seen it many, times; people like her, and Joni Erickson Tada, that despite their paralysis, they're able to be happy, and draw strength from God (specifically Jesus, in both of these cases).

I struggle with having faith in any God, let alone any one specific God. Although my accident has stirred up fears about God, and an afterlife, it hasn't helped me make any breakthroughs, or have any great epiphanies. On the contrary, it has put more, and more doubt, in my mind about God, and his/her/it/their supposed interest and/or love for me. As for being joyfully paralyzed, I see that as being a product of her convictions to God, not how extraordinary her life is. Let's face it, no matter how you dice it, paralysis sucks. It is a struggle, living with paralysis every day. I don't believe for a minute that any sane individual would choose to be paralyzed, over being healthy. Paralysis might have opened her eyes, and fostered in her a new appreciation for life, or feelings of being given a "second chance", after coming so close to death, but I guarantee she'd prefer being able to care for herself, over the life she has now. It is her belief in God, that gives her the ability to see purpose and meaning, in her suffering, and that gives her joy, despite being paralyzed.

I wish I could say the same for myself, but I can't. My belief in God is shaky, at best. I tend to lean towards Eastern philosophy, and feel turned off by Christianity. Some of my resistance to Christianity is my own, logical analytical nature, and my finding it hard to believe in a God, that would be as petty, jealous, or harsh, as the God of the Old Testament, and my historical knowledge of how Christianity formed, and how man has corrupted, and influenced all organized religions, in general. Growing up Catholic, the church, and it's rituals always seemed suffocating to me. The mere notion that Jesus is the ONLY path to "salvation" has always pushed me away. I just can't believe in a God that would eternally damn good people, just because they worshiped him/her/it/they by a different name. Logically, I don't even understand the huge rift, between Muslims, Christians, and Jews, given the fact that all worship the same God, and believe in the same prophets. Despite their common roots, and belief systems, people use "God's" name to promote their own selfish, man made agendas, and divide humanity. The more I have learned over time, the less I have come to believe, except for one unifying moral, to love oneself and my fellow man. It's the one idea that makes sense, and stands up to the test of time, throughout all religions, and faiths.

I think of having a strong faith in God, can be as equally powerful as ignorance. Ignorance is bliss. Blind faith is like that, in many ways. No matter how outlandish, or unscientific something is, people with faith believe. Faith is blind, and unquestioning. It also lets people be "blind" to the realities of life, and helps paint a silver lining on everything. At times, that blind aspect of faith can be bad, because it can be used as weapon, to make people do, and say things that hurt others, in the name of "God", or accept situations, no matter how horrible they are. I don't think God (if he/she/it/they exists) would've bothered giving us logic, and reason, if he/she/it/they, didn't want us to sometimes use those abilities to evaluate situations for what they are, and think critically, for ourselves. Likewise, if God gave us freewill, then I believe he/she/it/they is solely an observer, of our lives, and doesn't often intervene (if not, at all). I don't think God "gives" us a bad, or good lot in life. I think we get what we make of it. However, that also means I don't buy into the BS that, "God only gives us what we can handle" and "everything happens for a reason." I think sometimes bad things just happen, and they most certainly are too much for any one person to handle. I many respects, I hate myself, for making the stupid mistake, that paralyzed me. On the other hand, I love myself, enough to feel like living with paralysis, is cruel, and unusual punishment. In my case, my punishment VASTLY outweighs, my mistakes, and I don't think it's wrong for me to be upset about, or not want to have to live the way paralysis has forced me to. If God is watching, he/she/it/they knows how hard my life is, and how much I'm suffering, and I don't think it's fair, or just, for anyone else to judge, either way.

It pisses me off, when people down play their paralysis, because I feel like it's crucial for the average person to understand how hard it is, to live this way. I mean, if life's so grand, why bother finding a cure? I believe the key to gaining support for research, is by touching people's minds and hearts, on a personal level, by putting faces, names, and stories, to the word "paralysis." I believe that every person I touch, by sharing my story, and sharing my pain, is one more person that's aware of possibility that his/her life could change; one more person who cares about finding a cure; and one more person that can better appreciate the health, and abilities he/she still has. Yes, maybe if I had a stronger faith in God, this would all be a bit easier to handle, but that wouldn't diminish the fact that I'm dependent on others, sick and in pain. I don't want people to forget, or overlook the realities of living with paralysis. It's not ok, having to have a bowel program, a catheter, needing to be fed, bathed, and clothed. God, or no God, those are REAL, tangible things, that I'm FORCED to face, every day. Paralysis doesn't give me an option, and I don't get a break. I have to deal with all of that stuff, plus all that I lost, plus the sickness, every second, of every day. Does that mean I never have a joyful moment, or have anything I'm grateful for, of course not. However, reality is that living with paralysis sucks, and I'd give ANYTHING (besides my soul- ironic, I know) to just be healthy again.

I'm skeptical of anyone who says they're "happy" with living with paralysis. Laurie is Jewish, and like I said, I was raised Catholic. Neither of us is very "religious", nor do we blame God for our paralysis. It would be very easy, to put the blame on God, since after all, if such a being exists, and created the universe, space, and time, he/she/it/they could certainly fix something as simple some faulty nerve connections. We both take a more logical, fact based approach to life, and chalk our situations up to bad luck, not some divine plan. Rationally, it's hard to accept that anyone would be thankful, to be paralyzed. It seems against human nature, to WANT, or prefer to be dependent on others, and have a constant invasion of privacy, and personal space. The fact of the matter is, paralysis strips people of freedom, and forces a tremendous amount of change into one's life.

Most people would not want to live this way, by choice. It's not to say, that I don't believe people can find things to make them happy, and give them purpose, despite paralysis. I believe each individual's case is unique, and factors like religious beliefs, level of education, career, financial status, personality, support network, and level of independence before paralysis, play a HUGE role, in how "happy" a person can be, living with paralysis. You can't miss, what you never had, and some people lose a tremendous amount more than others. Suffering should be evaluated on a case, by case basis. Just because one person can find "joy" living with paralysis, that doesn't mean everyone can. I think each individual has the capability, and right, to asses their own level of suffering, versus amount of enjoyment. I don't think everyone can find balance, or the extreme opposite, happiness.

Naturally, Heather is entitled to her line of thinking, and in many respects is lucky, to be able view life, in the manner she does. I think that everyone has their own desires, standards, and threshold for what they can tolerate, and that living with paralysis should not be forced upon people, without escape, in the manner that it is. Living this way, for me, and others like me (Laurie for example) find living with paralysis closer to Hell, than to Heaven. I don't think that makes us weak, or wrong, just as it doesn't necessarily mean extraordinary people like Heather, Christopher Reeve, Joni Erickson Tada, and Dr. Dan Gottlieb, as being "better," or stronger, it just means we're all unique. Life is not like a cookie cutting machine, where one size fits all can apply. I think each person has the right to determine what he/she considers to be quality.

I realize that not everyone agrees with that philosophy, but personally, I feel like in certain situations it is justified, not wanting to live (aka- prolong suffering). For example, I don't want to ever live dependent on a vent. I have been on a vent before, and would prefer death, over ever having to go on one again. I realize that there are people out there that live dependent on vents, that feel happy, and fulfilled. Does that make them superior people? I think it just makes them different. I think everyone should have (and do, to a certain extent- through advanced directives and living wills) the right to determine what they consider to be quality. After all, it's very easy to hand out advice, when you're not the one having to live through it. Some people would disagree, and say that people should go to any lengths possible to extend life, like people hooked up to machines, despite being in a vegetative state (such as the Teri Shiavo case) . I realize this is a hot button issue, that people feel strongly about. I'm merely stating my own personal opinion, given my life experiences.

I personally feel as though I'm at a point of living with paralysis (C4/C5 complete injury), where I feel as though living, is only prolonging my own suffering. I battle myself every day, to keep pushing forward. The thing is, I feel as though my life is being sustained by unnatural means. If I truly left my life "in God's hands", I'd be dead a long time ago, because I have no ability to fend for myself. I'm kept alive by people, medication, and awful treatments (suprapubic catheter & bowel regime). I'm only alive because our society has the means necessary to provide me with all the services and things I need. However, there comes a point (right now, in my case) where one must evaulate if the ends justifies the means. I definitely can not say that I'm "paralyzed with joy." I feel more like a prisoner, than anything, and want nothing more than my healthy body back. I hate being dependent on others, and being chronically sick. I'm glad for people like Heather, in that I don't take pleasure in hearing about other's suffering. It's nice for her, that she is happy, but I can't imagine ever finding that level of enjoyment, or contentment, with having to live with so much pain, and compromise.

"Paralyzed With Joy!" -

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