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!" -

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. Hi Chrissy, just wanted to chime in to say that -- as an able-bodied person -- you definitely have touched my heart and mind with your writing.

  2. Chrissy,
    I read your post and enjoyed hearing your thoughts about the similarities and differences we share. No two accidents/injuries are alike, as you know, so I'm glad there are "different strokes for different folks" if you know what I mean.

    Sometimes it's interesting to think about why things happen, and how one person can break their neck and walk away from the accident, while someone else breaks her neck and is paralyzed for life. Or how someone else can feel content with their situation while someone else is completely miserable. I agree with you that people need to be open-minded of other people's situations since we don't know with their life is like. Hopefully you can respect my acceptance of my paralysis, just like I validate your feelings and would accept your decision to end your life if/when you chose to.

    I'm glad you wrote this post because I know it will give "food for thought" to other people, just like it did me. I always wonder what the lives of other paralyzed people are like, what they think about, experience and how they feel, so reading this post was insightful.

    – Heather

  3. I have read your blog for quite a while and have been moved. I have wanted to respond, but never had the right words. I have prayed for you, and will continue to. If you believe in God or not, He believes in you. His only Son gave His life for you. After reading your latest post, I am embarrassed that I told Heather about your blog. I hope that she does not read your post. It was out of line.

  4. Thank you Heather, for being so gracious. I'm glad you understood, my intentions and know I mean no disrespect. Like I said, I'm envious of your happiness, and wish I could see life through your eyes. It is unfathomable to me, to be as happy as you claim to be, given all the physical and emotional pain that paralysis brings. I don't mean to discredit you, or your beliefs. My own motive is to highlight the differences, between our two perspectives, given the similarities in our lives. I'm fascinated, and baffled by the power of faith. I don't know how to make myself believe, or change my perspective, in terms of God. It's been a life long struggle for me. I've read many of your blogs, and know you have had your share of struggles, and that there are some similarties we share. Like our views, on motherhood, and the emotional pain that comes with knowing there are things we'd like to do, that'd we've dreamed of, but can't. I'm curious if you had a strong faith in God (Jesus particularly) before your injury. I think having a strong religious foundation, prior to your injury (or my injury) would help, in coping with life post injury.
    I know you cant change my mind, as I can't change yours, as far "why" this happened to either of us, or how one another should, or shouldn't live. Religion, and the existence of God, is obviously something no one has the power to prove, or disprove. Even as a skeptic, my hope is that God is real, and that there is more to our existence, besides our Earthly life. I do pray (just in case God is listening) and hope you continue to find happiness. I also continue to pray for a cure, so that people in the future never have to face paralysis.

  5. I just wrote out a whole long comment and the internet ate it. I'll try again later. GRR.

  6. I'm not going to retype everything from my original comment, but I just wanted to say that although I don't think you meant any disrespect, this post is really offensive. I don't think there was any reason to call out this woman by name and link to her blog and also call her insane. I happen to love her blog and her attitude. I think it's great that she is able to find happiness and purpose in her life despite her injury. I think you have to remember that just because people have faith, that doesn't make them crazy -- just like you're not crazy for NOT having faith.

  7. This was the first post of yours I've read. My heart goes out to you. As an able-bodied person, I cannot even imagine what you go through, so it seems normal to have feelings of anger, frustration, bitterness, disappointment, grief, etc. But you are carrying on with life, which seems pretty courageous to me!

    For people of faith, faith is not "blind" nor is it passive. Spiritual proof does not come via the scientific method; however, faith IS a principle of action. For me, faith grew as I asked and questioned--much as you seem to be doing. Nothing wrong there!

    Reading your perspective gave me "food for thought" and I appreciate your sharing via your blog.I wish you continued courage as you continue to meet life's challenges.

  8. Er, You're right. I definitely don't mean to be disrespectful. I don't literally think Heather is "insane." It's just hard for me to wrap my head around the thought of blind devotion, from a logical, tangible perspective. Like I said, I envy her positive attitude, and wish I could will myself into a belief in a specific God. Her happiness is the proof, of how strong faith is, if you have it.
    That's my whole point. Faith in a specific God, and set of religious beliefs gives people the strength and ability to cope with things that are unbearable, and intolerable, compared to normal circumstances. I share her blog link, and story, as a contrast, to my perspective, and struggles with paralysis. There's no way to "prove" who is right about God, or whether or not it is "God's will" for either of us being paralyzed.
    Personally, I don't believe God planned this life for me. I don't think God, planned anything, for anyone. I believe God gave us free will. I don't know that I'll ever be able to believe in a Christian, or Catholic perspective on life. It is something that I have struggled with my entire life. If I were to have to pick a religion, my beliefs are closest too, I'd have to say Buddist. Of course, there's no way of knowing, who is right, until the day we die. For all we know, there could be nothing, and this life, is all we get.
    I do admire Heather's strength, and the level of her convictions, and commitment to God. I wish her continued happiness. I pray every day, asking God to give me inner peace and strength. I ask God to take me, or cure me. I talk to God all day, every day, in hopes of getting an answer, or a sign I'd understand and believe.