Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why I Think I Should Be Allowed To Die With Dignity

For those of you that read my blog regularly, thank you. As you know, in my previous blog, I discussed the HBO documentary, "How To Die In Oregon." As you also know, I'm a firm supporter of the right to die, and advocate for patient's rights to determine his/her own quality of life. I commend the citizens of Oregon, Washington, and Montana for being objective, and legalizing physician assisted deaths. I think it should be legalized in every state.

A special thanks to Nancy, for reading my previous blog and giving your feedback. Thank you so much for your response! I was so touched by your love, commitment and dedication, to your husband. I commend you, and thank you, for helping to raise awareness to this subject. Watching the documentary, really struck a chord inside of me. This is an issue on my mind daily, and very near to my heart. Your comments have given me food for thought. They have also left me with the need to respond, to your thoughts on paralysis and how it would, or wouldn't qualify someone for a physician assisted death. I would like to respectfully disagree, in my case, and here's why:

I'd like to take this opportunity to clarify my own beliefs, on euthanasia and explain why I feel I too, deserve the right to die with dignity. I hope everyone can read my arguments with an open mind. Keep in mind, my reasoning and arguments are not meant to offend, or necessarily aimed at any particular individual. I'm just stating my beliefs and thoughts, about my situation, and continuing the dialogue that was started in my previous blog. I'm not mad, or offended by any comments made to me. I would just like to expand on what I've already stated, and explain why I feel a law like, Oregon's "Death With Dignity Act" should apply to my case, in particular.

First off, it is very easy to dish out lofty advice, when you are not the one facing harsh realities, extreme physical limitations, and chronic physical suffering. I for one, am sick and tired of able bodied people, who can enjoy the simple luxuries of being able to do things, like cleaning their own bottoms, and blowing their own noses, tell me how I should live my life, and why I should continue to suffer. I'm tired of hearing the word depression, being used as scapegoat, to ignore, or excuse the real medical, and physical trials I must endure every day. I don't ever get a break, or a time out. I don't have many choices, or options. It's "this is what you must do to survive, with a high level spinal cord injury," or I let nature run it's course, and I die. Those are MY only two options.

Unless you've been in my shoes, I have a hard time absorbing any justifications, or reasonings as to why I MUST, or SHOULD continue to suffer. I'm not just referring to "quadriplegics" in general. I'm talking about women, with high level complete spinal cord injuries, that are in their thirties, that were injured in their twenties, that have no children, that lost a career, that have IBS, and that suffer from daily bouts of autonomic dysreflexia. If you are one of the few people on the planet that fit in that category, by all means, share your insight, and advice on coping with me.

If you don't belong in my boat, please save your judgement, and just take a moment to think what you might do in my situation, and how you might want to be treated. Now, imagine the last time you were sick with the flu. Remember the discomfort, dull aching, and fatigue. Now pretend someone is telling you that you are going to have that flu, that same aching, pain and fatigue for the rest of your life, every day, and that you can no longer care for yourself, indefinitely. Think of having to have dozens of people see you nude, and touch you, on a daily basis. Imagine needing to ask someone for every need; from scratching an itch, to brushing your teeth, to tying your shoes. I can guarantee you, from experience, that your worst fantasies, would not do justice, to the reality of actually living this way. I have lived on both sides of the fence, both as an able bodied adult, and as a disabled adult. I know exactly what I'm missing out on, and how much better life could be.

In regards to my situation, it is not merely the fact that I'm paralyzed, that makes me want to end my life. I'm certainly not saying that everyone who is paralyzed should want to die. My body, and it's reaction, and response to being forced into living this way, has become extremely painful, and uncomfortable. I deal with autonomic dysreflexic symptoms, on a daily basis. My tolerance for sitting is poor. I'm left feeling ill, with low grade fevers, chills, chest pressure, fatigue and cold sweats almost every day, for the past two years. Living with paralysis, and dealing with the immense magnitude of loss, was hard enough, when I was feeling decent. Feeling ill, on top of everything else, day in and day out, with no relief, and no answers, has made this life unbearable.

After seeing the film, I wrote to the state of Oregon's contact email address (http://public.health.oregon.gov/ProviderPartnerResources/EvaluationResearch/DeathwithDignityAct/Pages/index.aspx), to determine if I'd qualify to die, under the law. Paralysis is not a terminal "illness," but in my case (C4/C5 complete- no functional mobility) it is most certainly a terminal condition. Every day my body is forced, unnaturally, into performing functions it can no longer do on it's own. I have no ability to be self sufficient whatsoever. It is only through medical intervention (pills, bowel regime, catheter, and nursing care) that I am still alive. If I were to refuse help, I would most certainly be terminal. I find it hard to understand why the government, wouldn't, or doesn't want to recognize that fact. It has nothing to do with high level quadriplegics being worth less, or disabled people being less valuable. It's just being realistic, and stating facts. Having a high level, complete spinal cord injury is a terminal condition, without treatment. That is a fact.

I think what is important, or the larger issue at hand, is the degree of suffering an individual has to endure, given his/her medical prognosis, weighed in conjunction, against the likelihood of being "cured," or alleviating painful symptoms. In my case, my spinal cord injury has created a tremendous amount of discomfort, and pain (physically, and emotionally). Even if I were to rid myself of the depression, that I don't deny exists, to a certain extent, I am still left with chronic illness and AD symptoms, that the doctors have not been able to successfully treat, or alleviate.

When you couple the physical suffering, on top of the severe limitations, and loss that I've endured, living itself becomes unbearable. Not to mention the treatments that paralysis forces on me. Under any other circumstance, in any other context, my bowel program alone, would be considered torture. I don't really have a choice. My body no longer functions properly. In order for my body to get rid of the waste that my body produces, a nurse needs to manualy stimulate my sphincter muscle, through use of suppositories, and manual stimulation. I was never asked if this was ok. Life with paralysis forced it upon me. I either accept it, or die from impaction, and sepsis. Just as people in Oregon, and Washingon have the right, to say they don't want to have to be cared for, neither do I. I could get a colostomy, but I feel like that is just another unnatural treatment, and do not want it. Personally, I don't think it's right for others to insist I do these things, or expect me to suffer.

I've been seriously considering exercising my right to refuse food/water, as a means to end my suffering. I have been consulting with a local palliative care consultant, but want to thoroughly investigate all options, so I can have to peace of mind, of knowing I'm making the most informed decision possible. Realistically, being a NJ resident, refusing treatment is my only legal option, to hasten my own death. The palliative consultant I've been speaking with seems confident, that I would be able to receive hospice care (to help provide comfort) and that death by starvation/ dehydration would be relatively comfortable, and peaceful for me.

In order for me to get hospice care, my doctor would need to diagnose me as being terminal. We have already discussed this. Once I decide to refuse food/water, I would technically be considered terminal. In just so happens that a man I knew from rehab (who was injured in a motorcycle accident, and sustained a similar injury) who chose to exercise his right to refuse food/water, about a year after our accidents, and died "peacefully" surrounded by family, and the support of hospice. Although it's possible, my doctors and case manager are hesitant. They are both requiring I have a psychiatric evaluation done. I need to be declared mentally competent, before they are willing to give me the terminal diagnosis. I've been in close contact with my lawyer, throughout my fact finding process. I also created a living will, appointing my sisters as health care proxies and created a DNR order. I realize the intricacies and the legal implications, that my decision to refuse food/water would have. I'm confident, that if/when I have had enough of suffering, and have reached my limit, that this is my only alternative, and that it will successfully result in my death.

I know if/when I decide to do this, it will be extremely difficult for my loved ones to witness. I'm trying to do as much fact finding as possible, in hopes of subsiding my own fears, and providing some sort of comfort to them. Death by starvation/dehydration, is my only realistic option, if I stay living in NJ. I've read many articles about this topic, and am frustrated by the strong contrast in the information I've found. Half describe, a rather peaceful, euphoric, slipping away, while the other half tell horror stories of week long, painful, drawn out deaths. Of everything I've read, they almost all discuss very old, very ill people. I'm young (30) and "relatively healthy" (I find that description humorous, given my total lack of control, or sensation of 85% of my body, and total reliance on people, medications & treatments). God, religion, and philosophy aside, I feel like refusing help, would be allowing nature to run it's course. Naturally, I'd prefer to be miraculously cured, or at the very least to be given the right to die with dignity, but my reality is most likely I won't have either option.

I feel like I'm a prisoner, within my own flesh, and am being kept live, by unnatural means. This debate boils down to the issue of quality of life. No matter how you slice it, my paralysis, and my physiology have sentenced me to having a very low quality of life. I feel strongly that if I did live in Oregon, my case should qualify for DWD. I'm curious to see what they write back. I know for a fact that people in my similar condition have applied to Dignitas, in Switzerland, and have been granted the right to die. I wish the United States was as open minded, and compassionate as the Swiss government. If I were Swedish, I would've certainly ended my own suffering at least a year ago. Despite having loving friends, and family, I'm at a point where every day I'm alive has come to feel like a punishment.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

"How To Die In Oregon"

I just watched the HBO documentary, "How To Die In Oregon." It is a film about the debate, over whether or not people in the United States should have the right to "die with dignity," through physician assisted deaths. The documentary crew follows the lives, and deaths of several individuals, and their families. It presents clear arguments for why the right should be given to every citizen, and gives a very intimate view into the lives, and decision making process of the people involved, and what the process is like, in the state of Oregon. It also discusses opposing views, and the struggle involved, in getting legislation, like that in Oregon, passed in Washington.

One of the people the documentary follows, is a woman named Nancy. Nancy's husband had passed away, from cancer in his brain and spinal cord. At the time he was diagnosed with the illness (around 2006 I think), they were both Washington state residents. There was not much that doctors could do for him, in terms of treatment, and his prognosis was very grave. The disease progressed rapidly, and he lost his ability to care for himself. He suffered horribly, both physically and mentally, due to his degenerative condition, and his loss of freedom, and independence. He hated needing to be cared or, and wanted a peaceful, dignified death. At the time however, physician assisted suicide was illegal in his home state. He inquired about moving to Oregon, because he knew it was legal there, but his doctors told him he wouldn't be alive long enough to be able to establish residency there, or be able to give himself the lethal dose of medicine. He resigned himself to staying in his state. His wife Nancy described his final days being filled with pain, and suffering. One of his dying wishes, to her, was to work towards making physician assisted death legal in Washington, so that others wouldn't have to suffer the same way.

Nancy worked tirelessly, volunteering to speak, giving interviews, and making phone calls, to share her husband's story with the public, and to help raise awareness, and support, for the "Death With Dignity Act," which eventually passed, and was instituted in Washington, in 2008. During one of the many speaking engagements the documentary chronicles, the interviewer asked Nancy something to the effect of, "Death with dignity, the other side would call it assisted suicide. Is it assisted suicide?" She replied, "No. It's offense to me, to call it a suicide. Suicide is something someone does, who is otherwise physically healthy, and has their life ahead of them, but is clinically depressed and does not want to live." In another segment, she explains to a crowd of people, that although she and her husband were both raised Catholic, he (and obviously she agrees) didn't think it was right for the government, or any religious leader, to dictate how much someone should have to suffer. I agree with her opinions, whole heartedly.

The documentary discusses the Hippocratic oath, that doctors take, to "do no harm," and presents arguments from both sides. The film is clearly "pro" euthanasia rights, however it does offer examples, and give and take dialogue, from both sides of the issue. Some of the opponents to physician assisted death, claim that enacting such laws, is essentially giving the government the power to classify who is "fit" to live, versus those whose care might seem otherwise burdensome, or costly. I think this line of thinking is completely misguided. No one is saying "everyone with such, and such diagnosis, should be euthanized."

Giving citizens a dignified alternative, to assured suffering, has nothing to do with placing judgement on individuals. Everyone should have the right to determine what he/she considers to be a worthwhile life. Not everyone with a terminal diagnosis would choose to cut their life short. Not everyone that is disabled finds being dependent on others as painful, humiliating, or degrading. Everyone has their own unique threshold for suffering, and what he/she might classify as a life worth living. The point is, those people who do have a terminal illness, or incurable chronic illness, should have the right to determine when they've suffered enough. We as society, as loving, compassionate citizens, should recognize that in some cases, there are no medical answers or relief to suffering, but death itself. We should not demonize people for not wanting to suffer, or doctors for wanting to help ease someone's suffering.

If doctors have no methods to ease someone's physical illness, and that person is guaranteed to have a future filled with crippling limitations, lack of independence and/or physical suffering, than in my opinion, it is DOING HARM, not to offer a peaceful alternative. It is not right to say, you must suffer, because we can't help you. If death is a certainty, why prolong the suffering, and poor quality of life?

The documentary shows a man named Randy, dying from prostate cancer. In the film, he talks about his outrage over receiving a denial letter for more chemotherapy. Randy had already had several doses, but the treatments had been ineffective. He was too poor to pay for the treatments out of pocket, and the state of Oregon was refusing to pay for more treatments, because based on his diagnosis they felt that further treatments would only be futile (aka a waste of tax payer money), and were only offering him palliative, or "comfort care." He showed the rejection letter, which outlined the comfort care measures, that he COULD qualify for, given his condition. In the list, was the option of physician assisted death. He was completely irate, accusing Oregon of "putting a price on his life", and felt as though he was being pressured into dying. After going public with his story, the state agreed to pay for more radiation treatments. Despite treatment, he died a month later.

Giving people options, is totally different than imposing something on people. I don't think Oregon was wrong for denying Randy treatment. Some cases are lost causes. I receive all my medical benefits through the government, (Medicare and Medicaid) and believe whole heartedly that the government has the right to approve, or deny treatment, if they have clear evidence that it is unnecessary. As it is, there is a ton of price gauging, abuse of the system, and wasted money.

A perfect example, in my life, is receiving physical therapy. Due to my injury (C4/C5 complete), I was left completely paralyzed, with no hope of recovering any sensation, or functional ability, below my injury level. Directly after my accident, I received three months of inpatient acute, physical and occupational rehabilitation, and then six months of outpatient subacute rehab. For the first year and a half, after my accident I lived in and out of the hospital, and nursing facilities. During my stay in the nursing home, I received PT/OT five days a week (about a half hour of range of motion stretches, and exercises, done with the assistance of a physical therapist). Once I moved out, into my own apartment, the state paid to have a PT/OT therapist come to my home and teach my aides how to do range of motion exercises. I have been living here for over four years, and have only had PT/OT come to my home twice. The government will not approve me for outpatient PT/OT, because they feel, based on my diagnosis, anyone can be trained to do simple range of motion exercise with me. My prognosis, does not include "getting better," or regaining mobility, therefore they are justified in not wanting to pay for services that would be a waste of time and money. It doesn't make me angry. It makes sense.

I WISH I had a peaceful alternative to end this life. I don't think Oregon officials were wrong for denying the man in the film treatment. Clearly, he was terminally ill. Offering him the OPTION of a physician assisted death, was just that; an option. He had every right, not to exercise his right to die. In his opinion, his life was worth fighting for. That's all well and good, but there are cases where treatment is futile. If the tax payers are footing the bill, the government has the right to say whether or not they are going to pay. If you can afford it, and feel extra treatments are worth the cost,and risk, than more power to you. No one should tell you how you spend your own money (taxes & benefits aside). Just as, no one should force suffering upon others.

I HATE the life that my paralysis has forced onto me. I do not think it's right, or humane, to force me to live this way. If I lived in Oregon, or Washington, I would most certainly exercise the right to die with dignity. I'm not sure if I'd qualify, because I can't technically administer the medicine to myself. I'm a little fuzzy on the law, even after watching the film. They clearly point out that such legislation is feasible, because the patient is giving themselves the medicine, versus a doctor giving a lethal injection. However, everyone in the film, clearly had other people prepare the mixture, and help them. All they had to do was physically be able to ingest the concoction, by mouth. I could do that, but am unsure if my situation would be approved.

Most of society, and my loved ones don't like to admit the fact that paralysis (at high, complete levels- such as mine) is no different than a terminal illness. I have absolutely no means of self sufficiency. I am FORCED into accepting help for EVERY aspect of normal, daily life: to eat, go to the bathroom, dress, bathe, etc. I have two options: accept help and prolong my life, and therefore my own suffering, or reject help, and suffer a long drawn out, painful death. That is an incredibly harsh, cruel position to be in.

I'm not saying everyone with a spinal cord injury, or paralysis should want to die, or that they should be euthanized. All I'm saying is that each case should be judged based on the individual, and his/her own definition of what is a quality life. There should be an alternative, peaceful way to end someone's suffering. The choice, and decision to exercise that option, should be left to the individual. Not everyone will choose to die.

I for one, would welcome a peaceful option. For me, being completely paralyzed has been hell on earth. I absolutely detest needing help, and having no privacy. My physiology, (having IBS) has complicated my situation, and creates a lot of pain, and discomfort. I'm forced into taking dozens of pills, and into enduring horrible treatments (like bowel program-where a nurse needs to manually stimulate my body into evacuating stool), that create as much discomfort as they alleviate, if not more. There is no cure in sight for me, and very little that doctors can do to get rid of the autonomic dysreflexia, I deal with on a daily basis. My tolerance for sitting is poor, and I'm left practically bed bound. I am literally a prisoner within my own body. Right now, my only means of ending my suffering, is to reject the help that is given to me every day. Rejecting help will ensure my death 100%, because I can not feed myself, or get something to drink, without assistance. I can not go to the bathroom, or clean myself. Without help, my death will be assured, in only a matter of time.

In other words, my only option of ending my suffering (which in and of itself is a certainty, given my body, and my condition) is to slowly starve myself to death, or hope to die from untreated infection. Both "options" will result in my death, but will most likely be very painful, and drawn out, and incredibly hard for my loved ones to witness. For me, the best "help" for me, would be a dignified death. I hate that I am so trapped, and so limited by the law. It pisses me off, that religious "morals" and belief systems are imposed on me, and force me to suffer. My life has come to a point, where living equates to suffering. The scale has tipped, irreversibly, to being a life of overwhelming suffering, versus overall good. I truly wish I had the right to die peacefully, and quickly. I'd take that option in a heartbeat.

The documentary also follows a woman, named Cody, who was dying from cancer in her liver. Throughout the film, it shows her with her family, and each of their perspective's about her choice to exercise her right to die. For a little while, she had a period of feeling good, and had outlived her prognosis. She knew that she had the pills, waiting for her, but she chose life. She explained that she knew she didn't HAVE to ever take the pills, if she didn't want to, but that she drew peace and comfort from knowing, that she could spare herself from eventual suffering. She knew she was going to die, either way, but she didn't want to let her illness bring her to the point where she could no longer care for herself.

Naturally, Cody's family was sad, that she was going to die, but they were also very understanding, and supportive of her decision to hasten her own death. She involved them in her thought process, and clearly outlined what SHE considered to be a quality life, and how far she was WILLING to continue to suffer. Thanks to her having the option to die with dignity, she and her loved ones were able to prepare for death, together. They were able to enjoy her last days together, and say their goodbyes to one another, while she was still relatively able to care for herself, and was able to die with pride, and grace. She was able to spare herself the suffering, of added pain and the humiliation, of needing to be cared for (I can relate to her feelings), and spare her family the cost, and the physical & emotional burdens of having to watch her suffer and have to care for her.

Some people can tolerate more pain than others. Some people don't mind being dependent. Some people aren't bothered by vanities, modesty, or pride. Everyone is different. Every case is unique. For those people, whose death is inevitable, without medical intervention, or for those of people living with incurable, painful conditions, there should be a humane alternative, to forced suffering. Giving people the right to die, is not the same as killing people. The choice should remain with the individual that is faced with the suffering. Suffering shouldn't be imposed, or expected, just because there isn't a cure, or viable treatment. We treat our pets more humanely, than we treat our fellow man. I agree with the right to die with dignity, and wish more people would open their eyes, hearts and minds. I wish more states would free their citizens from the oppression of religious beliefs, over law, and give citizens the right to decide how much/little suffering they are willing to endure, and give doctors the right to uphold their oaths, to help ease suffering; even when life itself is suffering.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"A Gradual Awakening"

I just finished reading a book by Stephen Levine, called "A Gradual Awakening." It is a book about meditation, and philosophy, based on Theravada, and Zen Buddhism. It was recommended to me, by someone who reads my blogs, and is a fellow member of the "Care Cure" online community I belong to. Curiously enough, his name also happens to be Stephen, and he has been living with paralysis since the early 80's (paraplegic- due to an arteriovenous malformation). He and I correspond, from time to time, and he thought the book might offer me some insight, and comfort, with my struggles, trying to cope with life with paralysis. Luckily, it was available in e-book format, which made it easy to read (I buy books through iBooks & the Kindle app, on my iPad- it's much more convenient than reading traditional books, because I can easily switch between tasks, look up definitions, highlight important passages, and take notes).

I've read many books on meditation, since my accident, so I was already familiar with some of the book's concepts, and practical advice. My grandpa (my stepmom's dad) has been into meditation, mysticism and dream psychology (he owns an impressive collection of books by Carl Jung), for decades, and has hundreds of books in his library (mostly religious texts [of various religions], spiritual, philosophical, and psychological in basis/theory). He has practiced meditation (and prayer- his approach is from a Christian perspective) and kept dream journals, since he was in his forties. He and I spent quite a lot of time together, as I was growing up, and over the years he told me about his studies. I always viewed his studies, as an interested sceptic. I was always open to listen, and to read through books he gave me (more so, since my accident- before I was often busy, and did, or could not make time).

I have always found religion, philosophy, and psychology to be fascinating subjects, worth investigating, pondering, debating, and questioning. Eastern philosophy, in particular has always been appealing to me, and something I have found myself drawn to, time and again, throughout my life. My fascination, for Asian art, philosophy, and culture, started with my discovery of anime (with Sailor Moon- sophomore year of high school- in 1995), and blossomed into a genuine love, and passion to study many facets of Japanese, art and culture, in particular.

In college, I took an "Art of Japan" course, as one of my art history requirements. It was through that course, that I began a serious study of Buddhist art, and philosophy. As with every art history course, I've ever taken, religion played an integral role, in the inspiration, and creation, of much of the artwork I studied. I can remember having to study, and being able to identify hundreds of varying Buddhist statues, and paintings. I learned how to "read" the symbology present (posture, hair knots, drooping earlobes, lotus flowers, etc.) in varying types, and styles of Buddhist art, and about the principles, and philosophy behind such things as, Zen ink paintings, sand mandalas, rock gardens, and tea ceremonies. I especially fell in love with Ukiyo-e wood cut prints, and can remember spending hours at the M.E.T. looking at them, and using their library to write a paper about Ukiyo-e's influence on the post impressionistic movement.

In the years right before my accident, I used to go into NYC monthly. I would sometimes spend all day, getting lost in the Asian, and Egyptian wings of the M.E.T., looking at the artwork, and making sketches. I would take trips down to Chinatown, and spend all day (in the summer and on weekends) browsing in, and out of tea shops, and buying all sorts of Asian style accessories, clothes, figurines and nick knacks. Over the years, I've amassed quite a collection of both traditional and contemporary Asian books, and art. Not to mention, my over the top collection, of hundreds of anime DVDs and Blue-ray disks (I'm an otaku, in every sense of the word). To this day, my apartment is filled with Buddhist iconography, and Asian artwork, and inspiration.

It was no surprise to me, that I'd enjoy, or be drawn towards the teachings, in "A Gradual Awakening." Like I said, it's not the first book I've read on how to meditate. Most books I've read in the past have been more well rounded, in terms of offering varying religious and non-religious approaches, and offering more direct, step by step guided meditations, or contrarily, vague techniques or generic mantras. The difference in this book, is that the author focuses specifically on the teachings of Buddah himself, and offers more specific examples Zen philosophy, with a few guided, purpose based meditations. Even if you've never read about Buddhism, and/or meditation, it is simple to understand, and pretty straightforward.

Naturally, "knowing" and "doing" are two different things. While, Levine's writing style makes the concepts understandable (and approachable), it is a whole other ball of wax, to be able to apply the content, and practice the principles he describes. The book is definitely a good jumping point, to begin reflection, and offers a lot of rational, practical sense, that make the reader (namely me) want to try the theories out for himself/herself, and that can be applied to, and compliment various, existing religious beliefs, or mindsets.

In the book, Levine's (based on Buddah's teaching) overriding theme, is that the root of all suffering, is based on our (collectively) inability to be at one with the present moment. He says it is our attachment to our preconceived notion of "who" we are (as individuals), "what" WE think we should be doing, and/or "where" we should be, that interferes with our ability to be happy, and/or peaceful with our reality. He states that in order to be truly happy, to be whole, and fulfilled, we must begin by letting go of the personal "I."

According to Levine, we are all part of a bigger whole, and that through meditation, we can start to return to this natural state of feeling complete. He asserts that everyone has the innate ability to access this grander sense of truth, by honing one's concentration, through mindful meditation, and gradually awakening. He says everyone must start by focusing on the mind, as an observer, to watch thoughts, as they pass through the mind, and to begin to recognize the constant change, and flow, that is present, from moment, to moment. He warns, not to let one's self get pulled in, or get attached to any one thought, but to detach and let each moment unfold.

He briefly explains the concept of karma, as being "the perfect outcome of previous input." In other words, you sow what you reap. So, from a Buddhist standpoint, my current situation (being paralyzed) is because of some past action. From a rational, logical standpoint, anyone would agree, that my diving into a shallow pool, head first, resulted in me breaking my neck, and thus left me paralyzed. However, looking at my life, from the viewpoint of the larger picture, and the seemingly unjust nature, of how drastically one small action, has caused me so much loss, and suffering, the logical cause and effect explanation, does not seem comforting, and lacks the deeper meaning of "Why?" Levine says, that this is where karma comes into play.

From the Buddhist perspective, the karma I have in this life, can (and has been) effected by this life, as well as by actions in past lives. So, even though it might seem unfair, or unjust, for someone like me (a relatively, honest, kind, hardworking person) to have to suffer so much, for such a small mistake, it is the result of past mistakes, and it is part of a much, much bigger picture. Levine explains, like a circle, it is impossible to determine where one cause, or effect begins, or ends. He doesn't go much into reincarnation specifically, but implies, that whatever desires we have, when we die, or feelings left, unfulfilled, those grasping qualities create karma, and propel us (condition, and effect us) into our next life. Luckily, according to Levine, we each have the potential to reach "enlightenment" and stop the karmic cycle. He offers Buddah, and Jesus, as two examples of individuals who were able to attain enlightenment, through their loving, selfless, detachment, and return to their place, within the universal wholeness.

So, in my case, it makes perfect sense, to say that most (if not all) my suffering is a result of my attachments to my perceived image of myself. I feel sad, angry, and empty, because I am clinging onto the past (aka- an illusionary version on "myself") and onto an idealistic future self. Levine would assert, I am in pain, because I am not living life, in the present moment. According to him, in order for me (everyone) to find peace, I need to learn to love myself, forgive myself, practice loving kindness towards others and to live only in the present moment. He says, in order to be whole, we must let go of our egos; we must accept the present moment.

While I'll admit, the dichotomy between my "ideal" present, and my "actual" present does account for a tremendous amount of suffering, it is easier said than done, to abandon every like, dislike, preference, preconceived notion, desire, wish, dream, hope, and aspiration I've ever had, and what I believe (falsely- according to Buddah) to have been "me" as being me. From an analytically viewpoint, it makes perfect sense, that if I could let go of everything I had, and give up the dreams, and goals I had, for my future, I would be a more content person. In the book, Levine offers guided meditations, to help the reader work through the process of how to live life in the present, and ways to let go of "self."

I definitely agree with A LOT of what the book discusses, from a logical perspective. That might sound strange, given the fact the author is proposing radical ideas on being completely selfless, to the point, where the reader must choose to accept concepts of multiple lifetimes, collective consciousness, and universal oneness. I'm not sure if I'm sold on the idea of karma, to the extent of believing in past lives, or even that the present moment in my life (as I write this) as being perfect and correct, but it does make COMMON, practical sense that clinging to ideals, memories, or even hopes, IS a recipe for suffering. One undeniable truth, throughout this book, is that life changes. From the birth of this moment, to the death of the past moment, life is a continuous flow of change, of beginnings and endings, of causes and effects. The more you resist change, and fight, or try to escape the present reality, the more you hurt yourself. That is basic, powerful, truth.

While I continue to try and let go of my past, accept my reality, and work on being the best person I can be, in the given moment, it is extremely hard. Change, while difficult for everyone, is inescapable. However, most people have the luxury of being able to adapt to change gradually, as it slowly unfolds. My reality, was brutally, abruptly turned upside down, literally overnight. I had no choice but to let go (in a physical sense) of most of my acquired skills, and abilities, in the matter of minutes, because they were forcefully stolen from me, by my paralysis. Contrarily, many new, painful, realities were thrust upon me, like having to accept help (for everything), having to expose myself, needing bowel program, a catheter, and medications. Paralysis did not afford me any time, to ease into my new life, or grant me a transition period. I went from being one person, with one life, to becoming a new person, with a new life, overnight. To make matters more difficult, I have EVERY memory of my old life, and the shadow of the old "me" looming over me.

In a figurative (and literal) sense, paralysis has forced me to consciously experience my own death, and rebirth. While, it is an interesting theory, to explain this present life (my life post spinal cord injury), and my very real physical pain, and discomfort, as a product of past karma, it is not comforting. Even if I accepted the principle of karma as truth, it still doesn't give me the explanation of what actions I did, to create the karma I'm experiencing, right now. I suppose, Levine (and perhaps Buddah) would say, my past actions, and even my current situation are irrelevant, except for the opportunity my present situation affords me to grow, and learn, and of how I choose to act, from this moment forward.

The book is clearly written with the average person in mind, and not aimed at the severely disabled, or terminally ill people. He touches briefly, on dealing with physical pain, but focuses primarily on the psychological pain, and negative feelings, and attitudes, that hold people back. It has certainly given me some food for thought, and some concrete strategies, and techniques, for beginning to work on my emotional pain, and psychological wellbeing, but leaves me with many questions, about how to deal with the physical limitations, physical pain, and chronic illness that are also part of my present reality. Even if I am able to let go, of everything, including my ego, my body can't escape the physical limitations, and discomfort.

I suppose, the hope, or goal, would be that this pain, and physical suffering is only temporary, and ultimately, by becoming enlightened, I could potentially ensure that this lifetime is the last time I have to experience it. The thought of letting go of all desires, seems like an impossibility, and thus dooming me, to forever repeat my mistakes; never feeling satisfied. In this regard, the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim promise of an eternal heaven, seems much, much more appealing. Although the thought at a second chance, to experience the things I can't/couldn't in this life, sounds tempting, the thought of having to experience the drastic, abrupt change that I have had to endure, in this lifetime, has been intense enough to never, ever want to repeat it.

I'm curious to read another book Levine wrote, entitled "Healing Into Life and Death," which focuses more on situations of chronic, and terminal illness. I'll be sure to write a review, if/when I finish it.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Meeting With Fr. Doug

Well, I just met with Fr. Doug. He was very nice, and younger than I imagined. Most of the priests I knew growing up, were easily old enough to be my grandfather, or great great grandfather. We talked for about an hour and a half. I explained pretty much everything I've been thinking, and going through; lots and lots of tears. I showed him some of my still life paintings, I had laying around the apartment and gave him my card, to check out my website.

He said he could see a definite reason why God wanted me here, to use my gifts, to help others. I brought up the fact, that I feel I have been generous, and giving, but wonder how long I'm meant to keep living for the sake of others. I said, it's unfair, to hold me to the standard of Jesus, when Jesus had a clear knowledge, of his purpose, about his death, and about his resurrection. He said that's true, but that life isn't always fair. I explained that I don't blame God, for my accident, because I feel it is a product of my own freewill. He agreed, and said, although God doesn't create suffering, he can make good things happen, despite of it.

I understand, that I've been blessed with gifts, despite my severe disabilities. My gifts, of writing, and painting have helped me to cope, and teach others, about paralysis. However, the daily bouts of autonomic dysreflexia, and the grueling treatments, and degrading, embarrassing nature, of being totally dependent, makes living this way, seem so overwhelming, and often overshadows, the few positives in my life. I am thankful, to be able to express my feelings, but sometimes feel like my mind itself, is my own worst enemy. Being so trapped, with nothing but my thoughts, is often a punishment, within itself, because I'm constantly remembering what I had, what I can't have, what I miss, and what I want. The disparity between my old life, and my reality, is constantly weighing down on me, and makes it hard to be satisfied with what I've been left with.

He said I seemed to be much harder on myself, than others, and said I needed to find a way to forgive myself, for the accident. He said I had to start loving myself. I have heard those words many times, but am at a loss, at how to begin to do that. He said we're often much nicer to others, than we are to ourselves, and in my case, that's certainly true. He said God, is also more forgiving than I am, which I'm hoping is true. I know I didn't intend to hurt myself, but it was MY poor judgment, and MY action, that ultimately resulted in my injury. In many ways, I feel like a murder. I feel like the person I was, died that day, and I've been grieving for her, ever since. Paralysis has stolen almost every aspect of my old life; a life a loved.

I have lost my freedom to care for myself, my privacy, my dignity, my hopes, my dreams, my career, and the life I had built for myself. In many, many ways I lost myself. I miss the old Christina. I miss living my old life. I have no to blame, for the life paralysis had given me, but myself. How do you forgive someone that has stolen everything you loved, and held dear? How do you forgive someone that has robbed you of your health, and in turn, sentenced you, to a life a suffering? How do you forgive someone, that has robbed you of your potential, and your dreams, for the future, by placing extreme obstacles, and limitations upon you? I'm not sure if I CAN forgive myself.

Talking with Fr. Doug, did help provide me comfort, in that he said I had the right, to refuse extreme measures, like a tracheotomy, colostomy, or vent. Although, deep down, he's just a man, I felt relieved of the heavy burden, of knowing he (as a Catholic priest) recognized, that some situations are TOO much, and that God would understand, not wanting to preserve "life" to ANY and ALL extent necessary. Ever since those first few weeks, in ICU, my worst fear, has been ever having to be hooked up to a vent, again. I have a hard enough time, dealing with being reliant on people, I don't want to ever be reliant on machines again.

Fr. Doug said he thought a lot of my feelings, and dark thoughts are just depression, and suggested I reevaluate my medications. I said, I'd be open to trying. I already have tried a few. I had been taking Effexor, up until last year, and felt like it was no longer working. I asked my doctor, if I could try something different, and I started Pristiq. I've been taking it for at least six months. In the past six months, I've also added Remeron, and Xanax at night (both have been increased in doses a couple of times), to help with my insomnia. That said, I'm as down as ever, and in a very dark place.

I get a little annoyed, when people just write my feelings off as depressed, because I feel the true root of my sadness, stems directly from my paralysis. I'm not saying I'm not depressed, because I clearly am. I'm just saying that, no matter what medication I take, I will ALWAYS have a certain degree of depression. I pointed out, that anti-depressants, are not going to take away the key problems, that are plaguing me: the daily bouts of AD, my physical limitations, bowel program, or my catheter. I suppose, the right medication COULD make dealing with these things more bearable, but on a whole, I honestly can't envision ever being happy, or satisfied with living the way paralysis forces me to live.

After our long talk, Fr. Doug performed the anointing of sick ritual, and we said the "Our Father" together. I hope God was listening, and can offer me some relief, one way, or the other. In the meantime, I'll take Fr. Doug's advice, and talk to my doctor, about possibly trying to change my medications. At this point, I feel I have nothing to lose. I don't want to seem unreasonable, or unwilling to take suggestions. If I didn't want help, I wouldn't bother asking. I just want some peace, and to feel better, for a change. I do wish God would just cure me, or take me. I hate feeling stuck, in constant limbo.

Our conversation, hasn't really changed my mind, about not wanting antibiotics. I feel like, if God truly does want me alive, God certainly has the power to keep me alive, despite that decision. For now, I'm willing to experiment, and see if new meds, can offer any relief. I will also continue to pray, meditate, read, and search, to try and strengthen my faith. I will continue to be open, and honest with my friends, and family, and try to enjoy each day, the best I can. I'm really trying my best. I don't know what more I can do.

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Friday, May 6, 2011

The Suicide Tourist

I just watched a documentary, called "The Suicide Tourist." It's an very moving, powerful, documentary, chronicling the final days, and eventual suicide, Craig Ewert. The documentary takes place in Europe, and gives an extremely intimate view, of Craig's life, and death. It is a highly thought provoking piece, that raises many questions, about quality of life, and the right to die. Craig himself, is very articulate, and poses some strong arguments, for his decision, and his opinions, on living, suffering, and on dying. I think it offers an exceptional example of why people, OUGHT to have the right to "die with dignity" and demonstrates good arguments, for why euthanasia should be legal, here in the USA. On a whole, the documentary is very tastefully done, and an incredibly brave, and generous contribution to society, on the part of Craig, his wife, and his children. If I could, I would like to thank Craig, and his family, for their willingness to share his story. I have a high respect for his loved ones, in that they supported his difficult decision, and stood by his side (particularly his wife), while he carried out his wishes.

Craig and his wife, both American citizens, had moved to Europe, before he got sick. They had two grown children, and decided they wanted to travel, and live abroad. Craig, who had been a professor of computer science, got a teaching job in England, and he and his wife relocated. His wife started started studying for a Phd, in law, and they were enjoying living their new life together. Everything changed, when Craig started feeling weak, and ultimately was given the ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) diagnosis, and told his best case scenario, was two to five years left, to live. Around six months, after being diagnosed with ALS , and his rapid deterioration in health, Craig decided he wanted to end his life.

He started doing research, and was disappointed to discover that physician assisted suicide, was only legal in three states (I know of Oregon & Washington). He became frustrated by the fact, that people expected him to just accept his fate, and feared more than anything, what life would be like, once he could no longer speak, or communicate. He feared becoming a prisoner, in his own body (which I feel I am- even though I can communicate- and know what it's like to be completely paralyzed, without speech, from my time spent hooked up to a ventilator) and doubted his life, or death would be as "peaceful" as third party accounts described. He brought up an excellent point, that just because a person is "still," to the casual observer, it doesn't mean that the person is at peace. Being trapped, with no way to communicate, and stuck with nothing but your thoughts, and hauntingly painful memories, is anything, but peaceful. I know from experience. It is hell, and pure torture.

Wanting to prevent further suffering, and speed up the process, of his inevitable death, Craig continued his search for a legal way to end his life, and discussed his viewpoint, feelings and fears, with his wife and children. Realizing that he was suffering, and death was fast approaching, his family respected his wishes, and supported him, in carrying them out. He ultimately found out about Dignitas, a clinic in Switzerland, which offers assisted suicide services, to Swiss citizens, and foreigners alike. Knowing he had to be able to swallow the lethal dose of sodium pentobarbital himself, and that his window of opportunity was closing (due to his degenerative disease, and the unpredictable nature of the illness), he set up his appointment, and was accepted, to receive their services.

During the filming of his four, final days, Craig talked about his reasoning behind wanting to commit suicide, and his opinions on it being illegal, throughout the UK, and much of the US. He very poignantly expressed the fact that, many people throw the issue of God, into the matter, as a leading factor, for why there isn't more support, for assisted suicide, and how it is ironically unfair, that "playing God" is seemingly only a matter of contention, when it involves ending a life (and suffering), versus saving it. He pointed out the glaringly obvious distinction, where doctors "play God," by saving newborn babies (through extreme medical intervention) and keep people alive, unnaturally long lifespans, through medicine, and machines, but that it's "ok" to "play God," when it preserves life. He pointed out the fact, that his respirator, had been "playing God," keeping him alive, and couldn't understand why it was only acceptable, to intervene in extending life, but unacceptable to end life, even when there is no hope of cure, and definite suffering present. I too, do not understand, the rationale, behind this unjust form of thinking.

The documentary discusses Swiss law, and says (which I've read in many articles) that because of the fact that euthanasia is illegal, in the UK, and most of the US, the Swiss government has seen a huge influx, in "suicide tourism," and that outside countries (namely the US & UK) have been pressuring Switzerland to reject foreign petitions, to die within their country. This scrutiny has made it difficult, for clinics like Dignitas, to accept any, but the most extreme, and most desperate of cases. Luckily for Craig, he met Dignitas' criteria.

I think it's a shame that people like Craig (and myself) are forced into living with incurable, extreme disabilities, essentially against our will. I can completely relate, to his suffering, his viewpoint on being forced into dependence, and his fears of feeling trapped, and hopeless. It is a shame, that anyone should have to fly half way around the world, and petition a foreign country, to die a dignified death. I think it is cruel, that our society (and the UK) would rather watch people suffer, who would otherwise be dead, if it were not for medical intervention, than to allow us, to choose what we can tolerate, and what we deem, is a life worth living. Why is it so wrong, to offer a peaceful death, to someone who has no means of living, on their own, to whom medical science can offer no cure, and who is, in his/her own opinion experiencing suffering? It makes me angry, that people like me and Craig have to leave the country, or slowly starve ourselves to death, or slowly die from infection, rather than be given a HUMANE, easy alternative, because other people (who have no clue what it's like to be in our shoes) think it's "right," or "wrong."

I know the pain, and loss, that Craig was faced with, and why he decided to end his life. I know, very well, the terror of being completely reliant on others, and the heaviness, of feeling like a burden. I too, know the sadness, and disappointment, of having to express feelings of wanting die, to the people I love, and the pain and guilt, that comes along with deciding I want to give up on life. I know the shame, blame, and guilt, that society at large, and religion, bears down on the individual. It is a horrible situation to be in.

I know what it's like to look into the eyes, of the people I love, and tell them that I feel my life is no longer worth living. I'm living through that pain, right now, and know how hard it is to let go, even though every fiber of my being is exhausted, and wanting to give in, my conscious keeps reminding me, of the pain my death will cause, and I wish I knew a way to avoid hurting the people I love, while at the same time ending my own suffering. I know how horribly frustrating it is, to be a prisoner, within your body. I'm trapped, exactly like Craig, and I understand his desire to escape.

I applaud Craig, for his courage, and his family, for their selflessness, and compassion. I don't think it's wrong, to want to die peacefully, when death is inevitable, and medicine offers no hope, of alleviating a person's pain, and all the future holds, is a life full of suffering. I wish I had a peaceful option; a means of escaping this life, that didn't involve added suffering, and putting my loved ones through a long, painful process, of watching me slowly die, day by day. I wish everyone could watch "The Suicide Tourist", and gain some perspective, on the fact that, sometimes the most humane, compassionate thing to do, is to offer a peaceful death, and to let go, versus sentencing someone (that would otherwise be dead anyway) to a lifetime of suffering.

Video- http://video.pbs.org/video/1430431984

Information about ALS-

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Why Getting a Colostomy is NOT an Option

It's hard to explain (more than I've already spelled out in my blog about IBS), why a colostomy would be so horrible. I recently posted my last blog (about my decision to no longer take antibiotics, and creating a DNR) on the Care Cure Forums. Many of the men on there responded, in bewilderment over why I'd rather die, than get a colostomy, which could possibly alleviate some of the AD symptoms, which plague me, on a daily basis. For me, the question boils down to "quality" versus "quantity" of life. In my mind, based on my standards, for myself, my personal struggles, preferences, and wants, getting a colostomy would not improve MY definition, of a quality life, it would lower it. Given my current situation, and the way I define quality, for myself, the bar is already set very low, because of my extreme paralysis. Getting a colostomy MIGHT (let's keep in mind there's no guarantee) alleviate some of my physical suffering, but I am CERTAIN it would add to my emotional suffering. The decision NOT to get a colostomy, is a no brainer for me, for many, many reasons. It has been one of the two things I have absolutely refused to consider (that and a tracheotomy), since day one of my injury.

Sometimes, I think men are more laid back, and accepting about bodily functions, fluids, and modesty, in general. What you have to understand, about me, is that I had bathroom issues before my SCI. I have deep rooted feelings of shame & embarrassment, revolving around the need to go to the bathroom (number two). I couldn't use public bathrooms, or go at other people's houses. Having IBS complicated matters, and I would tolerate tremendous amounts of pain, holding it in, because I couldn't bear the thought (embarrassment) over going, and having other people know about it. I know that's illogical, and that it's a natural human function. However, my brain also tells me it's disgusting, unladylike, and I have always felt the compulsion to hide the fact that I do it. I have always been extremely critical of myself, and often hold myself to unrealistically high ideals, to be a perfect person. Having a SCI and being paralyzed has been my own personal hell. It has forced me to reveal every minute flaw, from acne, to bodily fluids, to poop, to my naked body, flab, hair in places I don't want, etc. The list goes on and on. Everything I used to work hard to perfect, through exercise, diet, grooming, makeup, and in the PRIVACY of MY own bathroom, by MYSELF, I'm now FORCED into sharing with others, and are exposed, for all to see.

I have been self conscious about my weight, and my looks, my entire life. I've always felt the need to be perfect; to look like the women in magazines; to be the best in everything I do; best in class; best teacher; best artist; best daughter; best friend and so on, and so forth. Although I know I'm only human, just like everyone else, when I was on my feet, at least I could deal with my humanly imperfections, and flaws, in private. I had the luxury of being able to create, and mold myself into the best possible version of myself, through hard work. I had control, over handling and tackling my flaws, my way, by myself. Paralysis has robbed me of my control, and my privacy. It has been hell.

I was never comfortable in my own skin. I was always working to improve myself. At the time of my accident, I had already scheduled a cosmetic procedure, to enhance my looks; to be a better me. My accident happened three weeks, before surgery, and it never got done. It still bothers me, and I still feel lacking. In fact, my SCI has made me feel uglier, and more flawed than ever. It's robbed me of the ability to exercise, and tone my muscles. It's left me flabby, full of scars. I can no longer take care of myself (hair, makeup, nails, skin, etc) the way I used to. Having to have other people, help me with those things, that SHOULD be private, has been awful. The worst aspects, of paralysis, and not being able to care for myself, by far, has been anything, and everything related to the bathroom, and my body. The more, foul, and disgusting, the more embarrassment, and shame I feel; the more violated I feel.

Having to have other adults, see my nude body (people that I'd otherwise, NEVER reveal myself too- like my mother, adult siblings, countless aides, friends, nurses and doctors) and have to touch, and help me, and WITNESS my urine, blood, spit, poop, boogers, vomit, and pimples, is horrifying to me. I feel like paralysis has stripped me, of my basic human rights, to care for myself, and keep my self respect, and dignity. I HATE every single time I need to expose myself, and my flaws. I SHOULD at the very least, have the control, and privacy, to handle my body, and all of it's flaws and functions, as a self sufficient adult. It's not normal, or right, that paralysis FORCES me to reveal all my insecurities. Every human being is entitled to privacy, however paralysis has made that impossible for me. Living with paralysis, has imposed countless, uncomfortable, emotionally, and physically painful limitations on me, that leave me with no choice, but to accept, being violated, and continually exposed.

The thought of having to undergo another surgery, and have ANOTHER false, oriphus cut into my body, is unacceptable. I know the pain, and embarrassment that my catheter causes me. It is revolting, and I hate it. It is unnatural, and leaves me susceptible to chronic infection, and in and of itself, has been a source of sickness, and physical discomfort. I absolutely refuse, to do the same, with the single most repulsive bodily function (in my opinion) possible. I will not live with a bag of feces strapped to my side. I'd do ANYTHING to NOT have to "go" in the first place. Being perpetually attached to a bag of shit, to me, is the ultimate submission of self respect. If that is where I'm at, in life, that I must stoop to that low, to extend my life, then life itself is not worth living.

I have endured unconscionable compromises, in these last six years, for the sake of living, but at what cost? I am miserable. I hate paralysis. I hate feeling violated. I hate having little, to no control over my privacy, my health, and my body. I have suffered with loss on such a massive scale, that no one should ever have to suffer. My body and mind are rejecting this unnatural life. I will not submit anymore. I have suffered enough. I have (and continue to) accepted help, to be fed, clothed, and bathed, to endure bowel program (getting routinely sodomized- for lack of a better description), take dozens of pills every day and have a catheter. At what point, am I allowed to say, enough, is enough? I see very little quality, in the life paralysis has forced on me. I will not bend any lower. I will not compromise any further.

I'm tired of living a lie. I am not happy. I will never be satisfied with THIS life, because of ALL the compromise, and lack of privacy. I don't think I'm being unreasonable, for wanting BASIC human rights, and abilities. I don't think it's illogical, or wrong, to want a normal life, to want better for myself, and to have limits, to what I'm willing to accept. I think I've been quite flexible, and rational, these past six years. I understand my limitations, and know the reality of my situation. I know that's it's not done out of malice, but out of care, that people want me to accept, the unacceptable. People want me to live, for them. I'm thinking about living for me. Getting a colostomy is not something I can, or want to have handle living with.

Yes, my decision to forgo taking antibiotics will most likely result in my death. All I'm saying is that, I haven't decided to PROACTIVELY hasten my death, by refusing food/water. I can't control getting, or not getting a UTI, or any other infection. I can control, if I want to fight to live. In that regard, I see no value, in prolonging my own suffering. Just as, getting a colostomy, would serve to extend my life, it would also extend my suffering. No matter how I look at it, living with paralysis, given my physiology (having IBS, needing a catheter, being completely paralyzed, dealing with AD), my personality, and my personal standards, it only equates to suffering. As long as I live, being completely paralyzed, I will continue to suffer, because of my hate of being dependent, lack of privacy, and chronic illness. To me, this life is not worth fighting for anymore.

I'm not saying, I have absolutely nothing worth living for. My loved ones, and the love, support, they give me, and the time we spend together IS most certainly valuable. However, on a whole, living with paralysis is very painful (emotionally and physically). For me, personally, their love and support, is not enough, to counterbalance the immense loss I've endured, and doesn't justify me continuing to live THIS way forever. I'm tired. I don't want to keep extending THIS life. I know that sucks, for my loved ones. I know the pain of loss, better than anyone. It doesn't mean I don't love and appreciate my friends and family. I just feel like I love myself enough, to not want to keep perpetually living a life that is torture. No one has to agree with me, they just have to respect my choice. I'm the one living (or dying) in my shoes. What will happen, will happen. I am at peace with that.

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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Reasons For Suffering? Cruel & Unusual Punishment.

Although I don't have a strong faith in any specific God, I have been reading the bible (King James version), both New and Old Testaments, and do pray, on a daily basis. I'm not angry at God, and I do not blame God, for what happened to me. I believe, if God exists, God gave us free will. My accident happened as a result of my own poor judgment, and my actions. I have an EXTREMELY hard time believing in the notion, that God "planned" this for me, or that God "wants" me to suffer. If God is all knowing, and all loving, surely God would not want THIS life for me.

While I don't blame God, I do wonder why God seemingly intervenes in some people's lives, and not others. It doesn't seem just, that God would "play favorites" and miraculously heal some people, while allowing others to suffer. I struggle with the notion of why God hasn't chosen to alleviate my suffering, by curing me, or taking me away from this life. Surely, if God exists, he knows how awful my quality of life is, and how terrible it is to feel chronically ill, and have to endure humiliating, degrading treatments.

I know God has blessed me with talents, and that I have been able to do good, and help others. My question is, how long am I expected to suffer, for the sake of others? Jesus suffered for our sins, but at least he understood, and knew his purpose. I feel at a loss, as to why I must live this way. I have no proof, or concrete answers as to why I must suffer, or for how long. Jesus knew his purpose, understood his mission, and had the definite belief that he would be resurrected, and rejoin God. I have no explanation, no end in sight, and do not know for certain what awaits me, after death. I do not have a direct communication with God, in terms of God answering my prayers directly, or giving me explanations. I don't have angels attending to me, nor the power to create miracles. I think it's unrealistic, and unfair, to be expected to live up to Jesus's standard, when he had the comforts of knowing, and understanding the purpose, and reasoning behind his own suffering (assuming that he was in fact, the son of God).

It is especially hard, trying to make sense of how unjust life seems. I was a good person, and yet I must suffer. There are evil people, that rape, steal, and murder, that have healthy bodies, and live full lives. I know that we will all supposedly get judged once we die. People that do evil deeds here on earth, could receive all types of varying punishments, in hell, but heaven is heaven. Just as an example, theoretically, my grandma and I will both be going to heaven. She got to live a full life, have a family of her own, travel, and experience life with relatively good health, very late into her life. My life was cut short, at twenty four, and I've been suffering horribly, ever since. Yet, we will both get the same reward. I'm not saying my grandma doesn't deserve to go to heaven, I just don't understand the reasoning behind my suffering having a meaning, or purpose. It's not like there's levels of heaven. Heaven, is heaven. So why is it, that I MUST suffer? It's not like I'm going to get some extra special reward, or go to a better heaven, than everyone else.

My art, and writing may help others, but my overall lifestyle and chronic illness has left me feeling unfilled, unsatisfied, and very much like a prisoner. I feel as though I'm being forced to live a painful life, full of sickness, loss, and limitations, against my will. I do not want a catheter, bowel program, to take dozens of pills, have no privacy, or personal space, to be clothed, washed, and fed like a baby. I'm only alive because our society has the means, and resources to keep me alive. I'm forced into living a very unnatural, unhappy life.

I have no means to fend for myself. I either accept the catheter, bowel program, medications, and help from others, or I die. Every day, my life is being artificially extended (against my will-for the sake of others). Under ANY other circumstance, the things I have to endure, would be considered torture, but society ignores that truth, under the guise of medical necessity. Just because I have no other choice, doesn't mean I should HAVE to live this way, or be forced to. Yet my caregivers, and loved ones expect me to accept the unacceptable, because they don't want to see me die. They don't want to lose me. They feel I can contribute to society. I know I can, but for me, it doesn't seem worth the price I have to pay. Living this low quality of life, of limited options, and chronic illness is not worth it, for me.

A reader of my blogs, sent me this analogy:

"Thinking about your situation, Christina, I recently had the following thought. Suppose a brutal foreign dictatorship were to take a political prisoner and subject him to the EXACT same routine your paralysis imposes upon you. That is, they bind the prisoner up tightly so he can't move from the shoulders down, can't feed himself, can't even scratch an itch.

He has to be carried or hoisted from place to place. As an added 'enhanced interrogation technique,' this political prisoner also has his bowels manually evacuated every other day, being strapped half-naked to a commode chair, sometimes for a couple of hours at a time, afforded no privacy whatsoever. And, for the convenience of the guards, plus just to pile extra humiliation and discomfort on this man, they surgically install a suprapubic catheter.

They keep this political prisoner in these conditions for HALF A DECADE. Furthermore, like many prisoners of conscience the world over, the tormented man is never told when, if ever, he will regain his freedom. Maybe a year from now ... maybe a month from now ... quite possibly never.

Now, there is no human rights organization on this planet that would not be howling at the moon over what this prisoner was being subjected to. Plainly, he is being subjected to soul-numbing, psychologically devastating torture. NO ONE would assert what this political prisoner was being forced to endure wasn't a horrible violation of the man's most basic human rights, and certainly no one would be telling him to just get used to it, or it isn't so bad, or that once he 'adjusts' to this new way of life at some unspecified time in the future, everything will just be peachy.

Indeed, anyone who DID suggest that the condition of this prisoner's detainment weren't really so bad, or that his situation was one that anyone could cheerfully live with in time, if he put his mind do it, would be called crazy."

When I read this, I couldn't help but scream (to myself), "Thank you!" Thank you for understanding me. Thank you for seeing reason. Thank you for noticing the obvious, that NO ONE else in my life wants to readily express, or admit. I think everything about this analogy rings true, and can't understand why more people don't see my situation, in this way, as I do, or whether or not they are just afraid to admit it, for fear of encouraging me, to give up. I don't expect my loved ones to cheer me on, or want to see me hasten my death. I just want to feel understood, and validated, for feeling the way that I do.

I'm constantly frustrated, at having to explain, or justify my reasons, for not wanting to live this way. I do feel I'm being tortured; not necessarily by God, but just by the nature of how my paralysis has forced me to live. I do feel like I'm being punished, for one mistake (again, not necessarily by God, but punishment none the less). I do feel like a prisoner, trapped in my own body. I do feel like the lifestyle that PARALYSIS forces on me is cruel, and inhumane. It is, what it is, and I have no choice but to accept it, or die. That's reality. It's a reality I want people to understand, because I think it desperately needs a solution, a cure. People like me, deserve a cure, or at the very least the right to decide whether or not we want to live with paralysis (and everything that entails- not out of choice, but necessity).

People often bring up the fact, that I used to be more optimistic, in interviews I've done, and in the TV episode of Soul Survivors. Back in 2009, when I filmed Soul Survivors, I still had hope of a possible cure. Since then, my health has deteriorated, and before now, I wasn't having to deal with daily fevers, cold sweats and mysterious chest pressure. I know (based on everything I read) that realistically, a cure for chronic SCI patients, is at least a decade away. I honestly don't think I can live this way for another decade. Six years has been hell on earth.

I haven't decided if I'll ever choose to actively hasten my death, by refusing to accept food/water, but I have decided I no longer want to go to any extraordinary measures to extend my life (beyond what I'm already doing- and feel in and of it's self is excessive- such as having the catheter, taking dozens of pills, and having a bowel program). I have a willing will, that states I don't want any artificial life support, and am in the process of making a DNR (do not resuscitate order- in case of emergency). If I get a urinary tract infection, or respiratory infection, I'm not going to take antibiotics. I will let the illness run it's course. I'm tired of fighting for a life I hate living. My hope is, that I've suffered enough, and that when that time comes, God and my loved ones will understand my decision.

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