Normal Is Nice

Fall means a season of follow ups, and usually a mix of emotions.

The emotions are still there, but I’ll get to that later, or not.

The follow ups are still there, and they will be for the foreseeable future, but they’re different.

I was sitting in an exam room waiting, actually I was staring at the sink, when I thought of a poem.

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Yes, I was waiting a long time. Yes, I do get philosophical the longer I wait.

I remembered waiting to be told I had healed enough that I could stand up, and then feeling pain shoot up my legs as they took on my body weight. It was pain, the very reason why I put myself though all of this, but it was different pain, and I was happy about it.

As the weeks of rehab turned into months my feelings towards standing went from happiness to anger, as happened in every stage of my recovery process.

Every follow up I’d wait, and wish someone would find something that would make me better, a more improved version, faster.

That never happened, at least not yet. And no one ever declared me “recovered,” not officially, that came with some self-acceptance.

I sat in the exam room, again, but with a different expectation.

The expectation of normal.

“Normal is nice,” I kept thinking.

And it was, the follow up went as I expected, and I wasn’t upset or overly happy over it.

It was normal, and it felt nice, to be OK with this (not so) new phase of my life.

Regardless of how you feel about standing, normal is a nice place to be.

Defining normal, that’s the hard part.

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Labeled

The concept of labeling can be a complicated debate especially when you have a disability. For a long time, I avoided being labeled like the plague, partly because I wanted to avoid any discussion of my disability at all costs. My thoughts on labeling have changed a bit since then (as you’ll see from the rest of this post). All labels have their place but I wonder if we’ve gone too far in both directions, yes at the same time, meaning we want to label everything and we avoid labeling so much that it’s almost ridiculous, and I wonder if it’s becoming dangerous.

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Do you ever find yourself being shoved into a label that just doesn’t fit?

Do you want the short answer to that question or the long one?
The short answer is…….
Y-E-S!

The long answer goes something like this……
Here’s just a list of labels that have been applied to me:
Cerebral Palsy, Palsified, CP-er (which I hate), Premature, Special Needs, Special Ed, Disabled, Handicapped, Crippled, Dyslexic, Stupid, Slow, Dumb, Learning Disabled,
Different thinker, Adapter, Creative, Problem solver, Easily distracted, Attention Deficit Disorder, Bouncer-backer, Inspiration, Survivor, Thriver, Independent, Stubborn, Pigheaded, Closed off, Loaner, Anti-Social, Social Butterfly, Fast talker, Quiet, Courageous, Deep thinker, Over emotional, Latch-key kid, Damaged goods, Teacher,
Motivation, Friend, Enemy, Nice, Hard ass, Sweet, Sassy, Tree hugger, Hippy, Weird,
Conservative, Driven, Closed minded, Free thinker, Catholic, Addict, Artistic, Heathen,
Atheist, Non denominational, Christian, Miracle, Scattered, Fighter, Free spirit, “Mom,” Flighty, Lover, Hater, Lazy, Boring, Amazing, Spastic, Spaz, Athlete, Introvert, Extravert, Warm hearted, Cold blooded, Caring, Mess, Demented, Retarded, Big mouth, Planner, Over reactor, Disorganized, Volunteer, Recruiter, Person
…….and on and on and on

These are just a few labels I’ve been given in my lifetime. Do I feel like any of them fit me? Not really. No. None of them “fit” me. I feel like I get forced into at least one of these labels at least once a day. Other people have given them to me and force me into them, but sometimes I force myself into them for lack of knowing what else to do. No matter how much I don’t like labels they do help make things easier. I find myself relying on them in new situations or when I find myself too frustrated to be able to explain things to the best of my ability.

My favorite saying for a long time was “Label jars, not people.” It’s still a favorite but I don’t rely on it for wisdom as much as I use to. It was a title I used for an old blog, now I rarely think about it.

Even though it is a statement I rarely use anymore I still believe in it.

Things need labels.
People do not.
People are so much more than any label can describe.
If you need to label someone than you’re showing off your insecurities.
If you want to label someone label yourself, just know you’re selling yourself short by doing so.

*A similar version of this post was published on November 4, 2008

SDR: Thoughts 30 Years Later

I kept telling my family that I couldn’t wait until I’m 33 years old.

And it has nothing to do with it being referred to as your “Jesus Year” in some circles.

I couldn’t wait because I’m be able to say “My SDR was 30 years ago.” For one thing it makes the math easier for me and the resident(s).

Because when I give them the year I had my SDR or how old I was when I had it a look comes over their face like I’ve just asked, Train A, traveling 70 miles per hour (mph), leaves Westford heading toward Eastford, 260 miles away. At the same time Train B, traveling 60 mph, leaves Eastford heading toward Westford. When do the two trains meet? How far from each city do they meet?”

I should also tell you that I often have to then explain what an SDR (short for Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy) is because they aren’t as popular as they used to be (due in part to the Intrathecal Baclofen Pump, I think). It’s funny because I didn’t know what it was for a long time, even thought I had it done, so I’ve had to educate myself because I realized I had to educate others. I even have a short description of every surgery I’ve had with my list of pervious surgeries. 1) To give people a heads up while they’re reviewing my records before an appointment. 2) I can’t spell Rhizotomy (neither can spell check).

I have mixed feeling about getting old, but this is one thing I’m looking forward to more than others.

Here are some basics:

I was 3. I remember it being around Halloween because my grandma decorated my room which included a very large, to a 3-year-old, Happy Halloween banner. My room had wallpaper with clowns on it, which is probably one reason why I fear clowns, practically clowns in hospitals.

 I don’t remember much about that but the surgeon who performed my surgery told me that he got a call from my mom once I was home asking what he had done because she found me either sitting on top of our piano or I had something in my hands that was previously on top of the piano and when she asked me about it my answer was “I climbed.”

It was done at local hospital by a surgeon who had just arrived. I was his first patient. We didn’t go anywhere else because it was the best fit for me and my family.

I was told I was getting “new legs” so when I looked down and saw my “old legs” still attached, because who wouldn’t want to see what new legs on your body looked like, I was confused. I was even more confused when people would come to visit and look at my back

I had PT Monday-Friday for a year at the outpatient facility associated with the hospital where my SDR was done, as well as a home program. I had OT as well but it wasn’t as intense as PT. Once the post-operative obligations and goals were met I went back to my normal PT routine of twice a week at a private PT practice closer to home.

I remember the first time I stood up and saying that my legs felt like Jell-O would be a bit of an understatement.

What I Thought I Knew Then:

I thought I was getting new legs, literally. It’s kind of weird how comfortable I was with the idea of having a different set of legs attached to my body. I mean, I didn’t wonder where they were going to get the new legs from?

I thought what was done was done. My SDR left me with decreased sensation in my legs and toes and some decreased or no movement particularly in my feet and toes. After my last surgery (fall ’09) I began having some feeling in my thighs and just last year I started to experience intermittent sensation in some of my toes. I don’t know how this happened or how common it is but it’s been interesting.

I thought everyone knew what was happening. It wasn’t until people with cameras started taking pictures of me during PT and asking my mom questions that I wondered what the big deal was. What I didn’t know then was that SDR was relatively new and I was the 1st patent in the state to undergo SDR surgery.

What I See In Retrospect 30 Years Later:

Would I have it done if it were my choice? I’d like to say “Yes” because I know my life would be drastically different. But in the last few years I’ve really started to question and think about what my life might’ve looked like if I hadn’t had an SDR. I don’t hold any bad feelings towards anyone but I do wonder, especially since my SDR was more extensive (from L1-S2) than what’s being done now.

I wouldn’t be as independent as I am now without it. I use a wheelchair on occasion for mobility, but I probably would be a full-time wheelchair user without it, and would probably need to rely on others more for care. In my opinion people focus too much on the ability to walk after SDR. Walking in itself does not make a life more meaningful. As I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, using a wheelchair has opened up my world more than it would be if I used crutches or used no mobility aids at all.

There you have it, my SDR experience decades after the fact, but if I’ve missed something you’re curious about let me know.

*A similar version of this post was published on March 7, 2016

Here I Go Again, I Guess

Remember when I said my future as a podcaster was up in the air?

Well it still is, I think.

Dan and I recorded a podcast mainly discussing the future.

If you listen to it you know that we tackle the quality content vs the content for content sake discussion.

And the time it takes to put a podcast together.

Then there’s the matter of throwing something into the void and hoping someone hears you.

But if nothing comes back to you it becomes like screaming into a void, eventually you get tired.

The thing is I’m not just talking about podcasting either.

I have a blog (which you’re reading).

A career.

A ministry to devote time to.

I love creating content for people but I’ve come to realize that I’m not a content creating machine, at least not in the literal sense.

Like many podcasters who recently took hiatuses, like Sean & Greg & Jennifer, I realized I need to take time for myself and things I enjoy rather than focusing all my attention on what others may want to hear about without actually knowing for sure.

I am not a factory if my heart’s not in it people can tell so I need to focus on quality of content rather than quantity of content.

So, for now, or forever, podcasting will be lower on the priority list (for me anyway).

Things could change however.

Here’s how:
-Send feedback whether it be on the podcast or my blog.
-Send topics, again whether it be on the podcast or my blog. It’s a lot easier to create content if you have a topic you know someone(s) is interested in hearing about.

Learning To Repeat

My hand touches the wall for what feels like the 100th time. This time I got it right.

Then I hear a voice behind me, telling me what I’ve done wrong, well more specifically, what I could have done better.

I’m disappointed, but only for a second or two, because this is why I’m here.

Doing something once is easy, repeating it is the hard part, I remind myself. It’s a piece of advice I was given when I was relearning to walk but it applies here too.

To the untrained eye a swim practice looks like chaos, (and/or completely boring) even though everyone is following a line that runs the length of the pool countless times. It’s for this reason that people think swimming, or more specifically swimmers are insane.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Here’s the thing, the majority of that definition doesn’t apply to swimmers, except maybe the insane part, but that’s not an all the time thing.

People think we’re doing the same thing, over and over expecting the same result.

In reality we’re making (probably small, seemingly unnoticeable) changes to achieve different results.

Then we have to repeat the process.

The hardest part, the repeat.

I’ve done this before, but never swimming, at least not in this way.

Is it frustrating? Yes.

Is it what I want to do? No.

I wish I had a brain that could compute things once and have my body follow, but I don’t have that kind of brain. Not only is it not part of my package, it’s not part of anyone’s package. But that’s not much comfort when your lungs are screaming for air, your muscles are burning, and you still managed to come up short in some way.

I’ve been here before. These feelings are not new. Oddly enough there is some comfort in this, as weird as it seems.

I’m not learning how to deal with new feelings in new situations. That’s a big plus, that my mental energy is pulled in one less direction.

It wasn’t that long ago that I was wondering if I’d ever feel “normal” like I was truly part of a group of people. So, in a way I’m happy to be frustrated because someone noticed that I could be better and wanted to help.

Learning to repeat isn’t easy and it’s not always fun, but when you finally achieve it it’s almost always worth it.

World CP Day

Cerebral palsy (CP) is an umbrella term encompassing a group of non-progressive, non-contagious motor conditions that cause physical disability in human development, chiefly in the various areas of body movement.

Cerebral palsy describes a group of permanent disorders of the development of movement and posture, causing activity limitation, that are attributed to nonprogressive disturbances that occurred in the developing fetal or infant brain. The motor disorders of cerebral palsy are often accompanied by disturbances of sensation, perception, cognition, communication, and behavior, by epilepsy, and by secondary musculoskeletal problems.

CP, formerly known as “Cerebral Paralysis,” was first identified by English surgeon William Little in 1860. Little raised the possibility of asphyxia during birth as a chief cause of the disorder. It was not until 1897 that Sigmund Freud, then a neurologist, suggested that a difficult birth was not the cause but rather only a symptom of other effects on fetal development. Research conducted during the 1980s by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) suggested that only a small number of cases of CP are caused by lack of oxygen during birth.

Types Of CP:
Ataxic
Athetoid/dyskinetic
Hypotonic
Spastic

All types of cerebral palsy are characterized by abnormal muscle tone, reflexes, or motor development and coordination. There can be joint and bone deformities and contractures (permanently fixed, tight muscles and joints). The classical symptoms are spasticities, spasms, other involuntary movements (e.g. facial gestures), unsteady gait, problems with balance, and/or soft tissue findings consisting largely of decreased muscle mass. Scissor walking (where the knees come in and cross) and toe walking (which can contribute to a gait reminiscent of a marionette) are common among people with CP who are able to walk, but taken on the whole, CP symptomatology is very diverse. The effects of cerebral palsy fall on a continuum of motor dysfunction which may range from slight clumsiness at the mild end of the spectrum to impairments so severe that they render coordinated movement virtually impossible at the other end the spectrum.

CP is not a progressive disorder (meaning the brain damage neither improves nor worsens), but the symptoms can become more severe over time due to subdural damage. A person with the disorder may improve somewhat during childhood if he or she receives extensive care from specialists, but once bones and musculature become more established, orthopedic surgery may be required for fundamental improvement. People who have CP tend to develop arthritis at a younger age than normal because of the pressure placed on joints by excessively toned and stiff muscles.
(information taken from Wikipedia and reorganized/edited by me)

Why am I telling you all of this?

Because there is no cure for CP.

But I have to be honest that’s quite fine with me, most days anyway.

That doesn’t mean there can’t be a collective of sorts. Stats are one thing.

Personal stories are another, and even better.

Which is why I collected all the personal stories I could find and put them in one place.

If you have a CP blog, have one that you like, or just know one, leave a comment with the URL

Remembering Jack

From a school in Copper Valley, to a legacy of thousands.

As the story goes a group of Jesuits and some of their Sister friends went to Copper Valley to open a school for Native Alaskan children.

60 years later the legacy continues to make a world of difference.

One of the Jesuits from that Copper Valley School decided to walk to Bethlehem in the name of peace.

He and his fellow pilgrims arrived in Jesus’ birthplace on Christmas Eve, or so the legend goes.

(Did you think I meant the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania? So do most people when they hear this story)

That same Jesuit joined me in a buffet line one spring in Seattle and invited me (and my community) to a meal at the local Jesuit residence.

Just like people do every day, except this was only the 2nd time I’ve crossed paths with this Jesuit. Typically, this kind of gesture, although nice, would seem odd to me.

Except for the fact that this Jesuit seemed to possess a level of generosity and kindness of spirit that I hadn’t encountered before, and haven’t since. I knew he meant it.

This kind Jesuit with a boundless spirit and unforgettable sense of humor has touched many, a goal many reach for but very few achieve.

People thought he was nuts. I’m sure there were times he though his own ideas were nuts too. But he went for them anyway.

I laugh to myself whenever I wonder if I’m about to embark on something people think is nuts. Jack would probably be one of those people too, the only difference is, He’d tell you you’re nuts with a smile on his face, then tell you to go for it.

What the Lord can do with a restless spirit is truly amazing, and only something the Lord can do.

I have been truly blessed by his example.

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Father Jack Morris S.J.
1927-2012

“Our human task, if you like, is to not flee from the ill-being but to transform it.”
–Jack Morris, June 2012

*A similar version of this post was written on September 28, 2016

Review Session

I’ve been riffling through my past writings, for various reasons. I can’t say it’s been all fun rereading everything but it has been interesting.

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Two years ago I was pre-surgery*

One year ago I was post 1 round of Botox*

*I did indeed have to search the archives to remember this

This year the MDs & Ph.D.s are pretty much hands off.

Progress indeed.

Things aren’t prefect.

But a CP body isn’t your typical definition of perfect.

“It doesn’t get easier or harder. It just gets different.”

The idealistic picture I had in my mind two years ago is a distant memory. As in so distant I barely remember the picture, other than I had one.

The real picture is coming into focus.

I’m sure there are things that could use fixing. In fact I know there are. They’ve just been put in the “wait and see” category, and it looks like they’ll be staying there.

Do I want them fixed?
Of course.
But I don’t know how much difference it’ll make overall.

Plus I’m in pretty awesome physical shape.
Going in for more work would mean “tearing down” my hard work.

That’s the biggest negative for me.
Further improvement would come at a cost.

I’m not 100% with how things are.
I’ve made that pretty clear to a lot of people.

But who is really, truly, honestly happy with themselves 100%?

Even if I can still see room for improvement that doesn’t mean I have to bow to the surgical gods for it.

A big revelation for me I admit.

I can manage my own trajectory.
Modern medicine will always be there.

*A similar version of this post was written on September 2, 2011

On 2 Years

8 years ago my life was at a turning point in my life. I had been in pain for so long and I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to do something about it. 2 years out I wrote about the progress after the turn. I thought I would see my life more differently 8 years after than I would 2 years later, although there are a few things that are different now the general sentiment is pretty much the same.

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A lot of people see scars as defects, at least detection of defects.
I look down at my scars and see differently.

Improvement.
Teamwork.
Hard work.
Skill.
Courage.
Faith
Obedience.
Accomplishment.
Risk
Hope

Just to name a few.

It took a long time to even get to that point 2 years ago.
Lucky for me there are times I’m like a dog with a bone.
Although I did feel like quitting plenty of times.

All I wanted to do was be who I was.
Rewind the clock.
Not be in constant pain.

It didn’t even occur to me that a fixed body would mean possibility & ability to actually become better. Even when the idea was presented to me I had my doubts, actually I didn’t think it was possible, just someone being hopelessly optimistic.

To borrow a line from Soul Surfer, “I don’t want easy, just possible.”
Well someone did, it just wasn’t me.
I was just waiting until I felt back to normal.

But when I wasn’t paying attention I was getting better.

Climbing up stairs without pulling myself up or using a handrail
Stepping off a curb
Being able to dress myself without falling over
Jumping
Walking backwards & sideways
Stopping at a street corner before crossing
Finally learning to walk with my heals with some consistency

All things most people without much thought at all.

It took a lot to get this far:

1 failed Baclofen trial
10 hours of surgery
Months of PT
Months of Pilates
Self-motivated pool sessions
Weekly one on one gym sessions
2 rounds of Botox

But I did it.

Everyone kept telling me the hard part was going to come after. I have to say they were right, as I’ve said; two years ago, the hardest thing I had to do was take a 10 nap while everyone else either worked or waited on me.

“We’re done,” meant “Your turn kid.”

But like the getting better part, the hard part happened when I wasn’t looking.

As Hemmingway wrote in, The Sun Also Rises, “Gradually, then suddenly.”

If I did this, what else can I do?

*A similar version of this post was written on September 13, 2011

Grad School: The Last Summer

This summer was bananas, all kinds of emotions going full throttle bananas.

I can’t believe I’m actually writing about this.

I learned during my first summer than students often mark their time by summers, and there’s a certain satisfaction that comes with saying “this is my last summer.”

I’ve watched many of my classmates go through their last summer, each has been different, each having their own positives and negatives. I knew what I wanted to do and what not to do. I wanted to end on a good note and have the best experience possible.

I even consulted people and made a plan to have a full yet enjoyable summer.

Very little of the plan went according to plan, as is usually the case.

This summer went much like last summer in the respect that a lot of my classmates and I had the same classes so we spent plenty of time together over a short period of time (although not really because we started courses around the same time).

One thing people get wrong about distance learning is that it’s isolating. Yes, there is an element of that but, if it’s a small program you’re anything but isolated. In fact, I think there was only one person I didn’t know before class began (and I kept referring to her as “the new person” which is completely false in terms of remaining course load).

The first week was fairly relaxed, compared to previous years, it was the only time I didn’t have a morning class. A luxury I had been wanting for years but the opportunity never came about & I chose to forgo the meal plan again so while people were down at breakfast and/or hurrying off to class I was still in bed indulging in well overdue Netfl!x binging.

And by noon I was bored out of my skull.

I took care of a few things, like tuition, scholarship requirements, etc. It was nice to get all of it out of the way but it didn’t take very long so it was shaping up to be a long week and it was only day one.

I did the majority of my course work before arriving and my first presentation wasn’t until the end of the week so I was able to watch everyone’s and make adjustments (and practice, over and over).

If you follow me on Inst@gram you saw how much detail I put into my presentation, although it may have come off fairly low-key.

The week closed well but I couldn’t help but keep thinking about my presentation. It could have been better, I think, so there was plenty of work to do before I turned in the final project (hell there’s still a lot to do & grades are in).

The weekend was pretty low key considering how much work lay ahead. I think what helped was the fact that we were all in the same boat so if someone was struggling (which I was, I just didn’t know it) there were other people to pick you up (and in my case 3 or 4, I can’t remember).

Pro tip: Make friends with someone who can pack anything (& nearly everything) in a suitcase without

Because my presentations (or really practicum requirements) were scheduled for the beginning of the week it meant that I had a lot to do in the span of less than a week. I wasn’t a big fan but at the same time I liked the idea of being done on Tuesday, because the 2nd week of classes came with a mandatory early wake up & Theological Reflection at night.

This summer was unlike any of my previous summers for many reasons but mainly because there were many group activities outside of class. Meals, for the most part, were together. We saw more of the outside world, together. Whenever someone was going to do something they asked who wanted to come along. In one way, it was how we made the most of our final time together.

This was the summer I couldn’t wait to have, my “final summer.”  It’s something that gets hyped up in one way or another by everyone, even yourself. There are certain rites of passage that you don’t get to have until that “final summer.” What often gets overlooked as the emotions that come along with it, at least for me.

While I’m not done with school yet the experience is certainly coming to a close. The blessings have been given the good byes (even if just temporary) have been said.

It’s time for a new group to start their countdown to their own last summer.