How do you think you would feel if one day everything you did in regards to the sensation of touch felt different and your fingertips were hypersensitive? This is what I got to experience as I realized that for over five years I had modified sensation in the left side of my body. When I was paralyzed doctors tested my sensation and without further discussion thought I had full sensation because i could sense the cold, pointed tipped metal object that they touched against my skin.
Up until Luke warm water ran across my hands followed by excruciating pain I had not realized that the left side of my body had minimized sensation. When I started to regain sensation in my healing side everything was painful for about a week, whenever I managed to get a water temperature correct to not experience any pain either way I had to stop and mindfully observe how different it felt to have the bead of water run across my skin.
A wonderful part of regaining sensation is feeling the pain from my tattoo sittings. Honestly feeling that pain on the most sensitive spots to tattoo is now becoming intense enough to distract from my day to day body pain for that day and for a couple days after the crash from the adrenaline high. Hiding the stretch Mark’s from my paralysis and not seeing the constant visible reminders of that time period has also been a huge relief of my tattoos.
Regaining sensation has resulted in feeling it when I do not clear a doorway with my arm or shoulder from the slind spots though. It might be similar to that scene in my novel that I walked into a cement pillar at work, but with more profanity Haha. The most comical point of realizing I had less sensation than even I though was realizing that I hadn’t just been emotionally numb for years, I’ve been physically numb too.
What have you been doing to heal lately?
In a few days I get the wonderful opportunity to celebrate the date of my paralysis and the increase over all these years of my chronic pain. Well that was an extremely dark intro and while yes I may be celebrating those things there is no one thing that has led to more personal growth, internal struggle, and pure happiness from within. On that note I’m going to talk about all the things I’m grateful for thanks to my recovery as I sit here writing this today.
The last 5 years I have been my own personal science experiment day in and day out. Whether it included applied past knowledge or I was just learning along the way once again I became the expert of my diagnoses learning what was best and worst for my recovery. With that knowledge I know I can tackle any task at hand no matter the time or effort it takes.
Having to be in a very committed relationship with my recovery despite all the struggles and even the times where I pushed my body past limits to where it got unhealthy. Every day despite wanting to fold and walk away I decided to fight it and prove everyone including myself wrong. It was the traumatic situations that I ended up in as a queer person with a physical disability that taught me to fight even while having flashbacks for days on end so intense I barely slept every night for a year afterwards. Knowing how far I had come and with the support of a few phenomenal friends I made it through.
3. Indomitable Spirit
Despite the hundreds of bad days I’ve had in this period I still got up every day and trudged on with a smile on my face. It was only this year that smile stopped being a mask of my physical and emotional pain, but hey we all have to fake it until we make it sometimes. This year I also started having flashbacks to the moment that my paralysis set in and I had to find the hope to recover instead of getting trapped in the fear of what was to come and the waterfall of tears pouring down my face.
4. A Modified Prospective
Trading one illness for another and adding a loss of some of my visual field in both eyes. Literally I see everything a little bit differently now. This is amazing I used to hate life so much and even with less joy than struggle in recovery the light has been so much more valuable post paralysis. It was the beginning of a streak of traumatic events that taught me to find the positive aspect in every situation. Now I am always looking for the lesson in the bad and appreciating the good.
5. My Authentic Self
My paralysis taught me that no matter how hard anything is I can make it out on my own so after my body was what I considered healed enough to begin my medical transition I did. With the loss of muscle mass the muscle tension in the left side of my body was conveniently reduced and it became easier to heal once again. As most trans people would tell you starting that process was the beginning to an end and removing that weight of not being yourself makes every day a lot easier. Yes I had to disown most of my family once I took those steps, but the self-love that took their place in my life more than made up for it.
I guess the really cliche thing to say would be I love my imperfect life.
Rest, Down time, Chillaxing, whatever you would like to call it. Everyone required to recover from any illness or medical diagnosis needs it. Despite being what most doctors have referred to as “medically interesting” since I was three years old (almost 2 decades ago) I have still not mastered downtime. I like to treat my paralysis recovery like a new sport i can train in. Yes, this may not be the brightest of ideas ex: the vomiting mentioned in my last post. If burnout was a place I would be the mayor or ruler. If I was paid based on the intensity of my recovery burnout I would have enough money to never worry about anything ever again. I am so incredibly horrible at downtime that my friends have begun to intervene.
After I started to bounce back from my day of sickness mentioned in my last post the girls got me out of my house for twenty-six hours of relaxing girl time and some good food. It is so easy to be constantly burnt out because I train my body like paralysis recovery is the new hot sport. If you aren’t sweating, bleeding, or in tears you are not trying hard enough. probably not my most brilliant tactic, but it is how i got this far in my recovery so why stop now. I will admit that taking two days off of my normal routine and just chilling was extremely difficult, but I felt so much better afterwards. Please be kind to your body and be less of a try-hard than I.I have lost track of the amount of recovery injuries I have had because I work my body to the point of complete exhaustion.
Transitioning and recovery have been a beautiful combination though. Since getting my hormone levels right, or as close to right as they have ever been I no longer lay in bed for hours just too depressed to function. I have gone back to being that happy annoying person that wakes up without an alarm with a smile on their face at five in the morning. This also means that I have been able to push my recovery harder than every because I am not distracted by disturbingly dark thoughts all day. when your mental health improves it makes it so much easier to improve your physical health and working on either one benefits the other, which is pretty handy. The combination of my mental and physical health lately have left me using almost solely artistic endeavors to retrain the left side of my body and make up for lost time.
I am going to end this bluntly: Don’t be a dick listen to your body and your limits so that you can heal.
Everyone will tell you that recovery eventually gets easier. I am well past my half way mark and I have to say I cannot agree. There’s nothing worse than being so close to being able to do all the things you desire and yet all of them are out of reach still. So I guess all of recovery is difficult for different reasons. At the beginning it was finding the drive to keep going every day, in the middle it was the struggle of lost time because every day looked almost exactly the same and closer to the end it’s trying to not best yourself up for being so close, but so far away.
At the beginning one just goes on because they are told to, despite everyone and I mean everyone saying you’ll never get better especially after every treatment to try to correct it fails. You eventually begin to lose hope and direction and you resort to living each day just to get through the day in front of you. One day none of the tips or tricks you were given to help you work at all and when you find ways to curb it is where the next stage begins. The beginning was the worst for me because it also paired with the severe post op depression that comes with neurosurgery. I had to convince my brain every day that there was something to fight for even though most of the time I did not believe it myself.
The middle of my recovery was a strange stage where I became obsessed with finding the best ways to better my physical health. Every free waking moment spent running every possibility through ones mind of the exercises, stretches and activities one can try to get better. This was a stage where most things only worked in bouts, there was a fair bit of crossed pathways so it was a stage summed up by “One step forward and two steps back”. This felt like a plateau without further analysis, but really my body was trying to sort out its own problems, which on the outside appeared with what looked like severe muscle confusion. Then comes the final stage and final stage take: 2
In the second to last stage you are conquering recovery, have figured out how to thrive through both your good and bad days and are just itching to get back to a normal life without putting your health on hold again. This is where I am at, I can see the stars, yet I still cannot smell the roses. Every time you think you’re almost at the finish line it turns out it was a mirage and you’re going to have to fight like hell to not give up every day. I know that every other day I get a little closer, but still just wish I could pick up and start over where nobody knows my name. I’ve mastered my habits so on these days I try to just rest and maybe take a nap if I’m super trained.
I hope to get to the final, final stage within the next couple of years or so, so that I’ll be the fun life living person I used to be once again. Even if the rest of my life involves a couple of hours of physical therapy a day that would be a lot more manageable than eight to ten-hour days.
What have the stages of your recovery been, feel free to share them with me.
Yes recovery is painful. Yes some days you will not want to get out of bed. Yes the internal struggle will eat right through you on the bad ones. All in all the good days are worth it. At the beginning of my physical recovery the days with small wins were few and far between, but now years down the road they have become more frequent, which in turn makes it all a lot easier to push through. About once a week I have a day where my pain is so high that I cannot get off the couch but it is still worth putting in eight to ten hour days just to get my body back to where I want to be.
Even on those days when I have absolutely no desire to roll out of bed I remind myself that if I get moving my brain will release dopamine and the day will get better. Followed by having my physical therapy routine down to a bunch of things that I enjoy. When I got to a stage that I could make my recovery enjoyable I began to dread my recovery less. Mindset in recovery can make a serious difference in recovery so do not mope around like a “negative Nelly” if you genuinely desire a full recovery.
It Is not just physical recovery that is all about the small wins. Life in its entirety is about the little things every day that make you smile, or bring a glimmer of hope to your eye in place of your pain and sorrow. I am happy continuing to recover because even if my body only gets better at a task on a weekly basis it remains that I’m still a step closer to where I need to be. Some weeks it’s one step forward and two steps back, but I promise you’ll continue to get better. If you have any interest in finding out how I got to where I did three years after being left hemiplegic click here.
It seems that quite a few of the private messages and emails regarding this book have had very similar questions so I thought I would answer them here so people do not have to shoot us an email or a message for the frequently asked questions.
Do you regret having the surgery?
There were definitely times throughout the years of recovering that I questioned having the operation, but no it has led to some really amazing and unique experiences that most people do not get to have.
How did the paralysis affect your identity?
For the most part I have to say no, but there have been the odd frustrating moments where I was seen as just someone with a disability. Like anyone I had my struggles before the paralysis they just changed after it. It definitely notified my lifestyle, but I did not like where I was headed so it was a change for the better in my opinion.
Would you do it again?
If I had the ability to time travel back to the moment where I signed the consent forms I would do it all over again. It was tough and still can be at times, but for me this was a multi-year period of pure grown and a true test of character. Every experience in life has value no matter if it is positive or negative. Would we have any good stories if all of our lives were just sunshine and rainbows, no. We just have to learn to create the rainbows after the storms.
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Feel free to ask questions in the comments and I will answer as best as I can.