A reader asks if I can help her appreciate the “finer things in life.”
Happy to oblige, although I wonder if our definitions would match.
For me, after disability and almost two years without a job (not for lack of trying), my definitions have changed slightly.
When I was able-bodied, enjoyed a good salary and a dependable job, with health insurance, I thought the sky was the limit on living life fully.
I had an exciting yet overcharged career. At the peak of it, I was doing more volunteer work than ever; enjoyed being a Big Sister; and helping refugees and the displaced.
I traveled somewhere new every year, never the same place twice. I trained to become a certified scuba diver, and explored new oceans every chance I got. After years of cross-country skiing, I learned to downhill ski and laughed every time I fell (a lot). I even tried parachute skiing, off Canada’s Whistler-Blackcomb Mountains.
I tried skydiving, bungee jumping, parasailing, then skydiving again. I bought a kayak, toted it to several countries to try oceans, lakes and rivers, and discovered that being in a kayak spoke to my soul.
When I left hospital, broken in body and spirit, I set myself a goal of walking without aid in one year. I had a team of physiotherapists, surgeons, cardiologists, social workers, occupational therapists and others who urged me on. I was lazy and resentful and angry. Self-pity ruled.
But that goal, and the love of others, pushed me more than any of the health care professionals (OK, there was one physiotherapist who threatened to stop helping me if I didn’t work harder).
First, I left the wheelchair. It took months after my husband wheeled me around Stanley Park every day, in all weather, without complaint (him, not me. I whined plenty). I endured more surgery.
I sweated and exercised and groaned through learning to walk again, and advanced to walking with a walker. This was a low point, no victory. There is nothing fun or glamorous about using a walker in your 40s, and the pity of others was unbearable.
More sweat, more physiotherapy, more sweat (you can see how much I resented all this) … and I was walking with a cane. This was a victory. It took months of pain to get to a simple, wooden cane.
We celebrated by taking a road trip from Vancouver to San Francisco. I was so exhilarated by walking, with cane, through rainforests and redwood forests, that I began to believe in living fully again. I rediscovered hope.
I gradually lost that deep self-pity and regained strength and dignity. Laughter returned to our lives.
Then more surgery, more self-pity, more anger, and newfound fear.
But I met the goal of walking unaided within one year. I still had more surgery ahead, and had not conquered pain, yet faith and love combined to make hope my daily companion.
Best of all, I was back in a kayak on the Pacific Ocean, before I had enough strength to walk without a cane.
A few years later, still in pain and struggling with rediscovery of self, I was training to be a kayak guide in San Francisco, paddling to introduce others with disabilities, to the joy of being on the water. (I was the worst guide ever, but enthusiastic.)
So here’s my humble advice for living fully: Seize life!