“Dear Cat Island, My Home – A Story of a Broken Heart & Forgiveness”

“Fernandez Bay Village (Home) – Half the homes are part of a resort and half the homes are private homes”

 

Several years ago I reached a point where I finally made the best peace one could make with breaking my neck and having my life change forever.  I spent so much time constantly pushing forward and not thinking about my accident through sheer determination of will.  This worked for a time, but eventually I had to find a way to dig deep in order to find some resemblance of happiness in my life and search for the best way I knew how to live a full life despite my circumstances.

Through quite a fair bit of soul-searching I arrived to where I am presently living the most fulfilled life I know how with work, finding love, getting married, spending time with friends & family, and traveling when able.

For the last six months Cat Island, Bahamas (my home) has been on my mind.  My family has had a home in the Bahamas for the last 40 or so years and it is a place so magical words simply cannot do it justice.  It is a beautiful out Island in the Eastern Bahamas spanning 60 miles long and 2 miles wide with a population of roughly 2,000 people.

The airport runway to the island is so short that no large commercial airlines are able land on the runway giving it its unique, and rustic charm because only those who know about it know how to get there.

I grew up on this island and made my first trip down when I was only several months’ old back in 1983.  I have lived in so many countries around the world that Cat Island has always been my home base, my center, my world, my escape, and my favorite place in the entire world.

I spent my time on the island with family and friends spearfishing, scuba diving, exploring caves in the middle of the island, taking Robinson Caruso style boat trips with my family to unnamed deserted islands, jumping off rocks into the ocean, picnicking on deserted beaches, kayaking through crystal clear lagoon waters, taking long walks on the beach, building bonfires with family, and countless other surreal adventures.

“Tagging Turtles for Research”

“A typical Sunday for me back in the day :-)”

If you visit this island it’s like you’ve stepped back in time 50 years with one road providing access to the whole island with most folks walking around barefoot, minimal contact with the outside technological world, a handful of stores to purchase groceries and such, and local shacks with fresh caught grouper & craw fish the size of your arm.  If you ever need an escape from life in the modern world you go to an island like Cat Island.

“Our beautiful catamaran where we took many camping trips on deserted islands in the Bahamas”

In 2009 I quit my job in politics and moved down to Cat to start a new career, and new life.  Within a year of being home and finally having the feeling of finding a place that I could live for the rest of my life, and where I truly belonged – I broke my neck.

On August 21, 2010 I met a bunch of my friends down at this Tiki hut bar directly over the water.  It was a celebratory day for me as I had just made a very successful first trade in the financial markets.  I moved down to the island for focus and quiet to learn how to be a day trader.

I was on top of the world that day listening to reggae music, sipping a Bahamian beer, and frolicking about with friends without a care in the world.  I can honestly say this was the happiest time of my entire life at 27 years old.  I couldn’t imagine life could have gone any better at that moment.  I remember thinking exactly that on August 21.

I’ll never forget taking a dive off the Tiki hut bar platform where the water was shallower than I had anticipated and not being able to move floating face down, holding my breath knowing something was terribly wrong, and waiting for help to arrive.  My mother was the one who actually noticed something had gone awry after I took a dive, hit some sand, and burst my vertebrae.  I won’t get into the Herculean effort it took to get me back to the United States 22 hours later to save my life.  You can find the story on my blog.

“3 weeks after the accident in Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami”

HEART BREAK

The point of the story is that until this past year I realized that I had come to terms with the accident, but I was still so angry and hurt with myself and Cat Island.  Sure, it was just an accident and could have happened to anyone, but to have had an accident of this magnitude on an island that was my true love up to that point, until I met my fiancé that is, is something I have not dealt with for 8 ½ years.

I pushed the island out of my mind for so many years because it is not exactly an accessible place to get back to in a wheelchair.  I accepted the fact that I would never be able to go home without a Herculean effort to get me there.

I had never been truly in love at that point and I can honestly say Cat Island had always been my true love, and, frankly, she broke my heart into a million pieces where I truly believed the damage was irreparable.  It was such an intense heartbreak that I have not been able to speak with many of those closest to me about it.

I don’t know why, but six months ago the island had been on my mind non-stop and I want more than anything to forgive her and myself, move forward, and hopefully in the next year finally get back to her.  Words are so powerful and they help me process challenging periods in my life by simply putting the words out there in the universe.

I don’t know why it helps, but it helps.  I suppose it’s like artists needing to paint, athletes needing to compete, and for me, a writer needing to write.

I can’t say if going back to the island will be the best or worst thing for me, but I won’t know until I try.  I have to try because writing this and even thinking about a home I knew for 27 years brings tears to my eyes.  It’s funny how forgiving oneself is far more challenging at times than forgiving another person.

A Letter to “Cat Island”

I wrote a letter to Cat Island a few months back, which I will share with you now to show that no matter what the most painful experience one may have in their life, forgiveness is always possible no matter how long it takes.

“Dear Cat Island,

You were the love of my life and you shattered my heart.  You brought me more joy and love than any other romantic relationship in my life had brought me at that time.  While the love for my family is the most important thing in my life you were a close second.

You taught me how to swim, find peace, gave me adventure, helped raise me to be the woman I am today, made me tough, taught me adversity, and opened your arms to me when I needed you the most.

How could you let me go like that?  A few seconds – that’s all it took for you to turn your back on me and take it all away.  What did I do wrong?  I was yours and you were mine … That was the deal, we were supposed to have each other’s backs, but you abandoned me.

I am still so angry with you, but dammit, I still love you no matter how long I’ve tried to forget you.  We shared a love so intense throughout my life that I cannot let you go.  I don’t want to let you go, but I just don’t know how we will find a way to live together once again.

Cat Island, I forgive you, but I can never forget what happened.  How will you treat me if we get back together?  Will you help me find peace again if I come back to you?  You make me cry just thinking that I’ve been away from you for 8 ½ years.

I’m going to find my way back to you, somehow, and someday soon.  I need you to know that I am still so sad and may be for the rest of my life, but I’m going to give you another chance.

Cat Island, I’m coming home one day soon.”

 

An intense letter I know.  However, sometimes putting the way we feel out to the universe has a way of healing from the inside out.  With the help of family friends and family I’m very much hoping to get back to Cat Island in 2020.

I really can’t say whether going back home will be the most cathartic and healing experience for me or utterly painful.  I just don’t know.  What I do know for sure is I will wonder for the rest of my life unless I try, which is exactly what I plan to do!  I need help though … So, for those who share the same love for Cat Island and are reading this I’m asking for help to get me home!  Let the healing begin.

Wedding Bells & Wheelchairs

My fiancé and I have finally set a date for our wedding — Saturday, May 18!  We got engaged back in August of 2017 and simply cannot wait to be married to one other.

I had envisioned getting married in a bikini with a giant barbecue on the beach and having a big soirée with family and friends while we frolicked about in the water.  Clearly, I’ve had to adjust my expectations as I’m not quite sure a bikini would be very flattering these days in a wheelchair nor would getting stuck in the sand with my wheels 😉

I’ve been thinking critically over the last several months on what I want to do for my special day.  I came to the conclusion that I want my fiancé.  Plain and simple.  I just want to be married to this man who loves me dearly, and I him!  Frankly, I wouldn’t say I don’t care about the wedding, but I’ve never been the type of girl to throw a giant wedding with all the bells and whistles.  Honestly, I rather save up all that money spent on a wedding for a wonderful honeymoon and adventures traveling with my main squeeze.

Read the rest on Push living Magazine: https://pushliving.com/wedding-bells-wheelchairs/?mc_cid=984e329e09&mc_eid=ab8a053cfc

 

A Change in Life Perspective – My Personal Metamorphosis

 

First off, Happy New Year to you! 

 

Coming into the New Year I thought it only fitting to discuss the concept of perspective.  I was asked by a fellow reader if I could touch upon the topic of how my mental perspective has changed over the last eight years since breaking my neck as opposed to just how my physical life has changed with being paralyzed.  I will start off by saying my life perspective has changed drastically and I can’t be entirely sure if this is due to my accident or the fact that I’m also getting older.  I suspect it is probably a little bit of both.

In general a change in perspective in life is quite gradual in my opinion, takes many years, and is usually preceded by many hardships along the way, which affect one’s opinions on many topics.  When I broke my neck my world got turned upside down, which violently shifted my perspective on a lot of things in life very quickly, but more from a physical standpoint.  I was so engulfed in trying to figure out how to live a life with a body 80% paralyzed that I didn’t have the presence of mind to think about how my mental health was going to change.

For the most part my perspective change has been for the positive, but there have definitely been some dark changes that I would be amiss not to dive into as well in light of always being open with my writing, and my life even though I run the risk of exposing myself further 😉

The old saying “we only have one life to live,” no matter how cliché it may be, means more to me now than it did prior to my accident merely due to the fact that I suffered a life altering event.  I see so many folks who live simple (and I don’t mean that in a bad way), but happy lives, and go about their business not realizing how easily life can change on a dime.  While it is easy to say that we will change our lives when something drastic happens – it is a lot easier said than done to take actionable steps each day to change.  However, these small steps are not only key, but they can take very long time to see the effects of as they require determination, and will over a long period of time. Continue reading

INTERNAL HURRICANES

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(Before I get started on this heavy blog… I will preface by saying I’m posting photos that are not even a little bit related to what I will be writing about below. However, these photos represent moments of pure Happiness in my life! … And, let’s face it, we all need to keep that happy place in the forefront of our minds at all times.)

Over the course of the past month I’ve pretty much been on a hiatus from life, work, writing, posting blogs, going out, and enjoying life.  For the first time in my spinal cord injury career I developed a severe case of Bronchitis.  As I’ve previously mentioned time and time again being physically paralyzed can pale in comparison to the secondary complications we face with spinal cord injury.  For example, pressure sores, respiratory infections, sepsis, urinary tract infections, etc. are just a few of the major culprits that can take many of us out for the count for weeks, and months on end.

Generally folks with spinal cord injury suffer from just a few secondary complications on a regular basis.  I have always been Princess and the Pee when it comes to severe skin issues with pressure sores and osteoporosis.  Knock on wood I have not suffered from many infections, respiratory issues, urinary tract infections, etc.  However, this past month I was surrounded by a myriad of sick individuals in my household, which finally did me in.  I started with a small cold that developed into bronchitis.

I have many spinal cord injury friends who suffer from upper respiratory infections all the time and I could always sympathize with what they were going through, but I could not empathize because I did not know what it felt like.  I do now!  The challenge with spinal cord injury, especially when you are a quadriplegic with paralyzed abdominal muscles and use your diaphragm to breathe, is that coughing, breathing, blowing your nose, etc. are tremendously challenging.  You don’t have the core strength to bring up all of that nasty phlegm that gets stuck inside your lungs.

So, when you’re stuck with mountains of dark green phlegm in your lungs you literally have to have someone push on your stomach, lean forward, and hack up what feels like all of your internal organs coming out at the same time.  It’s quite a process and extremely exhausting to cough to get the phlegm up & out.  There are, of course, machines that can help with this, but they can come at a pretty hefty price.

“Being an Aunt is the Best”

Continue reading

An Engagement to Remember

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… I was staring at a blank page while thinking how to write the perfect article on how I got engaged this past weekend. My mind kept wandering back to when I was first injured in 2010 laying in my ICU bed with tubes coming out of every orifice of my body, a neck brace immobilizing my head, and copious amounts of morphine coursing through my veins.

I distinctly remember several people huddled around me, thinking I was mostly unconscious, commenting on how devastated they felt that I would no longer be able to live a full life and likely not get married or find love. I know it was not meant to be hurtful as they were just intensely concerned for how my life would turn out, but I recall thinking at that exact moment the romantic part of my life was finished …

… The point of complete comfort, love, intimacy, and trust came for me when he saw everything I physically had to deal with on a daily basis. I always joke, but up until I met my fiancé I would never go out in public or let a man see me without mascara and eyeliner on … Seriously! One day I decided to not wear any makeup and he told me how utterly beautiful I looked, and that he actually preferred me without makeup. It was at that moment I knew I had a keeper; okay maybe there are a few other things that made me know he was a keeper, but that was definitely a big one for me …

Read the rest on Push Living Magazine: https://pushliving.com/an-engagement-to-remember/

 

 

 

Life’s Sacrifices & Choices with Spinal Cord Injury

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When we are growing up we are faced with all kinds of choices a consequences and as children that we are blissfully unaware of.  Do we want a cookie or a doughnut?  If we finish our vegetables then we get dessert; if we go to bed early than mommy will read us a bedtime story, etc.  At a young age we don’t really associate making a choice with sacrificing one thing for another either.  It’s only as we develop into young adults that many of us come to the realization that everything in life is a choice, sacrifice, or compromise.

Choices and compromises become exceedingly more complicated as we grow into adults.  If we want a family, then we have to save to have a baby; we can’t go on that family vacation because we are trying to save money to buy a house; if we keep eating donuts every day then we run the risk of becoming obese; the list goes on.

I was thinking about sacrifices and choices the other day as it relates to spinal cord injury, and more specifically, the compromises I have had to make and continue to make as a C6 quadriplegic.  As I was pondering some of these choices lately I was surprised at how many things I have had and will have to give up in my life.  I was having a challenging day, so of course this was a glass half empty point of view, but after waking up the next morning feeling more like myself I made a list of the things that I have gained, and given up over the last 8 years since my accident in 2010.

Living with spinal cord injury presents such a unique set of challenges that many folks, unless you are the one injured or know someone who is, may not think of on a daily basis.  I often play this game with myself because while I know that I am faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges at times, there is always someone who is dealing with A LOT more than I am.  This is not to say that we should go around comparing ourselves to other people, but I do find pausing on certain days to take stock of what you have in your life is a quality many of us lack.  This age-old saying may seem outdated and redundant, but I personally find that it rings true when the proverbial “ship hits the fan” in people’s lives … “You don’t know what you have, until you’ve lost it.”

Here are a few of my choices over the years: Continue reading

Caregiver Neglect and Abuse – The Legal Side – My Recent Story

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Over the years I have spoken with dozens and dozens of fellow quadriplegics who seem to share in the story of having their caregivers leave without notice, emotionally abuse them, physically abuse them, and so many other horrifying tales. If you know me or have read some of my blog posts you will know that I, too, have had more than my fair share of horrifying incidents with caregivers. This blog is not to recount what has happened to me, but rather shed some light on interesting facts I have discovered over the last month due to a recent caregiver leaving me with no notice, no phone call, no text, etc. I have learned some useful tidbits of information and also picked up on some tips & tricks for the hiring of future caregivers, which I hope will help some.

Six weeks ago I was on the hunt for a new live-in caregiver several days a week and after interviewing several my entire household agreed they liked this one particular lady. I don’t use caregiving agencies because they are too expensive and cannot cover the hours I generally need, so I usually look to care.com and Craigslist as so many other quads in my situation do as well.

I think my caregiver radar is broken, so I like to have other people’s opinions to help me choose my caregivers these days. She did really well, was pleasant, a fast learner, and told me repeatedly how much she loved working with me. I was thrilled as I thought perhaps, this time, just maybe we would find one who would stick around for a while.

Anyway, things were going swimmingly, in my opinion, and two weeks ago after one month of employment she simply did not show up the night she was supposed to come into work. She left all of her belongings at my house and we were all completely dumbfounded. I called her multiple times, texted her, but to no avail. Naturally, my first thought was that she was in some sort of accident and was in the hospital. I was worried. Normally, when caregivers leave they take their stuff (secretly I might add) and just don’t come back. When this happens I usually just let it go because I am in such a rush to find someone new that I don’t have time or energy to follow up.

This time seemed different. Continue reading

“SCI” SUPER MOM’S – An Endangered Species!

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A little over 10 years ago BBC produced a television mini-series called “Planet Earth.” They spent five years filming unique exotic environments, plants, and animals all over the world. There was one episode where the film crew spent months in subzero Himalayan temperatures trying to film the endangered snow leopard. After many failed attempts they finally caught the snow leopard on camera for the first time. These leopards are so unique and not many exist, that we know of, in the world today.

An “SCI” (Spinal Cord Injury) Mom is an endangered species of human being, like that of the snow leopard, that are far and few between throughout the world. In general, the bond between a mother and child is so unique and unbreakable. When a child has a severe injury, such as breaking their neck, a mom goes into protection mode in order to provide the safest, best, and happiest environment for their child. However, not all moms are cut out to be SCI moms.

An SCI mom goes above and beyond, dedicates her life to her child, puts their needs above their own life, and puts up with more heartache than perhaps even the child going through the injury themselves. Generally a child starts fleeing the nest in their 20’s, starts their own life, and the parents move on to other adventures in their life because while their job is never done, the daily nitty-gritty caring aspect for their child is complete. With a spinal cord injury the reverse happens.

   

A dedicated and loving family member puts their life on hold once again to care for their injured child as if they were a baby, but it never ends. Continue reading

Lessons Learned after First Vacation in 7 years

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I took my first adventure vacation after 7 years over the last three weeks to my old stomping grounds in Miami to visit friends, family, and just generally embark on a mission to play. I had not taken a vacation for years as I was dealing with one medical disaster after another year after year. To be honest, I had forgotten what it was like to have fun for more than a few hours on the weekend.

I planned this trip last year, but due to caregiving challenges the trip kept getting postponed and postponed. I started to lose hope that I would ever take this trip when I finally decided to bite the bullet and go for it in September. I was slightly anxious because I did not know how things would go with respect to sleeping on a new mattress, running into further medical issues away from home, planning who would go down with me to take care of me, how my body would handle being up for more than 12 hours a day, the list goes on and on.

I worked myself up into a frenzy four weeks before the trip and to top it off I ran into further caregiving issues, which left me with my mom and boyfriend to accompany me down to paradise. I was unsure how the dynamics of my mom & boyfriend taking care of me would work as it was the first time in seven years I would not be taking a caregiver with me. To top it off, while my mom is the most young & fit 71-year-old I know, I was concerned it may be too much for her. The list of anxieties that ran through my head prior to the trip was overwhelming. Most people go on a vacation to unwind, but prior to my trip I just could not see how I was going to do this.

I had not realized over the last seven years how much anxiety and fear had built up within me on a daily basis with respect to thinking about 1,000 things that could go wrong being paralyzed on a daily basis. Many of my other quadriplegic friends deal with similar struggles as I do, but many of them seem to just go with the flow. My body is particularly sensitive with respect to pressure sores, broken bones, etc. that had literally forgotten how to unwind. I am generally so focused on surviving life that I forget to live it sometimes.

Day 2 in South Beach… Soaking in the reality of where we were

When I arrived in Miami it took me several days to kick back and start enjoying life.

Continue reading

SUICIDE … The Forbidden Topic … My Dark Side

Suicide, especially in the United States, is a topic of conversation frowned upon for those who cannot fathom what it is like to be in such extreme emotional or physical pain. Regardless of disability there are times in life for many folks where life simply does not seem to be worth living for a multitude of reasons. It can be challenging for people who are happy with their life to understand how anyone would want to end theirs because life has so much to offer in their view. To this I respond, unless you have been down that deep dark road of complete and utter desperation it can be very challenging to relate to a suicidal person’s state of mind.

I, too, used to share the mind frame of not understanding why anyone would want to end their life. I have always been the type of girl who is ridiculously positive, finds humor in life despite challenging situations, and pushes myself out of any kind of funk I might have in a relatively short period of time.

Don’t misunderstand me, I had always understood that deep depressions, anxiety, disabilities, etc. could lead people down dark roads, but believed that anyone could come back from the dark side with help. In my opinion, this may or may not be true now. I do believe everyone has the right to choose if they want to end their life or not. There are so many wonderful things in life to live for, but when one is in a state of complete hopelessness it can be challenging to come back from this without help.

When I broke my neck in 2010 I was one of the fortunate ones to never go through a major depression, constantly push forward, have an incredibly supportive family, the resources to continue to live my life, and work. Many folks are not as fortunate to have a situation like this. Throughout years of medical hell, intense chronic pain, and countless other complications I still managed to laugh, build a life after the initial trauma, and continue forward. I wasn’t happy, per say, for many years, but I managed to make the best out of an awful situation.

Life came to a screeching halt for me three years after my accident when I moved to China for spinal surgery. I could not have possibly prepared for what happened next to me over the course six months in 2013. In the beginning of 2013 we discovered I had a massive cyst in my spinal cord. We decided to move to China to undergo second major spinal surgery with some world-class Chinese Surgeons.

“After Surgery”

After surgery I developed excruciating chronic pain at the site of the injury on my neck in addition to my already burning chronic pain of pins and needles due to nerve damage from the injury that so many Spinal Cord Injury folks suffer from too. Four weeks after surgery my physical therapists put me up in a walking frame in my neck brace in order to get me moving. Within 10 seconds of being in the standing frame (unbeknownst to me at the time my osteoporosis had deteriorated severely) I heard a large crack in my kneecap, and my nerve pain when shooting to a level that was off the charts.

Video of me in the standing frame 10 seconds for my injury: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LvxxVDzaBvk&feature=youtube_gdata

To make a long story short I had just underwent spinal surgery, developed severe acute and then chronic pain in my neck making it challenging for me to even sit up, and my femur (knee cap) + shinbone cracked straight through. I was bed bound and mentally alone in China for many months to follow. The Chinese neglected to tell me my leg was broken and it was not put in a cast to top it off (very long story). I couldn’t move, my blood pressure was through the roof for months, my nerve pain was higher than I could even put in words, I could not move my neck left or right, I was sweating profusely above my level of injury, and I literally could not move.

There were no immediate solutions to help me except wait. I was crying all the time, I could not breathe very well, I had radiating pain through every fiber of my being, I couldn’t think coherently, I could barely form a sentence without my voice shaking because the pain was unbearable, my entire support system was back in the United States except for my parents, and I certainly could not think how I was going to survive from hour to hour.

“Life Ebbs & Flows”

I definitely have an A type of personality, like to think critically, pride myself on working hard, thinking hard, and finding solutions to problems. This was the first time in my life I literally felt paralyzed, not just in my body, which I had become accustomed to, but in my mind. I could not fathom a worse form of torture for myself than what I was going through — mental parallelization. Continue reading