An Engagement to Remember

… 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/

 

 

 

Wheelchair Air Travel – “Quad” Style

 

…If only air travel for a complete C6 quadriplegic paralyzed from the chest down were so easy!  Since my accident nearly 8 years ago I have flown a handful of times.  Most of my flying expeditions consisted of me moving across the world to China back in 2013, which involved flying an aircraft for over 15 hours at a time.  Back then flying seemed incredibly daunting, but I always had a village of the family to help me along the way.  I had never flown with just one other person before…

… I read many reviews on different airlines and I decided upon Delta Airlines.  I was looking at prices and I knew I wanted to fly economy because if I wanted to travel in the future saving money for business class would take away from money I could spend on adventures to wherever we would be flying to.  However, I decided to take baby steps.  I sprung for an extra $100-$200 and upgraded to Delta Comfort.  Delta Comfort Class is essentially Economy Plus.  This gives you a few extra inches of legroom, which I thought for our first mission would be appropriate considering that I needed the extra room for my knees because I am so tall. …

Read the rest on Push Living Magazine:

https://pushliving.com/wheelchair-air-travel-quad-style/

Cruise Ship Adventures & Wheelchairs – Lessons Learned

Several months ago my boyfriend and I were set to celebrate our two-year anniversary of being together. We wanted to take our first solo vacation somewhere tropical and most importantly we wanted to do it alone. Needless-to-say I was quite nervous at the prospect of having my partner take care of me with respect to all aspects of caregiving, and travel. He is such a phenomenal individual in that he has always been interested in making sure that he could take care of me by helping me dressed, showering me, taking care of my bathroom needs, and, most importantly, ferociously loving me! It took us quite a while to get to the point where I was comfortable showing a man those intimate details of my care, and all of the “not so sexy stuff” that comes along with dating a woman in a wheelchair.  The point is we finally got there over the last several years, so I thought it only natural to take the next step to see if we could really take our relationship to the next level, and travel alone together.

After countless hours of exploring our options, I decided that a cruise was probably our best bet. It was cost-efficient, I could take as many bags as I needed on the ship, and I could easily take both my wheelchairs. I live in Raleigh, North Carolina, so I knew I could drive 9 to 12 hours down to Florida in my van with all of my gear. One thing the two of us love to do is swim together, sit by the ocean, and go on adventures. I thought starting out with a seven day vacation down to the Western Caribbean would give us enough time to enjoy ourselves, but not too long in case things went sideways.

I posted a detailed account of our journey day by day on my personal blog if you are interested in every step of our journey. For the purposes of this article, I want to summarize some of the pros and cons of cruising as a handicap passenger.

Read the rest on Push Living Magazine: https://pushliving.com/cruise-ship-adventures-wheelchairs/

 

 

Long-Term Relationship Physical & Emotional Intimacy with Spinal Cord Injury

Who knew that my first serious long-term adult relationship would be after my spinal cord injury? I certainly did not! I was always the type of girl to have 1 foot in a relationship and 1 foot out in my 20’s. When I would break up with the guy I would usually move cities or countries. Truth be told after my accident I figured I had my shot at relationships and I would likely be single the rest of my life, which I was surprisingly okay with for many years. When I first started dating in a wheelchair I had an array of gentleman callers in order to explore my sexuality years after my accident. I’ve written about my dating adventures in multiple blogs, but I’ve never really touched on the subject of how my current boyfriend and I have grown to fall deeply, and madly in love.

It was not until this past year that I really started to understand what emotional intimacy meant and how one really has to work at it keep a relationship alive. In my opinion, emotional intimacy is the glue which holds a long-term relationship together. Even if you have a super strong connection initially, the more time you spend with someone and the better you get to know them, the deeper your connection can become — and emotional intimacy in a long-term relationship is so much different than emotional intimacy in a brand-new relationship.

In new relationships we can reflectively listen, spend quality time with our partner without distraction, and make thoughtful gestures to build closeness.

At the time I didn’t realize what this meant, but approaching relationships from a slightly different angle with spinal cord injury has made me appreciate what this means. When I first started dating my boyfriend I spent the first year actively keeping him out of every aspect of my spinal cord injured life with respect to caregiving. I wanted to take the time to get to know him as a person, and, more importantly, I truly believed that keeping the “paralyzed” part of our relationship was the best way for us to grow. Looking back, I am happy with the results, but I probably could’ve shared all of me sooner as opposed to just part of me. Continue reading

ROYAL CARIBBEAN CRUISE ADVENTURE (Part 2)

Continuing on with our Royal Caribbean Cruise Adventures …

We spent the first night, Sunday night, on the ship a little later than we planned dancing the night away. On Monday morning we docked in Key West, Florida for our first day’s adventure.

DAY 2 – Key West, Florida

We docked right in the center of the city of the island of Key West. For those of you not familiar with Key West, it is the coolest little funky island, and is the farthest South Island on the chain of the Florida Keys. It takes about 3 ½ hours to drive there on one road from Miami, Florida. It is filled with eclectic bars, unique restaurants with their own personalities, 1 million little shops with fabulous trinkets, and a group of folks who are so unbelievably laid-back. Most of the locals on Key West are the kind of people you just want to hang out with with the beer by the water, and hear their life adventures.

“The Port of Key West”

I’ve been to Key West many times before as I previously lived in Miami for about 10 years. On one of my adventures down to Key West with one of my great friends from college we ventured down to the island for something called Fantasy Fest. Fantasy Fest is kind of like a Mardi Gras down in the keys. Thousands of folks drive down, dress up in the most wonderfully outrageous costumes, walk the streets, and party the night away. When I was 21 we headed down to Key West, but we forgot to book a hotel. So, we took my sisters truck and decided we would find a parking lot, and sleep in the back cab.

I was unbelievably surprised at the copious amounts of folks strolling around in giant penis costumes, body paint, and a ridiculous amount of other fun filled costumes. Of course we got ourselves into all kinds of devious trouble, met cute boys, partied the night away, and by 3 AM in the morning we ventured back to a church parking lot where we paid $70 to park our car for the night. When we woke up in the morning we were sleeping in the back of the pickup truck with our little feet hanging out the back side. We woke up to some strange folks tickling our feet… I’m not kidding. It was disturbing and hilarious all at the same time.

Anyway, I had the opportunity to take my power chair off the ship as Key West is relatively accessible. There is this one fabulous restaurant I’d remembered from years prior called Blue Heaven that was wildly eclectic with the best pancakes I’ve ever eaten, and a laid-back atmosphere that made you want to just sit in a hammock with the Corona, and drink the day away. Unfortunately, we only had a few hours to dive into Key West, so I had to make a strict itinerary so we could see a few things before we headed back to the ship. We met one of Aaron’s long-term family friends who had retired in Key West for lunch at Blue Heaven. We laughed, drank, ate delicious food, and then strolled around the little eclectic streets of Key West for hours. Key West doesn’t have many hotels, but rather these old colonial Bed & Breakfasts, which are just precious historical gems I would recommend if you head down that way. Now, they are not particularly handicap accessible, but if you’ve a strong man who can carry you up the stairs … Go for it!

“This sign display had been up for the last 15 years… I had been dying to take a picture and pay someone to watch them shower for a while ;-)”

 

We ended the afternoon at a Tiki hut bar, my absolute favorite, right on the ocean with some reggae music watching the boats sail by, and enjoying the 80° weather while sipping on some lovely alcoholic beverages.

As the day ended we boarded our ship and we were met by our fabulous concierge, Ligia. Continue reading

ROYAL CARIBBEAN CRUISE ADVENTURE (PART 1)

Sorry for the hiatus in my blog writing over the last several weeks, but, as many of you know, I was off on an international adventure with my boyfriend on a Royal Caribbean seven-day cruise to the Western Caribbean. My boyfriend and I have been together for about two years now and we wanted to do something exciting with just the two of us to see how we would be able to handle 10 days alone with no help.

I did a copious amount of research on accessible vacations and I decided on taking a cruise as I read so much about how cruise ships are accessible. We decided on a seven-day cruise leaving out of the Port of Tampa, Florida going to Key West, then to Cozumel, Mexico, then to Belize, and then to Costa Maya, Mexico. I have so many stories so I will split this adventure up into several blogs, so you don’t have to read a novel all at once!

Needless-to-say I was pretty nervous at the prospect of going alone with one person on a vacation who would be responsible for all of my care. I wanted to plan a trip where I could stay in one location and take mini adventures from day-to-day. I’m going to save my conclusions of my overall experience after I dive into all of the exciting, challenging, and fun excursions we embarked on for the last blog.

I prepared for this trip for weeks. I created a document with an extensive packing list for everything I might need in case I got stuck in a foreign country for whatever reason. Considering I’m mildly neurotic about making sure I don’t forget anything, I think I packed the kitchen sink, and then some. As the old saying goes “I rather have it and not need it, then need it and not have it!” Most of my suitcases were dedicated to medical supplies and just a few items to clothing. I also decided to bring a big egg crate because I have the most sensitive skin in the world, and I was unsure of the mattress surfaces on the ship beds.  I also brought along my manual chair for excursions in foreign countries as I was fairly confident a power wheelchair would not get me far in countries where ADA compliance is not quite as strict.

Our cruise was set to depart on Sunday, April 15 from Tampa, Florida. We decided to leave on that Friday and drive 9 ½ hours from Raleigh to Tampa in order to have a day exploring downtown Tampa, and meeting up with a longtime friend whom I had not seen in about four years. I’m sure I could’ve flown down to Tampa had it not been for not with the ridiculous amount of gear we were carrying with us. The drive went pretty smoothly and we checked into a hotel in downtown Tampa. Before meeting up with a friend for the afternoon to go play, drink, and frolic about we first needed to give me a shower, and wash my hair before heading onto the ship. This was quite an endeavor because at home I usually do a type of bed bath and then stick my head in the sink to wash my hair. This was clearly not an option, and while we did get a roll in shower I did not bring a shower chair with me because I just couldn’t fit anymore gear into the car.

In the typical roll-in showers in hotels they usually have a small pulldown shower seat, which is quite dangerous, but it is all we had to work with at the time. Aaron put many towels on the shower seat for padding, picked me up like a princess, and strategically sat me down on the shower bench while I held on for dear life. He got in the shower with me while I wrapped my arms around his body as he washed my hair and body. It was dangerously comical, but we made it work. I definitely don’t suggest this method unless you have a very strong man who can lift you up and make sure you don’t fall flat on the floor 🙂 We were testing out this shower method as the ship had a similar set up for a roll-in shower, and I needed to make sure we were capable of getting me semi-clean every few days on the ship.

When we headed to downtown Tampa to meet up with one of my great friends Jill. We absolutely fell in love with the town. We went to a famous area called Ybor city that has a Cuban influence where we watched cigars being rolled, smoked cigars, bounced around from one cool Cuban spot to another, and reminisced the night away with Jill. We decided that Tampa was worth a trip in and of itself one day as there are so many little gems the city has to offer in addition to the entire West Coast of Florida. I spent over 12 years in Miami, but somehow never managed to get out West.

On Sunday morning we packed up our gear at 5 AM in the morning in order to arrive down to the port of Tampa to board our Royal Caribbean ship, Rhapsody of Seas. Continue reading

Let’s Talk about Sex Baby

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I mean really, who doesn’t love sex? I suppose it is one of those taboo topics that you don’t talk about at the dinner table like politics or money, but it is such a natural act – I’m not quite sure why we are so weary to talk about the subject publicly.

Before my accident I thoroughly enjoyed sex, exploring my sexuality, and engaging in as much sex as I could 🙂 Admittedly, I probably had sex too young, but as the saying goes “curiosity killed the cat,” “curiosity killed my virginity.” I was a young teenager and I simply had to know what all the fuss was about. I even let a guy convince me that I could not go to high school a virgin because I would be the odd man out. How gullible we are as young teenagers!

For several years I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about as I don’t think I was doing it quite right … Not that many teenagers, in my opinion, know how to enjoy sex anyway. I finally met a guy when I was living in the Bahamas one summer who was several years older than I was and he really taught me about the enjoyment of sex. I mean we literally had sex classes on a daily basis with respect to experimenting with what felt good to me, what felt good to him, trying different positions, oral sex, etc. It was also new and exciting to me, and by the time our lessons had completed at the end of the summer I felt like I had earned a degree in sexual pleasure … Probably not something most parents want to learn about their children as teenagers 😉

“Partying in my young 20’s with my sister”

Over the next 10 years before my accident I had multiple partners and I was not ashamed of it either. Naturally, I think I was called several “not so nice names” by women around me, but I simply didn’t care. I was a completely free spirit and enjoyed sex just as much as I did hiking in the wilderness. I wanted to keep a diary for the future of all of my “Sexcapades” because in my mind I thought one day I would always write a book about sex. At that time Chelsea Lately was one of my role models and she had a brilliant book called “One Night Stands.” While I did have some more thoughtful and influential mentors, she was definitely my sex mentor. I decided to keep a little black book with all of the men I had slept with over the years. Honestly, sometimes I couldn’t remember their names, but I remembered where I met them, what they were wearing, what they looked like, what we did, etc. I will spare you the hot and juicy details, but after my accident I completely forgot about this book.

When I broke my neck the concept of sex completely flew out the window for me. I considered myself “A sexual” at that time and figured sex was behind me, which did not make me very sad because I certainly had my fair share of fun for 27 years before my accident in 2010. However, years later amongst all of my things I found multiple pieces of paper stapled together with all of my sexual exploits in a box. I must admit I was laughing my ass off because I had forgotten about many of these gentlemen. I decided to take the time and type several pages of stapled paper into a digital black book of sorts. I still have it to this day and I think that is what probably prompted me to finally start dating five years after my accident. A funny inspiration, but my personal story none-the-less.

Post-Accident Sex Continue reading

SEX & MEDITATION

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I will preface this blog by saying for family and friends who do not want to know too much about my intimate sexual life you may want to skip the second half of this blog 😉

However, considering my blog is about Sex, sass and Spinal Cord Injury Adventures … I would be remiss not stay true to topic!

A majority of folks who sustain a spinal cord injury suffer from extreme chronic pain in many forms after their accident. Before I broke my neck I would look at somebody in a wheelchair and wonder what they felt? … I thought they couldn’t feel their legs or their stomach, etc. Boy was I wrong on so many accounts!

Many of us suffer from something called Neuropathic Pain. Essentially, it is nerve pain that manifests itself in different ways throughout the body 24/7. It’s almost like a cruel joke to be paralyzed and feel pain from the inside out. Regardless, this pain can result in feelings of pins and needles, burning fire, glass cutting you from the inside out, etc. It is different for every person.

Regardless, this chronic pain never goes away and can affect our daily lives with respect to productivity, quality of life, focus, and so much more. I find being paralyzed quite easy at this point in my SCI career, but you never quite get used to the chronic pain.

Personally, I suffer from 4 serious chronic pains at the same time, which can completely throw me off my game on certain days.

  1. Neuropathic Pain from the chest down and in my arms – feels like burning pins and needles day and night
  2. Hypersensitivity on my hands and forearms – feels like little shards of glass cutting me at all times
  3. Neck Pain – from multiple surgeries I have scar tissue damage that prevents me from sitting up in my chair too long, and feels like someone is slowly cutting me with a butter knife on the back of my neck
  4. Shoulder Pain – I suppose due to overuse it is a combination of nerve damage, musculoskeletal damage, myofascial pain, and soft tissue damage

Since my accident 7 ½ years ago I have always been on the mission to reduce my pain as opposed to finding a cure with respect to stem cell therapy for walking. I have tried so many techniques, of which two I find to be the most successful. However, the pain is always with me no matter what I do – although pain is just a signal from the brain, so I am convinced that if I keep trying I will be able to reduce it greatly on a permanent level one day!

I have tried:

  1. Opioids – definitely not recommended as opioids just make you drown out life and they don’t actually work on the right receptors in the brain for nerve pain
  2. Acupuncture
  3. Electrical Stimulation Acupuncture
  4. Neural Muscular Massage
  5. Meditation/Hypnosis
  6. Physical Therapy
  7. Lithium Protocol – this one nearly killed me as it can be very dangerous
  8. Sex
  9. Distraction
  10. Cold Laser Therapy

I’m sure there are few more I am forgetting, but I’m constantly trying to find new ways to reduce pain. The two most successful methods I’ve found in my life are Meditation/Hypnosis and Sex. I will dive into these two a little bit further.

 

MEDITATION / HYPNOSIS

Considering pain is just a signal from the brain hypnosis and meditation can be very effective, but only if you practice regularly, and are disciplined in your efforts.

I worked with a hypnosis instructor who helped me for over a year creating guided visualizations for me to listen to at 30 minute increments. Meditation is more challenging for me because when I sit quietly all of the feelings of pain are in the forefront of my mind. With hypnosis I find with gentle music in the background and guided instructions I use my mind to enter a world I created to reduce pain. It is kind of like a special room where enter through a red door and inside that room is a beautiful lake and ocean with clouds, beaches, and floaty toys.  I’ve taught myself to look down at my body and leave my pain floating above. I know it sounds peculiar, but with years of practice it really helps reduce the pain on the days where the pain just seems unbearable.

Admittedly, I should practice every day, which I don’t do religiously anymore, but it is one of my 2018 resolutions to continue to rigorously get back into it.

I go into a dark closet, tilt my chair back, and listen to the recording. The burning feeling of pins and needles changes to a cool and relaxing feeling. It is hard to describe unless you practice this on your own, and it may be hard to believe that this actually works.

In the beginning I could barely sit still for five minutes, but that’s how you have to start. Try meditation or hypnosis for one minute, then work up to two, then three, etc. There are so many recordings online that you can download for free, and you have to find a voice that is soothing to you, which can relax you.

 

SEXUAL INTERCOURSE

The second most effective technique for reducing my pain, if you can believe it, is
SEX.  Sex is a natural pain reliever — Sex causes increased production of oxytocin, which is often referred to as the “love hormone.” Before orgasm, oxytocin, released from the brain, surges and is accompanied by the release of endorphins, our natural pain-killing hormones.

When you are paralyzed from the chest down the feeling of sex is quite different than what used to be … It is not “Normal” in the sense of the way things feel. While I cannot orgasm in the traditional sense I still have my own type of feeling from sexual intercourse. Continue reading

DEVOTEES – People who are ATTRACTED to Folks in WHEELCHAIRS

Six months after breaking my neck in 2010 a gentleman sent me a Facebook message telling me that he thought I was very cute and he wanted to suck my toes. He informed me he was a Devotee. Of course I had no idea what this meant at the time, so I asked around to some of my other friends who had been injured longer than I had. They told me that a Devotee is a person who is attracted to folks in wheelchairs. I was then advised to stay away from them at all costs because they were very creepy and that it was unnatural for people to be attracted to just the wheelchair.

This got me thinking. There are so many people out there in the world with all kinds of fetishes from being tied up, whipped, electrocuted, swingers, etc. I was curious as to why someone who is attracted to people in wheelchairs is any different?

Can we really help who we are attracted to?

Some guys like big breasts, overweight women, blonde hair, blue eyes, etc. Just because you don’t frequently hear about people attracted to other people in wheelchairs does not make it, in my opinion, creepy right off the bat. Of course there is always a small segment of the population in any group who give the rest of the group a bad name.

Think about it … That macho guy who slaps women on the ass, calls them “sweetie,” and may tell them that he likes their big breasts. This type of guy gives other guys who like women with big breasts a bad name. There are plenty of men who like women with big breasts, but they don’t necessarily advertise this publicly at first. They may go up to a woman, start a conversation, get to know them, and later on in the relationship it may come out that they were initially attracted to that specific woman because of their breasts.

I think one of the challenges with folks who are Devotees is that it is such an unspoken attraction that no one talks about. First of all, from a number’s perspective, there just simply aren’t as many people in wheelchairs in the world as there are women with big breasts. Secondly, there are many Devotees out there who don’t put their picture on Facebook and then write you a creepy message. Clearly, this is not the best way to initially garner positive attention from a person in a wheelchair. Devotees should probably strike up a conversation and get to know them before announcing they are attracted to women in wheelchairs.  This has personally happened to me countless times.

Several years ago when I was living in China I was approached by a “Devotee.” He messaged me on Facebook to tell me that he thought I was attractive and that he was a Devotee. I decided to take that particular opportunity and dive into really understanding what it was about women in wheelchairs this guy was attracted to.

He was from Switzerland, physics was his passion, good looking, and he had a very well-to-do job in the gaming world. We struck up a series of conversations, which I’ve saved over the years, and I learned that he was specifically attracted to quadriplegic women in power wheelchairs. He seemed to like paralyzed feet quite a lot, massaging them, and the idea of helping women cut, and eat their food. At first I thought this was a little odd, but I tried to remain open-minded as I probed further. Fortunately, he was very polite and only asked progressive questions when I permitted them. He told me that he saw a woman in a wheelchair in a magazine when he was a teenager and there was an unbelievably strong attraction right off the bat. From then on he was fascinated and drawn to women in wheelchairs.

Once we got past all of his questions about what I had to deal with on a daily basis in a wheelchair I finally got to know him as a person. I think he was just so curious because he said no other women in wheelchairs would give him the time of day. I asked him, as I have asked dozens of Devotees over the years, if he leads with telling women he is a Devotee? He said yes as many others did as well. I did tell him this probably was not the best way to get the attention of any woman. I planted the idea in his head that if he was attracted to a woman with big breasts would he Facebook message them to tell them he thought they were attractive because of their big breasts? He said he certainly would not do that … Well, I told him it was the same concept with a person in a wheelchair.

While there are always exceptions to the rule, many women want to find a guy who sees them and not just the wheelchair. Of course with guys who are not Devotees many of them only see the wheelchair, decide it is too much for them to handle, and do not get to know the person or even give them a chance. Continue reading

“HOW I (Unexpectedly) FELL in LOVE — The REAL VERSION”

 
My Online Dating Mission:

… Sleep with as many guys as I could in order to explore my spinal cord injury sexuality before it might be too late. A simple mission you may say … A ridiculously irresponsible mission others may comment … A wildly insane mission yet others may respond. To me, it was the most fun, wild and exciting thing I could think to do before I went under the knife once again for a seventh time in six years….

… My now boyfriend was one of these gentlemen callers. I really did like him and thought he had a lot to offer, but I certainly wasn’t going to ask a guy I met 4 to 6 weeks prior to hang around with a C6 quadriplegic who was going in for major surgery, who was going to be laid up in bed for God knows how long, and with hundreds and hundreds of staples in my ass. I simply didn’t think this was fair to ask, nor did I want any man I had been sexual with to see me in the ICU….

… As the months rolled on we really started to build a bond with one another and it was a completely new and unexpected feeling for me in life. Forget the wheelchair for a second … Apparently I had never learned how to be in a proper relationship. I had dated guys for years in the past, but I always made sure I had 1 foot out the door as a defense mechanism. My boyfriend completely turn this around for me, and, essentially, taught me how to love….

Read my new column on Push Living Magazine: http://pushliving.com/spinal-cord-injury-sexuality-how-i-unexpectedly-fell-in-love/