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

The Ancient Philosophers were on to Something – Overcoming Negative Emotions

There are periods in anyone’s life, but especially in a quadriplegics life, that can be filled with darkness, despair, and hopelessness. It is in these desperate times that one has to dig deep to find some sort of meaning or purpose to keep going. Throughout my spinal cord career over the last 7 ½ years I’ve gone through several periods where I just couldn’t find a reason to keep going.

I happen to be going through one of these periods right now and I thought it timely to talk about what I’m going through, how I am working towards finding direction again, and strategies I am employing in my personal life to find small joys in every day.

Read the rest on Push Living Magazine at:  https://pushliving.com/the-ancient-philosophers-were-on-to-something-overcoming-negative-emotions/

 

New Zealand Wilderness Survival Trip (Part 2)

The Viking Adventure

As I wrote about in my previous blog our instructors did not let us know what adventure we would be partaking in until several hours before we headed out on an adventure. One of our first endeavors was taking a several day trip in these large wooden old-fashioned sailboats called Cutters.

Think of those old primitive wooden boats with giant oars that the Vikings used to row with. Well, somehow Outward Bound had constructed some of these boats with a very primitive sail. We packed up a minimal amount of gear and food into some dry bags, and were told to swim with our gear fully loaded to get out to the boat. I didn’t think this was a particularly brilliant idea because we were going to be soaking wet and freezing to start our adventure. I suppose this not only tested our physical endurance, but mental as well. We hoisted our shivering bodies into this old boat and listened to our instructors as they taught us how to navigate the waters in front of us. Fortunately I knew how to sail, so I was eager help my teammates learn how to how to a sail, understand wind direction, and navigate the oceans.

What we did not count on was no wind at all. We were not moving anywhere – we were simply drifting out to sea.  Continue reading

New Zealand Wilderness Survival Trip (Part 1)

After receiving a slew of emails regarding my last blog on my wilderness survival trip in Australia I was asked to write another blog on one of my many wild wilderness adventures. So, today I will diving into my Outward Bound wilderness survival trip in New Zealand in 2000. My recollection of this trip came back to me when one of my old teachers from high school sent me a 5 page email I sent him and the family after my voyage giving a detailed account of all of my adventures. It was wild to read something I had written 18 years ago. Quite frankly I was appalled at my grammar, lack of spelling, misuse of commas, and poor grasp of the English language. 🙂

Regardless, after reading the email it took me back to this trip like I was there yesterday. There was only one surviving photograph from my trip 18 years ago (see below) … The rest of the photos I found pretty similar photos from other folks who participated in this New Zealand Outward Bound Trip over the years.

“The 17-year-old “Ali” with a look of utter joy upon completion of the trip”

Growing up in Europe and then transferring to school in the United States I ended up graduating early from high school. I decided to take some time off before heading to Occidental College in Pasadena, Los Angeles. I decided to embark on a life-changing experience to Beijing, China. However, when I graduated I had several months to spare before heading over to Asia and I couldn’t quite figure out what to do with my summer. I had been on previous adventure trips in my early teens, but none of them really offered me a test of my endurance and will.

I rigorously started researching different outdoor survival programs and came across Outward Bound. Outward Bound was originally founded to help troubled teenagers using trips into the wilderness to teach them responsibility, leadership, accountability, etc. Initially I had hesitations as I did not consider myself conventionally troubled, but I really liked the idea of a challenge. I went on their website, but you must remember in 2000 websites were still quite primitive, so I did not have that much information to go on, but I signed up for a trip as far away as I could possibly go. New Zealand was the winner!

When I graduated high school I went back home to the Bahamas for several weeks to start training because I read that there was a physical fitness test one had to pass upon arriving in New Zealand. Every morning the Bahamas I would wake up at the crack of dawn, run several miles in 90° heat, stripped down to my bathing suit into the crystal-clear Bahamian waters and swim for hours, do an ungodly amount of sit ups, push-ups, and whatever else I could think of. I was 17 years old and the time had come to fly 27 hours to the other side of the world. I wasn’t quite sure what gear I had to pack, so I packed light, and I was told what I needed would be provided for me when I reached my destination. Continue reading

AUSTRALIAN WILDERNESS SURVIVAL ADVENTURE

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I’m often asked what keeps me going during those dark times, seemingly insurmountable challenges I constantly face with spinal cord injury, and how I remain determined to try and live a life that does not consume me with anger for everything I have been through. I must admit there are times when I do feel like giving up, but there’s something inside me that keeps telling me to push forward just a little bit more each day. I’m sure everyone who has dealt with tragedy in their life have their own coping techniques, but I attribute much of what I’ve accomplished to who I was before the accident.

You must remember I had 27 years of my life before I broke my neck and only 7 ½ years of being paralyzed. My parents raised me to always be curious, challenge the unknown, explore life beyond your comfort zone, and above all be kind to others. I was an extremely mischievous teenager, to say the least, but somehow I always managed to get myself out of uniquely perplexing situations before things went south. I like to think that I was “Responsibly Irresponsible.” I would plan out an adventure, write down all of the things that could possibly go wrong, how I would fix them, and then hope for the best.

To understand a little bit more about my nature I’d like to tell you a tale of one of my many adventures that would always bring me back to a path of serenity and focus when things were not going my way in life. I’ve always traveled around the world, much of it on my own, and I would find myself getting bogged down in life’s drama, people, the stresses of self-expectations I would constantly put on myself with respect to what I was hoping to accomplish by what age, etc. With this in mind, I started embarking on wilderness survival adventures around the world as a young teenager. As the years progressed I would find different wilderness adventure companies that challenged me physically, mentally, and really tested my strength of will in the wilderness for months on end.

At 23 years old I had just graduated from the University of Miami, could not find a job because, frankly, I was much too cocky for my own good, I started to get into drugs, and I just could not see a way out of life. Eventually, I made a decision to sign up for a very intense several month wilderness survival course in Western Australia, specifically the Kimberly Mountains.

On this trip I would be accompanied by 10 to 12 fellow hikers and one instructor. On these trips you learn to navigate the rough terrains of the Australian outback in degrees sweltering over 100° per day, carrying a 60-80lb pack on your back, hiking from water source to water source, sometimes killing your own food, navigating topographical maps with only a compass and no GPS, building leadership skills, and running into whatever dangers might be headed your way that day. I had already been on several wilderness adventures, but this was going to be by far the most challenging for me mentally and physically.

I purchased all of my necessary gear, did my research, and flew over 25 hours to reach my destination in Boone, Australia, which was located on the West Coast of the continent. I didn’t know what I was in for at that time, but I was eager to get my head on straight so I could find some clarity in life at 23 years old. I might’ve been having a midlife crisis of 23… Who knows 🙂 I arrived at a hostile the night before I was set to meet my team, and wrote in my journal about how I was feeling at that moment. I was feeling like a failure, low, curious as to how I was going to get my life going, I just broken up with a very serious boyfriend, and I had no idea where life was about to lead me.

 

Our Group on Day 1 before the Adventures Begin

I woke up bright and early at the crack of dawn the next morning, and met my team at the designated location at 6 AM in the morning. We went through a several hour orientation, were ordered to get rid of most of the things we had prepared to bring, and instructed to only pack what we were comfortable to carry for over eight hours a day. The packs normally ranged between 60 to 80lbs. There were, of course, a few items I stuck in my pack because I simply could not do without them. I was wearing contact lenses at the time, so I clearly needed to bring my contact solution, a little mirror, and antibacterial solution for my fingers. I refused to wear glasses … I don’t know why. I also snuck in a couple extra pairs of clean socks and underwear, and biodegradable baby wipes. We were supposed to dig holes in the wilderness when we had to use the bathroom and wipe our bums with leaves. I had done this on one of my prior wilderness survival trips, and let me tell you the amount of poison ivy I got in places where the sun does not shine was no joke! So, I stuck these little babies in when no one was looking 🙂 Continue reading

Moving Mountains Paralyzed: An Insurance Battle to Remember!

When I think of Moving Mountains Paralyzed Insurance Companies the analogy of a Goat herder comes to mind. The Goatherder will watch out for its flock as long as it produces enough fur for the season for the goat herder to line his financial pockets. The moment the goat gets out of line or stops growing fur, the herder will slaughter the goat, and eat it for dinner.

Similarly to insurance companies … As long as you pay your premium and don’t step out of line an insurance company will offer you basic protection. However, if you start creating a commotion, appealing everything, and asking for more — insurance companies will find some way to slap you with financial bills that seem unimaginable.
Since my accident 7 ½ years ago I’ve been a goat that has been slaughtered by insurance companies and I have also been a goat that has managed to break free. Navigating the waters of insurance companies to get what you need, especially when you are paralyzed, requires voracious tenacity, extreme dedication, a lot of hard work, patience, and knowledge of how to work within grey areas.

Read the rest on Push living magazine at:

https://pushliving.com/moving-mountains-paralyzed-quirky-quad-guide-winning-w-insurance/

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

“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

A Day in a Life of this Quadriplegic – Managing Expectations

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I’ve often been asked what a typical day looks like for me as a quadriplegic (quad). While every quad is different I can confidently generalize that with being paralyzed and fully dependent one has to spend a minimum of several hours a day dealing with general spinal cord injury care. I can only speak to my personal experience, but over the last 7 years I’ve had to widely adjust my expectations about how much I can get accomplished in a day.

Regardless if you suffer from a spinal cord injury or not, one has to manage their expectations on a daily basis. If you are a mother of four small children or a high-powered attorney who has a full docket of cases to review with a family at home, how you manage your time is essential.

I am the type of person who likes to be extremely productive and utilize every moment of every day in order to learn something new, enjoy life, trying to things, and get things done. I have a full-time job, which requires immense attention on a regular basis. This does prevent me from getting out and about as I would like during the weekdays. However, this is my choice and professional productivity is very important to me. The challenge with being paralyzed is that you have to devote so many hours a day to general survival for your healthcare.

I was calculating out the amount of hours I spend on essential spinal cord injury care each day, how much exercise I engage in, how many hours I need to work, and most importantly, how this all fits in with my constant chronic nerve pain that feels like pins and needles piercing my body every moment of every day. Needless-to-say this can be challenging.

It turns out that I need about 4 hours at minimum to complete my bowel and bladder care, shower, getting in and out of bed, and general caregiving activities each day. I then exercise for about 1.5 hours a day. These are the essentials I need just to survive on a daily basis. The particular challenge with respect to my situation is with the chronic nerve pain that plagues me on a daily basis because my productivity goes way down mid-afternoon. This means I need to get in bed early, relax, meditate, and try to re-direct my pain in order to sleep well to be productive the next day.

I generally get most of my busy work done in the morning, work quietly until mid-afternoon, and then get in bed early.  Over the years I’ve pushed myself to the brink of exhaustion, pain breakouts, and complete misery with trying to get too much done in a day. I’m not including the periods in life where anxiety or depression can take over, which can further drastically reduce one’s productivity in a day due to emotional up’s and down’s.

What a typical able-bodied person gets done in a workday of approximately 8-10 hours I have to get complete in no more than 4 to 5 hours. Continue reading