We’ve all heard stories like this before, right? Someone at some point in their life suffers an illness, recovers and A-HA!, they have a moment of clarity where it changes their entire outlook on things and points them in a totally different direction in their lives, i.e. they find their purpose. Buckle up because this is another one of those stories. Earlier in my blog, I did post about my bout with Guilian-Barre Syndrome and the effects that it had on me but this isn’t what this post is about, sort of. True, I’m going to tell you about my struggle and how it inspired me to be better BUT I’m also going to tell you about what there were many times that I wanted to give up, throw in the towel and just exist in a wheelchair, not really adding anything to my life. Not too many people know this part of this story and until right now as I type this, I don’t think my family knows the true weight that this whole life defining experience has had on me from my perspective.
Ten years old, paralyzed and not able to speak at all. I couldn’t eat on my own or basically do anything but take up space. It’s a lot to process for a kid. Medical science has changed a hell of a lot in 30 years and the advancements that it has made in medical care for patients is astounding but in 1992, the medical community was still finding out about a lot of new illnesses, constructing new medical protocols and trying to look to the future of medicine. Needless to say in 1992, in ways of testing, I felt like a pincushion and a science experiment. Anyone suffering a spinal cord injury is usually put through the wringer in ways of being tested for things. Spinal taps, biopsies, things like that. When you have no control over your body from the neck down, every week or so, it’s another test. For example, one of my main issues was bladder control for me and bed-wetting was common. One of the most vivid memories of a bladder capacity test for me was when I was taken to another hospital one morning so the doctors could test the capacity and staying-power of my bladder. Ever had a catheter before?? Exactly. Cath’s are not fun for anyone and if you got a penis, it’s torture. Anyway, the nurse assisting with the procedure had the fun job of putting the catheter into my bladder so they testing could begin. For anyone who hasn’t had the luxury of having this done, basically it’s like putting a bamboo shoot up your shaft and it’s hurts like a mother****. The nurse tried the first time and couldn’t feed the catheter quite into my bladder so she took it out and tried again…and again, and again. Until after the ninth time, I was about to literally die right there on the table. The tenth time she finally got it into where it was supposed to be and I thought, “What the hell was that?!!” The test went on as planned and then I left with my parents.
Now that I think about it, the abuse my poor dick has been through in the past 30 years, I’m surprised I still have one that works! Anyway, going through test after test, not really coming to any conclusions as to what I had left me very hopeless. To the point that no matter how good my therapists were telling me I was doing it what progress I was making, I figured it was just to make me and my family feel better and help pacify more time while the medical team figured out what to do next.
Medical discoveries are like a puzzle and you can’t fully know the whole picture until you have all the pieces. The issue with medical diagnoses is that things are always changing, opinions get in the way and it becomes a big mess. Not often than not, I’m those moments when I was by myself, I often wondered is all this going to be worth it? Am I destined to live in this state forever? Am I going to die soon? What is going to happen to me? This is a lot of worry for a ten year old to be contemplating. I should’ve been thinking about summer vacation instead of survival but life doesn’t really care and now at 40, I’ve discovered that there’s usually a reason that things go the way that they do.
So let’s flash forward a year or two after I was discharged and was back at home and back in school. School was a nightmare that first year back and that’s putting it lightly. I had been switched from my normal elementary school to a different building in the district that had a program for kids with my needs. It definitely took some getting used to after being home bound and tutored for the past year or so. Anyways, once I was healthy enough, I returned to my original elementary school and it was tough at first. Falling asleep in class, not quite getting a lot of the information because my brain was still healing and trying to figure out how to digest everything. I had back pain when I walked now, I had braces of my feet and the stares of the other kids made depression imminent and a daily thing almost.
Suffering in silence was how I dealt with a lot back then because I felt that no one would really understand how I was feeling or what I was going through. I kept most of it inside and from where I sit these days and because I normally tell my clients and basically everyone to not do that because it does more harm than good. I knew this back then too but for a kid I thought that was too complex of an idea for people to be able to help me fix at the time. There’s no worse place to be than sitting alone with your thoughts and have nobody to express or tell them to, especially when you’re confused as to what’s happening to you or how you’re going to get out of whatever the situation might be.
So, how did I turn it all around?
Time, patience and learning the painful truth about myself as an individual. I learned that no matter how hard you try you cannot make physical problems disappear, no matter how hard you want them to, it’s a fact of life that our bodies aren’t always going to work with us. I also learned that you cannot get anywhere you want to in life without the help of others. That’s why we’re all here….connection. Connecting with others, building relationships and lending a hand where appropriate is not only the right thing to do but it should be so automatic for everyone. I guess that’s why the professions and careers that I have found myself in all center around that one point so much, I found out that I’m a helper, a guider and a counselor of sorts through my struggles. If you can change the course of just one person’s life for the better, you MUST do it. None of us are getting out of here alive and nobody knows where we might end up but the caring word or action of one person could make all the difference.
So, why did I just tell you all of this? I don’t know really. Maybe it’s just me bringing up old wounds to make me feel better or to help you appreciate the not-so-bad life that you now see that you have. Everybody always has their own problems and although it may seem as if they don’t, trust me, things aren’t that black and white. Growing up, I had to do a lot of maturing in a very short amount of time and in many ways, at least of the mental end of things, I definitely feel like I’m some sort of universal mage, someone who knows a lot of things about a lot of things! Be a student of life, absorb, learn and grow form the things that you see, hear and visualize in your mind and you will be much better off in the long run.
Sit, Breathe, Learn, Grow and Pass It On. You’ve got this. If you don’t know if you do or not, talk to me and I’ll set you straight.
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John Schessler is a Pittsburgh-based Personal Trainer, Wellness Coach, Men’s Life Coach, Actor & Writer. He is also the host of the podcast “ManAlive!” available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. If you have any ideas for topics you wish to see covered here or on my podcast, please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.