Go figure. A guy stricken with a severe disability in the prime of his life has (arguably) never been happier! What convergence of events can turn something that would normally be considered catastrophic into a good thing? Let me delineate them for you and then you can make your own decision.
- On April 15th, 2003, I was hired in the job I continue to work in to this day. While not the most fulfilling thing I have ever done in with my life, it nonetheless came with comprehensive medical benefits. Including a long-term disability plan that forced a change of underwear once I realized how safe I would be if either (a) I were to fall victim of a horrific accident resulting in accidental dismemberment, or (b) my greatest fear were to become reality and I wind up being diagnosed with some form of Multiple Sclerosis. I should backtrack here – follow me to 1985. My Father was diagnosed with MS. There has been much research, many breakthroughs in the last 25 years, but back then, there was little that could be done to alter the natural course of the disease. Whatever arsehole deity you believed was the guiding force behind life just kinda gave you the finger with its right hand as it pointed at you with the left, bowling over with maniacal laughter as you descended further and further into invalidity. Nice image, eh? It’s the one that I grew up with. And while it certainly brought with it its own set of issues in the family, ever the pragmatist, I vowed never to let 10+ years of service to a company result in getting a clock and a handshake as the pushed me out the door (I still have the clock – I keep it to remind me…). Thus began my illustrious career working in the obscure world of fluid power. Nobody really liked to talk about what I did because it was a snooze-fest of monolithic proportions. But I could care less – the security it would afford me for my future outweighed any ribbing by my friends because I worked in a boring-ass job. It took several years before I realized that talking about what I did was kind of a turn off. Hydraulics just aren’t sexy. Oh well – the benefits, people, it’s all about the benefits!
- The company I work for had sent me west at age 19 (from Montreal to Calgary) with a few boxes and some disassembled furniture shrink-wrapped and packed onto skids, shipped via Reimer Express on an inter-company stock transfer. I went just to experience something different. I know so many people that think Montreal is either the centre of the universe or, if they were a little more modest, at least the best city in Canada. Don’t get me wrong – Montreal is a great place, a real metropolis. It’s a cultural crossroads with some of the finest dining you’ll find in this country. Thing is, though, I’ve never felt at ease with who I am here. I’ve never felt like I fit in. Never finding that comfort disenfranchised me, removed any desire I had to continue subjecting myself to not living the life I wanted. Then, this opportunity came along. This is where I learned the definition of the word humility. I had no money. I had no furniture with the exception of a coffee table, a TV-stand (with a TV) and a couple of camping chairs. I was just a baby – 19 years-old, in a new city, with no one around that I knew and could lean on. This was independence. On top of all this was the discovery of other people that had similar stories as me. In a city where the populace is more often an expat from some other place, I found some kindred spirits. The people I met and grew close with came from all across this great nation. Calgary got me. It will always be where my heart is.
- Then came my dx (April 2007) and, once again, the company I work for had my back. A job opened in Montreal, I applied for it and was, without question, transferred back (though at that point it was a regressive shift – I had experienced a modicum of ascension through the ranks of corporate whoredom in my 4.5 years out west). That was kind of inconsequential – I know enough to know when you need your family. The quagmire I was going through was not the ‘do-it-alone’ kind. I needed help, the kind that I could not, in good conscience, ask for from my friends. This was the kind of support that only a family could provide. So, with my tail between my legs, I headed east once more. My poor mother – I lived with her just long enough to secure myself financially, have disability progress a bit more, and once my condition stabilized, had her help me find my own place. She complied with everything I wanted – didn’t guilt me into staying with her, even refused to let me buy a condo for the two of us because she had the foresight to realize that my independence was crucial. Something tells me that she also has experience doing things altruistically and knew firsthand how that can kind of start to eat at you. A mothers love is only bested by a mothers wisdom… at least, in the case of this mother. My mother.
- A mention must be made to all the people in the health-care world that I ever had any dealings with. Be it in Alberta or Quebec, the nurses, doctors, therapists, and social workers (though the social worker I dealt with in Calgary was… well, that wonderful mother I was just talking about always told me; if you can’t say anything nice…). I hope that there are some reading this who notice that though I have grouped the entire medical team together, I mention nurses first – I have no idea how doctors get anything done without the help of these wonderful people. They do all the clerical, menial, nitty-gritty, everyday things that make you feel like you’re dealing with somebody who is trying to help you, not just a walking, talking, prescription-writing library book. My experience in all 3 provinces I’ve been treated is this; get the nurse(s) on your side. They only seem to have a desire to help you, and, if you’re as lucky as I am, will make you feel that they are there exclusively for you.
- A resounding thank-you must be sent to my sisters (I have not 1, not 2, but 3 – and yes, it’s enough to scare the crap out of almost any girl I meet). While I have already expounded on my relationship with my mother ad nauseaum (in case nobody has figured it out – she’s almost certainly reading this), I must do so equally for my three sisters, who have, time and time again, proven that they are willing to do anything for me. While my relationship with each one of them is different, I can assure you I love them all equally (you guessed it – they’re probably reading this too!).
- And finally – my core group of friends, spanning the distance of this vast nation. They were the ones that were there with me every single day when I was first diagnosed. They would visit me in the ‘hotel’ (if you’ve been to hospitals in both Montreal and Calgary, you’ll understand why I nonchalantly refer to my 3-month stay at The Foothills as the ‘hotel’). They are the reason I want so desperately to return to Calgary (though, truth be told, they have all more or less scattered to other parts of AB, BC,QC, and ON. So what would I be running back to? People have told me over, and over, and over again – the last place I was able-bodied was in Calgary and that going back there would just be me trying to relive my days as healthy young man. Maybe that’s it, but I don’t think so. I think I finally met the man I am while living in Calgary. And (and this is true narcissism if ever you’ve heard it!) he is pretty damn cool. He’s not an alpha-male (I leave that to the more boisterous), but he’s a guy that is ok with himself, shortcomings and all.
Are you still there? I’ll summarize everything for you quickly:
- Comprehensive disability benefits, removing the financial strain that being diagnosed with a life-long illness brings.
- A company (#247 on the Fortune 500, no small-time operation) that had the heart to send their diseased employee back to his family, all expenses paid.
- A father who had a series of unfortunate, life-altering events occur to him so as to exemplify the wrong way of dealing with things (don’t blame the man, the world I grew up in was vastly different…). Our situations differ as well – I never had a wife, 4 kids, 2 cars, and at least 1 mortgage. I did, however, never get to experience the joy of finding someone with whom I’d like to spend the rest of my life, or of creating a life, a life you love more than your own. Not to say it won’t ever happen, but she’s going to have her work cut out for her!
- Life-lessons on humility and independence.
- A team of health-care workers who made me feel like I was their only patient.
- A strong parent in my mother, who has been dealing with disability, in one form or another, her entire life. That, readers of my blog, is where I learned the definition of the word resiliency.
- My 3 wonderful sisters – everything I am is, in part, because of them.
- Some friends who held me up when I faltered, who helped keep my mind active by pushing me to keep going, to not stop learning and adapting.
That’s it. All these things, each variable in its own right, is a building block in my formula for happiness. I’m sure it might make you want to lose your lunch at how corny it all is – but my challenge to you is this: if I can find these building blocks in my life, replete with what most people would call misery, can you not find them in yours? Maybe you just need to look a little harder.
You can just as easily be a shiny ball of happy too!