My new year’s resolution for 2024 was “to live my best life… as a chronically depressed permanently disabled person.” I wanted to inject a “make the best of it” attitude onto my assessment of current reality.
However, when I tried to video record this message on this new year’s day, I choked up and couldn’t get the words out. So I salvaged the recording by freezing the last frame and overlaying it with the text of this spontaneously scripted replacement resolution:
“For 2024, I resolve to take myself less seriously and to find the humor in all my life stories.”
That’s my new year’s day short story. (skip to video below) If you’d like the longer story of how I came to this place in my life, read these following paragraphs, added in early January:
2024’s Message vs 2023’s Message
This year’s message may seem melodramatic, but last year’s message smoldered with raw emotional intensity. The way the messages changed from year to year reveal a body and a soul on a healing journey.
My new year’s day message for 2023 affirmed a positive transition of mindset from being “in pain every day” and “suicide” to being a beacon of “self-expression that resonates with what is true” while uplifting to everyone around me.
In other words, in 2023, I would transcend discouraging circumstances. I would let my creative self-expression sustain me through tough times. I would tell stories. Storytelling, sharing my stories (mainly through online publishing, like to this website) was to be my redemption.
Meanwhile, I worked obsessively at my health recovery, so that I could be functional and productive at least a few hours a day on my projects and activities of daily living.
2023’s Discouraging Medical Prognosis
By the middle of 2023, several doctors shared that my spinal injury “will never get better.” To the chagrin of most of my family and friends, I have never been a realistic person. My dad would always tell me, brusquely and with no small degree of disappointment, “You live in a fantasy world, boy,” and he was right. Ultimately, I had to admit I was deluding myself in not accepting my prognosis.
By the fall of 2023, I reluctantly had to “adjust my expectations.” I lamented to my long-suffering brother (who has patiently listened to me sobbing for hours in the early years of my condition) that I had to surrender and give up on my dreams of how my life would be once my years of caregiving for mom were done.
Restarting My Life in 2021
Mom passed in November of 2020, leaving me mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually broken. After six weeks of downtime, I was ready to start my new life in January 2021.
My brother, Nick, was a critical life-support person during those times, flying in to California from Arizona every two weeks to assist me. He helped me do shopping, cleaning and cooked these amazing meals that gave me both nutritional and emotional sustenance. We worked side-by-side to handle the many administrative details when a parent passes.
Ignoring My Injury in 2019
When I hurt my back in kickboxing class in May 2019, I figured it was just some muscle/tendon/joint injury and it would fix itself, just like every previous athletic injury had. I had “electric current” sensations, like when you hit your funny bone, but I had them through my whole sacroiliac area when I sat in certain positions, so I just didn’t sit in those positions.
I was in my second year of caring for mom 24/7 and I would not take time off to see a doctor for four months. By the time I saw my doctor, I had self-diagnosed that I had piriformis syndrome (which can be fixed with exercise and stretching) and my doctor, after a quick physical palpation, concurred. I can fix myself after mom passes, I thought.
Fast forward through another year and a half of increasing physical debilitation and persistent pain and by January 2021, with mom gone, I was ready and eager to get started with those recovery exercises and stretches. I did the exercises for months. However, they were almost always excruciating and ultimately didn’t diminish the pain.
OK, This Is Serious in 2021
I went to a new doctor and several specialists and, long story short, my X-rays and MRI results diagnosed “severe” impingement of nerves going to my lower body and a few other agony-inducing conditions.
Silly me (fantasy-boy, remember?) I declined surgery and determined to fix myself on my own. I fully believed that if I just dedicated myself to my recovery, that I could get myself back to the way I was before my injury. (At 69, I was in astounding shape, absolutely killing five hours a week of high-intensity aerobics, step, Zumba, spin classes).
I thought I could get myself back the way I was before I injured myself. I thought it might take a month or two, at least that’s what I thought back early in 2021. Then, after a few months of grueling physical therapy with negligible improvement, I extended my expectation/deadline out to one year and then two years.
For two years, I pushed myself to do rehab activities every day. I did make impressive progress, all my doctors and therapists agreed. I went from barely being able to stand and walk to being able to do an hour of moderate exercise, but every day still in significant pain.
I put every other aspect of my life on hold, thinking that once I had complete recovery, I would then be able to rapidly accomplish my projects and pursue my dreams.
Dreams Deferred, Indefinitely
Yeah, I had big plans. Following years of seventy-hour work weeks, then more years of 24/7 caregiving, I had become extremely socially isolated. I envisioned that after mom passed and after a few short weeks (or even months) of rehab I would reappear in my social circles of family and friends as my old exuberantly upbeat self.
Nick and I inherited mom’s condo along with her modest savings and I had a place to live rent-free. We put in new floors. I imagined a mini dance studio downstairs, perfect for exercise, lively parties or deep conversations. I imagined a video recording studio upstairs where I could shoot and edit all sorts of videos. I imagined I would unpack the hundred-plus boxes of my stuff and mom’s stuff in short order, put pictures on the wall and make the place my own.
I imagined I would go out dancing two or three nights every week. I would go to the many festivals and other events that I had denied to myself for a decade. I would visit so many cherished family and friends that I had neglected during my years of overwhelm and exhaustion.
To illustrate how I would be “bouncing back,” I considered competition-level pneumatic pogo sticks, the kind that can bounce an adult ten feet in the air. I imagined myself pogoing all around town giddy with glee at all the attention: “Yeah, that’s Ned, he was down for years, but now he’s bouncing back.”
Reality urged me to reassess. I let go of the pogo idea after a month of daily difficulty with walking. I let go of the house-clearing/homemaking plan a few months later. I always wanted to believe that I would one day be able to go out dancing again. Hard to let that one go.
Social reintegration would have been wonderful, but there was this damn pandemic with every sort of social gathering disrupted. Beyond that, almost every social interaction, even the shortest conversation with a friend on the street would be interrupted by debilitating pain that caused me to excuse myself.
Depression and Lessons
So the world is going crazy and everyone is anxious. I’m in chronic pain that doctors predict will persist for a lifetime. Social situations are difficult. Simple activities are difficult. I have hardly had composure to grieve for my mother. Who wouldn’t get fucking depressed?
(Side note: For me, depression is an art form practiced for a lifetime. How did I deal with it over the decades? Vigorous physical exercise. I loved to run, jump, dance and play. I’ve told all my attending doctors, “My body is not suffering from a deficiency of anti-depressants, my body is suffering from a deficiency of physical exercise.”)
So I’ve had to let go of some goals and adjust some expectations: I may always have some level of depression, I may always have some level of daily, debilitating pain. That’s been difficult for me to accept, but the more I do accept, the more at peace I am. No matter my current constraints, I can still resolve to “live my best life” within them.
(Another side note: I recognize that so many others experience(d) significant physical ailments and emotional trauma in their lives. My empathy only increases, my admiration only increases for those who endure and overcome such difficulties graciously. I think to myself, “Whoa, how can so-and-so get through the day with such a great attitude?” I know now how tough that is. For my whole life, I’ve been in perfect health and managing pretty good mentally. How fortunate I was. I am immensely appreciative and grateful.)