I took my final steps on May 11th, when I fell in my bathroom at home and had to be helped up by paramedics. To continue trying to walk was just too risky. Two months have passed since that day, and I have had a lot of time to think about what losing the ability to walk means for my life going forward.
I see my legs every day. I can still move my toes, bend my knees, and flex the flabby remnants of my calf muscles. I can still feel the pain of tense muscles, the ache of sore hips. I still get random itches on my feet that never seem to go away. My legs are still very much a part of my life, and I am thankful I still have them.
But in the task they were designed for, to get me from point A to point B, they don’t work. They are accessories, not workhorses.
It is hard to believe that it is now year five of the Ralph and Theresa Anselmo Resilience Award. I would have sworn that I thought of the idea a couple years ago, but looking at my records, it has been going on since 2018. Time flies!
I am happy to announce that the fundraising link is now up and running, after a brief delay. (Mainly because I forgot to set a calendar reminder to reactivate it.) Here is the link.
Together, we have provided thirteen financial awards to students registered with Northeastern University’s Disability Resource Center (DRC), totalling nearly $14,000! I am very humbled and appreciatie of the support.
I know times are tough economically, so any action is appreciated, even just a share on social media.
When I took a break from my blog back in February to focus on my book, I said that I would still write a post from time to time. But I didn’t mean for it to take four months!
Well, I’m back. I hope you are all doing well and find yourselves returning to pre-COVID activities. This world is in desperate need of more in-person connections and conversations. Social media is its own form of isolation and is not an accurate representation of the real world. There’s nothing quite like talking to someone in-person and pretending to listen.
I am just completing a two-week vacation. It was a staycation, but relaxing nonetheless. I live five minutes from the ocean, and there is nothing as relaxing as seeing the waves rolling onto the beach and feeling the warm breeze off the water.
September 30th is International Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy (LGMD) Awareness Day. It is a day to educate and bring attention to a group of similar conditions that affect the shoulders, hips, arms and legs. It is also a day to celebrate LGMD patients, their caregivers and family members.
I have LGMD type 2B, also known as dysferlinopathy and Miyoshi myopathy (actually there’s subtle differences between them, but for all intents and purposes, they lead to roughly the same outcome.) As of this writing, there are more than 30 subtypes of LGMD identified. They actually ran out of letters in the alphabet, so they are beginning to switch over the classifications to D1..2..3.. and R…1..2..3.. (D for dominant and R for recessive).
It is not the easiest disease in the world to live with. That is probably an understatement – it is quite difficult! You only have to look at my other blog posts to see what it’s been like to live with a weakening body. Yet, despite the difficulties, I have had the chance to meet others living with the various LGMDs and it has made all the difference in navigating the ups and downs of this condition. Many members of the community are my role models, and I try to be that to others. They are what make this day so special.
There are many resources to learn more about LGMD. The best aggregate resources are:
With your support, we have been able to raise $9,400 for students registered with Northeastern University’s Disability Resource Center (DRC). This money has supported nine students with everyday living expenses, books, equipment, etc., providing a little peace of mind during a turbulent time.
I have heard from each of the students who have received an award and they are tremendously grateful for the support. This award helps put their mind at ease, and that has never been more important than in the past year. COVID has upended everyone’s lives, especially college students who have had to adjust to stay-at-home orders, quarantines, and remote classes. Northeastern students also have to frequently job hunt for co-op placements on top of everything else. College is a stressful time, even under normal circumstances.
This year, my goal is to fund four $1,000 awards for students registered with the Northeastern DRC. Even though we can see the light at the end of the tunnel now with COVID, we are not out of the woods yet. Students still have to navigate a difficult post-pandemic world in more ways than one.
As a result, this award will be more impactful than ever. Any amount of support you are able to provide is greatly appreciated, even if it’s just sharing the GoFundMe link with your network. I know times are tough. No amount is too small!
I am so thankful for all of your support. Stay safe and I hope to see you soon!
Let that sink in for a moment. Tomorrow is a new year. Although the adversity we are facing won’t disappear overnight, it is still a major accomplishment to get to this point, even if we didn’t get here unscathed.
This was originally going to be a “Top Learnings From 2020” post, as I am someone who loves to make lists, but when it comes to 2020, quite frankly, I don’t know where to start. 2020 was a difficult, awful, strange year. It has been a continous learning experience. To condense it into list form feels impossible.
Where do you even start? Hundreds of thousands of lives lost. National wounds re-opened (not that they ever truly closed). The constant stream of anxiety-inducing news stories. Financial ruin for millions. Plans dashed for everyone. For the rest of our lives, we are going to look back on 2020 as a lost year. And in many ways, it was.
But that’s not to say this year was without meaning or instruction. If there was one silver lining to this 365-day trainwreck of a year, 2020 helped clarify what is truly important. It gave us time to reflect, to take stock of our lives, and see if where we are, both on a personal and societal level, is congruent with where we want to be. Reflection is not a bad thing, even if the truths surfaced are painful.
What We Value Most
For me, 2020 helped clarify not just what I valued, but why. I came into 2020 knowing what I valued – my family, friends, faith, health. And I still do value those things. But I didn’t realize just how important they are to me. They say that you don’t realize what you are made of until you encounter adversity. Well, you also don’t realize what you value until adversity threatens its existence. You don’t realize what is important to you until you face the prospect of losing it all at a moment’s notice. Until you face the prospect of profound loss, you don’t realize just how fragile everything is that you hold dear.
2020 saw one health crisis after another for my family. Given the progression of my disease, I am currently living with my parents. Four times I have watched one of them rushed to the emergency room – my father back in February, and my mother in September, November and December. On December 1st, my mother was wheeled out of our house and taken to the hospital in an ambulance, and given the severity of what had happened and how much pain she was in, I was confronted with the fact that I might never see her again.
None of these crises were COVID-related, but we had to deal with that too, on top of everything else. That night, on December 1st, when my mom was rushed to the hospital, they gave her a COVID test, and she tested positive. She had been hospitalized two weeks prior, and was exposed there (my dad and I hadn’t gone anywhere in the previous two weeks). Despite the best precautions, the virus always seems to find a way.
Thankfully, my mom had mild symptoms, and they were able to address it at the hospital, while treating her for her other health issue. A week later, my dad tested positive and dealth with moderate GI issues, and also lost his sense of smell. Somehow, I tested negative twice, even though I was in close contact with him constantly. But it was a nervewracking time nonetheless, especially as we waited for the results.
At the same time (because not enough was going on!), my cousin and her partner got it (he was in the hospital for five days), my aunt and uncle in Massachusetts got it (my aunt was briefly hospitalized), and several others I knew either had it or were exposed to someone who did. None of these groups of people interacted with one another, so the transmissions all happened independently.
During this time, I barely slept. I barely ate. I couldn’t focus, and had to take time off from work. It was the most stressful two weeks of my life.
(By the way, a quick thank you to all my friends and colleagues who reached out during this time. Your support meant the world to us. We read each and every one of your messages.)
When a loved one is in the hospital for any reason, especially for a serious health issue, what matters most in life comes to the forefront. I realized just how much my parents meant to me, and that, at the end of the day, you could have all the money in the world, or perfect mobility, or achieve fame and success, but if the ones you love aren’t around to share your life with, nothing else matters.
I am thankful to say, that after two weeks in the hospital, mom came home on December 14th. The staff at Yale-New Haven Hospital were amazing and treated her, and us, with utmost respect and professionalism, even under such stressful circumstances.
As I write this, my parents are both home (and currently disagreeing over what to have for dinner, which means they are almost back to 100%). My aunt and uncle, although still battling the virus are feeling a little bit better, and my cousin and her partner are both feeling better and back to work.
Despite those stressful two weeks, I feel like the luckiest person in the world. Trust me when I say that I don’t take any of this for granted anymore. I know that the circumstances could have turned out differently. Hundreds of thousands of families have lost loved ones to this virus, and are still in mourning. My heart goes out to all of them. Many times during my parents’ hospitalizations, my mind wandered to the worst-case scenario many, many times, despite my best efforts to shut those thoughts out of my head.
So, yeah. 2020 has been a rough one. But it has shown me, and I’m sure you as well, what makes life worth living, even in the midst of great hardship.
Turning the Page
It will be weird, and also a little liberating, to talk about 2020 in the past tense. The psychological boost of turning the page is a welcome relief, even if the adversity remains. And remian it will.
If you find that the first few days of 2021 don’t feel any better than 2020, don’t lose hope. When suffering has been this pervasive, for this long, it will be hard to feel a renewed sense of optimism from something as simple as a calendar change. But that doesn’t mean 2021 won’t be better.
It is going to take time to get over 2020. We may never fully get over it. It has been a difficult year for us all, and there is no right way to cope with the stress, fear, and the sadness. There is no correct timeframe for struggling with the magnitude of what we’re going through. You might have seen on social media how Shakespeare wrote King Lear during quarantine from the bubonic plague that was raging at the time. Although an interesting tidbit, that doesn’t mean that if we failed to be productive in 2020, if we didn’t write a novel or get in better shape or whatever, that we failed at coping with the crisis.
I consider myself a productivity nut, someone always trying to accomplish new goals, and I derailed in spectacular fashion this year. I’m not sure I hit any of the goals I set for myself back in January. For example, I wanted to lose weight this year, and although I dropped 10+ pounds on WeightWatchers between January and March, as soon as the pandemic hit, I began stress eating with the best of them. (Only to lose the weight again when everything hit the fan in December, although the “too stressed to eat” diet is NOT one I endorse.)
So don’t worry if you didn’t find yourself constantly accomplishing tasks or feeling fulfilled. The ultimate accomplishment was surviving the year, waking up each day glad to be alive. If you are still struggling with it all (and I’m right there with you), that’s ok. Know that pretty much everyone else is as well, whether or not they admit it.
Which brings me to my last point – as we head into 2021, don’t just give yourself a break, but extend that courtesy to others. We all just went through hell, and many are still going through it. We have gotten so accustomed to tearing each other apart due to our differences, real and perceived. We are all suffering. We would do well to give each other a break, give others the benefit of the doubt, and fight against the headwinds of demonization. Try to find some sort of common ground with others first, before dismissing them. This is a world devoid of grace and mercy, and that has exacerbated our suffering in 2020.
The world we want, a pandemic-free world, a more just world, is attainable. We make up that world, and it is on us to exhibit to others the respect we want others to show back to us. (You didn’t expect to make it through this without a Golden Rule reference, did you?)
I hope to see you all again in person next year. I miss you terribly. Wishing you all health, peace, and a restored sense of humor.
It is hard to believe that tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Where did the year go?
Oh yeah, it’s 2020.
I still remember the night in mid-March when the country finally came to grips with the magnitude of the crisis and began to shut down. News broke that Tom Hanks had tested positive for COVID, then maybe 30 minutes or so later, an NBA game was postponed right before tipoff because a Utah Jazz player had tested positive. The NBA swiftly (and correctly) suspended the season right then and there, which had never happened before in the history of the league. Normal life came to a grinding halt. In the coming days, employees would be ordered to work from home. Schools closed. Millions lost their jobs. And the first wave was upon us in full, terrifying force.
When I lived in Boston, it became a running joke that I was an accidental trend-setter. Every neighborhood I either lived or worked in became popular as soon as I left.
In 2008, I lived in an absolute dump of an apartment on Boylston Street, right behind Fenway Park. (It sounds cool on paper but trust me, it was a dump.) A year later, I moved out, and almost overnight, luxury apartments and restaurants popped up out of thin air.
In 2010, I was working for Thomson Reuters in Boston’s Seaport neighborhood. At the time, the building complex I worked in, a cluster of 100+ year-old brick buildings, was surrounded by lifeless parking lots. There were only two or three bars nearby. I left to go to another job, and once again, a new neighborhod pops up out of thin air, and is now one of the busiest places in the city.
Same thing with Oak Square, Brighton and Central Square, Cambridge.
I hope you are all staying safe and healthy during this unsettling time.
I find myself in a perpetual state of stress and anxiety. I have let go of the outcome and am trying to focus on what I can control, but it is easier said than done!
One of the ways I deal with anxiety is to write. It is my outlet. Lately, I have been thinking about all the healthcare providers I’ve interacted with over the years. Many of them are likely on the front lines right now, exhausted, but purpose-driven.
I see people applauding healthcare workers on TV every night. I live in a pretty remote area, so I’d be clapping to squirrels and birds (and possibly a roaming bobcat). To show my appreciation to healthcare workers, I decided to write a letter instead.
For as long as I can remember, I have weighed somewhere between 155 and 160 pounds. I rarely checked my weight growing up, as it wasn’t a major concern. If anything, I was frail as a kid. The only reason I knew my weight was beacuse it was part of my annual physical exam.
In the last three years, however, I have slowed down considerably. I sit in my wheelchair all day and barely walk anymore. As a result, to put it nicely, there is more of me now than there was three years ago.
My body image doens’t really bother me. I am more preoccupied with my mobility than how I look. However, as one chin became two, it is undeniable that I’ve put on considerable weight. It is concerning. In the last three-plus years, I have put on 25 pounds. That is not ideal.