Monday, May 16, 2016

Stupid choices result in great lessons learned

Frankly, we sometimes make stupid choices in life.  The following story illustrates this:

Last fall, we went on our biannual camping trip.  On this trip we went hiking with a group of friends. During most of our camping trips we always do a hike of sorts and Ayal often stays at the campsite because we know it will most likely be challenging for him.

It was a group decision to attempt a very challenging and strenuous hike; one of the top 12 picks of Israel's greatest hikes.  The Nahal Yehudiya (beautifully nestled in the Golan Heights).  I vaguely remember the intensity of the hike from a summer trip when I was 16.  For some reason, Ayal decided to join for the first section.  The trail was rocky, but overall a relatively flat terrain.  I agreed to this decision.

The first 30 minutes were uneventful.  He managed to walk on his own, however, he needed my assistance from time to time to maneuver around the baseball-to-volleyball-sized rocks.  At this point, our children and most of the people in our group were further ahead and not in our sight.  We pushed on until we arrived a crossroads; to the right, a path down to a large pool and water fall, straight ahead, the trail continued down to a river.  The continuation of the trail was longer, however, we knew the river would have been more exciting.  It meant floating in water - What could be more fun and adventurous than that?

Two men passed us and I asked approximately how long it would take to hike down to the river. There answer seemed very straight forward, 10-15 minutes maximum.  I calculated that would take us about 40 minutes if I helped Ayal down slowly.  Then, we could float down the river.  It was a bit risky, however, we had never attempted a hike with this level of difficulty since before his stroke. We decided to continue.

This is the part where you realize you should have listened to your mother hovering over you and waving her finger while yelling, "don't do this, don't do this... you'll regret it later on"!

The river.  Impossible.  The water was low and was filled with bulging algae-covered rocks.  It was a challenging enough attempt for a fit, non-disabled individual, let alone someone with the use of one hand and one stable leg.  He was able to walk on both legs but this required an immense amount of concentration when not using his electronic Bioness leg brace.  The trek along the river was arduous, stressful, nerve-racking, and exhausting.  Each rock was meticulously climbed or slid over.  Put your left foot here.  Hold on to this vine with your left hand.  Swing your right leg over the right side of this rock. Slowly release the vine from your grasp as you slide down the next rock.  Balance your weight with your left hand on my right shoulder.  This game of multi-step directions continued for two hours.

In addition spewing out directions, which may or may not be successfully executed, it is of utmost importance that you, as the leader of the expedition, try it first.   However, if you die, at least your partner will see what didn't work.  The remainder of the hike continued in this fashion.  We were focused.  If any hand or leg wasn't properly placed and planted we would have fallen.  The only words that were spoken were my instructions and his comments, "Wait. No. Yes. Ready."  There were moments when I contemplated who would adopt our children and I envisioned what the rest of their lives would look like without us.  I prayed..... a lot.  We did not hike the full 8 km and we did not make it down to the waterfalls.

When I reflect on our experience that day I know it was a stupid decision.  We could have died (this is not an exaggeration).  If we could do it all over again, I would not.  Sometimes, we need to make stupid decisions in life in order to become more responsible individuals.  We can learn from our mistakes and we can share our experiences and educate others in this process to help them make educated decisions.  I know what my limits are and I certainly know what Ayal is physical capable of.

However, I bet this is the first time in history, the Nahal Yehudiya trail has had a stroke and CVA survivor trek its path.  It is true.....anything is possible.

We finished in 5 hours.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The partnership of frustration and patience

Most of us experience frustration on a daily basis.  Then this emotional upset passes and a new emotional state enters our minds.  The question is;  How much frustration can one endure on any given day?

From the time we wake up in the morning till we return to our beds at night we experience an array of emotions that determine how we felt about our day.  According to the Cambridge Dictionary, Frustration is defined as feeling annoyed or less confident because you cannot achieve what you want.  However, this definition does not describe what are our reactions to feeling annoyed or not being able to achieve what we want.

If we experience the inability to truly express ourselves we may feel angry our sad, however, these emotions stem from feeling frustrated.  You want to describe your trip over vacation and you are unable to say the name of the place where you traveled.  The person you are so desperately trying to converse with is desperately trying to be patient as they may be late for something, and all you want is to share information about your trip!  You may begin to sweat, your heart races, your muscles tense.  Your entire body including your internal organs freeze.

Then the 20 question game begins:
1. Where did you go on your trip? "up, up"
2. Maybe up North? "Yes, Yes, North, Uh... Europe"
3. Northern part of Europe? "No, no, South".
4. France, no, Spain, no, Italy? "Yes, Yes!  But no, down, down Italy".
5. Southern Italy? Maybe Rome, no, Naples, no? "Boats, water, bridge".
6.  You went to Venice?  "Yes, Yes!"

Frustration. Not being able to express what you want to achieve;  not efficiently and not effectively.
It would have been a lot easier if one could have answered, "I had a great time in Venice".

It is also frustrating for the individual's family, friend, or loved one.  They want to help and they want to make it easier and less painful for them.  The fact is, it is uncomfortable for the listener or the individual involved in the conversation.  People are always pressed for time.  We are a newly improved generation, a highly evolved species producing offspring which requires various forms of medication for anxiety or ADHD to function properly.  We are the human race that embodies frustration.

This is ultimately due to the fact that we have little or no patience.  We are frustrated because we can't sit still.  We have somewhere better to be or something more pressing and urgent to deal with.  We have time constraints and deadlines.  When we have to wait for someone to finish what they want to say we clench our fists, look at the clock, or look away.  We think that by filling in the blanks to their sentences, or initiate the '20 question game' sooner, we are doing them a favor.  It will speed up the process, it will make them less frustrated and it will make us feel better, no?

Individuals who have speech limitations want and need time to communicate.  They need time to formulate their sentences or make the physiological connection between one simple word they want to say by attaching it to their mouth to produce it.  They want us to be patient.   Love is not the only thing that makes the world go around, patience is. Patience is one of the keys to unlock frustration.  For some people patience is innate, and for others it is acquired over time.  Whether it comes naturally to us, or we have to work hard at it, our patience is tested on a daily basis.  Ultimately, with or without pills, we have the power to decide how we want to cope with our frustrations.  In truth, patience is truly a virtue.

Monday, May 2, 2016

How resilient are our children?

In the face of trauma we eventually learn to adapt to our situation.  The fact is we never come out of it the same as we were before.  If we were weak are we now stronger?  If we were happy are we now bitter and sad?  What about our children? How resilient are our children after experiencing trauma?

Most children hate to be different and stand out from their peers.  Growing up in a household with someone who suffered any form of trauma, and are subsequently left disabled, will ultimately change the family dynamic.  The interaction between the children and their parents change as do the relationships with their siblings.  Often times, the roles of the family members change and children may become the individuals the parents depend on.  As parents, we try to shelter and protect our children from the terrors of the outside world.  Is it not preferred that we try to coddle and nurture them in the safe environment of their home?  Will this approach ultimately help them acclimate to the world around them?

I used to think my children wouldn't be affected by their father's aphasia.  I never imagined what life would be like for them as they began to grow and mature.  This hit me a few months ago...

I picked up my son from school with a friend and we drove to meet Ayal at his work to drop off something.  Our conversation was brief (about 3-4 minutes) and then we drove home.  On the way, my son's friend innocently asked, "Why does your Dad not speak English good?".  (Bear in mind that we live in Israel and our children's command of the English language suffers as a consequence).  My son replied, "Oh, he just jokes like that sometimes".  That was a slap in the face.  Why didn't I see that one coming?  My son was officially embarrassed by his father's speech.  His father was different.  He was different.  Kids hate to be different.

From time to time, we try to assess our children's knowledge of the unexpected and uncensored issues that present themselves at our doorstep.  This occasional 'checking-in' ritual isn't enough to fully grasp their understanding of the unpleasantries of life. How many times do we have to ask the tough questions, "Do you know why your father had a stroke?", "Do you understand that this is frustrating for him?",  "How much does it bother you that your father is different?", "Do you think this will happen to you?", "Do you ever imagine what it would be like if you couldn't talk?".

The truth is we can't fully protect them from the harsh realities in life.  They'll get another form of education from their friends, or better yet, the media.  It may occasionally be challenging for our children now but I can only hope that they will have a greater appreciation and sensitivity towards people with disabilities as they grow up.

Our children are resilient and they may get hurt, ridiculed, and embarrassed throughout their lives.  Though we can't shield them from unexpected trauma, the least we can do is love and support them as best we can.