Let's get right into this, shall we?!
I've been wanting to start a blog for a while, but truth be told I had no idea what my first post would be about until last week. I thought I'd do something about myself but then realized that's what the “About Me” page is for. Then last week, after a lively and informative mental health training, I knew what I had to talk to about first.
One of the activities at the training consisted of giving about 15 of my coworkers each a sheet of paper with a different condition/ disease written on it. The task was to put themselves in order of increasing impact on mental health, assuming that everyone had full access to medical care and treatments. Specifically though, impact on mental health was defined as the conditions ability to “Live, love, laugh and learn”. Ironically, one of my close friends, who was sitting next to me at this training, got a sheet of paper with “Paraplegia” written on it. With diseases ranging from “Gingivitis” to “Severe Dementia”, we both laughed and planned to have her stand right after “Gingivitis”. With a little more serious thought though, we reasoned that it would make more sense to have her stand a little higher up in the spectrum, so as to represent the general experience of people with paraplegia.
However, as deliberations of how these conditions impacted mental health got more intense amongst my coworkers, “Paraplegia” kept getting pushed higher, and higher up on the spectrum. By the time everyone was satisfied with their place in the order, “Paraplegia” was among the top third of conditions having the greatest impact on mental health, between “Severe PTSD” and “Severe Bronchitis & Emphysema”. At this point, my friend and I were looking at each other and laughing, but this time with with slight skepticism.
As the trainer gave us the correct order by going over each condition one at a time, I thought to myself “Now she’ll say paraplegia actually belongs here. Ok, maybe now. Or now…” At one point I just stopped guessing where she would say "paraplegia” and started wondering who came up with this list. When we discovered that my friend was actually standing in the right place, we both looked at each other and started laughing again (as you can tell, we laugh a lot), but this time in disbelief. The trainer asked the room if they could explain what paraplegia was, and because the room became quiet I decided I’d share my wisdom and said “Being paralyzed from the waist down”. It was at that moment that the trainer became hesitant and said “Yes that’s right. Ummm, I’m really sorry but this is the first time I’ve done a training where there’s been someone with paraplegia,” I smiled and reassured her that it was totally fine and another one of my friends followed up with “It just shows you that we need more diversity in the field,” which the trainer agreed with. But while we moved forward with what was planned for the rest of the day, my mind stayed in that moment.
So let’s break this down.
Why was I in disbelief? When the trainer specifically stated that the impact of mental should be measured on the basis of how one’s ability to live, love, laugh and learn is affected, I personally felt like my ability to do the four has not been greatly impacted. Yes, I may have to do things differently, find ways to adapt or even be proactive about any problems I may anticipate to encounter, but I cannot say that my ability to do these has been impacted to the point where I am unable to do them even in the slightest bit. Now, I don’t mean to box everyone with paraplegia together and I completely understand that each person is different. I also understand that having been paraplegic from a very young age has made my ability to adapt to a different lifestyle more effortless, but if someone has access to medical care and treatments (as stated in the activity), I would like to believe that people who become paraplegic later in life are also able to achieve the same level of adaptability as someone like me.
Understanding where the statistics that were shared with us during the training would be a good start to brainstorm about what is going here. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to ask because it was such a packed day, but knowing for example what methods were used to come up this data can be helpful. Were people who just became paraplegic interviewed about how they think their ability to live, love, laugh and learn has been impacted? In which case they may be more inclined to respond with saying their ability has been impacted negatively. Or were these people who had been diagnosed for quite some time and had become used to an adaptive lifestyle? If the answer is the former, what measures can be taken to assure they have more effortless experience in having an adaptive lifestyle? But, if the answer is the latter, what is so different about my life that I am having such a different experience, and how can we bring these factors into other people’s lives so that they can regain their confidence in being able to live, love, laugh and learn?
Finally, I can’t really place a finger on why the entire room was quiet when the trainer asked if anyone could explain what paraplegia was. It could’ve been because I was in the room and although everyone there was my friend, they may have thought that I would’ve felt uncomfortable. Maybe they honestly were not sure what actually defined paraplegia and did not want to say anything incorrect. Or it could have been that because we were having fun and joking around with each other, they didn’t hear the question and were too shy to ask to repeat the question because then it would show they weren’t listening. Whatever the case may have been, I want to emphasize that on this blog, and at least in every encounter with me, DO NOT BE SHY! Please be comfortable with asking questions, sharing your thoughts, and even calling me out where I am wrong. We’re all here to learn, and we will not be able to be to if we bottle ourselves up. So please feel free to comment or ask questions below! Who knows, maybe it'll be the inspiration of a blog post!
If you’ve made it this far, first of all thank you, and as a treat you will find out why I posted a picture of a ginormous pizza, my friend’s hand and the mental health first aid manual. Very simply, it shows my ability to live, love, laugh and learn. I live my life dedicated to medicine and doing research related to Alzheimer’s disease, I love food (not going to lie, I sometimes love food more than people), I laugh with my friends like there’s no tomorrow, and every single day I learn more about myself and the world around me :)
Originally published on November 3, 2018 at https://themusicalchairsch.wixsite.com/website/post/live-love-laugh-and-learn