Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Small Miracle

For those of you who know me or have followed my blog from the beginning, you know I have experienced difficulty with sleeping, a problem that started soon after my eyesight began to deteriorate. In reality, my battle with sleep deprivation has been far worse than most people are aware of and I would not wish any person to experience what I have endured. From February to the middle of August, I lived on four to six hours of sleep per day. Not great, but better than it used to be. (At one point I averaged 6-8 hours in a 3-4 day period and would sometimes go two or three days with none at all. This lasted about 14 months.) Around the middle of August 2012 my sleep nose-dived to three hours per day. And to make matters worse, it wasn’t even three consecutive hours because I woke up every hour or hour and a half.

I pleaded with God to relieve me of this affliction but the sleep deprivation continued. However, instead of becoming angry at God for not answering my prayers, I asked for the strength to endure and bear my adversity with dignity. (Something I learned from Victor Frankl’s book, Mans Search for Meaning.) I also dealt with sleep loss by going to the gym, sometimes two or three times in one day. But by the middle of September the lack of sleep began to take a toll mentally and physically. Sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture and can induce psychosis. Eventually the mind snaps and/or the body collapses. One night I thought I was on the verge of some sort of a nervous breakdown (I cannot begin to describe how I felt.) and thought I heard voices. (Specifically, the laughter of my youngest son even though I was alone.) On Saturday night through Sunday morning I experienced heart palpatations and realized I needed help and called a good friend. It became clear to me there was a direct correlation between my diminishing eyesight and deteriorating sleep. (Some of you may be saying “Duh!’) I needed medical help for the short term and counseling to deal with the long term problem, becoming blind. Most people think I handle it well, and in some ways I do, but going blind terrifies me.

The next day my doctor gave me prescriptions for two medicines and two herbal remedies. This was nice but I had no money. After my appointment I returned to my apartment and decided to try and take a nap. It was three o’clock. I actually fell asleep and woke up at 7;30 pm. I thought about going to the gym for my cardio workout but decided sleep was more important than the stair-master. Later I woke up at 2:30 am, having slept about 11 hours. But it gets better. For the next eight days, I averaged 8-9 hours of sleep per day, without medication or herbal supplements! Being able to sleep was nothing short of a small miracle for me. I had done everything in my power to make my situation better but it wasn’t enough and my mind and body was on the verge of breaking. I thank God for His help.

P.S. Currently my sleeping is OK but I will get my medication soon and should begin counseling for vision loss in a week or so.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Adventure at Turner Falls

August 11th I attended my first church activity for single adults which took place at a park called Turner Falls. I had an AWESOME time hiking, exploring a small cave and lounging in the warm water of the river. Most of us who decided to hike the trails were from the Dallas/Fort Worth area and so I found myself with strangers who quickly became friends. In addition to having a great time I had several experiences that are unique to someone playing around in the great outdoors while being almost totally blind. I will share one of these.

There is an area of the park where the slow-moving river widens and deepens, creating an ideal location for swimming or floating. One side of this area has two slides built on top of a rocky hill that can only be accessed by those who swim to the ladders built into the rock. A few of us decided to swim across the river to go sliding.

Wearing my swimsuit, bandana, sunglasses, hiking boots and carrying my white cane, I joined my companions but quickly lagged behind and soon had no idea where they were. Keep in mind I am swimming with water-logged hiking boots and limited to using one arm since I needed to grasp my cane. One of the group members who remained behind, saw I was lost and began yelling directions amid the tumult of noise created by scores of people around me. After a few minutes I stopped, listened and headed towards the sound made by swimmers hitting the water as they flew off the slides. Somehow I avoided being smashed by those coming off the slide and made it to the ladder. Even though I am in good physical condition, this one-armed swimming with hiking boos was beginning to wear on me and amid the commotion nobody would have noticed me going under water.

I stood in line and soon it was my turn. I sat down, gripped my cane horizontally between both hands and began my descent. Mid way, I realized the impact would remove my sunglasses and bandana. I accelerated and hit the water faster than I anticipated and momentum pushed me under. I felt my bandana and sunglasses coming off and somehow managed to grab my sunglasses. After surfacing I swam out of the way to avoid collision. (Later I was told I narrowly missed being smashed.) And then it happened. My cane slipped from my grasp. Did you know that fiberglass canes do not float? Special thanks to John who made four dives trying to retrieve my cane. With the use of both hands, swimming became easier but I had no idea where to go.  After a short time one of the group members swam to me and guided me to the shore. But without my cane, I was forced to hold onto the arms of the ladies in my group.

Upon my retrun, I was informed that almost everyone in the area stopped to watch me. At first I wondered why but then realized it is probably unusual to see some crazy blind guy climbing up a ladder, while holding a cane, and then letting gravity hurl him into the river, all the time wearing a bandana, sunglasses and hiking boots. Next time I will bring two canes, just like I did at scout camp!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Power to Inspire

In June I attended scout camp as an "adult" leader for the fourth consecutive year. Scout camp gives one the opportunity to learn from different experiences. One thing I learned is it does not matter what the camp food looks, smells or even tastes like. These considerations are irrelevant because there is nothing else to eat, and since scouts cannot bring firearms to camp, hunting is not an option. So the camper learns to eat whatever "food" is placed before him. Another valuable lesson is to inspect bathrooms and showers before using them. One does not want to discover a tarantula or scorpion in the facility after he has commenced using it. The camper also learns to accept dirt as part of life, just as one would accept the neccessity of breathing. But these are all lessons learned previously and accepted as part of the experience called scout camp. But this time I learned something new, something about myself. I learned I have the ability to inspire.

I occupied most of my free time at the camp’s 45-foot climbing tower. One evening as I scaled the most difficult side, I overheard one of the camp's leaders remark, quite loudly, regarding the blind man climbing the tower. He was apparently talking to another adult leader and was amazed that someone who could not see could climb. Initially his obnoxious manner annoyed me but I didn't let it bother me too much. He was astounded that a blind man could also be in such good physical condition. The next day I heard the same individual, talking loudly again, telling someone about that blind man who could climb the tower so well and was in such good shape. (I suspect the only other blind people he had encountered were those who had become blind from diabetes and probably suffered from poor health.) He went on and on about how amazing it was that a "blind man" could get around and do the things I was doing. Additionally, I heard from the scouts in my troop that many others had noticed me in camp and were impressed that I was even there, much less climbing, swimming and performing the duties of a scout master.

At first, I was annoyed with the man who kept talking about me as if i wasn't even there but after reflection, I imagined myself observing someone with a significant disability and not letting it deter them from participating in camp. I realized out of approximately 1000 scouts, leaders and staff, I was the only one walking around using a cane because I could not see. It's little wonder I was being noticed. The obnoxious sounding man wasn't trying to be derogatory, he was simply impressed that someone who was blind was not only at camp, but doing things that others wouldn't even attempt. My reflections helped me to understand that by overcoming my disability I had the capacity to inspire others.

My point is not self-agrandizement but to illustrate those who have to deal with a significant disability can impact the lives of people in a positive manner by helping them appreciate their own blessings and possibly, inspire them to overcome their own personel challenges. I hope that I will continue to live my life in a manner that inspires, especially my family. I also am inspired by those who overcome adversity even greater than my own. But my situation is not unique because as Victor Frankl said in his book, "Man’s Search for Meaning”, all of us have a unique mission in life that cannot be replaced by someone else. I believe that all of us have the ability to inspire others we come in contact with. Let us all live our lives to inspire!