Choose to live | Guest Blogger Dr. Dan Gottlieb

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on March 08, 2017 # Health

A 33-year-old man kissed his wife and two young daughters goodbye one frosty morning in December. He walked across the newly frozen lawn allegedly to go to work. Instead he played hooky that day and drove up the Pennsylvania Turnpike to meet his uncle-a car dealer-to surprise his wife on their 10th anniversary with a car she had dreamed of owning. But instead of coming home with a wonderful anniversary present, he never came home.

I was taken from a car wreck to a hospital and informed that those steps across my frozen lawn would be the last steps I would ever take. That was in December 1979-37 years ago. That was when my family was changed forever. That was the beginning of the end of my marriage. That was the onset of significant trauma my daughters have lived with since then. That was the day everything changed.

We all have similar story where one day we are walking down the street and the next day there is no sidewalk. And after the shock, we feel the inevitable terror, rage at the injustice of it all, depression, shame, withdrawal, a sense of profound aloneness and so much more.

In addition to being a c-5/6 quadriplegic for 37 years, I have been a psychologist for 47 years. And as you can imagine, over the years I’ve seen many people living with all sorts of disabilities and other tragedies. Inevitably comes the question “I don’t know how I can live with this”. Whenever I hear that question, I secretly think: “pay attention and you will find out how you will live with this”. You see, all things that live want to live. Everything from people to bugs to trees to mold. So that’s what we do-regardless.

Years ago I was sitting on my back patio reading a book when I looked over and saw what looked like a dead leaf between my window and the stucco beneath. I went over to discover that it was not a dead leaf, but living piece of ivy. I looked on the other side of the window and saw my ivy plant which was about a foot away from the window. That plant navigated its way to the window and through wallpaper and the drywall and the insulation to find a tiny opening in the stucco. All just so it could find its way to the sun. That’s why bugs dart away from us. That’s why trees develop “scar tissue” around a limb that might have been sawed off. That’s why we rage at what we’ve lost. It feels like the disability has compromised our ability to live our lives as fully as we like. That’s why people rail at their bodies as they age. That’s why we don’t want to die.

And that’s why I didn’t commit suicide in the beginning. I told my family I would live with this for three years and if I couldn’t bear it anymore I would just call it quits. So at the end of three years I sat quietly by myself and thought about my life as it was and as I knew deep down inside it would be. Until that moment, I secretly hoped that I might walk again or at least be more medically stable. But as I sat at that moment, I knew that I had to decide whether or not to live the life I had and to give up hope that I would ever have anything like the life I once had.

Obviously I decided to live the life I had with the body I had and the depressed mind I had. And why? I told myself I did it because of my children which was only partially true. And then I told myself I did it because of my parents. And then I told myself I did not commit suicide because I was a coward.

But the real reason I chose to live was simply because I wanted to live. Just like the ivy or the bug. (I cannot include mold in this metaphor, because I fear my loved ones might use that against me!)

As Zorba the Greek said: “Life, the Full Catastrophe." Enjoy.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.