Inhabiting Our Reality

Posted by Howard Menaker in Life After Paralysis on September 07, 2022 # Lifestyle

journalI consider myself a spiritual person, even religious by some people’s definition. I was raised in a Jewish family and still attend synagogue periodically. I have engaged in spiritual study for the past 10 years. This is the time of year I feel my religious and spiritual training most acutely. Late September brings the Jewish High Holy Days, the most sacred time of the year.

But first, we take the month leading up to the High Holy Days as a time for introspection, for digging deeply. This is the time to make an “accounting of the soul.” We ask ourselves: what have I done in the past year that I feel good about, and what have I done that I wish I had done differently? What do I hope to change about my attitude and behavior in the coming year?

Recently, I was reading an excellent book about the process of introspection. The writer said that this is the time to “inhabit the present-tense reality of who we are.”

That phrase hit me like a ton of bricks. How, exactly, do we “inhabit the reality of who we are”?

For those of us with spinal cord injuries, the first reality is always this: our bodies are injured. And then, inevitably, one of the next thoughts is that we wish we did not have our injuries.

But we cannot just wish them away.

We must face our medical and physical limitations. We must inhabit our reality and come to terms with who we are. Denial and putting our heads in the sand only prevents us from being whole and prevents us from doing what is necessary for our health and well-being.

If we don’t face the practical and physical reality of our bodies, we won’t go to physical therapy; won’t see our doctors; won’t ask our caregivers, friends and family for help with the challenges of daily life; and won’t push ourselves to do as much as we can. If we don’t face the psychological and emotional reality of our lives, it is easy to fall into frustration, depression, or anger.

But we have another choice: we can face the “present-tense reality” of who we are, make an accounting of our soul and our bodies, and make choices that improve our emotional and physical lives.

When we resolve to make ourselves as strong as we can be, and if we work on strengthening our bodies at home, in the gym or in physical therapy, we can quickly see and feel improvement. We must admit when we are depressed and seek friends or mental health professionals with whom to discuss those feelings. We should also savor the times we are happy, which will help us adopt a positive outlook. Making a “Gratitude Journal” where we record just 3-5 things each day for which we are grateful improves our outlook on life.

As a part of this accounting, I also suggest we each take stock of our work colleagues, family and friends and ask ourselves: are they helpful? Who are the ones that give us joy, and which ones do not? And then, frankly, don’t spend so much time with those who are negative and toxic. It is proven that being with people who approach life with a positive attitude makes us more positive. And the negative people drag us down.

We all have the power to make choices about how to live our lives and how to succeed and flourish. Take some time to make an account of your own life. Come face to face with what is good and with the things you wish were different. By being honest with ourselves, by “inhabiting the present-tense reality of who we are,” we can live full, honest and rewarding lives regardless of our disability.

Howard Menaker is a retired communications and public affairs executive, with over 30 years of experience in international corporations and trade associations. Previously, he worked as an attorney, specializing in civil litigation. He now devotes much of his time serving on non-profit boards of directors, including a prominent theater company and a historic house museum in the Washington, DC area. He and his husband split their time between Washington and Rehoboth Beach, DE.

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.