Personal Stories

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on May 28, 2015 # Health

I have only been in this paralysis business for just short of twenty years, but I -- and people much smarter -- have come to believe that the most effective way to help others in the same predicament is through personal stories. I'm sure there are many other valid approaches -- prayer, meditation, medication, therapy -- but what I walk away with and remember the longest in any such encounter is a personal tale, told in the first person. That's actually the way I stumbled through the confusion and despair of the first few years. I sat down and wrote the story.

In a way this isn't surprising. Ten percent of all non-fiction books sold in America last year were of the memoir/autobiography variety, and a much larger percentage of bestsellers. It's been this way since the 1960's. Some pinpoint the beginning of this commercial surge of memoirs to black-authored books of the civil rights era, titles such as "Manchild in the Promise Land" to "Roots." Then it spread. As one expert explains, "There's a line of direct descent from, say, ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X' to ‘Girl, Interrupted' and the hundreds of memoirs about child abuse, incest, mental illness, addiction, cancer and other traumas that began to appear in the 1980s." But these books are not limited to trauma. There are a zillion celebrity memoirs like "Bossy Pants" by Tina Fey, and a guy in Norway named Karl Ove Krausgaard has written a six-volume, 3600-page, best-selling autobiography. It's called "My Struggle." It's not about cancer or paralysis. It must be about blistered typing fingers.

I recently met a remarkable fellow who has used his personal story of paralysis to create a whole new way of looking at the world. Sam Morris had just finished biking across American when he got into the wrong car one night and ended up a T-12 paralytic. A lifelong athlete, he was naturally devastated. He had lost his physical prowess, his sexual function, in fact, his whole definition of being male. Lying around in a hospital bed after protracted wound surgery, he realized that he had also gained something from the whole ordeal -- resiliency. If you are resilient, you don't run away from problems -- you run toward them. Like an athlete in training, you embrace challenges and you can't embrace a challenge until you take control. It takes both a change in attitude and the mental disciple to see and observe how to correct your own incorrect, or self-defeating, thinking.

Sam became his own guinea pig in figuring out this fundamental challenge and in effect writing his own story going forward. Out of this came a program he calls "Zen Warrior Training." Zen means living in the present. Warrior means attacking life with discipline and will. All of this, in practice, is based on Sam's story. If he was just a guy who had majored in psychology in college and dreamed of being the next Tony Robbins, it wouldn't mean anything. It's a form of insight and motivation that has been thoroughly road-tested -- by him.

Separately, a brilliant psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins Medical Center named Adam Kaplin has been working on a broad approach to helping unhealthy or damaged people become healthy. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, it's called "Purpose In Life" or PIL. A purpose that gives meaning and direction to your life can alter brain chemistry to reduce the incidence of Alzheimer's, slow down cognitive decline in aging, and double your chances of not getting a heart attack or stroke. There are plenty of peer-reviewed scientific studies in medical journals, written in often inscrutable medical-ese, that support these claims.

The looming question is: how do you inspire the will to pursue a purpose in people who are newly paralyzed or otherwise disabled? You can't do it with medical studies. There are no pills or instruction manuals, and pontificating is how college professors put students to sleep. Dr. Kaplin is now convinced the most powerful agent of change is….you guessed it…personal stories. He is currently trying to figure out what types of stories have the greatest effect and how to find and channel those stories to patients. Like Sam Morris above, the story has to take an external event like paralysis and turn it into an internal engine of transformation. The story has to be engaging and entertaining. In the insanely fragmented media world of 2015, everything that gets through has to be engaging and entertaining.

This is a tall order, but if the results are as profound as Dr. Kaplin predicts, then so what? Challenges are good. Challenges demand discipline and the will to prevail. Challenges lead to purpose. It's all a matter of defining your own life. Yogi Berra, as usual, says it best: "If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else."

To learn more about Sam Morris's program, go to www.zenwarriortraining.com.

© 2015 Allen Rucker | Like Allen on Facebook



Purchase Allen's book:
The Best Seat in the House:
How I Woke Up One Tuesday and Was Paralyzed for Life