​Picking Myself Up

Posted by Howard Menaker in Life After Paralysis on February 28, 2022 # Lifestyle

Howard MenakerEveryone has bad days when we feel old, sore, stiff, or tired (or all four!). Some days we feel sad, depressed or just out of sorts. For those of us with spinal cord injuries, it can feel like those days hit with more impact than for other people.

Most days, I feel positive. I am able to walk some, and physical therapy is giving me more mobility with each round. I am in a wonderful marriage, I have good friends and a supportive family, and I enjoy music, reading, and theater (when COVID allows). My husband is a great cook, so our meals at home are great and we go out from time to time to enjoy local restaurants.

Most days I feel healthy. Yes, my bowel and bladder function still require a lot of work, and my mobility is still limited, but on the whole, I feel lucky to be as healthy as I am.

And then, WHAM! Something happens that knocks me down. Literally. And it is awful.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I had been out to dinner. I had a drink before the meal, and a glass of wine with dinner. It was a lovely evening. We returned home and as I was stepping up over the threshold of our front door, I fell. My legs were not strong enough to lift me from the ground. I was a rag doll, unable to get up. As I lay on the hardwood living room floor, I was angry, sad, embarrassed, and scared.

I was not injured (physically), but I was in bad emotional shape. I generally feel like my physical limitations do not define me. My spinal cord injury is a part of who I am, but there is so much more to me. But at that moment, on the floor, I was a paraplegic. I was disabled. I was weak. All those days of feeling positive and strong flew out the door like the cold night air that was coming in at that moment. I know that having a disability is nothing to be ashamed of. But at that moment, all I could feel was shame, anger and despair.

After some time, with help from my husband, I calmed myself down and was able to lift myself up to a kneeling position on the couch, then up to sitting, then standing, then walking again. I heard in my mind the old saying: “It’s not how many times you fall down, it’s how many times you pick yourself up.” At that moment, that was not a figure of speech. It was my reality.

Later I went to bed, and the next morning was both literally and figuratively brighter. But I had learned (or re-learned) a lesson. We all have our good and bad days. We can feel sad, or depressed, even angry at our disability, but if we keep our successes and our victories in mind, we can get up again and face the next challenge. Perhaps our bodies won’t always do what we would want them to, but if we maintain the right frame of mind, we can have many good days ahead of us.

I am not preaching some happy, mindless optimism. I am saying that my experiences have taught me that, in many ways, I can be a whole person. I can be a part of a loving family, have great friends, and enjoy the arts and good food. I can feel a spiritual center and strive to be a good person in this world. I can do a lot.

Will I fall again? Probably. But I know I can get up and keep moving to the next good day. And the next. And the next. That is my future, and I will not allow my disability to rob me of it.

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.