This is Me

Posted by Howard Menaker in Life After Paralysis on October 11, 2021 # Lifestyle

Howard completing exercises during therapy“I am brave, I am bruised

I am who I'm meant to be, this is me

Look out 'cause here I come

And I'm marching on to the beat I drum

I'm not scared to be seen

I make no apologies, this is me…”

This Is MeThe Greatest Showman, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

These words have been ringing in my ear for some time. How inspiring! How bold!

But I wondered: are these just words from a song in a movie, or can I actually feel them?

All of us with spinal cord injuries, paralyzed, in wheelchairs, on crutches or other assistive devices, have been afraid and self-conscious, maybe even ashamed of who we are. As I strive to recover from my physical injury, I also strive to recover from the emotional and psychological injury I have suffered.

How do we get over it, and face the world bravely, with strength and self-confidence? Over the Howard and Patrick smiling next to each otherpast few years, I have been reading and listening to podcasts by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, who calls himself a “holy rascal” and a “spiritual revolutionary.” He teaches that we have to accept the world as it is and live our lives with laughter and love instead of fear and toxicity.

Recently, I came across this lesson: “Life does what it does because the conditions are such that it can do nothing else… Do not imagine that what befalls you, for good or for ill, is a matter of reward or punishment. You do not get what you deserve. You simply get what you get.”

I have realized that this is the first step in conquering the resentment and fear that comes with an injury like mine. It is what it is. Accept it. I gain nothing from being angry or filling my days with “What if?” and “Why did this happen to me?” In fact, these thoughts prevent me from getting healthier and stronger. They are obstacles in my recovery, and a waste of time.

Once I accepted this concept, I felt myself growing calmer and stronger. As Rabbi Rami puts it, “Our challenge isn’t to make the world fit our ideas of justice and fairness, but to live out our ideals in a world that is indifferent to them.”

The rabbi’s word for this is “Equanimity.” He says, “Equanimity is your capacity to engage with what is without becoming entrapped in a fantasy about what should be.”

“I am bruised.” In my case, literally. Seven years ago, I had surgery to repair spinal stenosis and compressed discs. Unfortunately, an infection entered my body and bruised my spinal cord, paralyzing me from the chest down.

Howard standing during therapy. He is wearing a shirt that says, "Hope in Motion"“I’m not scared to be seen.” It took a long time, but I have come to accept that my wheelchair is part of who I am today. And it is not a sign of weakness. Seven years ago, it was not a part of me. But for now, “This is me.”

And I'm marching on to the beat I drum.” One of the most frustrating things about my initial treatment was that no one would give me a prognosis. “Every case is different,” my doctors and nurses would say. How infuriating! Tell me something to give me hope! But over time, I realized they are correct: Every patient I see in physical therapy has a different injury and is recovering in different ways. And my determination and hard work propel me forward.

I have finally gotten here: “I am who I’m meant to be.”

There will be dark days ahead, certainly. There will be setbacks. There will be days when I don’t feel like I’m making the progress I want to make. I am not naïve, and don’t see the world through artificial rose-colored glasses. But, by accepting that the world is what the world is, I can take each day with equanimity and courage, even with hope. And I too can say proudly: “This Is Me!”

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.