Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Me do it!


When I was a toddler, I had one of those laces with plastic beads that were probably choking hazards, since this was back in the Paleolithic Era. The end had become frayed, probably because I had chewed on it. I couldn't get the bead on and got so frustrated that I was red in the face. My mother attempted to help, but I held the lace tight and said, "Me do it!" Eventually, after much jabbing, I succeeded.

That personality trait has served me well during my recovery. But the opposite tendency often pulls many of us into a negative feedback loop.

Learning why you have a problem, whether it's physical or mental, can be freeing. Certainly, when I was diagnosed with dermatomyositis, that knowledge was crucial. Before the advent of prednisone, DM was often fatal. The treatment I received after the diagnosis arrested my muscle damage and allowed my skin and muscles to begin the healing process.

My ADHD, on the other hand, is a more complicated issue. I've known since childhood that I had a severe case of ADHD. And, I was re-diagnosed in adulthood. Though that knowledge has helped me to work toward mitigating some of the unfortunate tendencies brought about by ADHD, I've too often let it be an excuse that instead held me back from achieving as much as I could. I can't help it because... That knowledge can make you feel like you're fighting against overwhelming odds. This is not just my foible; I've seen this phenomenon in many other people. It's a universal human weakness.

But I think instead of looking at these very real circumstances as excuses, people (myself included) need to start seeing them as the enemy. "How dare you tell me that I can't_____(fill in the blank). I'll show you!"

I never gave walking too much thought until the ability was taken away from me. The stubborn, persistent toddler in me wasn't about to let my body tell me I couldn't do something I've done since I was that age. Me do it!

There are less dramatic ways to defy your body and do what it's telling you is impossible. Yeah, maybe you can't ride on a stationary bike (which is what I use) for an hour. But you can do it for a minute. If you increase that by a minute a week, in sixty weeks you'll be riding for an hour.

I'm starting to sound a bit like a self-help guru. Actually, I think self-help should be just that. And you don't have to pay $500 for a seminar or a video series for that. That's not self-help; it's just surrendering yourself to a huckster who is helping his or her self to your hard-earned money. No, you need to literally help yourself. And all it requires is that you tell your personal challenges, "Me do it!"

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Coma Girl

Coma Girl

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In July of 2013, I fell into a six-week coma and nearly died. When I awoke from the coma, I could barely lift my head. It has been a hard road to recovery. The doctors advised my loved ones to give up all hope for my full recovery, but while they were shining lights in my eyes to gauge my level of consciousness, I was telling them grumpily to leave me alone because I was trying to get back to sleep...in my coma-dream. I was experiencing covert cognition, and the coma-dream was my version of a near-death experience. I'm a skeptic, so I saw surreal images instead of spirits or dead loved ones. According to my research, as many as one in five people with consciousness disorders have covert cognition.

Not a miracle recovery, but a miracle of modern medicine

In 2013 I fell into a six-week coma and nearly died after I contracted legionella. The Legionnaire's disease was in turn triggered by immunosuppression caused by the prednisone I was taking for my rare autoimmune disease, dermatomyositis.

I suffered a series of strokes on both sides of my brain when the sepsis caused my blood pressure to plummet. I fell into a deep coma. My kidneys and lungs began to fail, as my body was began dying one organ at a time. My doctors told my loved ones to give up hope for my full recovery. They expected me to die, and even if I somehow lived, I would remain a vegetable or at best left so hopelessly brain-damaged that I would never be same. But unbeknownst to them, while they were shining lights in my eyes and shaking their heads, I was telling them in my coma-dream--my secular version of a near-death experience--to leave me alone because I was trying to get back to sleep. I was experiencing what is known as covert cognition, the subject of my Skeptical Inquirer article "Covert Cognition: My So-Called Near-Death Experience," which appeared in their July/August issue.

But it wasn't a miracle--despite what so many continue to believe--that I recovered so fully. I owe my life not to God, but the miracles of modern medicine, as well as the nature of the watershed-area brain damage I suffered, as I detailed in my article and in this blog.