Click the picture for the story of Calypso, the Three Legged Green Sea Turtle, and why she's my symbol

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

To Be Looked At Differently

This is my way of coming out to those I know. Many of you already knew, heard rumors, heard through facebook, but now here it is from the horse's mouth. I am gay.



Big woop, now on to the important stuff. So even before the accident I felt like an outsider looking in. I tried my entire life not to be noticed, to fit in, to be somewhere in the middle of everyone. So much so that life took me completely by surprise when I suddenly became the focus of everyone's attention. After a lifetime of trying to blend in this was hell.

A friend of mine I met in rehab was in a chair and thankfully went on to get full use of his legs back. He told me that he was looked at differently in each stage of his recovery. Before he was unnoticed. While he was in the chair he was looked at with pity, looked down upon. When he moved on to the leg brace he was looked at with sympathy but with less judgment that he was helpless.

It still drives me nuts sometimes how I'm never out of people's attention, my own mini spotlight. When I'm not in my chair I'm using my leg brace which makes a loudish groaning noise every step. Kids stare especially, since they haven't learned society's way of staring, averting eyes, stare, avert eyes... it's more direct and allows me to address the issue much more easily. Sometimes I just want to want to scream to scream at people "yes I'm in a chair/using a leg brace. Take a picture it'll last longer." But I was raised to be polite so I try and be nice. As I was coming out of the locker room today in my wheelchair going to the pool, a little kid asked me "why are you in a wheelchair?" within 2 seconds of seeing me. This way I can at least get the issue off the table immediately and don't have to worry about the pressure to be awkwardly polite.

I feel I have an obligation, to myself and to those around me. I secretly wished someone out there would out me, force me to be honest with myself and those around me. But I have to take on some courage and do this myself. Since I'm in the spotlight already, I can show people that it's okay to be different, it's okay to walk in the light. I was terrified that I would have to stand up and be honest but now people can know that there is life after an accident, life after the closet. Now the statistic I've heard so often stated is that 1 in 10 men are gay. Now if that is true there are more people in the closet than most people can imagine; they should have someone to look out to and see a world where it is okay to be different.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Passing Moment

I lay in bed in a half dream state, not quite asleep and not quite awake. I don't know where I am, or what's going on. Light filters in past the half opened curtains. I try to ignore it, hold on to that fleeting moment. But as soon as I focus on it it vanishes like a puff of smoke.

This is always the best part of my day. The rest of the day I may be working hard, strengthening, fighting with a body wanting to yield to entropy. But for right now I simply lie still, warm, comfortable, feeling peaceful in a way that never seems to translate to the rest of the day. My cat Hobbes sleeps stretched out near my ribs, belly to the sky. He is lost in comfortable bliss, an occasional leg twitch or snore the only proof that he still lives. All dignity lost, he lays with legs sprawled in every direction. In my mind he seems to have the right idea.

My tradition that has kept me from never getting up is when the thought "I don't want to [fill in the blank]..." I immediately have to do that. In such a morning state it's nearly impossible from thinking "I don't want to move." So of course I now have to move. Good in the objective sense, though it is hard to be objective in the morning. I have never been a morning person and simply thinking of getting up early is painful.

Before I move I take two seconds and soak in the last fleeting sensations before I give in to the rest of the day. This is the best part of the day and it will be gone, not to be repeated until the following morning.

And then the moment is gone and the rest of the day begins.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Handbike and Why It's Important To Me

So soon thanks to the support of my family I will be getting a hand bike, the Freedom Ryder FRH-1.



My legs will be straight out in front of me in slings by the wheels. I will crank it it using the handles provided, which also contain the breaks and gear shifts.

For those of you who don't know I was a huge biker before my accident. This started because of necessity, since I didn't own a car. I had classes to go to, friends to visit, and a job to go to. I also worked at a bird rehab facility that was at the other end of town, which I visited at least twice a week. So I spent countless hours peddling back and forth across Colorado, usually with music blaring in my ears from my mp3 player.

One of the therapeutic tools I've used is an electric stim unit, which provides the electric stimulus that the muscles need to contract. The first time the stim unit was places on my calf and I felt the muscle contract I had a flood of memories come back to me. Suddenly I was back in Fort Collins racing through old town (which has a dismount zone fyi) dodging pedestrians who muttered curses at me. I was back heading toward CSU, trying desperately trying not to be late to class again. I was speeding in the bike lane heading to dinner surrounded by my friends. That first time tears welled up in my eyes.

Well I now have the chance to get a bike that would allow to do that for real again. The handbike would allow me a sense of motion and speed that I haven't had in over a year. It's not only the speed I'm looking forward to but the freedom. It's now possible for me speed along the miles of empty road between here and town. I expect to use this on a daily basis, so much that my parents will say "will you get off that bike and get home already!" I'll get back a piece of who I was. Though I'm not the same person I was before the accident it'll be nice to integrate that piece of who I was back in.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Turtle Is Back

To those who sent me comments about me hang gliding, I'm glad you were so excited about it but you really need to check the date that it was posted (hint hint).

Life is different at the bottom of the pool. I love the freedom I have when I enter the water. A measure of my improvement is how well my muscles work in the water. Right now I can move my leg back forth, up and down, kick it out and pull it back... it's like having two full legs again. It's been a long time since I could say that.

I've always loved the water. It allows movement that is impossible on land, free of annoying gravity. My muscles are now strong enough that I can do a flutter kick and the kick is getting strong every time I do it. I can see those small improvements exaggerated by the water. The water allows me not only to kick but to spin, do somersaults, wave my legs back and forth, you name it.

A strange phenomenon that I've noticed is that my goggles end up acting as lenses. Something about their shape and the distortion allows me to see in perfect clarity even though I have my glasses on. So I leave the blurry world above and find myself in a crystal clear pool will moves I lacked above. I spend so much time under the water that I probably spend more time below than I do up above breathing! Don't worry I come up for air, though I wish I could stay at the bottom of the pool forever.

My friend who had an injury higher than mine recently got a chance to go in the pool at Kennedy Krieger. The pool was the thing that finally made all the therapy I was doing click; the efforts of my therapist made sense in the context of the water. I hope the water gives him a new perspective on his injury, his therapy, and life. I know it did for. But then I am a turtle after all...

For Someone Who Needs A Friend

I was told by a friend that their son, a returning veteran, was contemplating suicide in large to PTSD. I felt I needed to say something here. Now some of you know that I have lived through some dark times myself. Everyone's experience is different but it is important to understand that there is always something to be learned from other's experiences. (Be aware this entry deals with the intricate details of suicide; this isn't for everyone so be aware of extreme content)

Now after the accident I was left with no motion in my legs and two broken arms. My thoughts played with the idea of suicide so that I didn't have to keep going in a broken body. I was most upset by the idea that in my limited state I didn't even know how I could've committed suicide. When I was put in a nursing home after rebreaking my arm, I became seriously depressed, aggravated by the snow storm that kept me inside and all visitors miles away. I looked out at the snow and thought dark thoughts. I now hate snow because gray snow filled sky bring me back to those days.

But it got better. Slowly, painfully, inch by inch things got better. My condition improved, I was finally able to do more. I was able to feed myself, no longer had to wear the humiliating diaper. My friends and family got me through that time, reminding me that things were improving. It was sometimes hard to keep in perspective the gains I was making, am still making.

The thing that finally tipped me over the edge of despair into recovery was when a friend told me "I love you Peter. The world wouldn't be the same without you!" It is one thing to know consciously that there are people caring and worrying about you but it is another to take it to heart.

Now things have improved so that the person I was during those days is unrecognizable. I remind myself constantly how lucky I am that I have friends and family who care; they carried me through even when I was willing to give up. I can't ever give up now because I know there are people struggling right beside me.

So anyone who is thinking about suicide for any reason I want you to know this: YOU ARE LOVED! Before you ever take any action know that there is a community of people of who you effect in ways you can't imagine. I am lucky in the fact that I have people telling me this on a regular basis. I am more visible than others so I attract these comments. If you have never had anyone tell you this I want you to take it to heart: YOU ARE LOVED! The people around you would be worse off without you and would be hurt if they ever lost you! Whether you are suffering from an injury, battling with depression, have seen the horrors of war, or are suffering with your sexual or personal identity, know that you matter and are important.

If anyone is reading this and is contemplating suicide, know that you always have my support. If you need someone to talk to you can always email me at peter.a.exner@gmail.com. I have been there and am always ready to be an open ear for those who need it. The loss of life isn't worth the price to be paid.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Adventures in hang gliding


So I wanted to take my new mobility to a new extreme! I was tired of seeing the world from a the ground level at my slow speed. Did you know that all over the US there are people will take you hang gliding for a nominal fee? Well there is!

Elizabeth City is so beautiful from the air. The houses are like doll houses overrun by ants who constantly have to rush off to do something. We constantly get stuck in our little world we forget that there is a whole universe beyond us! You're stuck inside... well sorry about that. Want to know where I'm at? Just look up.