Award-winning columnist, Saralee Perel, can be reached at sperel@saraleeperel.com 


Her novel, Raw Nerves, is now available as a paperback and an e-book on Amazon.com.



When Bad Turns Out To Be Good


Since I'm approaching my three-year anniversary of a trauma, I'd like to share the good and wondrous things I've learned. My reason? Nobody needs to have something bad happen to learn these very same things.

To sum up - two vertebrae in my neck made an unexplained rapid shift across each other and severed most of my spinal cord.

I was quoted in a magazine: ''If anyone says, 'something good has come from this,' I'll strangle them.'' I meant it then. But not now.

First, I've learned that we needn't be a tower of inspiration to anybody but ourselves. When people have misfortunes, yet do something astounding, I'd get down on myself in comparison. Like cancer survivors who write books, or wheelchair-bound athletes who compete in the Boston marathon. Could my ''meager'' accomplishments make the same heroic grades? Yes! For me, it's an Olympic moment just taking out the garbage, though it won't make headlines. Most vitally, it is my marathon, my championship.

While in the hospital, it was pretty darned comfortable staring at the Boston skyline, knowing there was no possibility of doing any work. It was enforced non-productivity. Do we need an excuse to do something mindless? No. I gaze at falling leaves without justifying it as therapeutic meditation, though it is. Now these moments are non-guilty pleasures. Like sneaking in a cartoon show I wasn't supposed to ''waste time'' watching when I was a kid. Pure fun.

I've learned about present moment living. Will other vertebrae shift in my spine? Maybe. I can choose to worry about something that may never happen. Or not. What-if lists are infinite. I once wrote, ''Moments spent worrying are moments lost to time. And you can't get them back.'' And there's a fortune cookie message on my fridge. ''Don't trouble trouble till trouble troubles you.''

At first, I hated it when someone said, ''Watch your step.'' I was in denial and wanted everyone else to be. When Bob installed a handicap bar in the shower, I was angry. ''I don't need that!'' But I did and always will.

Now, I welcome help. Regardless of an illness, must we feel it diminishes us to receive aid? Or we're bothering someone, even though they've offered? No! Most people feel good about themselves when they help others.

Life is about perspective. Problems have a vastly different hierarchy now. If the kitchen's messy, who cares? If I have a cold, it's annoying, but not a catastrophe.

I don't believe we need a life-altering illness or a disaster to be grateful for things we've taken for granted. Now, I appreciate my able arms, hot breakfasts, my cozy quilt. I have a heightened sense of awareness. The taste of an extra-cheese pizza tastes even cheesier; a back rub is paradise; a close pal is heaven-sent. Oh, the list is endless.

And finally, I've discovered that coping and thriving are very different. When I think of coping, I think of Band-Aids. Sometimes they're needed - to protect a cut. But coping, to me, means managing - making do, not letting things get worse.

Thriving is a different story. In my mind, it's not just managing, but enhancing and actually making things better. I look at folks who deal with problems, be they physical, emotional or situational (like a job loss), as those who cope or those who thrive.

At first I coped. Now, I aim to thrive. I'm not just pleased when I can increase my physical therapy routine; I'm elated. I don't want to focus on my disabilities. I want to marvel at my abilities. I honestly don't know if I can reach this tough goal, but I'll give it my best shot.

The shifting of my vertebrae took away my chances of running, climbing a step or walking unaided, but it didn't touch my often-frightened, though now rarely stoppable determination to thrive.

That part was left intact.

Saralee Perel