Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Social Psychology Implications of iBot Stair Climbing

Yeah, you read that right. This subject is better suited for a PhD dissertation, but instead I’ll tackle it in a single blog post.

On Saturday night Kim and I went out to dinner with our friends Deb and Steve at the Snow Squall, a local bar and restaurant that we absolutely love. I made reservations for their dining room, as opposed to the pub section where I usually sit. This would require me to descend about four steps in my iBot wheelchair.

In years past I was able to climb stairs myself in the iBot, but I no longer have enough strength and dexterity in my arms. I require Kim’s assistance. We arrived at the Snow squall at six o’clock, and the crowd was thin. Kim guided me down the stairs without incident, and we settled in for a leisurely meal.

Throughout the dinner, more patrons arrived, and soon it was a full house. We finished an outstanding meal (Chef Heather cooks no other type), settled the checks, and prepared to ascend the stairs. Allow me to describe the scene, as I imagine it from the perspective of a random patron who dared to watch:
A dashing gentleman in a power wheelchair backs up against the bottom step. A woman, presumably his much younger wife (is he rich?), strikes an athletic pose behind him, one foot on the first step and the other foot on the second. The gentleman manipulates buttons and knobs on his wheelchair controller such that the seat rises a bit and then tilts to the rear. His wife grabs onto the top of his backrest and pulls. Some motor within the wheelchair engages and boosts the front wheels up and over the rear wheels, and the chair is one step higher. This process continues until the chair, its occupant, and its navigator are at the top of the steps, at which time the gentleman pushes more buttons and knobs, and the chair transforms back to normal. Their demeanor throughout the operation is nonchalant. Apparently, this is part of their routine – how they navigate through a disabled-unfriendly world.

Here’s the social psychology implication. There were perhaps forty people in the lower dining room and another forty in the upper pub area. At least half those people had a clear line of sight to me. Yet, as I scanned the crowd, only a couple of them observed me climb the stairs in my wheelchair. Nearly every one of those people must have been fascinated by my chair’s capabilities. Why didn’t more of them watch? I would have watched.

In our society, it is paramount that we not offend others, especially people who are disadvantaged. And we are on our best manners when we dine at an establishment where the meals cost more than $15. Most of the patrons were probably concerned that watching me climb the stairs would be offensive to me or would constitute an invasion of my privacy. Maybe they thought I hated being seen this way – that I already felt conspicuous enough, and their staring would only make me feel worse. Maybe they didn’t know what they thought, but it just felt wrong to look. Whatever the reason, most of these people either completely ignored me, or they only snuck a peek here and there. What a shame. What a missed opportunity! What a gross over-application of the duty to not offend.

The fact is that I absolutely love to have people watch me climb stairs. I’m an iBot exhibitionist. I get off by demonstrating how technologically advanced my iBot is, how talented my wife is, and how cool I am about the entire process. But these people had no way of knowing this. How could they?

Maybe the responsibility falls squarely on me to let the potential audience know that they are more than welcome to gawk at us, engage us in conversation about it, and applaud enthusiastically at the conclusion of the show. The question becomes, then, how do I convey this message.

One option is for me to clear my throat and in a very loud voice announce, “May I have your attention please? May I have your attention please? I am about to climb these stairs in a wheelchair. This is something you have probably never seen before, and may never see again. I invite you to put down your utensils, grab your drink, and adjust your seats so you have a comfortable view. In no way will I consider your watching to be inappropriate. Frankly, I would be slightly offended if you didn’t watch. This is very cool stuff. There will be a brief question-and-answer period after I get to the top of the stairs.”

In a perfect world, devoid of unnecessary human insecurities and burdensome social constructs, this would be appropriate behavior. But, frankly, I don’t know if I have the cahones. What if everyone ignored me and just continued dining? What if I came off as needy and insecure? What if, what if, what if? No, I think I’ll forgo the opportunity to be an agent for social change, and just keep doing my thing without drawing attention to myself. It’s just too risky.

Note: For those of you who have not seen the iBot in action, click here for a video of us in Jamaica last year, or watch below.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

My Wheelchair Van Adventure

Sometimes things go smoothly with auto repairs. Other times, things just get weird.

In Maine, automobiles must pass an annual safety inspection. Our two-year-old wheelchair accessible van was months overdue, placing us at risk of being issued a ticket. On Saturday of last week, we finally scheduled an inspection.

The van failed due to excessive wear on its two front tires. The rear tires were acceptable. When we got home, I called a number of stores to compare prices. The last place I spoke with had a fair deal, $140 per tire for a high quality product. Kim stood beside me and whispered, “Ask them if that is the installed price.” I did. It was. I made an appointment for one o’clock the next day.

The pre-Christmas shopping crowd was out in force on this Sunday in mid-November. Parking spaces in this busy part of town were difficult to find. But our van has handicapped license plates, so we parked in the front row, like we always do, and walked into the tire store.

“My name is Mitch Sturgeon, and I have an appointment for my van.”

“Yes, I have your information right here. It looks like you’re all set. We are very busy today, so please give us a couple of hours.” We had plenty to do nearby, so the wait would not be a problem. For at least the fifth time in the previous couple of months, I went to the Verizon store and fondled a new iPhone 6 Plus. This time I succumbed to its charms. My new phone should arrive tomorrow.

When we returned to the tire store later in the afternoon, we were delighted to find that the work on our van was complete. We expected a bill of around $300. “That will be $748,” the mechanic said, cheerfully.

“I’m afraid you have the wrong bill. We just had two tires changed,” I responded, matching his cheerfulness. I wasn’t at all concerned. He had obviously picked up the bill for some other vehicle that had a brand-new engine installed. Common mistake.

“This is the right one. Changed four tires on a 2012 Dodge Grand Caravan…”

Smiles faded. Attitudes shifted.

“No, no, no. I explicitly told the gentleman I spoke with on the phone yesterday that I wanted to change the two front tires. Somebody screwed up,” I said.

And Kim added, “Even then, I thought these tires were supposed to be $140, installation included. How do you come up with $748?”

My wife is a very tolerant person. Give her slow service at a restaurant and she will teach you a hard lesson by cutting your tip from 20% to 18% (and then rounding up to the nearest dollar). But don’t even think about charging her full price for a beer she ordered five minutes before the end of happy hour. She studies every check to make sure we are never overcharged.

I instructed the mechanic, “I need you to put those two rear tires back on the van.”

“I can do that, but you should know that those rear tires are bald also.”

“All four tires are bald?”

“Yes, all four tires are bald.”

“Please show me these bald tires.”

“All four tires?”

“Yes, all four bald tires.”

When we eventually found the tires in the tire trash heap, it was clear to me that two of them had a lot of tread left and two didn’t. The mechanic disagreed. He tried to give me a lesson on how tires wear. I wasn’t buying it. We agreed to disagree. I again insisted that he put two tires back on. Kim again insisted that we address the issue of the extra charges over and above $140 to per tire, no matter how many tires we purchased.

And then we got the break we were waiting for.

“My manager has authorized me to work with you to figure out a way we can keep those four new tires on your automobile,” the mechanic said.

First, Kim went after all the extra charges – balancing, installing, valve stems, disposal fees, roadside assistance insurance for flat tires (I’m not kidding), and double time labor rates for Sunday installation (I think I’m kidding). I went after him for their negligence in installing two tires too many. We talked him down to $450 for the four tires. Kim and I decided this was preferable to putting a couple of two-year-old tires back on the van.

All was forgiven. Smiles returned. Friendly banter resumed.

I sometimes wonder if I benefit from the “cripple factor” in negotiations like these. I hope not, because I despise the idea that people may feel pity for me. I don’t think of myself pitiable. But if people do cut me some slack, it may a legitimate manifestation of karma (I don’t believe in the mystical, universal scorekeeper manifestation of karma).

As we walked out of the store toward our van, a most disturbing thought popped into my head. At first I tried to suppress it, but my conscience wouldn’t allow me to. Next, I tried to keep it to myself out of embarrassment, but it was too juicy not to share with Kim.

“You know, I called so many tire places yesterday…I’m not sure I ever told these guys I wanted two tires and not four.”

Kim stopped walking, turned toward me, and considered the implications of this potentially game changing admission. She responded with, “Don't feel guilty for one second. They still tried to screw us with all those extra charges and by telling us our rear tires were bald.”

That’s my girl.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wheelchair Accessible Path Installed around Cobblestone Street in My Neighborhood

As I mentioned in my September post entitled Our Love Affair with Cobblestone Streets and Brick Sidewalks, for years there has been a cobblestone street impeding wheelchair access to the Casco Bay Bridge, which connects Portland and South Portland. I took up the cause in May 2013 with this video posted at mycounterpane.com:


I spoke with the city manager and he liked my idea in principle, but wanted to make it a walkway through the adjacent Thomas Knight Park instead of over the top of the cobblestones. This wasn’t ideal, but it would still be a huge improvement.

In April of this year, the city manager informed me that funds had been allocated for this project, and it should be completed during the 2014 construction season. I announced this at mycounterpane.com:


They cut it close – winter is almost here – but the ADA compliant path is now installed! I am going to enjoy my new access immensely next summer, as are all the other wheelchair users in the area.


The effort took 18 months from inception to completion, but it's extremely satisfying to see an idea like this come to fruition.

Note 1: There is still a finish coat of pavement that will be added in the spring, so the city doesn't consider this project 100% complete yet.

Note 2: You earn bonus points if you noticed two things about the last video. First, yes, I am in balance mode in my iBOT wheelchair. Second, yes, my ride down the new trail is displayed at double time. The iBOT doesn't go that fast in balance mode!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

My MS Symptom of the Week – Spasticity

“I can feel it building…oh yes…please don’t stop…this is going to be so good…here it comes…hold on baby…OH MY GOD,” I thought to myself. Then I let it fly, “Achoo!!!”
“Gesundheit,” said Kim.
“Thank you,” I replied.
What? I can't believe you thought I was going there.

Everyone is familiar with that feeling leading up to a sneeze. The urge builds and builds, and the last thing you want to happen is for it to fizzle out before you detonate. The sneeze itself is such a relief. It’s like a scaled-down version of that thing that mommies and daddies do under the covers (the government blog sensors made me describe it that way).

Spasticity, my MS symptom of the week, feels like a sneeze as it builds and builds. And, like a sneeze, it feels so much better when I succumb to it.

“Mitch, what is spasticity?”

I’m so glad you asked.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society describes it this way: “Spasticity refers to feelings of stiffness and a wide range of involuntary muscle spasms (sustained muscle contractions or sudden movements). It is one of the more common symptoms of MS.”

I would further describe my particular variety of spasticity this way. Think about how it feels when you wake up in the morning and have an urge to stretch, except that my stretch is very powerful (proving that the disease is in my nerves not my muscles). I get this spastic feeling frequently now, in both my legs and my arms.

I first experienced episodes of spasticity in the winter of 2003, only eighteen months after my diagnosis (and blogged about it here). I was walking around the streets of Nashville, Tennessee with a client. It was a cold night, and that triggered stiffness in my legs that even my companion could notice. It was almost like I was goose step marching. For the next ten years or so I experienced slowly increasing levels of spasticity, but it didn’t cause any difficulties in my life. It was just an interesting phenomena.

In the last six months or so, however, my spasticity has become much more frequent, and so much more intense, especially at night. It’s affecting my ability to sleep, and it’s doing another strange thing too. After so many years of transferring myself into and out of my wheelchair, bed, and toilet, I developed some sort of a strain in my left wrist. Now, I can’t use my left arm to help with transfers, so I’m not attempting any manual transfers at all. I’ve got an appointment scheduled with an orthopedic specialist, and we’ll see what he says. But the problem is that I have a lot of spasticity in my left arm, and I often put that left wrist through powerful, painful contortions. I think this spastic activity is preventing my wrist from healing. I’m even wearing a wrist brace at night, when the most spasticity occurs, but I still experience significant pain in my wrist.

For many years I’ve taken a moderate dose of a drug called baclofen, a muscle relaxant and the most commonly prescribed treatment for spasticity. I recently increased that dosage to a relatively high 80 mg per day. The problem is that these higher doses of baclofen cause overall muscle weakness and general fatigue, rather unpleasant side effects for someone with MS – a disease that already causes muscle weakness and general fatigue.

If I take much more baclofen I may need to go to the next level, which is to have a baclofen pump installed in my abdomen, with a catheter running around my waist into my spinal cord. This is a much more efficient delivery method for baclofen, without the nasty side effects. But I’m not excited about having a pump installed in my abdomen and having a permanent opening in my spinal cord. So I will put that off for as long as I can.

Spasticity – another wonderful symptom courtesy of my favorite disease, multiple sclerosis.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Political Advertising – Make It Stop!

I know this blog is supposed to be about leading a contented life as a disabled person. But there is something else I'd like to write about today, if you will indulge me.

Here in the United States we have a big election next week. It's what we call a midterm election, so we're not voting for President, but we are voting for just about every other possible position in federal, state, and local government.

I'm not here to advocate for any particular candidate or political party, but rather to publicly protest about how absurd the process has become. I understand that it's better than the alternative – not being able to choose your own representative government. But we've been doing this for over 200 years now, and it is getting worse, not better.

Specifically, I'm here to complain about political advertising on TV. As a disabled person who sits at home all day, I tend to watch a lot of television.
In the last couple of months, my television viewing experience, and more importantly my enthusiasm for next week's election, has been raped and pillaged by incessant political advertising. It would be one thing if the commercials were informative, well done, or even creative. But they are not. They are absolutely mind-numbing.

In response to this deluge I conducted a scientific study of the candidates’ advertising. My extensive data analysis indicates that if a negative claim is made against an opponent, there is a 99% chance that said claim is at best distorted and at worst completely fabricated. The data further reveals that if a positive claim is made about a candidate, there is an 80% chance that said claim is at best distorted and at worst completely fabricated.

I have scientifically established, therefore, that negative advertising is less informative than positive advertising, and that positive advertising is far less informative than no advertising at all. Because of this, as I finalize my voting decisions, I will award “bonus points” to the candidates who inundated me with the fewest commercials (but I’ll give more bonus points for lack of negative commercials, as they are the worst kind).

OK, maybe I didn't really conduct a study, but I bet my percentages are pretty damn close to the truth.

I can think of only one good reason why candidates spend so much money on television advertising. It must work. I would be ashamed of myself if I let the content of these commercials influence my vote in any way (other than my bonus point system). We should listen to debates, meet with the candidates, hash things out with our friends and neighbors, but we can’t let these fraudulent commercials sway us! Since many of us apparently are duped by this disinformation, then I must reluctantly conclude that we are a weak-minded society, prone to manipulation. Shame on us.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

I'll make my informed voting decisions based on how I feel about the candidates’ ability to represent my family’s interests, with adjustments made for how I was treated as a consumer of their advertising.  The only way we can stop the insanity is to demonstrate to the next round of political candidates that mudslinging and tacky advertisements will not produce the desired outcome.  All television commercials of the current style, even the positive ones, are a waste of our time and an insult to our intelligence.  Make it stop!

Can I get an amen?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Top Ten Reasons I Want to End MS

When I checked my email this morning I saw a note from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. They asked the question, "Why do you want to end MS?" Their goal is to have 20,000 people answer by October 31. Here is the link.

This is the kind of rah rah mentality that usually turns me off. It is blatant cheerleading. But I had no other blog post idea this week, so I thought I would give you my top 10 reasons.

Reason #10:
If we end MS, then we can put people like me back to work so we are financial contributors to society instead of financial burdens, and so that we can once again feel the satisfaction that comes with a job and a career. This time around I don’t want to be an engineer. I’m thinking astronaut or Rom Com movie star.

Reason #9:
If we end MS, then I can change the name of my blog from enjoying the ride to enjoying the mountain climbing. Who am I kidding? That was never me. It would be more like enjoying standing up to pee.  

Reason #8:
If we end MS, then we can make organizations like the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (bless their hearts), and silly campaigns like this one (and I mean that in the nicest way) obsolete.

Reason #7:
If we end MS, then we can reallocate the enormous sum of money spent on research and treatment. This money can instead go toward other diseases. But I would like a little of it to go to those of us who were cured of multiple sclerosis so we can vacation in the Caribbean – all of us at the same time and on the same island. What a party that would be!

Reason #6:
If we end MS, then we can answer, once and for all, the question of what was its root cause. I hope it’s not something too embarrassing though, like you catch MS from picking your nose or excessive masturbation.

Reason #5:
If we end MS, then I can reclaim my initials from this damn disease.

2011 08 202

Reason #4:
If we end MS, then those people who are cured will save money on wheelchairs, wheelchair vans, ramps, grab bars, home modifications, and a million other things. However, our costs for footwear will increase dramatically (a pair of shoes typically lasts me 5 to 7 years now).

Reason #3:
If we end MS, then people like me can get our lives back.

Reason #2:
If we end MS, then people like Kim can have the respite that they deserve. They won’t have to be caregivers in addition to all their other roles.

And my #1 reason is:
If we end MS, then our children and our children’s children will not be cut down in their prime. We will stand tall and say, “No person will never suffer this way again.”

Why do you want to end MS?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Adventures in Public Transportation #3

I posted #1 in this series in 2011. It was as about a transportation service for disabled people, called RTP. It sucks, and I haven’t used it since.

I posted #2 in this series in 2012. It was about my initial ride on the South Portland Public Bus system with Kim, and my first solo ride shortly thereafter. Big effing deal. What a rookie I was.

Fast-forward to 2014, where I am a seasoned city bus rider. That’s right. I ride the bus once or twice per week on average. My most common destination is the physical therapy clinic near the Maine Mall. I also go to the mall or to downtown Portland on occasion. My frequent bus travel started in the spring of this year, so I’m uncertain how I’ll like this mode of transportation in the middle of the winter. It’s going to be freaking cold.

My PT appointments are scheduled for 3:30 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I leave my house at about 2:39 PM for the 2:40 bus. We have a new, enclosed transportation hub one block from my house, and it has pushbutton operated doors. The bus is anywhere between five minutes and twenty-five minutes late. So I sit in the transportation hub and read for a few minutes.

Any number of buses may pull up to the curb while I’m waiting, but the one I want is number 24B. When it approaches, I push the door-open button, exit the building, and situate myself squarely in line with the front door of the bus. This lets the driver know that I would like to board.

But before I can do that, the bus driver has to fold up one of the two bench seats to expose one of the two wheelchair stations on the bus. Usually that means evicting passengers who sat there at their own risk (there is a big sign indicating that they may have to move for wheelchair users). I then board the bus via a ramp or lift, endure the disapproving looks from the disenfranchised bench sitters, squeeze down through the aisle until I get to my spot, do a 180 degrees turn so that I am facing forward instead of backward, and then situate myself in the designated wheelchair spot. I perform this maneuver deftly, even elegantly, so I am surprised and disappointed that I’ve yet to receive any applause. Sometimes I take a bow nonetheless.

There are four tiedown straps and hooks on the floor. I soon learned that the cool wheelchair people do not ask to be secured. That process holds up the entire bus for a minute or two. I am now one of the cool wheelchair people. I suppose I’m not being absolutely safe, but neither do I worry during a bus ride where nobody wears a seatbelt, and several people on the bus are standing.

Once I am in position, the bus driver closes the door, folds up the ramp or the lift, and pulls away from the transportation hub.

I’m like a small child, in that once I get on this bus I have trouble keeping my eyes open. I typically recline in my wheelchair twenty degrees or so, elevate my feet a little, close my eyes, and rest. I only fell asleep once, and I missed my stop, so I don’t do that anymore. I’m not a pretty sight for people getting on or off the bus. They probably look at me and wonder just how awful my life must be, to have such a big wheelchair in such a reclined position – and the poor bastard can’t even stay awake! But I don’t care. I'm a hell of a lot more comfortable than they are.

When the bus approaches my stop I’m supposed to pull on a cord to alert the driver, but I have trouble with that. So, when I board the bus I tell the driver, “I’ll be getting off at Kaplan University.” So far they haven’t forgotten me. When we approach my stop, which is nothing more than a sign on the side of the street, the bus pulls over and we reverse the boarding process. I am dumped on the sidewalk of a very busy road.

I travel a couple hundred yards to Saco Bay Physical Therapy, where I push the door-open button, and I am at my destination. If things go well, I’m usually about ten minutes early for my appointment, and the therapists accommodate me. If things go poorly I might be ten minutes late, and again, the therapists accommodate me.

Kim gets out of work in time to pick me up at 4:30 PM. I’ve never taken the bus home because I don’t like the idea of sitting out in the elements by the side of the road for five minutes to twenty-five minutes waiting for the bus to pick me up. When I get into our wheelchair van Kim has usually been waiting for a few minutes, so she is typing away furiously on her smart phone. One of us will ask, "How was your day?" Then the other person will reciprocate. Next, the conversation inevitably goes toward, “So, what are we going to do for dinner tonight?” The last element of our meet and greet is to bitch and complain about the traffic or the idiocy of a specific driver. Once these compulsory requirements are met, we are free to discuss whatever we wish. Common topics are quantum mechanics, current events in the middle east, and our favorite political advertisements.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sleeping Apart

We never slept apart out of anger. The only time Kim tried was a couple years into our marriage, but it didn’t work. We had a big fight because I was being an asshole. After going out with the boys, I stumbled home and found her on the couch with a blanket and pillow. I said, “Okay, let’s go to bed.”

“I’m already in bed,” she replied.

I went upstairs, grabbed my own blanket and pillow, and came back downstairs. I laid on the floor beside the couch and didn’t say a word. The gesture worked. We reconciled and went upstairs together.

Until I stopped working in 2009, I traveled between five and fifty nights each year for business. I typically spent between two and a dozen nights away from home each November for deer hunting. Once in a while Kim attended an out of town teachers’ conference. Sleeping apart was common and not particularly stressful for us.

This weekend we had friends over, and as I often do, I set the computer up to randomly scroll through our collection of photographs. I do this because once in a while somebody will notice an interesting one, and it will spark conversation. The picture on the right side of this post, depicting Kim in Chicago, popped up on the screen. Kim said, “That was three and a half years ago, and it was the last time Mitch and I slept apart.”

I’ve grown more dependent on Kim for assistance getting into bed, getting out of bed, and occasionally in the middle of the night. This has made it almost impossible for her to get away from me, or me away from her, for a single night.

Now that I have the overhead lift system, theoretically it is possible, but I would still be nervous. Maybe we’ll give it a try, or maybe we’ll play it safe. I’ll certainly let you know if we become daring enough.

Over the years I’ve seen interviews of sweet old couples who proudly proclaim, “We’ve never slept apart in fifty (or sixty or seventy) years.” I admit that I looked down on those people for leading unsophisticated lives. Yet here we are…

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What I Remember and What I Don’t

I can remember my childhood telephone number: 207-794-8247
But I can’t remember the current cell phone number for either of my children.

I do remember where I was when the planes crashed on 9/11 and when I heard about the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion.
However, I don’t remember President Kennedy being shot seven weeks after I was born.

I remember a lot of things from my college graduation ceremony.
But I don’t remember finding out that I was accepted into college.

I can’t shake the image of Billy Buckner letting a routine ground ball go between his legs in what should have been the final out of the 1986 World Series, or whose house I watched it at in Cleveland, Ohio, or the premature, tear jerking victory speech I made just before it happened.
Yet I don’t have an image in my mind of my daughter taking her first steps.

I do remember every room in all six houses that we’ve ever owned.
I just can’t remember where we keep the broom in this house.

I remember turning fifty. It was a blast.
I don’t remember turning twenty-one. I assume I got very drunk.

I vividly recall the births of both of my children.
But I can’t remember finding out Kim was pregnant, either time.

I have at least partial memories of when my brother became temporarily blind (I was two and a half years old) and when my father told me about my mother’s accident (five years, eleven months old).
But I can’t remember a joke, not a single joke. And I can’t remember the name of that guy, you know, that guy with the thing…

I remember being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
But I cannot remember the last time I walked. I haven’t forgotten what it feels like, though, because I still walk in my dreams.

What can you remember? What can’t you?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Difficulty I have Accepting Compliments

I receive so much positive feedback for my blog posts. I am referred to as inspirational, or courageous, or any number of similar accolades.

Of course this buoys my mood, and it motivates me to keep writing. We humans are programmed to welcome, even crave compliments. So please allow me to say a big THANK YOU to all my readers for your support! It means a great deal to me.

But I feel a little bit guilty. I inherited my resilience from my mother. It was an advantage of birth similar to when people inherit intelligence, athleticism, or good looks. In addition to my genetic advantages, I am fortunate in so many other ways. Here are just a few:
I’m a white male in America (three advantages in one)
I have an incredibly supportive wife, family, and friends (apparently advantages come in threes)
I have a certain amount of financial security (at least until the next market crash)
I don’t suffer from depression (am I crazy not to?)
I suppose I have been a good steward of these gifts, and that’s something. I’ve made the effort to share my experiences. I could have kept this all to myself, but I didn’t. I hereby accept any and all praise for being forthright.

But there are so many people who wake up every day and battle against incredible odds, and they don’t get the recognition that I get. I don’t believe I’m any more worthy of this praise than people who are having a rougher time than me, people who don’t enjoy the advantages I do, or people who can’t describe their lives in a positive and inspirational way because they are miserable.

I’d like to giftwrap the complement “you are such an inspiration” that I received in an email last week and deliver it to the person with MS who gives her best every day even though her husband just left her because he “can’t take it anymore.” I’d like to regift the “you’re a remarkable person” comment that I received at my blog and send it off to the cancer patient who is trying to make the critical decision about whether or not to continue treatment.

Since these exchanges are not possible, here’s the deal I propose. I’ll continue to welcome your compliments with appreciation and humility, and I’ll maintain my positive message. In return, we must all recognize those disadvantaged people who are not able to live a contented life – those people who are scratching and clawing just to survive. To me, those are the real, silent heroes.

Now, here is the question of the day for all of you armchair psychiatrists. Did I write this post for purely altruistic reasons, or am I subconsciously craving even more positive feedback along the lines of “No, Mitch, you really do deserve to be admired. Don’t sell yourself short.”

I wish I knew the answer.