Living Obliquely

Approximately 1400 people are diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis (TM) annually.
Similar to Multiple Sclerosis, it attacks your myelin, leading to painful and debilitating side effects.
About 33,000 Americans are currently disabled as a result of this rare neurological disorder.
Not one person with TM will ever know their prognosis.
I happen to be one of them.

I am a neurological soup. Since my TM diagnosis, I have developed encephalitis, MS, RSD/CRPS, Osteoporosis (I am 34, no 35, eek), and Chronic Anemia. sucks, but I still rock.


Oh God: Part 2: Self-contradiction, Irony, and a Prayer

updated 12.30.08

I just got word via email, that one of my dear Hahnemann Hospital companions, Lynn, had a seizure last week that has taken her memory back in time to the 1990s. She suffers from both Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and severe seizures, and had been making remarkable recovery since her hospital release. She sent me an email last month, excited that she was up to 25 minutes of walking on the treadmill and concerned about my recovery.

Her husband, Dave, was thoughtful enough to alert me of her current condition, wrote, "she could use your prayers." Ironically, I received this email just as I had posted Oh God on Christmas Day, which (blasphemously?) questions religions' reliance on prayer over personal responsibility.

After recovering from my shock and sadness for both Lynn and Dave and despite my disbelief in the big man in the sky and my rejection of organized religion, my first response was to say a prayer for Lynn, which came simultaneously with, Oh shit, my prayers? Not only does this contradict almost everything I had just published moments before, but what good are my prayers to anyone now.

And now, we're all probably thinking (I am including myself in this), What?! A GHB (godless heathen bastard) wants to pray? Yessirreee.

And that is where the realizations began:

Realization #1: I want to pray for Lynn
Although I was raised in a fairly religious household, and we said shabbos prayers, prayers over food, prayers for the sick and all kinds of holiday prayers, I realized, I don't know a single real-deal prayer. But real-deal prayers aren't my style anyway, so I'll ask my real-deal-religious friends and relatives to manage that part.

Realization #2: I have never stopped praying
Before I got sick, I practiced yoga regularly. Since my first class in Berlin, Germany in 1997, most of my yoga practices, whether group or home alone, have included chanting. These are prayers sent out to the universe for benevolent things, such as peace and enlightenment, and they are as valid to me as any organized religious prayer.


Peace mantra


Together may be be protected
Together may we be nourished
Together may we work with great energy
May our journey together be brilliant and effective
May there be no bad feelings between us
Peace, peace, peace

(From the Kato Upanishad)

Realization #3: A smile is a gesture that is a prayer
I believe that when we send goodness into the universe, we will receive goodness. For instance, if I smile at you, there's a good chance you'll smile at me, and maybe that smile will be passed on and on, altering a moment or a day or a lifetime for someone. Or maybe it won't. Either way, that smile is a prayer for happiness and connection.

Realization #4: My neurogenic bladder meditation is a prayer
Since I got transverse myelitis, I have had numerous symptoms and side effects. One annoying and time-wasting one that drives me crazy is my neurogenic bladder. While in the hospital, I started doing a pee meditation every time I went to the bathroom.

As I sat, waiting for the release from my strong urge to urinate, I closed my eyes, rested my feet on the floor, placed my palms together, lowered my head, and quietly chanted, pee, pee, pee. Since October, I've probably whispered that word 1000's of times, and almost every time I did my pee chant, it would eventually work. Sometimes it would take 30 seconds, sometimes 15 minutes, and sometimes it was a wash. But my pee meditation is a prayer that works.

Self-Contradiction: I'm still not holding my breath or pressing my palms together. Strength and stamina is a precious commodity when you have transverse myelitis, but responsibility is not. (From my 12.25.08 post: Oh God)

Religious-Contradiction: "
... if you want to do something well, you have to practice it continually, even when you don't feel like doing it. This is as true of prayer as it is of playing a sport...a musical instrument, or writing. The sense of humility and awe of G-d that is essential to proper prayer does not come easily to modern man, and will not simply come to you when you feel the need to pray. If you wait until inspiration strikes, you will not have the skills you need to pray effectively." (From: Judaism 101: Prayers and Blessings, The Need for Prayer)

Realization #5: Hope is a prayer
People hope to God for miscellany every day: I hope to God I make this light. I hope to God I get an A. I hope to God everyone shows up. I hope to God this guy really likes me. Whether or not the name God is inserted in that I hope to statement, it's a kind of prayer - a selfish prayer - but a prayer nonetheless.

While these are superficial examples, there are many people who voice their hopes publicly or privately every day. I hope that I get 100% recovery, and I hope this for Lynn and all of my hospital friends, and all the people suffering from similar or drastically different illnesses.

I even admitted to this in my last post:

I have many religious friends and family...[and] I even hope [their prayers for me will] work their magic so that I'll be healed.

Realization #6: Prayer is what you make it - with or without God's intervention
If I want the world to pray for Lynn's recovery, then I must believe in the power of prayer. Prayer exists in as many forms as the image of a higher power in different cultures.

Prayer can be a kind thought, a smile, a meditation, a chant, a real-deal-foreign-language script. One does not have to believe in God or Allah or any higher power that acts as the conduit for all wishes, hopes, and prayers. We can answer each other's hopes and prayers.

Realization #6b: We can answer each other's hopes and prayers
I had to repeat this. It both validates and invalidates what I said about taking responsibility in Oh God:

We need to take responsibility, a lot lot lot more responsibility... there are a lot of people in this screwed up world that are either relying on God to take the initiative or aren't reaping the benefits of their selfless devotion.

I still stand by this. I think there are some people who use religion, God, and prayer as the easy way out of personal and social responsibility, but to clarify, I don't believe that all people who pray to God are shirking liability.

But, what if the model for these kinds of believers was altered to include my 6b realization? Could we have better results? Would it make a difference? Or is it part of the yin/yang balance that maintains some sort of order in this world, so that those of us that want to or choose to go the self-reliant/shared-responsibility route can do so, and we can all feel that we've done the right thing.

Whatever your style, your belief, your inclination, send out your energy to the universe or talk to God, but pray for Lynn. I've included links to a few prayers for the sick:

Listen to a hospital conversation between Lynn and me:

Download Neuro Detour - Conversation With Lynn Albert

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If you're a Philly-region person with TM, please consider joining the Transverse Myelitis Philadelphia network (, a new social networking group that I started for people with TM so that we can meet and chat casually. It's only on Facebook for now, so, if you haven't already, join. It's easy.


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