Break on Through

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The trajectory of my priorities in life took on a radical change about three years ago, precipitated by one of the most ego-blasting experiences.

It was a blustery day in spring, as I sat with a close friend of mine in a West LA auto repair shop eagerly awaiting the owner’s attention so we could discuss my problematic vehicle. As he finished up a phone call, I heard an alert on my phone and I automatically felt a sickening gut punch. I was trepidatious to check my email inbox, for I knew something bad was coming. Sure enough, when I did, I received THE email. An email containing five concise and carefully thought out paragraphs detailing as to why MY RELATIONSHIP needed to end.

I passed my mobile to my friend so she could read it and her jaw dropped. The owner was off the phone by this point and both my eyes (and my ass!) were burning. He started his pitch and I just blurted out, “I’m sorry - I need a minute! I’ve just been dumped via email!“ The poor guy just looked back at me puzzled, not knowing what to say.

Well, truth is, neither did I! But my friend Monika did, as I relayed to her what had happened later on that day. She groaned and then responded, “Dude! You’ve been Berger’d!“ I had no idea what she was talking about - at first. And then I remembered. I remembered THAT episode of “Sex And The City” where Carrie was dating fellow writer Berger and then happens upon a Post-it note on which he lets her know their relationship was over. Yes, THAT episode when she was dumped via Post-It Note. (In case you missed it, thanks to our “On-Demand” world, you can relive the mortification, or, live vicariously through Sarah Jessica Parker‘s character in season six, episode seven, entitled “The Post-It Always Sticks Twice“.)

I’ve often felt the feeling of humiliation in front of people but never had I felt it whilst alone. I can now say I’m glad that relationship ended the way it did because it served as the lynchpin for some of the most vital growth I’ve needed to experience. 

I was questioning every part of myself, and as a result, every part of myself was under the lens of close investigation. It was through that process that I began to focus deeper on what had been ignored for far too long. ME. It was all about that other person. I remember a friend of mine telling me that once he began a new relationship with somebody he basically handed over his soul and said he had nothing left for himself. I truly identified with that comment. And in looking back over the years I wondered in each relationship I had been in, just how much I gained versus how much I had given up. Intellectually I knew that a true partnership was not about sacrificing oneself, so why had I done it so much? I think a part of me used to believe a lot of those actions were “selfless“. I now know the opposite to be true.

So I stepped up my game at the gym, surrounded myself with healthy, positive people. I learned the power of forgiveness. I felt grace; true grace for the very first time. I started taking voice over classes and discovered a new found passion and the ultimate sober high when I stepped into the recording booth. And that’s how that dream again…

Breakups shouldn’t ultimately break us but hopefully, they break things down enough that we are able to break the patterns. 

XX,

 

VO

 

Photo, Hair, Makeup & Styling: Melanie Manson 

Inside And Out

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I remember the time my physiatrist, Dr. Kirshblum, asked my parents and I to have a proper sit down: it was exactly three months into my seven-month long rehabilitation. I felt extremely unnerved as I sensed some bad news was coming my way. My face was on fire, my eyes started burning, and tears started welling up in my eyes. He explained to me that sometimes, a syrinx or cyst could develop in the spinal cord after an injury. And that a recent MRI had detected quite a large one in my cervical spine. He then went on to add that this happens to only about 30% of SCI cases. Due to this syrinx, or post-traumatic syringomyelia, a fluid-filled cavity had formed, and now stretched above and below the two vertebrae in my neck that I had broken, and could possibly deteriorate the strength and sensation that was slowly returning. 

I was completely gutted. I really didn’t want to know anything more beyond the information that was disclosed in that single conversation. I felt defeated and overwhelmed with the exorbitant amount of information being thrown my way, every single day. Moreover, I could not believe that after all that had happened – after all that I had survived! - this was my predicament.

My newfound reality would include, and still does, a yearly MRI, that is subsequently sent to a neurologist for evaluation. For if this growth were to expand, it could take away any and all motor development and sensory function that I have gained over the past 14 years. My understanding is that a surgical procedure could be dangerous, and like with most things in life, there would be no guarantee that it would be successful. Thus it does not seem like a viable option, for me. So far, I have been lucky; I have not had this secondary issue further impair me. (Although I do still wonder if it is a contributing factor to the chronic pain and chills I experience nearly every single day of my life. I still have those days when my pain level is “beyond a 10 out of 10” and simply characterized best by feeling like someone has hit me on the back of my neck with a metal baseball bat.)

Over the past decade, two concepts have really become the center of my focus: quality-of-life and self-care. The first was explained to me by Janette, a woman who quickly became one of my mentors and best friends. The experiences that led to our spinal cord injuries are somewhat similar and given that she has a few more years on me both in age and experience with the injury, her sage advice became truly indispensable. She cautioned me against the totality of my focus being dead set on my physical health with an insatiable need to walk again. Janette suggested I find a way to build a well-rounded life for myself that included activities and people and stimulation that would not only make me happy but also keep me in a state of Gratitude: for that was what would give me the ultimate strength to rebuild my life.

The second concept of self-care was eventually revealed to me through a Buddhist meditation practice I adopted (although I do not identify as a Buddhist). On one of the most soul-crushing and uncomfortable days of my life, I somehow mustered up the courage to push past the feelings and find a meditation meeting I could go to that evening. Had I not done that, I would not have discovered a group of wonderful people with whom I have meditated with as well as shared deeply intimate thoughts, feelings and experiences with. I learnt that self-care was so much more than any surface level definition I could come up with in the beginning. This particular meditation experience completely changed me, and ultimately, IT SAVED MY LIFE. 

I spent a great many years feeling the gamut of emotions between that of a victim and that of a survivor. It took some time, but I finally did enough of the self-analysis and work to recognize that the former does not serve me positively in any way. A few months ago I surprised myself whilst publicly speaking as I blurted out to my audience: if I had to choose between my old life which meant I would walk again, and the way I live my life now – I would not change a thing. That is correct, I would not trade who I have become and who I am becoming closer to being every day that I’m lucky enough to be alive, just to be walking around on my own two legs.

So, I have learnt to be my own advocate. To be mindful, aware. To be the change I want to see in the world. To be the light! The alternative, the antithesis, only furthers the darkness and despair you feel at the low points in your life. Believe me, I know. For I was stuck there for many years…by sharing this - and my life - I hope to at least touch one other person. I hope to save them from the unnecessary suffering we, as humans, attach to the inevitable pain we experience. Furthermore, by choosing to remain open about how I got through what I went through, it reiterates to me, once again, that I CAN do this, no matter what.

XX,

 

VO

 

Photo: Margaret Malandruccolo 

Hair, Makeup & Styling: Melanie Manson

The Wonder Years

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There is a part of me that has not changed since I have been a toddler: I don’t like chaos, I don’t like clutter and I just want things in their proper place as I love my environment to be highly organized. For ultimately, it is where and how I thrive.

As early as I can remember, when my favorite show, The Muppet Show would come on, and that opening music started blaring, I’d come eagerly running to begin my ritual. Yes, a ritual that began at nearly two years old! I ran around in a circle taking off each article of clothing I was wearing, one by one, and at the very last second, right before the theme song ended, I would plop down in my diaper ready and hyper-focused on that humongous 80’s television set cushioned deeply into the puke-green colored shag carpet.

Now, let me tell you - there was absolutely no way I could focus if there were any toys in my peripheral vision. So it was me who ended up putting them away where they belonged (without being asked – imagine!). Needless to say, I believe, it was around that very early age that not only my obsession with cleaning began but also, my innate need to retreat solo into my own little world.

My parents still like to joke that it was great giving me punishments as a child because ultimately, I would do exactly as I was told and if I was sent to my room - oh, boy - did I go willingly! Crossing the threshold into my bedroom and closing the door behind me was much like when the children in the book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe stepped into said wardrobe and were suddenly transported into Narnia. That tiny bedroom, in that tiny New Jersey house, was my magical world. Alone and away from the rest of my family, my imagination and I were fully engaged and were off and running; apparently, for hours at a time.

But somewhere along the way, probably around the time I entered middle school, I struggled as newfound demands were put upon me. A move halfway across the world to Dubai, thus an entirely new school, teachers, peers - everything was changing so rapidly that I felt like I was repeatedly getting smacked in the face! If only someone had stopped me and said, “Hello Vanessa, on top of all of these new changes, I’d like to introduce you to your hormones and warn you that this is going to be an incredibly painful stage of your life called adolescence – good luck!”

And, after surviving all of that, life did not get any easier. I fulfilled my duties to complete High School, university and go on to have a successful professional life as was expected of me.

Those periods of time of solitudinous serenity and sheer uninhibitedness I experienced in my single digit years, dwindled. As a result, I felt my ability to express myself creatively, suffer and the artist I inherently knew I was, starve. Not to mention, a newfound unwillingness to give myself a much-needed reprieve from the pressures of adult life snuck its way into my psyche. I became more rigid: my Type A personality came out bolder than before and I became extremely unhappy and somewhat systematically self-tortured. It didn’t matter how perfectly I had vacuumed or that I had spent an hour on my knees scrubbing the apartment toilet to the point you could eat off of it! (The satisfaction and catharsis I was used to experiencing at this point was minimal.) Bottom line: I couldn’t manufacture the magic moment I desired. Eventually, there came a time when I had to choose between behaviors that worked toward the betterment, rather than the detriment of my life and admit that I needed help. (Beyond the strength I had within). I’ve had to do a lot of work to change my life because of the changes that happened in my life!

To this day, I miss that simple time – the true “wonder years” - where there was no real concept of time and space and the future. Oftentimes, I am beholden to the notion of nostalgia or swept away on a sentimental journey (cue up some Doris Day please!) and then, just like a snap of the fingers, I am - ugh - back to adulthood (read: reality). 

I think regardless of age, it is crucial we have unadulterated moments of joy. Time we allow ourselves to retreat into a quiet space and daydream, go deep into the imaginary world, feel free on a fantasy plane. Meditation, prayer, sharing with others, music, reading, writing, trying new things and discovering new passions has helped me get closer to that feeling again. And I hope it continues. 

XX,

VO

 

Photo: Margaret Malandruccolo

Hair, Makeup & Styling: Melanie Manson