Survivor’s Guilt

Survivor’s Guilt

Survivor’s Guilt

Moving Forward Series


Meena Dhanjal Outlaw

We have been home a full week now.  I haven’t left my house since we came back.  I have gathered everything I can think of that I don’t use that can be of use to someone else and donated it.  I have offered a room, even thought about buying someone a car that lost everything and has no way of getting to work.

Survivor guilt is a deep guilt that comes when one survives something from wars, natural disasters or other traumas.

Survivor guilt was actually first documented and discussed after the Holocaust.  It is a symptom of PTSD.  Once can suffer Survivor Guilt independently from PTSD too. Regardless, it is very important to understand what is happening in order to reach out for the correct type of help.

I recognize the symptoms of PTSD from when I sustained the spinal cord injury.  Then, the aftermath of cleaning up my home life, social life and then trying to figure out where I fit in now that I function from a wheelchair.

Even though it has been many years since the spinal cord injury, the symptoms of PTSD can raise its ugly head when other traumatic situations happen in life.

I had it again when I got divorced, had to move three times before I finally found a house that was sufficient for my children and me.  The symptoms flared furiously when I was diagnosed with a neuromuscular disease that affects the upper part of my body that isn’t paralyzed.

As I stayed at my friend’s house during the evacuation of Hurricane Harvey, I could feel the sadness and hopelessness begin to trickle it’s way within me.    I already suffer from anxiety and take a regimen of anti anxiety medication that I believe keeps me well balanced.

However, in this case where I had no idea if I had a home to go to, or what would happen since I didn’t have flood insurance like many of my neighbors, I could feel the fear engulf me.

I kept myself in what I call prayer mode.  I silently and privately recite prayers over again.  I deliberately made myself focus on what was still good, true and pure, which happened to be my children, my husband, and my dog.  We were alive and together.

Now, that I am home, I am doing what I can to give back and help those who were less fortunate.  I feel for them, because that could have so easily been me.

I still cringe at the thought of how a rescue team would help someone like me.  Would they take me and leave my wheelchair?  I cannot do anything without it.  It is a horrible feeling.  I am so dependent on my adaptive equipment to do the basic function such as going to the bathroom, taking a shower and even more importantly taking care of my children’s needs.

The Myasthenia Gravis support group had to be cancelled this month because the facility was closed until further notice.  It was the one time I felt a support group should be available.  I sent out an email and asked everyone to check in with me instead.  Thankfully, most are okay, whereas some have lost their homes.  For those, at least I feel we can forward them information to recover.  Yet, there is a part of me that wishes I can just wipe the pain and suffering away from people.  I don’t like it, mostly because I know what it feels like.

Here are some places you can contact if you need help that require little money.

Crisis Psych care: – Memorial Hermann Psychiatric Crisis Clinic.  It is a walk-in clinic.  It is designed to keep people out of hospital emergency rooms.  Will consider taking people without payment.

Spring Branch Health Crisis Clinic, 10780 West View Drive, Suit C, Houston, Texas

Wilcrest Community Medical Center, 11226 S. Wilcrest Drive, Houston, Texas 77099. Phone. 281-977-7462. Clinic hours are Monday to Friday from 8am to 5pm.  They accept patients until 4pm.  No appointment needed.

I Release All Control

I Release All Control

I release all control

Moving Forward Series


Meena Dhanjal Outlaw

It is day three that we have evacuated our home.   The place where I feel the safest now is possibly the dangerous place of all.

When I bought the house, I knew it would be the perfect place for my children and me.

Now, all I keep doing is watching and waiting for word on how my wonderful sanctuary is doing.

They say it is all stuff.  No, this isn’t stuff this is my whole life.  It is all I have left as a disabled woman, mother and wife.  I have lost so much in my life as a result of my spinal cord injury and endured more from having a out of the ordinary neuromuscular disease like Myasthenia Gravis dominate my body.

I continue to hear myself pray as I sleep.  I’m on a bed that is actually an exercise mat.  My wheelchair is still by my side and Thank God.

As of yesterday I felt myself, yet again, let go of any idea that I might have that says I actually have control of my life.

Sometimes, I wonder if that is what faith is all about?  We really do put our hope in the unknown.

It’s my husband’s birthday today.  We still made him a cake and he blew out a candle.  I can see his nerves.  All he wants to do is make sure his wife and children are okay.  And all I can hear myself say is thank you, thank you, and thank you.

I have the best gift a woman can ever have, and that is a caring, loving and protective husband as he.  What luck I have.  Where other cultures feel I am a curse being disabled, I feel so rich.  How could this be a curse?  God dropped him down especially for my children and me.  We learned to love and live again all because he didn’t care that I was disabled and functioned from a wheelchair.  Instead, he thought I was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life.

So life is a box of chocolates that’s for sure.  I am really happy with the flavors I have pulled out so far.

I may not have a home to go to, but I have my what really matters in life, Love. For if there is no Love, there is no God.

Dealing with Indifference

Dealing with Indifference

Dealing with Indifference

Moving Forward Series


Meena Dhanjal Outlaw

My kids are off from school for the summer. I decided I would sign Jamie up for piano lessons.  He’s about to turn six years old.

Every time my children were home for the summer, I have often felt as if I am the only parent that thinks almost three months is just too long for them to stay home.

My seventeen year old decided he was going to spend his weekdays taking extra credit classes at summer school.  As happy as this made me, I also realized, there goes the majority of my summer activity money.

So, with my youngest, I find out myself thinking once again, what do we do and most importantly, what can we afford?

After looking at a few options, I decided on piano and swimming lessons.  As he graduated from Kindergarten, he received two very large volumes that were filled with math problems, in addition to reading, and science worksheets.  So, in a nutshell, I had my work cut out for me.

On our first day of swimming lessons, we entered in from the lobby entrance.  This was where all the employees sat to sign in new participants, as well as, adding and amending schedules.

I paid for ten days of a class known as ‘catfish’.  Jamie would be taught how to not be afraid of the water.

One of the sales clerks walked us into the main area of the gym where Jamie would meet his swimming instructor.  We passed the many changing rooms, until we arrived to a large waiting area.

This is where parents sat in the rows of chairs in what was a fairly decent sized space.

Beside the door that the children would go through once called to begin their session was a little play area.

It housed a TV that played a latest kids movie, and some toys.  I didn’t have to tell Jamie where to go.

As I look around to decide where I would park myself in the power chair, I realized there were no spaces for a wheelchair.  I had to move a few chairs around in order to scoot myself into where I could sit in front of the very large window in front of us.  Behind the window was the huge pool with many instructors teaching their little catfish, stingrays, and dolphins and all the way up to the highest level of Stroke 3 students.

I realized even if I pushed the chairs around I was still sticking out and found myself having to scoot either forward or backwards to allow others to pass me safely.

As Jamie was called in to his lesson I excitedly sat watching for him to appear in the window and with camera in hand.  However, seeing that there were three rows of parents in front of me, I couldn’t see him.  I elevated my wheelchair and I finally got a view of his little head bobbing up and down the water being securely held by his teacher.

I was delighted.  I found a place where he could learn something new, and I could stay cool which helped with the constant influx of irregular body temperature I experience from the spinal cord injury and Myasthenia Gravis.  With the spinal cord injury I get cold.  With Myasthenia Gravis, heat can exacerbate me.

Normally, when I go to any place more than once eventually people get used to seeing me, so someone will hold the door open, or even help pull out a few chairs for me.

In the ten days of attending with Jamie, taking him to the changing rooms, helping him dress and leaving the facility, it was only one time that another parent held a door open for me so we could exit the building.

On our first piano lesson, things were a little better.  I was received with kindness and no one seemed to have any problem in opening the door.  The only problem I experienced was the size of the waiting room.  It was tiny.  The seating consisted of black leather couches that lined the walls on either side of the entrance doors.  Even if someone did want to pull a chair out, they couldn’t.  The only place I could sit in was in front of the actual door.

So, as I sat there, customers had a hard time getting around me.

“Oh boy,” I thought.

It is never a comfortable situation to be in, but I have been down this road so many times in the seventeen years I have raised children from a wheelchair.

Most times when I mention something to the owners of an establishment it is received either positively or negatively, but the problem in this case was, they just had no space to accommodate my power wheelchair. What was I going to tell them? You need to get a bigger waiting room? You need to take out half of your seating?

I also thought, “Wow, they obviously don’t have kids that are in wheelchairs that attend their music lessons, what a shame.”

On the second visit we went inside, the owner of the established told me I needed to move into a space that put me in front of the couches on one side of the waiting area.

She was trying to get bulk items from her car and bring them inside to the facility.

In the meantime, no other customers could sit on the seats behind me, and the ones that entered looked at me as if I was deliberately trying to block the seating.

One man stood in front of me just staring.  I had to apologize and explain the situation.  Luckily, he was courteous and waited more patiently than I myself could muster.

Here’s the thing.  Either I stop going and just let my children not experience certain activities in their lives, or I suffer the inconveniences and rudeness just so that I know my children are not living the indifference with me.

Sadly, it also just means that I am the one carrying the stress with me.

How can any human go around as if nothing has happened in my shoes?  I can’t, no one can.  However, If I complain, it will only make my child feel the blunt of the situation, and in the seventeen years I have been a mom on wheels, I have done everything I can to avoid such moments for them.

So, at the third piano lesson, I made sure Jamie was safely deposited into the facility with his teacher, and then I sat outside the front of the store until his class had finished, regardless of the blazing heat, or how my body was going to react.

It is at moments like this where life in a wheelchair is not pleasant, but to complain would only make matters worse.  Sure, I could tell them about the Americans with Disabilities Act, but how would that help my five-year-old child who is just trying to learn something in life?

Instead, I choose to focus on the fact that my child is going to be even smarter in life, because I put away the indifference and decided this was not going to affect his life.

my life.  However, even more so is the realization that I have three children to whom I gave life through birth.  Two of my children were born before my spinal cord injury, and one after.   To some people that might not be much of an accomplishment, but I beg to differ.  Being a mother is a blessing.  Being a mother and paralyzed, well that’s just unique.

When it rains it pours

When it rains it pours

When it Rains it Pours

Moving Forward Series


Meena Dhanjal Outlaw

It’s been two days now since we had to evacuate our home.  Hurricane Harvey has affected Fort Bend to where we are now known as the 800-year flood.

Midnight was when we decided we had to leave.   Our lives are more important.  A wonderful family decided to take us in.

As a disabled person, all I can think of is what’s going to happen?

The first things I grab are my cath kits and medication.  Even then, I know I only have five days of the main medication I need that keep me from having muscle weakness. Paralyzed by the spinal cord injury and symptomatic from myasthenia gravis, my challenges are endless at times, well so it seems.

I moved into my home as a refuge after building it for my children and me.  I got married again, had a baby again.  The kitchen table holds so many memories.  I had to leave all my photo albums behind.  I know it is all stuff, but it is all I have left.  Life has already been cruel enough to me.  I having nothing left if I lose the house.

They say God only gives us what we can handle, but at times, that feels like a cruel joke.

I have my family.

I have been watching the news just like many Houstonians and Sugar Land residents.

I cannot help but feel guilty as I watch TV and see the devastation. Lives are already lost.  People are missing.

I sit here with food, shelter and water to feed not only myself, but also my children.

Last night I slept again, but I could hear myself pray, again.  I keep reciting the Lords prayer over and over, silently.

As soon as this is over, even I, in my wheelchair can help someone, whether to give food, offer room, or just be an ear for those reliving the trauma.

The friend that I am staying with is disabled too.  I watch her parents take care of her around the clock.  It makes me think about all those with a disability that have to leave the safety and sanctity of their homes to go to unknown place wondering who will take care of them and how.  This is trauma all over again.

I have lived the last seventeen years of my life disabled and full of optimism.  This is all about humility and humanity.

The family who have opened their doors to my children, husband, dog and I have scarified everything to help their daughter.

My own family calls me every day from abroad, worrying so much for my safety. They would be here in an instant, but this is one of those rare times where we understand the true impact of Mother Nature at her most volatile.  No one can come in and no one can get out.  Airports are closed. Roads are flooded.  We are stuck.

I can see my friend’s family silently worry too, for their home.  If something happens to them she will have no one.

Can anyone imagine living like that?  Well, most, if not all with a disability can.         Now I sit and wait to hear how much worse it will get. Then we will know if we have a home to go back to.  Yes, home.  It’s been my refuge since my circumstances changed as a result of the spinal cord injury.

Right now this is as much as I can take.  Between the paralysis, Myasthenia Gravis and dealing with the challenges of life, I pray that I am not witness to the 800-year flood devastation.

No more Lord, please no more.

When is my turn

When is my turn

When is my turn?

Moving Forward Series by

Meena Dhanjal Outlaw

This morning, I went to the grocery store I frequently shop at. The store was quiet and this is one of the reasons I like coming early.  I don’t have to deal with crowds when I need to grab a few items.  Today, I just needed dog food.

After grabbing the item I headed to the express checkout line.  One of the great things when shopping at the same store for seventeen years is that the main staff members know me very well.  They are always helpful and I never have to ask if I need assistance taking my groceries to the car.

However this morning for just one item it was an easy trip.

I sat in my wheelchair behind several people.  Among them were three young teenage girls.  One had turned around a couple of times to look at me.  Not a big deal.

Then, with in a few minutes these same girls appeared to be in a rush and needed to get out of that particular aisle. Before I realize what is happening they move towards the back of the aisle.  Now, they have to pass me.

I’m definitely in my own world because when I look up again these girls are in sync in squeezing themselves on either side of my power wheelchair.

I became irritated when one of the girls is almost knocked into the joystick of my chair.  At that moment just like any insane moment of life things seem to go in slow motion.

Thankfully the chair didn’t move.

Nevertheless, in keeping peace I remain quiet, even though I now seem them getting into the aisle next to mine.  The register had obviously just been opened.

My turn to checkout comes. As I am being checked out I have roll up to where I can reach the machine where I can swipe my car to pay.  Next thing I know the cashier that just opened her register is trying to squeeze by me. Once again my joystick is a smidgen away from being knocked.  I can no longer hold back the irritation I feel.

I say aloud, “You can’t squeeze by a wheelchair with power.  If you hit the joystick all that’s going to happen is my chair will move and if there’s a person behind me they could get hurt.”

My cashier, who knows me well says, “oh that’s a good thing to know.”  She could see that I was upset, and this was her way of defusing what had become a very uncomfortable moment.

I left that store feeling frustrated, because if those girls knocked into a standing body to get to their destination would that is acceptable?  If that cashier tried to squeeze by another customer who was able body would that customer have kept quiet and just take it?

That’s my point.  What makes people think that I’m basically a machine and not a person?  How much should I speak up in order for me to finally be noticed? Moreover, what happened to saying excuse me?

Even in my irritation I wasn’t happy to speak up.  Simply put, I shouldn’t have to!  I deserve the same common courtesy as anyone else.

As I entered my house and poured the dog food in Lady’s bowl, I realized that if nothing else mission accomplished.  The dog was able to eat, and just maybe some people will think a little more carefully when they decide to ambush a wheelchair.

A Cultural Difference

A Cultural Difference

A Cultural Difference

Moving Forward Series by

Meena Dhanjal Outlaw

One of the things that bother me most is when someone is bold enough to say something to me that is directly related to my disability or my life. Even more so, I can’t help but get territorial when the insult is directed at my children or in this case my husband.

The sting of the stares and comments finally ceased to bother me after about four years after I became paralyzed.

Nevertheless, there are moments like a recent incident that I have to question the character of such a bold person.

My husband and I were at a social gathering.  Within the group of friends one guy continues his little, but insulting snipes at my husband.

Just like in every situation, my husband never allows anything to bother him.  This is definitely something I can say I am still working on, but I also didn’t get upset at this person.

Instead, when we got home, I decided to read up on why people feel so compelled to put others down. After all, knowledge is power, not arguments. There were two reasons that I read on ‘Psychology Today.’

One is that the person saying such remarks is insecure and is trying to make him or her feel better.

The second reason is that this same person would feel a sense of control and it has everything to do with the lack of control he or she had as a child.

So, basically this is learned behavior.

There is something to be said about a man like David.

To love a woman with a disability as unconditionally as he does says that this is a man that has all his morals and ethics in tact.

What saddens me though is that the friend’s behavior will carry on in the next generation through his children. It is these types of people that have no filter when it comes to insulting anyone regardless of race, disability or gender.

I came away from this situation with the decision that we will no longer socialize with this person.  David, on the other hand, is able to let it go. Apparently it’s a guy thing.

That always baffles me, but I understand something different.  When we are true and good then, we have nothing to hide or prove.

This very person also puts down his wife regardless who is present. There have been times I’ve wanted to stop him and give him a peace of my mind.  Unfortunately, I also realize that his wife is perfectly content in the way he treats her. Therefore, correcting him would only backfire on me.

I’m sure I noticed such behavior before the spinal cord injury, but I have found that I can read people much better now.

There’s no moral to this story. The unsavory part is that this person is an Indian man.  Therefore, somehow in this culture this behavior is deemed acceptable. So much so, that such a community ignores an Indian woman and her children after being left paralyzed and alone to deal with it.

My husband isn’t Indian.  He truly is a good ole boy raised in a Christian household from Alabama.  In all the years I have known my husband and his family there has never been a sign of this type of disrespect.

I have on the other hand also met Indian men that do behave with decency, but I can definitely say, this type of behavior is a cultural difference.

The next day, I came to the following conclusion; that I can only be more appreciative of who I have as my support system. The other and final conclusion is that I can close the door to my house and never have to worry about my safety or sanity.