Perks of being “disabled”

I quote “disabled” because I don’t actually call myself disabled nor do I think of myself that way in any regard. I have the mind, spirit and fierceness of a runner and a fighter. I also have the fortune of doing a lot with myself despite the outcome of my prognosis. With some creativity, I do things in my own way. However, society doesn’t also see it this way, and in many ways this has served in my favor. Here is a list of reasons why the bogus label of my condition has positively impacted my life.

1. $2.75 cabs, free Ubers, and free Medicaid rides

Since last April, I’ve been using NYC’s paratransit service, Access-a-Ride. The driver picks me up and drops me off anywhere I’d like, as long as it’s in any of NYC’s five boroughs. It’s basically a cab for $2.75, the same price as a bus or subway. If I’m lucky, Access-a-Ride sometimes pays for an Uber to drive me around. This all means no more paying for expensive Ubers and taxis (for now). The feeling of being driven to Brooklyn or Manhattan from miles away in Queens for so cheap or free has never been so conveniently liberating.

Of course, there are always drawbacks. It’s always a hit or miss. There are times when Access-a-ride will pay for some fancy limo to drive me home directly to my destination. OR they will pick me up in a freezing cold van and pick up or drop off other people while I’m shivering for hours. Sometimes I sit in the van for over two hours. Also, there are times the driver comes late, putting me at risk of missing an appointment. And I’m required to schedule all my trips at least 24 hours in advance. That being said, this service only works for me when there’s a consistency in my schedule, such as going to work. When things come up last second, I take the train. Taking the train is always a good excuse to stay active and energetic.

Speaking of work, Acess-a-Ride has allowed me to work in a cool part of Brooklyn 30 hours a week for the past three months. Had I not been disabled, working there would have never been an option. Although I’m still capable of taking the train, the commute for even a non-disabled person would be well over 2 hours from where I live.

I also take a luxury taxi service to physical therapy two to three times a week. Medicaid pays for a fancy black car with cushiony seats to drive me to and from my destination. Although this service is only used for medical purposes, they have been able to drive me directly to my job in Brooklyn from therapy in Long Island.


2. Front row seats to shows

Last February, I decided to see one of my favorite comedians, Trevor Noah live. Tickets are free, but there is no guarantee of admission. My friend Racky and I arrived 3 hours prior to the show, waiting on line in the freezing cold February weather. When the guard saw me standing out there in crutches, he allowed me and Racky to cut the line and walk in with VIP. Not only that, but he led us to the first row. The stage was only an inch away from us. We saw Trevor Noah’s sweat and everything. After waving his goodbyes to the audience after the show, he locked eyes with both of us. Our hearts were exploding.

3. First Class Emirates and skipping airplane lines

Oh yes, talk about luxury in the skies. After being discharged from the hospital in Thailand, I got to skip every security line while being wheeled by the Thai police on my way to flying First Class with Emirates. What an experience. Throughout the entire 24-hour flight, I was served endless glasses of champagne, wine and Arabic coffee from a genie’s lantern. My chair reclined all the way back into a bed and I was able to close the door and raise the walls so that I had my own private room. However, I didn’t want to close myself off for too long; otherwise I would’ve misses out on all the 5 star meals and vegan deserts served throughout the whole trip. I was even given a free Bulgari bag.

I will probably never have this experience again unless I marry an old rich guy. But I still get way better service when I travel in general. When I’m boarding an airplane, the handicapped are always treated as first priority. Never in my life have I entered a completely empty plane. It’s not like I get to choose my own seat or anything, but it’s always a nice feeling to not be pushed and squeezed by other passengers when boarding a plane.


4. Blinged-out crutches and canes

When else in my life have I had a perfect excuse to walk around in LED lights? Clearly these walking devices serve more than just getting me aroud. They are part of my fashion. They bring out personality and unique characteristics.

I get to shine my lights that change colors when I head out to clubs. I’m like a human disco ball.

Lately I’ve been walking around with these two wooden engraved sticks that I got in a Walmart-type store in the Berkshires, MA for only $4 each. But people don’t need to know that. I can just pretend that they were gifts from the Shamanic Spirits.



5. Discounted train tix and disabled parking

Okay I don’t actually use this, apparently I need some type of card for it to prove that I’m disabled (because the visuals of my impairments are clearly not enough), but definitely something I want to consider.

6. Medical Marijuana

I haven’t tried this either because I’m so used to the stuff on the streets, but I do qualify for it in New York. Something to keep in mind.

Weekend highlights

Last weekend was truly epic. Since it was my only weekend off from yoga TT, I wanted to make the most of it. Here is a dose of highlights and spontaneous moments to share a few~

Friday night, I posed for Astoria Drink n’ Draw at Q.E.D. where artists come in with their sketch books, pens and colors to draw the model for 3 hours. The event began with 30 second to 5 minute poses and ended with a 30 minute pose. I wore a black one-piece, a neon green skirt and my customized black, white and metallic Nikes. I posed in the shoes, then posed taking them off and holding them up by the laces. I later did more dynamic poses, holding an ankle bind for 10 minutes and Pigeon Pose (Google it if you don’t know) for 20 minutes. You can check out the beautiful drawings of me on Instagram under #astoriadrinkndraw.

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Syed’s drawing
Lit up crutches from the 4/7 Drink n’ Draw
On Saturday afternoon, I went with five friends to Long Beach, Long Island. There was a massive art fair on the boardwalk selling all this hand-made jewelry and tie-die clothing. My friend Racky and I couldn’t control our spending. We got these matching Chakra necklaces with all 7 colors on them.

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Walking back and forth along the 2 mile boardwalk made me very fatigued. I envisioned a lazy beach day, but perhaps this was a good substitute for all the walking I would’ve done on my own time. For me, walking such a long distance is really like going for a run, except now I exert way more energy to walk than I ever did when I was able to run.


We all rented bikes to ride along the boardwalk. The last and only time I rode a bike since my accident was back in March, but I was with my parents and in a secure environment. This time, I was in a crowded place and had to rely on my friends to help me start and stop the bike. I was pretty nervous. I tried to stay as close to the railing as possible in case I needed to stop.

Racky’s brother, Jomel held onto both ends of the bike before I took off. When I was stable, he let me go. I peddled my feet, wearing my leg braces to keep them locked into position of the peddles.

I freaked out every time there was something in my way. A person, a biker, a police car, a lamppost. When bikers rode in my direction, I rang the bell several times in panic. Part of me wished I had a sign up that read “I’m disabled!” because people literally had no idea. It’s obvious when I’m walking down the street, but not when I’m on a bike. This is maybe the one time I wished I was treated like a porcelain doll. People were in my way, obliviously, and I feared that slowing down for them would bring me to the ground since I’m not yet capable of coming to a complete stop.

​I just breathed until all my anxiety flushed away. Riding under the tranquil sky and along the beach waves brought me to a state of zen. It felt so liberating to be on a bike again. Somehow, I got isolated from all my friends and went off for least 20 minutes by myself without stopping. On my first attempt to stop and call my friends, I placed my feet on the ground, but immediately lost balance and fell over to the left with my bike. About 10 people rushed over to help me in the blink of an eye. Luckily I felt fine and tried to just get up like nothing happened.​

My friends and I waited until 6pm to enter the beach because we were too frugal to pay the $15. It really was the perfect time to go. The crowds were gone and the sky breathtakingly changed from orange to pink to purple. I crawled like a dog to the shore where I found Racky standing and we slowly inched our way into the ocean. Standing and shivering together was more torturous and frightening each time we got closer to the waves. They looked so huge from a distance and the water was absolutely freezing. Once it was right below our waists, we were quivering as the break of waves kept crashing into us. I had to do my Warrior Ones to keep my body up from collapsing. Finally, we got closer, dunked our heads and rode our first wave. Right when we felt safe, a worker saw us from afar and kicked us out. “Closed!” he said. I got out of the ocean, looking all crippled, walking lopsidedly over the pebbled rocks.

We dried up and hung out in the sand as the sky grew darker. I practiced some yoga. I’ve never successfully done a handstand without the wall, even before my accident, so I gave it a shot in the sand. It was the perfect chance to practice while the ground was soft.

You learn something new every day. I can’t stand normally, but I can stand on my head.

The next day, I went hiking with my dad at the Kaaterskill Falls in Upstate New York, about a 2.5 hour drive from my house in Queens. We got there around 2pm and spent 4 hours venturing out in the wilderness.

The hike was very steep and rocky. I walked up with my wooden cane on the right side, using my dad’s forearm/hand to get up with my left side. I was sweating and breathing heavily the entire way up. At one point, we entered a never-ending staircase. My quads were on fire.


On the way up, we stopped at a waterfall that had a natural pool people were swimming in. I took off my clothes and went in with my bathing suit. The water was FREEZING. I put my ankle in, and then my butt and the lady next to me thought I was crazy. Since I barely have feeling in those areas, I was able to handle the temperature until I sunk the rest of my body in.



We hiked up to the very top of the mountain to see the viewpoint of the waterfall. Nowadays I can’t stop staring at cliffs. This one was 170 feet high. It’s hard to believe that I fell close to this distance.


Throughout the hike, I was getting many compliments from strangers, but this one resonated with me the most. A 40-year old man approached us from up the trail and shook our hands, looked at me and said “Excuse me. My name is Moose. I saw you hiking and you’re an inspiration.” And with tears actually coming out of his eyes, he said “I just sit on my lazy ass and here you are hiking here every day [it was only our first time].” My dad and I smiled and thanked him, and shook this man’s hand again who was so full of emotion.


I was so sore later that evening in my shoulders, triceps, quads, hamstrings and hips. From hiking to the point of total exhaustion, I had no desire to move any part of my body. I was pooped.

We had a nice vegan meal in Woodstock and got home from our long journey after 11pm. It was a rough PT in the AM.

New connections or stronger relationships?

Over the past 10 months, the progression of my recovery has been dependent on two major things: #1 Waiting for my damaged nerves to regenerate and form new connections and #2 Building strength in all the body parts that are functioning to compensate for the ones that aren’t.

Among many damaged nerves, the biggest issue lies on the lack of feeling and movement in my feet and ankles. One of the biggest reasons I cannot walk without a supported device is that I don’t have complete dorsiflexion (ability to move the foot up) and plantar-flexion (ability to move the foot down). You need these movements to take normal steps. You also need your ankles to hold your balance while standing. My ankles don’t have that control; they are wobbly, and I’m beginning to get muscle atrophy from not using my calf muscles.

Waiting for this function to recover has been painfully slow. Although I’m getting subtle feeling back, like the top of my 2nd left toe, there is still a very long ways to go. In January 2017, I was able to move both ankles up slightly for the first time in 4 months. That following March, I was able to spread my left pinkie toe apart from the others. Although these are subtle breakthroughs, they present hope for more future recovery. However, at the rate I’m going, it feels like this can take over 20 years.

When I ask doctors if I’m ever going to feel or move my feet again, they respond with an “I don’t know.” Unfortunately, Western Medicine does not have conclusive answers when it comes to the recovery of Spinal Cord Injury. There is no cure to make the nerves regenerate faster. I’m told that I have to just wait and see what happens, and that there is no guarantee that it will ever happen.

That being said, I’m giving 90% of the credit to #2 for helping me get to where I am today in my recovery.

If I didn’t have the arm strength I gained, I wouldn’t have been able to lift my body up with crutches. If I didn’t have the hip and quad strength, I wouldn’t have been able to walk around with 1 crutch. If I didn’t have the abdominal strength I have now, I wouldn’t have been able to walk with a cane. All of the activities I do on a daily basis to get me through the day such as crawling on all fours, waddling, taking the stairs, even standing on my own head have been attributed to the build-up of every muscle, every crevice of my body that has always been functioning before and after my accident and saving my ass through this surreal part of my life.

My new gains have enabled me to go hiking through extremely steep trails. They have allowed me to surf beach waves and swim in the deep end of swimming pools. They have allowed me to continue my yoga practice and adjust other bodies as a yoga teacher. I can ride a bike (although clumsily when starting and stopping). I am making the most out of life and enjoying the thrill of every moment, because even though sometimes I feel like Mr. Potato Head with missing body parts, I still have so much that is working.

No, I am not losing hope in the redevelopment of connections in my feet, ankles and calves because I do believe there are answers out there that Western Medicine has not yet solved. But in the meantime, I will continue to strengthen those connections that have never lost sight and have always had my back.