Saturday, December 7, 2013

CrossFit As Physical Therapy After Long Term Disability

If you read my last post before this, you would see that I was struggling with my weight, strength, overall fitness, and motivation.  I had less than 500 kilometers on my cycling computer and had set some fairly reasonable goals for the end of this year and 2014.

So I'm glad to report that after determining that I just wanted to surpass 1000 kilometers for this year, and being told by my friends that it was too ambitious, I very easily passed 1200 kilometers by mid-October.  However, I did not fulfill my goal of doing one century (100 mile) ride this year because I've had some struggles with returning to work life and frankly didn't want to spend the money.  But I did enter one metric century riding from Deefield, MA up to southern Vermont and back with my brother called the D2R2, and though I didn't ride the full hundred (I took a shortcut and ended up doing 85k) it was a great experience.

The most enlightening part of that experience wasn't how much I struggled up 12% and steeper climbs on sand and gravel, but the photo my brother took of me in my lycra before we started.  I looked at it later and said to him, "Really?  I'm THAT FAT now?"  And he said, "Yes.  I was trying to put it to you gently."

Not saying I haven't made tremendous progress, but that photo was a real kick in the pants--and those pants should have been extra-extra-large.  When I compare it to a photo of me just a couple of months before I was hit by the car it's hard to believe it's the same person.  I immediately started a gallery on Facebook called "John Get His FAT ASS Back on the Bike" and have been posting clothed body shots of myself before rides and workouts just about weekly.  Some of my friends have told me this has been a great source of encouragement for them.

In my mind, I'm still just as strong and lean as I was before I was hit.  Numbers on a scale don't tell me otherwise, and failing to finish an event or finishing but struggling for every inch seems to only have an effect of bringing my attention to the reality of the situation of only about a week.

While my struggles with my physical and professional comeback have been making progress, I definitely see how I should have been trying harder.  As my wife said, "It's not your fault you were hit by a car."  But at the same time I am the only one who is in control of how hard I exercise or how much effort I put into starting a new career.

Professionally, I have been studying to acquire new skills and update old ones.  Physically, I've started doing CrossFit to regain my athletic abilities as quickly as possible.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, I can only describe CrossFit as 'everything.'  It covers everything.  It's not the same from one workout to the next.  And at the gym I've been going to I don't even have the same instructor from one workout to the next.  So one day I might be doing power lifting and the next running--which are completely different types of training.

The other thing I love about CrossFit is that while I'm still very weak or even the weakest at many things I could have done easily before I was hit, I don't feel embarrassed.  The classes are mixed, so people who are in great shape are working out alongside people who can't do a single pullup.  It's structured so that this isn't a problem, so there is no need for a beginners class and an advanced class--we just have class.

But the bottom line is, the effects of this training especially on the parts of me that I hadn't really worked on at all have been tremendous.  As I wrote in the last post that I still couldn't run or jump, I wasn't really trying either.  Now I might be the slowest one in the Workout Of the Day (WOD) but I'm doing it, and I'm doing better and better each time.  CrossFit training doesn't miss a thing.

So if you're serious about wanting to get back in shape when you have to start from zero, or even if you've never been in shape at all, and you want to do it without having to suffer through ego bashing or pity encouragement, then I can't recommend CrossFit strongly enough.  No sport I've done until now, including running, swimming, or Chinese kickboxing can get you in as good shape in a 'whole' way.

CrossFit is making me whole again.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

My Biggest Struggle at the End of Disability is the Ego Crushing Experience of the Comeback

Easily my biggest struggle after Disability is with my weight.  I gained fifty pounds.

Most people lose weight.  My theory on that is, they've never exercised before and all the sudden they're going to Physical Therapy three times a week.  But in my case, I am a lifetime athlete, so Physical Therapy doesn't even represent a small fraction of my normal level of physical activity.

It's also a struggle to be as motivated to go Cycling as I was before I was hit.  For starters, I was in amazing physical condition, and now I'm fat and weak, so it's actually harder for me to do a basic ride in less than ideal conditions now--in great part because I'm dragging another fifty pounds.  But it's also a struggle in terms of routine and habits.

After a year or two of not doing what I normally do, I found that I have to reform those essential habits, including everything from getting my bike ready, to getting dressed, and what I do while I'm actually riding.

It's also somewhat embarrassing.  I can't ride with my old riding buddies yet because I can't keep up, whereas before that was their problem--they couldn't keep up with me and I would have to slow down or wait.  I even tried riding with the slowest possible riders, and while I'm at the point where riding with them isn't a problem, I want to ride as I normally do.

Normal for me is about 4,000 kilometers a year, six or more bike tours a season, at least three of them 100 miles or more (aka a Century).  Right now, for 2013, I have only about 500 kilometers under my tires and most of that is recent.

Last year I did my first tour back on the bike, and challenged a metric century (100 kilometers).  It was brutal.  I was like a beginner out there.  I started out strong, then a flat tire; fixed it, caught up to the stragglers; then another flat.  And there were climbs of 9% and and 12% grade on this tour too.

After that second flat tire, there was no one else in sight.  I was determined to finish the ride no matter what, but I was prepared for the very reasonable possibility of bowing out for the first time ever.  Then, furious at my failure to even keep up with the slowest riders on the tour, I looked down and saw that I had only ten kilometers to go.  This meant that I was going to finish the ride.  At this point I started to cry like a baby.

I'll never forget that moment.  As embarrassed as I was, suffering, in pain, exhausted, it was enough for me just to finish.

I don't mean this to be inspiring.  What I mean by writing this is, you are going to have to face your ego, and overcome your lesser-self, if you really want to regain your full abilities again.  Yes, it helps when people know what I've been through and am going through, and tell me how amazing and encouraging that is to them, but even without that you have to be able to rise above your own limitations.

My determinations for cycling are as follows:
- Ride two 100 mile rides in 2013
- Ride over 3500 kilometers in 2014

I figure if I ride at least 300 kilometers a month through the end of this year and throughout next year, I will have really made my comeback.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Finding a Job After Disability

The biggest worry people on Disability have perhaps is how to find a new job when you're ready to go back to work.  Those concerns include how you explain this lengthy period of not working without telling a potential employer that you were disabled and hadn't been working at all, will the total devastation to your credit ratings over the period of disability make you unhireable (like they say in those horrifying commercials), and what happens to your disability benefits.  I can only answer based on my own experience, but I feel it will answer a lot of people's most dire concerns.

Employment Verification and Background Checks: the KISS Rule

Easily the biggest worry is sending out a resume which says that you either currently work or did work until recently at the company you were an employee of while you were on disability.  What if a background check reveals that you actually haven't worked there in months or years?  Should you only put down the period that you did actual, physical work?  The good news is that so long as you are officially an employee, working or not, you can put down that entire period on your resume and it will pass a background check.  Even if you took the last month or more of your employment as vacation pay it counts.

When asked by anyone--future employer, bartender, neighbor, President of the United States, extra terrestrial, anyone--why you left an employer, there are only two answers: "I was laid off" or "I wanted to seek a better opportunity" / "better fit."  Those are good, professional answers.  You never say, "I was disabled by an accident and then replaced in my job" or "I was fired."  No background check is going to reveal otherwise.  The question isn't why you no longer work at that company; what they want to know is if you will fail if they hire you at their company.

If you're not exactly sure what your period of employment was, you can usually do what the background checkers do and get an Employment Data Report for free from sites like The Work Number which receive these reports from various companies.  This report will also tell you your exact job title (which may be different from what you called yourself or what was on your business cards), rate of pay, and what your benefits package included, so that when you submit information which has to be accurate and easily verifiable, it will be.  You don't want to have a potential employer contacting your former manager, who might say something you wish they hadn't.  Instead give them the link or phone number to the employment verification service or Human Resources--which will know what they legally can and cannot say at risk of legal action against them, and simply verify your period of employment.

In my case for example, I was hit by a car after only one week on the job, and I went on Disability only two months after that, but I was an employee of the company for two years.  Two years is what appears on my resume, and it stands up to employment verification because it's the truth.  The fact is, I was an employee of the company for two years. No one needs to know anything more than that.

As a general rule, you should only give an answer of just a few words, a sentence at the most, such as "laid off" or "resigned."  Don't tell a story; don't complain about your former employers, coworkers, managers, or circumstances.  As the saying goes, follow the KISS rule: Keep It Simple Stupid.

Will A Credit Report Ruin Your Ability to Get a Job?

Next big worry you might have is that whether because of your period of Disability, the economy, a combination of the two, or if you simply have always had financial trouble for whatever reason, that your credit rating or credit report might make you unhireable.  No doubt you have seen terrifying commercials on television for debt consolidation and credit repair which claim exactly that, but they're lying.

A credit report is not going to reveal your credit rating to potential employers.  It's simply a part of a background investigation to see if you are irresponsible.  And maybe you are, maybe you never pay your bills on time, maybe you've been dodging paying your student loans or owe back taxes, maybe you have collections chasing you over an old gym membership or electric bill from a previous apartment which you haven't gotten around to or never intend to pay.  None of these things, even all of them combined, will ruin your ability to get a job.  They're looking for really severe problems like failing to pay child support and there being a judgement against you for it, or some other dire legal trouble.  They are not going to deny you a job because your credit cards are maxed out and your bank account is overdrawn.  They're looking for fraud.  And of course they're not going to deny you a job for collecting unemployment or disability checks either--which they couldn't find out unless you were dumb enough to volunteer that information.

That's it.  It's that simple.  Don't worry about your credit report when applying for a job.

Social Security Benefits: How and When Do Then End?

And finally, what about your Social Security Disability benefits.  Again, just my experience, but SSD has been extremely helpful throughout my entire disability period.  I was approved after a medical exam and the only other contact I had with them was after a year and a half when they sent me a form asking me about my work.  They had the private Long Term Disability insurer down as an employer, which required correction of course, but otherwise I simply marked that I wasn't working at all, no longer employed, and not receiving any source of income besides SSD benefits.  I included a letter telling them that I was expecting to start working again soon at a new job, and when I followed up with a phone call was told that I should notify them the day I received my first paycheck.  They also informed me that I could continue to receive SSD benefits for a couple of months after starting my new job as it was considered 'trying' to go back to work--because for all I know I could find out I wasn't as recovered as I thought I was.  In fact I met someone when I went for my exam who had to go back on disability repeatedly because since he was injured he had tried to go back to work a few times but was physically unable to hold down a job; just talking to him I could tell he was in a hell of a lot of pain, and couldn't imagine him putting in even a half day in that condition.

Of course my biggest concern would be receiving money after a status change, using it, and then having to pay it back, so at this point I just want to make sure Social Security knows what's going on and that I know if I've received money that I need to send back or will be taken back from my account.  But I'm not going to feel guilty about receiving this money for a couple of months after I start working again of course because, after all, it's my money, which I contributed to Social Security over years of working, and I will continue to contribute to Social Security in greater and greater amounts in the years to come until I finally retire.  At the very least, that money will be helpful in getting my life restarted, including new work clothes, and relocation expenses for my new job.


As always, I want to make sure readers are aware that I am not an expert on Disability and that while I hope this information may be helpful to you it does not apply to all cases.  You should consult your own experts with regard to your particular circumstances.

And lastly, please feel free to comment and share your own information and experience.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Great Loss Can Be a Great Opportunity to Change Your Life for the Better

Suffering a loss can ultimately be a good thing.  It can be the fresh break that allows you the freedom to reinvent yourself, make you better than you were before, "better, stronger, faster," and happier.

At the end of 2008 I was successful and I did like my job.  It wasn't my dream job but it paid well and I was good at it.  But I felt my life was stagnating.  This job was not what I went to college for; it didn't match my background at all; and though it offered the opportunity for tremendous financial success when I looked at the job I would be doing if I was truly successful in this business I dreaded the idea of being promoted no matter how well it paid.  I didn't want to be sitting up in bed at two in the morning with a Blackberry and cancelling vacations because I was understaffed and overworked.  I was already working twelve and fourteen hour days, and missing out on many of my favorite activities.  My deepest desire was not to quit working altogether and become a Cycling Bodhisattva Astronomer--though come to think of it that would be pretty cool--but I didn't want to commit my life solely to making money either, which was the only intrinsic value of what I was doing for a living.

Still, why not?  What did I have to complain about?  I had money.  I could do whatever I wanted two or three weeks a year if I planned my vacations well.  People dream of this kind of success.  But I had no aspirations at the time, for anything, and was unmotivated.

So when practicing Buddhism, which consists of chanting Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo and reciting two chapters of the Lotus Sutra to the Gohonzon (a scroll with Chinese and Sanskrit characters on it which embodies and reflects your innate enlightenment) it popped into my head to "chant for something to chant about."  And WHAM! I lost my job.  In the musical chairs which was the economy of the time, my company had bought another company, which somehow was in the position of displacing employees to make room for themselves in the office space and budget.  A lot of us lost our jobs that morning, but everyone else was at the top of their game so they had absolutely nothing to worry about and more than half were near enough to retirement and rich enough that they immediately said they were just going to take the rest of their life off from work.

I had no such luxury, and to top it off, I had never been unemployed since I started working at age thirteen.

That would have been an ideal time to change industries.  I had only been in that one for four and a half years, and my other experience was still fresh enough to be relevant.  But I was unfortunately conditioned at that point to think that if I made any less money than what was already four times the per capita income for my zip code that I would starve.

Why am I going this far back, long before I was hit by a car?  And why all this Buddhism stuff?  It's relevant to my point, I swear, so stick with me.

It was six months before I found my next job.  It was humiliating.  When I told the experience at a Buddhist meeting after what I though was already a rather amazing personal transformation, I cried like a child.  But the new job was not only in the same industry but wasn't nearly as good a job or place to work--though it paid slightly more, which to most people in that industry is the sole meaning of life.  I still had a lesson to learn.

A month after I started the new job, the head of the department died of cancer, a hot shot from Houston who flew in on a corporate jet, lived in a suite at the Marriott, and was driven by limousine everywhere he went replaced him, there was a merger, the people who hired me were the first to go in the process of completely replacing all staff, and finally I was one of the very last to be let go exactly one year later.

Again, chanting about my professional life, it somehow popped in my head that I would get my next job within a month.  Right after the thought occurred to me it was followed by, "What?!  A month?!  Are you insane?!"  Somehow, in my mind there was no taking it back.  It was out there.

And sure enough, a month later, I had landed a job in a whole other industry, not doing exactly what I had been doing before.  Victory, right?  No, it was even worse, but it paid buckets more--the most money I had ever made in my life--and came with a signing bonus which enabled me to put a down payment on finally buying a car.  It was a kind of victory and continued misery all wrapped into one.

My new boss was the worst manager I have ever encountered.  I would figure out later that the only business she had managing others was by title.  And I foresaw that I would be one in a long line of people in a department which had very high turnover except for a couple of select, long time coworkers.

A week after starting the job, I was hit by a car and disabled.  And that's where the start of this blog's story begins--two years ago, save a week.

I have tried the desperate move of looking for another job in the same industry I was in when this story began, but it seems I have successfully removed myself from the running.  And now I really have no choice but to do what I really want to do, what I should have been doing the whole time.

So an accident or personal tragedy can be ultimately a good thing.  But it depends on you.  Don't be willing to do 'anything' to survive.  A willingness to do anything isn't going to get you a decent job much less make you rich or happy.  And it's not the road to success either.  The more determined you are on your goal, and the more effort you make towards attaining it, the more successful you will be.

My goal before was to make money, and I did, and it made me miserable.  Now my goal is to work for the happiness of myself and others, and I feel I am already succeeding.  In the next few months, and next few posts on this blog, I'm going to prove it conclusively.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Insurance Basics for Cyclists: Insuring Both Bike and Rider

Today I'm going to discuss the insurance you should have in place to cover you in case of an accident while out on the road.  I'm specifically referring to cycling here, but certainly this applies to all sorts of other applications, including running, or even as a pedestrian carrying virtually any personal possession.


The standing myth is that there is no such thing as bicycle insurance in the United States, that if your pricey bicycle were totaled in an accident by you or someone else that you would have to pay for the replacement entirely out of pocket, or that you would need to be a homeowner or car owner to have a bicycle or other non-motorized sports equipment covered.  The fact is insurance for your bicycle and other equipment is actually very cheap, and anyone can get it.

I, for example, have a Renter's Policy with State Farm which covers all my property, including my bicycles, anywhere in the world.  The policy costs me less than $25 a month.  But any Personal Property coverage will cover your bicycles.

As discussed in an early post on this blog, when I was hit by a car in October 2010, I didn't wait to see how much the insurance of the driver who hit me was going to pay for the damage to my bicycle; I called my insurer--State Farm--told them it was totaled, the make, model, and year, included the wheelset, and the make, model, and MSRP of the new bike which would be a 'like or better' replacement.  No inspection, no needing to find a receipt or even say how much I paid for the bike.  I received the cost of the bike less depreciation and deductible (the amount of money I pay out of pocket for each claim, which in this case was $500).  State Farm sent me a check for about $1,500 and when they collected the full amount of the loss from the insurance company of the driver who hit me, they sent me another check to refund my $500 deductible.

The only mistake I made was forgetting I should have also included my helmet in the claim.


I used to practice looking at license plates and trying to remember the numbers in case of a hit and run, until I realized you can't even read a license plate unless it's right in front of you much less memorize it when you've just been hit by a car.  And even if you could, what if the driver successfully denied hitting you, or they didn't have insurance, or it wasn't a car but another cyclist or pedestrian.  This is where the Uninsured Motorist coverage of your auto insurance kicks in.

By the book, Uninsured Motorist covers you in case you are in a car accident with another driver and they have no insurance or inadequate insurance to compensate you for your injuries--or in the case of a hit and run.  What almost no one realizes is, this also covers you while cycling and as noted above in all other circumstances as well.  You could be walking across the street when you were hit and this insurance would cover you.

So, again to use me as an example, let's say the driver who hit me on that Autumn afternoon fled the scene and we never found her or she had the absolute minimum statutory coverage for Liability--which is $25,000 in New York State-- or no insurance at all, but I had $100,000 or $300,000 in liability coverage on my own car insurance with an Uninsured Motorist limit equal to that.  I could receive, from my own auto insurance, the difference between what the driver's insurance paid and the full amount I should receive up to the limit of my auto insurance policy.  And I wouldn't even have to go after the driver in court to collect this difference because at that point the loss belongs to my auto insurance carrier--so they would go after the driver and even send me any additional funds they collect.

Also note that collecting from your insurance under Uninsured Motorist would impose no penalty on you whatsoever.  Your rate wouldn't go up one penny and this would not effect points on your license.

Unfortunately for me, at the time I did not own a car--though I do now.


You know those Aflac commercials, where the guys are sitting in a park with their kids and both have broken legs.  They are Disabled from work.  No work means no pay, and unless you're very wealthy you need to be paid just to pay your bills and live as normal a life as possible until you are able to work again--if ever.  And you don't have to be disabled from a very physical job either.  My job at the time was sitting at a desk, talking on the phone, using a computer, file management, and some travel.  About the worst injury I could have at work would be a paper cut, so I had no idea what my employer could do for me other than maybe give me a couple of weeks of unpaid leave.  I couldn't even sit upright in a chair.

Honestly, before I was hit and became disabled, I thought this coverage only applied if I lost a limb or were killed.  I always bought these coverages in case of that kind of injury so my wife would receive all the money she possibly could.  I always bought the maximum.  It was some time after my injury before I realized I was qualified for even Short Term Disability.  These coverages are typically offered to you as a benefit at work, and they cost very little, but they pay when you need it.

Again, I can only use myself as an example.  I had this coverage but didn't really understand what it was.  Moreover, I had only been at my job a week when I was injured, so I didn't think I could actually collect.  And I didn't realize that my injuries qualified me as 'disabled' because I thought that only applied to permanent disability.  Even when I discovered that I was certified disabled, I had no idea that I would qualify for more than a couple of weeks, much less months, and then years.

I certainly never imagined that I would be so badly injured that I couldn't work for more than a couple of weeks, barring terminal illness which was unlikely for a cycling god like me (right Lance?).

So without going into the details, I recommend you buy all the disability and life insurance that is available to you, and when you are injured immediately file a claim.

NOTE: This is not legal advice and does not represent a professional recommendation.  Each case may be different and you should contact your lawyer or insurance representative about any questions you may have about your coverage and circumstances.  This post also may be edited or deleted in the future at the author's discretion.  But I do sincerely wish that everyone gets adequate coverage in case disaster strikes as it did me.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Life Under Reconstruction; "Whatever happens, however, you must not despair"

"When things are going smoothly in this world of ours, we suppose there is nothing to worry about, but these days the situation seems very threatening indeed.  Whatever happens, however, you must not despair.  Be firm in your approach, and if things should not go as you wish with regard to your lands, then determine to be more contented than ever, adopt an attitude of indifference, and if you like, come here."

The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Volume II, "On Polished Wheat" written at Mt. Minobu, Japan to Nanjo Tokimitsu in 1275

Becoming disabled really is a disaster, and it's your own private disaster.  FEMA isn't going to come help you with a place to live and basic services until you get your life back together.  Except for any disability money you may be receiving, you're really on your own.

In my case I'm rather sure that my knees and spine will actually be better than they were before I was hit, and I'm determined that my life should be as well, but in the short term I'm still in recovery mode, and the principle struggle is money.

Social Security Disability, which is my only source of income at this point, only pays a couple of hundred dollars more than my rent, and I've just burned through the remainder of my savings.  On top of that, I just found out that the house I've been living in for the past five years has been sold and I need to move out by the end of July.

Sounds pretty damn awful, doesn't it?

But there are positives as well.  Because I never gave up plugging away at my employer about any benefits or money which I believed I was owed, I found out that I am due some assistance in placing me in another job, as well as Severance Pay, and that the demand that I pay back some money to the company was actually incorrect as I had figured logically it was.  This could mean a new role in the company or at least some much needed money.  This change in status also extended my insurance benefits for months longer without us having to go onto a COBRA program we couldn't afford.

When I spread the news about my housing situation--realize we have really no money for a deposit/first/last right now, particularly in New York City--a family friend immediately offered the rental of a house she's been trying to sell on a month by month basis, and for cheap!  Moreover it's in a location where my costs for everything will be significantly less, including insuring my car, gas, and tolls--all of which are outrageously expensive in Queens.  The house is an hour and change outside of NYC, and ideal for my interests in both Cycling and Astronomy.

It's amazing the results you can get when you never give up.

So now our plan is to move to that house for three months while I find my next job (I have two interviews next week) then save up a bit of money so we can move back to Queens to the same neighborhood.  Then I'm going to start taking classes again, maybe even enroll in a Masters Degree program, and improve my life in every respect.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

And Now the Real Trouble and Recovery Begins

I'm up at 3:47am because I can't sleep. I can't sleep because my mind is not at ease.  With the end of my long term disability benefits from work, and having already been replaced in my job, of course my principle worry is money.  My taxes are a mess and my savings are nearly gone.

I don't know if I'll be able to receive unemployment benefits in addition to Social Security Disability.  I've read that it's possible, but I'm only just about to try for it.  That would really make the difference.

The good news is that my manager had done everything improperly, downright illegal, and now I find that I'm owed some money and support, and that my health insurance will not run out as soon as I thought.  But still, that doesn't save the day.

Do I take any job just to survive?  No.  And that's my advice for the day--or middle of the night.

When you're in this situation, it's somewhat of an opportunity. It's a clean break.  In my case I've felt I went off track when I took that first job in my current career.  I grew up and worked in Entertainment, and also worked in Higher Education and Educational Consulting before.  I came to the realization that I never disliked what I did for a living before, quite the contrary.  I took a series of jobs because the money was great, but I lost what I have to give to the world in the process.

I don't have kids or a mortgage.  I don't need a lot of money right now.  I just have to find that next opportunity that's a fit for who I am and what I have to contribute, and grow from there.