I’m grateful just to be alive . . . Courage Recipient

by Mark Ash, 2010 Courage To Come Back Award Recipient

mark ash courage recipient

Courage Recipient Mark Ash

I’m very happy to be here and to share my story with you.   Actually, I’m happy to be anywhere and able to do things that “normal people” do.

I’m happy that I can use my hands again and for being able to speak.

I’m grateful just to be alive, for this is my second life.

The old Mark, well he didn’t make it. In December of 2001, I suffered a brain injury due to a car accident. When I woke up in the hospital I was paralyzed.

Every brain injury is different, and in my case, my mind and my memory were unaffected. But most of my muscles weren’t receiving proper signals, especially my fine motor skills. I couldn’t speak, could barely walk or use my hands and had trouble swallowing. Everyone thought it was all over for me. At the time I would have preferred death. You know, when you really start thinking about death, that’s when you learn to appreciate life.

In the two years that followed I struggled with insomnia and severe depression. I saw many doctors and often I was over-medicated. When I did go out, it was with a special group. One of the worst things I encountered was that people automatically assumed that because I couldn’t speak, I was mentally challenged. It was frustrating and demoralizing. Many times I felt like giving up, I didn’t want to continue this miserable existence.

I kept waiting for my body to fix itself. You know like when you have a cold or a broken bone, eventually your body will heal itself. But it doesn’t work like that with a brain injury. I was told by my doctors that most of the healing occurs within the first year of an injury — after that the brain gives up.

I had to accept the reality that no doctors or therapists could fix me. If I were to get better, I had to take my recovery into my own hands. So I began to learn how the human body works, and what I need to do to help it heal. I designed a program for myself. My whole life became a “boot camp.”

I had to motivate myself every day and although I was very working very hard, for a long time there was very little improvement. Many times I became discouraged, but instead of giving my self reasons why I couldn’t, I gave myself reasons why I could, and slowly I began to see results. On my journey I learned not to wait for something big to occur. Start at where you are, with what you have, and that will always lead you into something greater.

I was nominated for a Courage To Come Back Award by my good friend Carmen from Pathways Clubhouse. I was thrilled to be nominated. I didn’t think I’d win.

When Mr. Lorne Segal contacted me to let me know that I was chosen in Physical Rehabilitation category, I was deeply touched. For the next month I did interviews with NEWS1130, the Province newspaper and on Global BC, this was very exiting! I particularly enjoyed my interview with Deborra Hope.

The Award Gala was an absolutely wonderful and uplifting experience. It was an honour to share the stage with all the other recipients. Since then, CBC television did a segment on me and the CMHA Pathways Clubhouse on “Building Pathways for Hope.”

Today I volunteer at the Vancouver Adaptive Music Society studio at GF Strong, where I have many new clients. At the Headway Center for Brain injury and Pathways Clubhouse (where I’m a member), I facilitate “Wellness Through Music” programs. I’m can’t call myself a music therapist because I don’t have a license, so I became a musicologist. I also volunteer with a stroke support group at Douglas Park Community Center, where I have the pleasure of sharing my experiences and knowledge with others, and I volunteer at the Richmond Food Bank.

You know, at first I had to do a lot of cardio at the gym, I needed to force-feed my brain with oxygen, but now I find that “There is no exercise better for the heart then reaching down and lifting people up.”

I want others to look at me and say, “If he could do it, I can do it.” I want my life to be a message.

It’s been said that, “Time heals all wounds.” Obviously the guy that said that didn’t have my wounds. Nevertheless, today I stand before you a new and improved man. I have a new meaningful life filled with happiness. I get to help others and I’m surrounded by people who show me lots of love.

I am eternally grateful to the Coast Foundation through whom I found the inspiration and motivation to come back further than I ever dreamed I could and I’m not done yet.

If your dream happens to fall and break into a thousand pieces, never be afraid to pick up one of those pieces and begin again.

Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.

Visit Mark’s website >

To nominate someone who inspires you, visit couragetocomeback.ca.