Paying it Forward

It’s been a while since my last post, but a lot has happened and honestly, I’m not quite sure how time flew by so quickly. Finally the dust is settling and 2018 has given me a fresh start on life. Some told me in the beginning to take disability and implied that there was nothing much left for me to do, but if you know me, then you know I hate giving up.

It has been over a year with Urvi and I still work full time. Being in the worst shape of my life didn’t stop me from working the hardest that I ever had to in my career. It had been over a year and half since I drove, but I was determined to get that part of normalcy back, as well. I passed my driver evaluation and got a new car with hand controls. There’s an odd pleasure one gets when you are able to drive to any corner of the city without having to worry about train delays and broken elevators. All this is useful, since I recently got a puppy and have to drive him to his veterinarian. Sometimes I take him on a drive to my gym, as well. It’s my choice. My choice to move ahead in life and conquer any obstacle that comes in front of me.

As I reflect back, I can’t stop remembering the random strangers who helped me along the way. I never knew their names. I can’t clearly recall their faces. I only remember their acts of kindness and words of encouragement. I’d walk at a snail’s pace with my walker and didn’t realize the energy I was giving off. Strangers would slow down to let me know that everything would be okay. I never said anything to instigate the comments, but somehow they knew I needed to hear those words on the days I was struggling inside. Other times, I had cab drivers remind me that there is hope. Hope to get through everything and hope to walk again. Strangers would say a prayer for me, hold the door open, help me make my cup of coffee, and even put my shoe on my foot when it would fall off.

If I could find these people again and thank them in person, I would. Until then, I’ve decided to pay it forward. I just ordered 500 cards with the message: “The world is beautiful, because you’re in it,” and for the month of June, my birthday month, I’ve decided to hand these cards out to as many strangers as I can to remind them that they matter.  #payitforward

“How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment, we can start now, start slowly changing the world! How lovely that everyone, great and small, can make their contribution toward introducing justice straightaway… And you can always, always give something, even if it is only kindness!” – Anne Frank


Would you stand up for me?

Before Urvi came into my life, I can honestly say that I didn’t realize the degree to which many individuals with disabilities are ignored, segregated, or discriminated against on any single day. With so many problems in the world, taking a look at how your neighbor is being treated may not be as sexy as fighting global poverty or ending world hunger, but the simple ways we act [and react] to individuals with disabilities can shape their self-image.

Of course, I still remember being able to walk. Not just walk, however, but walk with confidence, purpose, and determination. I felt unstoppable at some point and knew that nothing could come in my way. I never made enemies or got into a fight. Yet, just a few months later, as I’m attempting to maneuver Urvi in and out of the subway cars, I accidently touched a bystander’s foot with the rear wheel. I remember warning him and the others around me that I was about to back out of the subway car, but I guess it wasn’t enough. I think I can count on just one hand how many times I’ve been cursed at by a stranger. Being called a b!tch out loud left me paralyzed on the platform. Bystanders just stared at me for a brief second and then resumed their commute. As tears filled my eyes, I wanted to tell that person that I didn’t ask to be in this position and I’m sorry that I can’t walk, but he was already gone. I barely got my wheelchair a few weeks prior with no formal instructions or guidance on how to operate it. It’s terrifying boarding and leaving the train car. You have to get the timing just right, as not all conductors will wait for you to get on safely before the doors start closing in on you. Even worse, some people just don’t move out of the way when they see you or they jump right in front of you to get a spot in the train. But on that crowded platform, no one seemed to understand.

More recently, I was taking the bus to the gym, when a man sitting across the aisle a few feet in front of me decided to throw old newspapers and trash at me that he had in a plastic bag. I was on the phone when I noticed the items dropping at my feet. First I thought the man had dropped something, but as our eyes met, it was clear that he was deliberately flinging the items at me. I don’t know if he was drunk, deranged, racist, sexist, or otherwise. It didn’t matter what the reason was. I felt helpless in that moment. I had nowhere to go and had no idea if this man was a threat. No one on the bus said anything. It seemed like an eternity as this scenario played out, but it must have been only a few seconds before I couldn’t take it anymore. I screamed at him, “Sir, do you have a problem?” Surprisingly, he answered, “No.” I didn’t wait for an explanation and alerted the bus driver of his erratic behavior. The bus driver stopped the bus and made him pick up the trash, but didn’t kick him out. I felt a knot in my stomach form. Although, the bus was a few stops away from where I had to get off, it was the most uncomfortable few minutes of my life as the man just stared at me. Thankfully, the man didn’t follow me and I got out of the bus shaken, but okay.

Only once did someone stand up for me. During rush hour, I was unable to get to the spot in the car that is reserved for wheelchairs. People usually just crowd in that area and ignore me, so I park myself in a way that there is enough space for others to slip out without blocking any of the doors. As the train picked up more passengers and started filling up, a woman came behind me and started mumbling. I didn’t pay attention at first, but as she left the train a few minutes later, she turned back and screamed at me, “You should not be in the train; Wheelchairs should not be allowed on the train!” All eyes turned towards me, but I couldn’t muster the words to come up with a reply. An older man standing besides me, however, didn’t hesitate. He screamed back, “How can you say that? What if you were in the same position? You should be ashamed of yourself!” A million questions ran through my head that I had wished I screamed back at her; What about the other people occupying the train? Why don’t you scream at the people taking my spot? Why couldn’t you just go into another car or wait for the next train? But there I was in the train car frozen and humiliated. I’m not sure if the man who helped me that day heard me thank him as I struggled to speak.

Within the days following this incident, I kept on thinking of the man who stood up for me and how grateful I was. I don’t doubt that I am a strong woman, but it’s scary sometimes being at everyone else’s hip level, strapped in the bus, or stuck on the subway platform. I feel invisible some days, until something goes wrong, and then it’s most likely my fault. I tell my friends and family that when you are on a wheelchair, you attract the good, the bad, and the ugly. While I can’t control the challenges life throws at me on a daily basis, I want to implore you, the reader, to be the good in this world. Have the courage to stand up for someone in need, disabled or not. Even though I was shocked after the lady screamed me, for a moment, I felt empowered knowing that someone had my back. This one selfless act made it easier to wake up the next morning with the same courage to go out into the world again. So, would you stand up for me?


Happy 33 Years and 7 months to me!

Reading my annual birthday note to myself just 7 months after I wrote it felt so surreal! I’m so happy for pushing forward and living life to its fullest. Not only did I complete my one year work anniversary recently, but I’ve traveled abroad on my wheelchair, have taken charge of my health, and have dreams to open a social enterprise with the mission to helping other people with disabilities from all different backgrounds…

Happy Birthday Me

Some say that your career, relationships, physical wellbeing, and sense of spirituality are some of the critical pillars of a fulfilling life. What happens when almost all of them come crumbling down one after another? Well, you slowly pick up the pieces and rebuild.

In the span of two years, I’ve had to recover from broken relationships, dust myself off after losing my job, and face a myriad of diagnoses that range from irreversible to possibly life threatening with still no answer in sight. I’ve seen my dreams shatter into pieces. My ability to walk, run, and have a ‘normal’ life taken away from me. I’ve had the audacity to question whether anyone could even love this ‘disabled’ version of me. Would I ever be able to hold my own child in my arms? I’ve cried enough to fill rivers. I even dared to ask God, “Why me?”

Why is this all happening? I’ll tell you why. I’m the luckiest girl in the world and I wouldn’t be able to see it if all these challenges didn’t come my way. It was hard to break off from old relationships, but it made me a stronger individual and allowed me to focus on myself today when I need to the most. Losing my job saved me from further stress in a hostile work environment that already did so much damage to my confidence and feeling of self-worth. I had to come back to NYC, which I probably never would have if I wasn’t forced to do so. I was brought back to a place of safety and love right in time when I started falling ill. I started falling around Christmas 2016 for no apparent reason. I suddenly started losing muscle mass in my right leg and in the matter of a month went from using a cane to a walker and soon thereafter a wheelchair. The first set of neurologists said that I have signs of motor neuron disease, possibly ALS, even though my symptoms were atypical and not textbook normal. Months of testing ensued. Every possible MRI, a sensory evoked potential test, multiple EMGs, a magnetic stimulation test, and even a spinal puncture was conducted, but something was still off. The doctors gave up in my eyes, wrote me off the ALS clinic, and told me to start taking a drug for ALS patients which has a horrible efficacy rate. I asked if I was being diagnosed with ALS? They said no, since I didn’t have upper motor neuron signs, but taking the drug might be preventative. I asked about my sensory symptoms, which are unheard of in these cases. They couldn’t explain it and just told me to make an appointment with the ALS clinic for further monitoring. If you google ALS, terms like ALS life expectancy come up. Don’t click on those links. They don’t do anything for your spirit, as I learnt the hard way.

The will to fight is such a precious gift that is sometimes lost when others tell us there is no reason to fight. I wasn’t being given a reason to fight. I felt everything slipping through my fingers. Despair and panic attacks started settling in. I thought it if it was ALS, let it act fast. I wasn’t keen on suffering. Some recommended taking anti-depressants.

Anti-depressants. Chemicals to alter my thought process. There was something wrong in this picture.

Chemicals to alter my thought process.

My thought process.

You know those stories when someone dies and miraculously life returns to them in an instant. They gasp that sweet breathe of fresh air that brings them back to life. Similarly, it had hit me and I gasped. I didn’t go through all these challenges that made me stronger to give up. I wasn’t brought back to a sweet and loving home to let myself go. I wasn’t supported by friends and family to just fall through the cracks. I had to fight. I had to fight for myself. Sapere Aude. Have the courage to think for yourself.

The name of a highly recommended doctor at Mt. Sinai sat on my desk for weeks. I never called her since we already had a set of doctors, however, my confidence in them had faded. So I took a chance and made an appointment with her. I thought the worst would be that she would confer with my original doctors. I went into the consultation not expecting anything, but quickly everything changed. She agreed with me that my symptoms were strange and because I lacked upper motor neuron signs that she did not think I had ALS at this stage. She was curious enough to fight for me. She told me to stop taking the ALS medication. Good decision. She ordered a biopsy hoping to find vasculitis, a treatable blood vessel inflammatory disease. I won’t lie. My hopes did go up again, but I was very cautious. I had been so disappointed with all my results so far.

The biopsy results didn’t show vasculitis. I was crushed. To date that was the only plausible explanation with that had a treatment. The doctor continued. The senior pathologist also didn’t think, in her experience, that it was ALS. That caught my attention. Can she tell? I asked. Apparently so. The pathologist’s report came back stating that they found something in my muscle tissue. Abnormal formations that could be a congenital disease that usually 1 in 50,000 babies get, out of which 4% see manifesting in adulthood, a 1 in 1,250,000 chance. The only way to confirm is getting a genetic test and that would only confirm the diagnosis, but unfortunately there is no cure. It might be contained, however. The neurologist said if it isn’t that then it might be some type of localized motor neuron disease, also incurable, but dangerous if it spreads. In the meanwhile, we are trying some IV steroid treatments to see if I will respond.

So, as of now, I see no cure. Still no concrete diagnosis. I had to pause these past couple of weeks to understand what was happening. Things are still uncertain. I don’t know where life is taking me, but my journey has been worthwhile so far. So, I thought what does it matter what the diagnosis was? Does it change who I am? Does it change how I live? Does it change my feeling of self-worth? Does my diagnosis define me? No.

I define me. I choose to live my life on my own terms. I choose to celebrate all the love and blessings that surround me. I choose to pick up my own broken pieces and build my life again. I choose to not be disabled, but uniquely enabled. I will rebuild my dreams, even though they may not be the same as before. I will live life to the fullest, even though I have a different mode of getting around. I accept and love myself, even the broken parts, because they make me who I am and I’m pretty awesome. Lastly, I know someone will love me for me, as all of you have. So, I thank God for all the challenges he has thrown my way, for perhaps I wouldn’t have been able to see how blessed I am by the time I turned 33. What a beautiful birthday gift. Happy birthday me.

From New York City to the Old City of Jerusalem

As I entered Newark International Airport about a month ago, I barely knew how the butterflies in my stomach would escape. Alone at the check in counter, I found out that my bag was 2lbs overweight and that I’d have to pay for the excess weight. My flight to Tel Aviv with a connection in Reykjavik was on time, so I didn’t have much wiggle room to delay at counter. While mentally prepping for the trip, I told myself that confidence was I all I needed, so I told the lady at the check in counter that I had medical equipment in the bag that they couldn’t hold against me in terms of weight. She looked at me for a few seconds and, without questioning me any further, issued my boarding pass and whisked my oversized bag onto the luggage conveyor belt. What I really had in my bag was a bath stool that I had collapsed and fit in. I wasn’t sure how accessible the hotels and homes abroad would be, so I decided that taking the bath stool would be one of my critical items. Mommy always said to bathe everyday and no inaccessible bathroom was about to stop me from doing so.

The butterflies in my stomach somehow simply transformed into a feeling of wanting to vomit as I passed through security. There was no on board wheelchair on the flight and I attempted to make as many bathroom trips before I boarded. As the first group of passengers were called to their seats, I kept telling myself that it was just 5 hours to Reykjavik and that again, confidence was all that I needed to take the first step. As I finished that thought, I was greeted by the air host who assured me that he would assist me during the flight. With my walker on board, I conquered my fear of flying alone and managed to hop into the cramped airplane lavatory. Success! One fear put aside.

In no time, I reached Tel Aviv and felt a sense of relief as I was greeted by my friend at the airport. It was too dark to see the countryside as we drove towards Jerusalem. I could sense, however, the shift in atmosphere as we entered the biblical city nestled between the hills. The sun rose the next morning and unveiled a beautiful city momentarily unscathed by the politics of the day. Trump had just announced that Jerusalem would be recognized as the capital of Israel by the USA. Many friends advised me from visiting the region in fear of violence due to the news that the American Embassy was to move to Jerusalem, but early that morning all I could see was serenity as I overlooked the Old City, even though it might have been for a brief moment.

The hustle and bustle of the city became visible as I met my guide later that morning. His name was Sam and he was a Christian Palestinian. With Palestinian license plates, Sam was able to drive me around both Jerusalem in Israel and Bethlehem in Palestine. I knew that I had found the right guide to take me around because the first thing we did in Jerusalem was to flag down a guy balancing a large tray of freshly made bagels the size of big foot’s face and convince him to sell us one. Just 6 weeks before I arrived Jerusalem, I had started working with a nutritionist to help me reach my goal weight. This meant no eating no carbs or dairy for the most part. I planned on sticking to my regiment, unfortunately, the offer of a freshly baked sesame bagel was too good to not accept.

With bagel in hand and my weight loss dignity in the back seat, we headed to the top of Mount of Olives to get a view of the Old City, which was clearly marked by fortress type walls. I wasn’t sure if it was to protect the city from outsiders as intended years ago or to contain the political conflict of today. Sam explained that whenever you saw a news story about Jerusalem, it most likely referred to the political atmosphere found within the Old City’s walls, where communities of Jews, Muslims, Armenians and Christians lived next to and on top of each other, all claiming their stake on the biblical site.

After taking in the scenic view, Sam continued to explain the history of the city as we drove towards its gates. Every time we’d get out of the car, he’d have to schlep Bobbie out of the trunk, but he never complained. We soon entered the Jewish Quarter and made our way through the endless alleyways. Rows of shops lined the narrow streets with spices, local delights, souvenirs, and art. Many merchants stared at me as I rolled through the market but a few recognized my guide and invited me into their shops. When traveling as a tourist on a wheelchair, I learned that you are as much of a sight to see as the place you are sight seeing. It’s hard to blend in and not disturb what is happening.  All I could do was smile back and steadily I smiled all the way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where Jesus was said to have been buried and resurrected. Worshipers and tourists from across the world were swarming in and out of the Church to get a better view of its grandiose architecture. Although the sketchy wooden ramp prevented me from going into the Church, just being within the walls of the Old City felt like I had stepped back in time into another world, where I didn’t have to worry about airplane bathrooms and excess baggage weight. It finally hit me that I had overcome my fear of traveling alone internationally and actually made it to one of the most famous landmarks in the world on my wheelchair. If I could make it here, then I could go anywhere. It may take some extra time. It may require additional assistance. But with my renewed confidence, I was sure to make the best of this trip.

[Ready] Set, Go!

I don’t think there are enough checklists to make one ever feel really prepared. With my purple suitcase almost packed to the brim and laying half open on the living room floor, I can’t help but imagine that I’m forgetting something. What are the odds that it will rain? Should I bring my wheelchair poncho? I would if I could take another suitcase, but I’ve opted for only one this time. It would be a bad situation if I am unable to carry all my stuff, in the event that no one is available to help me at the airport. There you go again, trying to prepare for another scenario, as if the airports of all the major international cities I’m going to would be empty as a ghost town.

The days flew by so fast since I booked my tickets for my first international trip. Now the time has come to embark on my multi-country voyage. I first fly to Israel and then travel by road to Palestine and Jordan, after which I fly to Egpyt, India, and the United Kingdom, before heading back home over the course of the next 24 days. For the most part, I’m flying alone and even though air travel is second nature to me, this is the first time I’m flying alone internationally since being on the wheelchair. Urvi isn’t coming with me, however. She usually takes a break when I’m out of NYC. My travel wheelchair of choice (as if I had one) is Bobbie, sometimes eluded as the slower, less fashionable cousin of Urvi. Although her motor is not as powerful and precise as Urvi’s, she’s much lighter at 60lbs, folds like a stroller, and can easily be stored in the trunk of a car. Bobbie and I are very different though. I have a love-hate relationship with her as I lose some of my confidence when compared to being with Urvi. I feel like I am sitting on an actual wheelchair when I am with Bobbie and when I look at my reflection as I pass store windows, she never fails to remind me of my disability. Nevertheless, I’m grateful that I have Bobbie to be able to continue enjoying what I love most – traveling.

Between the living room and the dining room, some of the items I still need to pack are scattered around: my snow boots for those chilly nights, my diary, Bobbie’s charger, winter gloves, a pair of compression socks, the two braces that prevent me from falling onto my face most of the time, a spare bookbag, and a pair of crutches. Well, I guess not the crutches. I was adamant on taking them to prepare for an emergency situation on the plane. When booking my flights, the fine print on the airline websites said that if you were traveling solo that you would have to be able to carry out a variety of functions, such as fastening your own seat belt to transferring to your seat from the aisle wheelchair, but most alarming was the ability to get to the emergency exit by yourself. I called the airlines to get clarification and there was no one said definition. I tried to explain my situation as having a broken leg. One representative said that well as long as I was not paraplegic then it should be okay, but basically it would be determined at the airport whether the airline would let me fly alone or not. Later I found out because there is no evacuation plan for disabled passengers, those flying alone need to be able to help themselves. I was shocked but not going to let that deter me from flying solo.

Later that week, I went to my physical therapist and told her that I needed to learn how to use crutches; I needed to prepare. She said it wouldn’t be possible, but I insisted. Hesitantly, she advised that I get a second brace to prevent my foot from dragging. After multiple appointments with the brace shop to get the sizing just right, I was ready to start using crutches. With only 4 physical therapy sessions left, I knew I would be pushing it. Unfortunately, the ease that came from using the walker disappeared with the crutches. My right leg kept on failing to properly support me as I tried to bring the other leg forward. With my last physical therapy session today, I thought I’d give it one more go! My visit turned into a warning, however. I almost tipped over on the crutches, the closest I’ve fallen since my biopsy. The physical therapist stopped then and there, giving her recommendation that the crutches were not a good idea at all. I had to accept it.

In the end, there is only so much you can prepare for. I have my walker to help me get to an emergency exit, even though it’s not ideal for that particular scenario playing in my head. Nevertheless, I accept the fact that I can’t be ready for every possible situation that can come up and that’s okay. I might never be 100% ready to travel alone on a wheelchair, but it won’t stop me from trying, making mistakes, learning to be vulnerable and relying on others. Trying to prepare for every situation just delays us and makes us anxious about taking the next step. Some never take that leap because they wait for the right time, person, circumstance, condition, or situation, but how much do we lose from not jumping into the unknown? What could we have learned from being vulnerable and not fully prepared? Who could we meet and how could we grow? You’ll only know when you take that first step, even if it takes you halfway across the world in a wheelchair. As I packed the last of my things into the suitcase, I put away the crutches, ready to learn and grow on this trip of a lifetime.

On Matters of Love

My alarm woke me up at 5:53AM. Usually my first reaction is to hit the snooze button on my phone, but this time I couldn’t afford to. It had been 6 months since my last electromyography test (EMG) and today was the day that I had to repeat the test to see if my condition was progressing, if at all. I had to be ready to leave the house at precisely 6:59AM, the scheduled pick up time of my Access-A-Ride van. I showered, threw on some comfy clothes, and scarfed down breakfast before heading out the door.

7:06AM – I see the MTA Access-A-Ride van pull up to my driveway. I was happy to have a ride to my appointment so that I wouldn’t have to worry about the subway elevators possibly breaking and delaying me. A friendly driver and a disgruntled passenger awaited us as the lift hoisted Urvi and me into the van. Within minutes, we set off into a sea of traffic. The other passenger mumbled impatiently as the van crawled towards the city. I, however, was not keen on getting to the hospital.

In the beginning of 2017, I had 3 EMGs done within 3 months by 3 different hospitals, requiring their own doctors to analyze the information they received from sending electric shocks and sticking needles to measure muscle activity throughout my body, even my tongue. These EMGs had alerted my prior neurologists that the neurogenic changes in my leg were resulting in the loss of motor function and muscle atrophy. Now 6 months later, I had to repeat the test to reassess the damage.

Worrying thoughts raced through my mind. What if my arms or left leg were affected? What if they tell me that I would lose motor function in both my legs? But worst of all, what if they tell me I have ALS? I had to stop myself then and there and replace those thoughts with what I had learned these past couple of years about love: Give love, receive love, but, most importantly, love yourself.

Love Unconditionally My marriage deteriorated the last 2 years and while I can hopefully say that I tried to save the relationship, there are some things beyond our control. My then-husband had to figure out what he wanted and, in the end, it wasn’t me. I knew for months that he had made his decision, so when he was finally able to verbalize his feelings, I hugged him and told him it would all be okay. That day we both cried as we decided that it was best to end the marriage. Many were angry at him and the situation, but I never harbored ill feelings towards him. I promised myself when we got married that I would love unconditionally in our marriage, even if it meant to love and respect the decision that finally ended it. It’s not to say that I wasn’t upset or saddened, but the choice I made to love unconditionally, meant not to expect anything in return. This made it easier for me to move on with my life.

Receive Love Looking back, I realized that I didn’t receive the love that I deserved, because I didn’t think I deserved it. Giving unconditionally can be detrimental if it’s not balanced. I felt that I gave all the time, especially in my last job, but received nothing in return. There were times when I felt that I went above and beyond to prove myself, but I was met with indifference. Losing my job soon after the divorce made me feel vulnerable and subsequently opened the gates for me to see the love that I deserved. Luckily, I found a job soon thereafter where I felt valued. I would make mistakes my first few months and beat myself up for it, but it was my friends and colleagues who reminded me of my capabilities and urged me to be proud of myself. I was no longer surrounded by people who made me feel less than. Once I was removed from that toxic environment, I was able to open up and let all the love and support fill my life to help me move forward once again to a new chapter in my life.

Love Yourself That new chapter didn’t take long to start. Just one month into my new job, I started falling and 3 months thereafter I ended up with Urvi. My friends and family were by my side, but their love alone wasn’t enough to fight this battle. I needed to join the fight, as well. Since the first fall, I fell into despair, cursing every part of me that didn’t work as I used a cane, then a walker, and finally the wheelchair. My health deteriorated rapidly as the twitching and sensory symptoms spread throughout my body. I stopped living for me and started getting panic attacks. Day and night, I would scan the medical reports for hidden information like a detective looking for clues, but the anxiety consumed me.

Thankfully, I had decided to talk to someone about all my stresses and during one of our talks, she posed a question that I had never thought about till that moment. “Mayuri, does a diagnosis or lack thereof change who you are?” I was caught off guard and didn’t understand what she was eluding to. She asked again, “Does it really matter?” I told her “Of course it matters as the diagnosis would lead to a possible treatment.” She rephrased the question, “Does a diagnosis or lack thereof change the core of who you are?” I stopped. I felt like my own worst enemy. She was right. Whatever was happening shouldn’t and wouldn’t change who I really was. I had halted my life for no reason. I had stopped loving myself a long time ago.

From that moment on, I knew I had to change and that I had a choice to live life to the fullest or drown in my own worries, and I wasn’t about to choose the latter. I decided to start loving myself and being grateful for the person that I saw in the mirror, even though she was scarred and broken. I celebrated every step that I was able to take and rejoiced my resilience even when I wasn’t able to. Only then did the healing process begin from within. We can give love and receive love, but until we can love ourselves it all means nothing. As we neared the hospital, I reassured myself that no matter what the EMG results showed, it wouldn’t change who I was, because I had finally learned to love me.


The trip of a life time came after I booked dirt cheap tickets to Thailand and Cambodia. The opportunity seemed too good to pass. I snagged up round trip tickets to Bangkok from New York for $630! Little did I know when booking the tickets that I’d lose my job just a few months after. The news came out of nowhere and after the initial shock, I was faced with the decision to cancel my trip or carry on. Luckily, I had saved enough money and thought that if I had to go abroad, better now when I didn’t have a job. Who knew that my decision would lead me towards sanctuary?

Chiang Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand, was one the last stop on my 3 city tour. The relatively cool November days contrasted against the sweltering heat and congestion of Bangkok. Life seemed to slow down in Chiang Mai. The beautiful mountains nestled in the background complemented the rich tribal culture of the region. Tourists typically flocked to Chiang Mai to experience nature and the abundance of animals, particularly the elephants.

A while back I had seen some photos of tourists riding elephants through the forest and rivers in the outskirts of Chiang Mai. I was keen on experiencing the same excitement for myself. The last time I rode an elephant was years ago in India and I couldn’t wait to do it again. However, as I was conducting research prior to my trip, more and more articles started turning up about the cruelty that many of these elephants faced to please the ever increasing demand of tourists. The problem was not just local but spanned the region. Some elephant trainers, otherwise known as mahouts, would inflict pain on the elephants to force them to engage in entertaining tasks for humans, such as painting, circus acts, and of course, elephant riding. At this point, I was conflicted on what to do. The tickets had been booked and my desire to spend time with the elephants was growing more and more as I counted down the days to Chiang Mai, but by the end of my research, I had no interest in financially supporting and participating in such harmful activities.

As I was giving up hope, I stumbled across the website for Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary for elephants. The organization not only rescues victimized elephants but teaches mahouts across the region how to treat the elephants with dignity and respect, while being able to earn a living off of tourism. The first and foremost lesson was that elephant riding was forbidden. As an alternative, Elephant Nature Park offers and encourages independent mahouts to offer nature walks with the elephants. The concept intrigued me as it would give me an option to enjoy the company of these beautiful creatures in an ethical way. I quickly signed up for an all day tour offered by Elephant Nature Park that would include a visit to the sanctuary, walking with the elephants on a nature hike, and giving them a bath in the river. Definitely an opportunity not to be missed!

The day came when I was anxiously waiting in the hotel lobby for the minivan to come whisk me away. Joined by a handful of other tourists, I embarked on the 45 minute ride towards the foothills of the mountain. Although my excitement grew, I was worried about my right leg. It had been feeling weak for a few weeks but felt weaker than usual. I brushed it off as over exertion from the 9 day tour and traveling half way across the world. Nevertheless, I had informed my guide about my concerns and he assured me that the hike was very doable and that he would assist me, if needed. My group had a few older couples, so I figured the hike couldn’t be that bad.

My worries dissipated once we reached the elephants. Our meet and greet consisted of being introduced to the herd, 3 of which would accompany us on our hike, a mother, a baby, and an auntie. After our introduction, both elephants and humans headed off into the forest for the hike that at least one species had been waiting for. Armed with bags filled with bananas, our group slowly traversed the lush greenery, while feeding the elephants at certain rest points. As we approached a hill, my smile disappeared. I quickly grabbed our guide and told him that I definitely will need help going up the hill. He didn’t hesitate and held my hand as everyone started ascending. I couldn’t tell you how much I had to walk up, but the majority of our group got to the top of the hill within 2-3 minutes. Slowly I followed, but the weakness in my right leg grew and I was stopping every 10 feet. I felt bad for my guide and told told him to go ahead and join the rest of the group, but he didn’t leave me. I insisted on at least getting me a walking stick so he could go back and forth, so he scanned the forest floor and brought me the perfect broken branch fit for any hiker. He kept an eye on me as he rushed ahead to instruct the other mahouts to wait on top of the hill. The weakness was almost unbearable and I could see my leg going limp. I was determined though to finish the hike and conquer the hill, so I kept pushing. It took 15 minutes to get up that hill. I felt bad that the group had to wait for me, but they assured me it was a well needed rest for them. Back on flat land, I was just thankful that I didn’t fall. However, I knew something was very wrong and that I would have to address it when I returned to the United States.

I pushed the worrying thoughts aside as the group settled down for a beautiful Thai lunch feast. I was convinced that our guide was the jack of all trades as he educated us about the elephants, while making fresh Thai papaya salad, one of my favorites. After a wholesome lunch and learning more about my fellow travelers, we set off again on a comparatively easy hike towards the river to bath the elephants. By mid afternoon, we reached a beautiful river where we found our new elephant friends already splashing away. My group started heading one by one into the river with buckets that our guide had provided us to bath them. The river wasn’t too deep, only waist high, but even the gentle current made me uneasy. I found myself waiting on the bank of the river with another girl , who just didn’t want to get wet. My guide saw me and told me to get in the water. I explained to him that I was still weak and didn’t know if I could stand up against the current. The friends that I made on the tour offered to hold me, but the last thing I wanted was to actually fall and create a dangerous situation. That definitely was not on anyone’s bucket list. Soon everyone went back to enjoying bathing the elephants. I watched from the side smiling and taking pictures of the others, but was internally devastated for not being able to participate.

I watched from afar the mother, baby, and auntie elephants enjoying the buckets of water being splashed on them from every which direction. All of a sudden, the auntie elephant broke from the group and came my way. I was confused as I saw this huge creature coming towards me. My guide shouted to grab a bucket and start bathing her. She had come all the way to the river bank and although I may never know for what exact reason, I felt humbled and honored to have the opportunity to bath her. Slowly I balanced myself in a little over ankle deep water. I grabbed my bucket and started bathing her by the river’s edge. All the surrounding noise seemed to wash away, as well. She was so majestic, calm, and beautiful. Something you wouldn’t be able to see riding an elephant and for those few moments bathing her, I forgot all about my weakness and found sanctuary.

To learn more about Elephant Nature Park, visit


Society paints images of people all the time.

Sometimes, we blindly accept them as the viewer. Perhaps, it’s even worse accepting it as the subject being painted.

How has society told you how a woman, a person of color, or a disabled person should look like? Do you accept them? I don’t. I plan on painting my own picture and proudly showing it to the world.

Society tends to consciously or subconsciously judge you and put you in a box constructed out of preconceived notions, depending on how you look. There was a span of a couple of weeks in early 2017 when I was reliant on my walker to get around. I didn’t have enough energy to walk a couple of blocks, let alone take the subway and fight rush hour foot traffic, so I decided to take the taxi to and from work. My brother found a cheap taxi service that would charge $60 round trip from the suburbs into and out of Manhattan. I had just started my new job barely two months prior and could not afford to take an extended sick leave. With no other way to travel the 14+ miles to get to work, I had dedicated my paycheck to pay for the cab service.

Most of the cab drivers were nice, but over 1/3 of them had the same question for me as they were folding my walker and storing it in the trunk, “Oh, you work?” Their perplexed looks always had a hint of horror and surprise. A handful of them would pursue the conversation further and would suggest that I go on disability. I couldn’t walk more than two blocks at the time without a good 20 minutes passing by, but luckily my job didn’t require me to make frequent coffee runs. In fact, I had a standard desk job and my arms and left leg worked just fine, so I would reciprocate the look of horror and surprise when they implied that I would not be able to do my job, let alone any job. It bothered me for quite some time how people’s perceptions changed as I walked slower and slower with the help of a mobility device. I realized soon enough that society had decided to repaint my identity without my consent and I wasn’t about to let that happen.

Welcome to Adventures with Urvi! I hope you enjoy the images that I paint of myself in the months to come.