According to the National Association on Mental Health nearly 7.7 million Americans are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder with 37% of those cases being classified as severe.

Traumatic events such as car injuries, military combat and other life altering events can have long lasting negative effects resulting in a number of symptoms. Below is a list of warning signs to recognize Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Anxiety – Anxiety is an emotion characterized by an unpleasant state of turmoil often accompanied by nervous behavior. Anxiety is considered to have the expectation of a future threat, often associated with feelings of uneasiness and worry.

Paranoia – Paranoia is a thought process believed to be heavily influenced by anxiety and fear, often to the point of delusion or irrationality. Paranoia thinking often includes persecutory, or beliefs of conspiracy concerning a perceived threat.

Avoidance – Those experiencing avoidance display a pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy and inferiority, extreme sensitivity to negative evaluation and avoidance of social interaction despite a strong desire to be close to others. Symptoms commonly consist of feeling associated with uneasy, anxious, lonely, unwanted and isolated from others.

Emotional Numbing – Emotional numbing symptoms generally refer to those symptoms reflecting a loss of interest in important once positive activities, feeling distant from others, and experiencing difficulties having positive feelings such as happiness or love.

Isolation – Characterized as a mental process involving the creation of a gap between an unpleasant or threatening cognition and other thoughts and feelings.

Hyper Arousal – The consequence of heightened anxiety and altered arousal responses and includes symptoms such as: Having difficulty falling or staying asleep.

Irritability – The feeling of agitation. When you are irritable you become frustrated easily. Irritability is often associated with stressful situations.

Guilt – A cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person believes or realizes accurately or not that he or she has compromised his or her own standards of conduct or has violated a universal moral standard and bears significant responsibility for that violation.

Shame – A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong doing or foolish behavior.

Its important to recognize the signs and symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. These feeling and emotions are easy to ignore and if gone untreated can have life long effects. If you or someone you know is showing one or more of these symptoms, contact a therapist or your local NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) office and ask for help. Psychologists can work with you to create a wellness plan.

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About the Author:  Lou Figueroa is a writer and inspirational speaker based out of Southern California. He teaches principles of balance and wellness to business associations, chambers of commerce and nonprofit organizations across America. To learn more about coping with post traumatic stress disorder and depression following life altering events, visit www.InspiredBalance.org

 

 

Have you ever noticed that at nearly every moment of the day we are being alerted, emailed or sent some type of push notification? The concept of tuning out our devices and giving people our full attention requires us to be present in the moment at all times but how do we accomplish this when everything we do is moving towards a digital world? Change doesn’t happen overnight and we certainly can’t make changes in our life if we are unable to alter our patterns and behaviors. So, I challenged myself to go into every app and program that I currently own and turned off ALL push notifications and alerts.

Here’s what I found:

Discovery #1 – Peacefulness

After going into my social media platforms and turning the notifications off, slowly I began to notice how quiet the room was. No dings, no alerts, no chimes. Silence…  There was an overwhelming sense of peace and tranquility that entered the room. I wasn’t sure how to receive it at first. At times, I found myself checking my phone for missed texts and emails. I was still receiving them, it just wasn’t taking me away from my priorities anymore allowing me to pay more attention to my daily activities.

Discovery #2 – Awareness 

I also noticed when someone engaged in conversation, I was no longer being distracted by an alert and as a result I was able to communicate more effectively with people. I became much more aware of the environments that I was in and was making a conscious effort to give people my full attention and be mindful of their presence. We sometimes take it for granted because in some way, the thought of being beckoned or called shows a high level of importance and personal image. However, I have noticed when technology gets a hold of someone, at some point the individual loses integrity as they are constantly being distracted by their electronic device. It’s fair to say we can all be more aware of how we handle emails, phone calls, text messages and push notifications.

Discovery #3 – Quality of Life

The most significant change in my behavior was a boost in my quality of life and overall well-being. I realized after two weeks of decluttering, I was living much happier and took control of my life again which allowed me to focus on my family, my personal goals, and all the things I wanted to accomplish. My workflow improved significantly and I saw various advantages to adjusting the way I receive information.

To turn off your social media notifications and newsfeeds follow these easy steps:

Facebook

Go into settings

Click on account settings

Scroll down to Notifications

Click on Facebook, email, mobile and text and turn off notifications

Linked In

Go into settings

Click on communications

Click on push notifications

Uncheck all notifications that you desire

(Consider keeping “When Someone Sends You a Message”)

Twitter

Go to your homepage or “Me”

Go into settings

Click on settings and privacy

Click on Notifications

Click on Push Notifications

Turn off all notifications

Instagram

Go into settings

Under options scroll down to push notification settings

Turn off all notifications

I phone News App

Go into settings

Scroll down to news

Click on notifications

Click to disallow / Allow

 

About the Author: Lou Figueroa is a writer and inspirational speaker based out of Southern California. He teaches principles of balance and wellness to business associations, chambers of commerce and nonprofit organizations across America. For more tips and to learn how to find your reset button visit www.InspiredBalance.org.

Making the Unnatural Appear Natural
By Lou Figueroa

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in life came from the legendary martial artist and actor Bruce Lee.  He spoke of the philosophy of how martial arts allowed him to make the unnatural appear natural.  In my position as a man missing both legs the practice of combining natural instinct with control is a philosophy I live by daily.

Losing my Legs
In November of 2007, I was involved in an accident that would forever change my life. While out with a group of friends in the downtown district of Denver, I encountered a beverage that was laced with an unknown substance experiencing a rapid onset of intoxication.  In a daze attempting to gather my composure, I stepped out of the bar and wandered off into the darkness of the night.

At approximately 3:08 AM, two police officers were dispatched to the scene of a train VS pedestrian accident near Coors Field.  There, they were flagged down by a conductor of the BNSF Railway.  The engineer stated that him and colleague were performing routine operations when they approached Union Station to unload their last cargo of the evening.  Upon entering the yard the two men witnessed what appeared to be a piece of debris laying across the tracks.  As they drew closer they realized the debris was actually a human body that had been struck by a recent coal train passing through.  The men estimated the train had passed through approximately 15 minutes prior to their arrival.  In an effort to save my life, the conductor stopped the train, and attempted to put tourniquets around my legs while the other conductor ran for help.  Amazingly one of the men was trained in the military and immediately went into survival mode.  The two police officers, the two conductors of the railway and two paramedics proceeded to extract my body from under the train onto the awaiting gurney and rushed me off to Denver General Health.

I awoke a week later in a hospital bed and quickly realized that my life would no longer be the same.  My natural instinct was to get out of the bed but I couldn’t even bare the strength to move.  I looked down to the sight that both of my legs had been amputated.  My left hand was also injured resulting in reconstructive surgery and subsequently the loss of one finger.  My life was hanging by a thread.  My days consisted of feeding tubes and caring for an extreme amount of pain.  I had endured nine life saving surgeries and things weren’t looking good.  It would be months before I would be able to go home and my life was full of uncertainty.

Mobility in a Wheelchair

I was facing a new challenge, life in a wheelchair.  I remember the day it arrived.  I was so excited because I had it specially built with the finest parts custom to fit my needs and lifestyle.  If I was going to use a wheelchair I wanted to make sure that I would feel confident in it.  I adapted to life as a young man in his late twenty’s using a wheelchair.  The next year I went back to work.  I began wheeling into work each day and working full-time at a desk.  People commented on my confidence and appreciated my will to prevail.  I wanted more out of life and made it my goal to learn how to walk again and think beyond life in a wheelchair.

Walking with Prosthetics
The time had come for me to start walking and through my employment benefits I was able to consider replacing my reliance of a wheelchair with the use of prosthetic legs.  I was thrilled and started reaching out to prosthetic offices who specialized with people losing multiple limbs.

They were able to fit me with a new ankle and foot on my right leg and a bionic knee for my left leg.  I began walking into work using two forearm crutches, progressing to two walking canes.  Soon I learned how to use just one cane and then my colleagues saw me walk into work without the aid of canes or crutches.  It was amazing to hear people say how proud they were of me and how far I had come.

Practice Makes Perfect
I focused my energy on walking with intent and how fluid I could be.  I started mastering the look of a natural gait and what it felt like. Little by little I trained myself on slopes and steps, eventually walking a quarter-mile loop and adding stairs to challenge the routine.
My bionic knee was interpreting the level of ground with each step and adjusting accordingly.  As I learned how the knee worked, I was able to fine tune my gait by aligning myself mentally with my prosthesis.  I had nearly mastered Bruce Lee’s quote of making the unnatural appear natural.

Bruce Lee’s Lesson
Bruce Lee explained that if you go to extremes in making the unnatural appear natural you become “a mechanical man” — no longer a human being.  It is the successful combination of both natural instinct and control that transforms into natural unnaturalness.

 

 

                                                                                              

Defining Your Dream

If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent enough time on this earth to know that working for someone else’s bottom line is a lot easier than taking the risk of being an entrepreneur and living your true passion.  The comfort of healthcare and bi-weekly paychecks is too difficult for most people to give up in order to pursue their dreams.  But what if you knew you couldn’t fail? Would you still be sitting behind that desk? I asked myself the same question several years ago and was blown away by the outcome.

The Importance of Vision

I started to create a vision of my success and began pursuing my career as a speaker. First by owning the title of being a speaker and then determining what steps I would need to take in order to get there.  It was then when I realized that my ability to influence others could have incredible potential.  I started to envision what this dream would look like and how I would achieve my goal.

“Vision is the art of seeing the invisible”

                                                           –  Jonathan Swift

As I studied the model of successful people and organizations,  I realized that many of the them operated by standards of behavior. They often had a mission and a vision of where they wanted to go, as well as a set of beliefs and values.  Some of these values included honesty, integrity and self-discipline. They are the guiding principles of what is important in life and should be included in your plan.

Goals & Strategies

It’s important to think about your mission statement when setting goals and strategies. Strategies are set in place to keep you accountable for your goal statements.  They are action driven and should be clear and concise.  You will want to think six to twelve months in terms of timeframe for completing strategies.  Keep track of your achievements and reward yourself as you reach milestones.

Achievements

Establishing Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely goals will allow you to be clear in the visioning process. When creating your personal plan you will want to consider using statements to support each goal, defining exactly what it is you want to achieve.  Consider the timeframe of your goals and its relevancy to your plan.  Keeping your goals measurable will allow you to track your progress and keep you focused on the mission.

smart-goals-bb

 

Performance Metrics and Accountability

Tracking progress with performance metrics will keep you accountable for your actions and is an important aspect of follow through on your strategies. Without performance metrics we have no way of gauging our success.  Understanding this… Its best to set strategies to be achieved within the timeframe of your plan whether it be a one year, three-year or five-year plan.  Your strategies should be measurable and performance driven in order to track progress.

Implementing The Plan

Now that you have a plan, it’s important to keep it front of you and stay focused on your strategies. Create a to do list and write down daily tasks to maintain your momentum. Understand that just like anything in life, it will take time and effort to successfully implement your plan so don’t give up and remember that failure is simply a building block to reach your success, not the end of a great plan.

personal plan

It’s not often that someone gives you a business card that has the ability to save a life, but when Lou Figueroa hands you one of his, the chances of being involved in a drug facilitated crime are a lot less likely to occur.

Figueroa, an inspirational speaker and the founder of Guard Your Drink.com knows this story all too well.  A victim of a tampered drink himself Figueroa explains “Many people think they are immune to these types of crimes, however, popular club drugs like GHB and Ketamine are being used in combination with alcohol to make a lethal cocktail that is likely to cause you to become unaware of your surroundings — leaving no trace of the crime.

“We often go out with friends to celebrate and enjoy good times but after a few drinks we tend to let our guards down. This is when most people become vulnerable to a drug facilitated crime,” says Figueroa.

The effects take place quickly, happening within 20 minutes of being ingested into the body. The victim often encounters the substance through a beverage, becoming disoriented and unaware of their surroundings. The person will experience such symptoms as feelings of euphoria, lowered ambitions, increased sex drive, memory loss, drowsiness and clumsiness.  These are tell-tail signs and important to recognize in any circumstance; never to be taken lightly. The phrase drug facilitated crime became more popular when these ‘club drugs’ entered social settings like concerts, parties and night clubs.  According to a survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, nearly 15,000 people were admitted to emergency rooms after being drugged by another person. In most circumstances the victim knew and trusted the assailant. The crimes are seldom reported due to lack of evidence and fear of embarrassment.

Accountability and Awareness

As the times change, our mindsets must change too. Popular phone applications like ‘FindMyDrunkFriends’ and ‘DrunkMode’ allow a user to track their friend’s movement when partying in locations where bar-hopping is likely.  The applications will allow the user to locate their friends by activating a bread crumb style map, pinpointing the location of their lost drunk friends. Using technology tools and finding other people with drink safety mindsets will ensure you and your friends make it home safely.

Safeguarding

Across America college campuses are focusing on alcohol awareness and campus safety. Substance abuse prevention programs and drink safety seminars are conducted to encourage college students to protect their drinks and stay alert.

New products are helping to guard people from drug facilitated crimes.  Coasters and kits have the ability to test drinks for hidden drugs giving the user real time results to let them know if their drink has been compromised. The coaster also acts as drink cover and deterrent with the words “This is NOT your drink”.

Drink Coaster

Figueroa encourages students to carry the test kits and coasters to social settings. If the person happens to leave their drink unattended or feels suspect that a drink has been tampered with, the user has the ability to test the drink for hidden substances.

By simply sampling the drink in question with a straw or stirrer the user places a drop onto the test pad. If the drink has been compromised the test pads turn to blue.

“We never think something like this can happen to us, but the reality is, it can happen to anyone,” says Lou Figueroa.

For more information and to order test kits and coasters for friends and family visit www.GuardYourDrink.com

Whats in your glass..JPG

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Lou Figueroa – Train Accident Survivor & Inspirational Speaker

 

Searching For New Opportunity

It was several years ago when I first heard the story of General Cortez and “The Burning of the Boats”.  I was sitting at my desk working in corporate America and was looking for a change in my life.  The story of the General gave me great inspiration.

The year was 1519 when General Hernan Cortez and 508 of his soldiers sailed from Cuba in search of wealth and opportunity.  As they landed upon the Yucatan Peninsula, the General ignited the souls of his men with a powerful speech to unveil the riches of Mexico and to leave the past behind them.

In a strategic approach he instructed the men to burn the boats before they marched forward.  He then turned to the men and said, “Now you have no choice but to win this battle!”

With no way to go back, the soldiers would either come out victorious or die trying.  In the end the General and his soldiers conquered the Aztec Empire and this incredible push for new hope allowed the men to persevere through what seemed to be an unachievable task.

Life Lessons

Sometimes in life, we too need to know when to burn our boats, whether it be a relationship, a job or maybe it’s an addiction.  For me it was all three of these things.

I was in a relationship that was unrealistic, a job that was in jeopardy and addictions that were unmanageable. I needed to burn my boats.

The results would be dramatic. I remember having the courage to leave my job.  When I sat down for the exit interview I explained the reason for me leaving was to “seek better opportunity”.  In 2012 I moved to a different city. Leaving my broken relationship and addictions behind, I relocated to Los Angeles and started living with a new perspective.

There were often times I had feelings of doubt and fear.  What would I do if I ran out of money?  How would I cover the cost of living?  Would I find a job in a broken economy?  My natural instinct was to go back to my old ways and I remember telling myself, “You moved out here for better opportunity, not to take steps backwards”.

Taking a Leap of Faith

Thinking back to the General and his Army, I took a leap of faith knowing that I was going to either pave a path to success… or die trying.  I knew in my heart that failure wasn’t going to be an option for me. I started thinking of careers that would make me happy.  I wanted the type of job where I could write and share messages of hope and inspiration.  In 2013 I founded my first company titled Inspired Balance and started writing articles for newsletters and publications.  Shortly after I began speaking nationally and before I knew it I was well on my way to financial independence.

In the end we all have boats that we need to burn.  Be aware of the boat you need to burn today.  Take a leap of faith, and don’t look back.

The Darkness of Addiction

I recently attended an annual conference where the question was asked, “What’s keeping you up at night?”   This was a question I took deeply to heart.

Several years ago I found myself in a darkness of addiction. After surviving a debilitating accident, my body became dependent upon pain medications. Gradually the dosage increased to an excessive amount becoming unmanageable.

There were times that I remember lying on the floor in a fetal position hoping that the light of day would come. Add to that the severe battles of depersonalization. In the evenings I would be alone abusing my medications, often dozing off into numbness where I couldn’t feel any pain or emotion at all.  It was a vicious cycle from week to week.

I would spend excessive amounts of time at doctors’ offices and then make my way over to the pharmacy to fill my prescriptions.  I remember feeling the need to always have my medications on me and I often times would run out of medications before my refills were scheduled. My family was deeply concerned and suggested that I seek treatment.

For me the words professional help, accountability, and treatment center were not in my vocabulary.  I wanted to do it MY way… but the reality was – my family was not skilled to treat me. I was an addict that couldn’t seem to manage my pain.

Seeking Help

In 2011, I decided to get help for my substance abuse and checked myself into a drug and alcohol treatment center. It was there that I learned how to address the things that were causing my abuse and started implementing quality back into my life.

When I returned from the treatment center I quickly realized the road ahead would be challenging… there was a liquor store on every corner, there was a pharmacy on every other corner, and even though I had stopped using drugs, my friends were still partying like the good old days. I was being tempted by my surroundings and had to come up with a plan.

Solutions

I started removing myself from the element and created what I call Sustainable Patches for my feelings, fears and emotions.  I would take a negative thought pattern that I was having and I would reprogram myself with a positive affirmation. This repetitive process allowed me to implement new ways of thinking. I found that if I took myself to a powerful setting, like a botanical garden or a mountain top, I could reprogram myself for success.

I share this message with executives and business people that I encounter in my travels providing simple ways to rewire the way we think.  To learn more tips on quality of life and ways to find your reset button, visit www.InspiredBalance.org

 

How To Find Your Reset Button

In today’s busy world it seems that more and more people are finding it difficult to maintain a healthy work-life-balance, however there are ways to implement quality into your day.

Start by analyzing your schedule and look for times that are available.  You will want to find at least 15 minutes to dedicate to personal time.  At a minimum, select one day of the week and commit to blocking this time out by doing something that slows your pace.

Practice focusing on a desired vision or your passion.  If you are having difficulty finding purpose in life, take yourself to a powerful setting like an inspirational landscape or a place that you can see far off into the distance.  These types of settings will help you in the visionary process.

Kaanapali, Maui

“True balance comes from being mentally, physically and emotionally balanced.  When you are aligned in these areas of your life, only then will you be able to walk with intent and live with meaningful purpose.”                                            – Lou Figueroa

Next you will want to focus on breathing with intent.  Start by exhaling any negative thoughts or doubts that you may be having and inhaling positive affirmations that you see in your surroundings.  Soon you’ll slow and control your rapid heartbeat. Breathing with intent will allow you to overcome anxiety and fears and bring you back to a balanced state of mind.

Sustainable Patching

Learning how to use sustainable patching will help you to overcome doubts and fears by reprogramming your way of thinking. Many of us struggle with bad habits and substance abuse that bog us down and cause us to be ineffective.

Using the patching process will help to remove these patterns of abuse.  Start by taking a negative thought and replacing it with a positive affirmation or image.  Soon you will reprogram your mind with the better thought by repetition.  In most cases it will take 30 minutes to reprogram your thought process; however, some people give up too easily.  The human instinct is to go back to the old ways, so be strong and maintain your focus.

Now that you’ve found time, passion and intent, it’s time to hit the mental reset button and clear the clutter.  Just like of the digital devices in our life every once in a while we have to hit the reset button.

Find a botanical garden, nature preserve or your closest park.  Here you will be able to discover nature and the beauty of the reset.  Make it a goal to discover one new place a month and you will see your whole world change in ways you could have never imagined.

Lou Figueroa is an inspirational speaker based out of Southern California.  He speaks nationally to business association, chambers of commerce and corporations. To learn more visit www.InspiredBalance.org

 

Work-Life-Balance

Taking Time to Reset

I often meet busy executives who say they wish they had a better quality of life.  They are so busy working for their organizations that their personal lives become unmanageable leaving them with an empty feeling inside.

Replying to the question “Hey, How are you doing”? usually draws a response of  “I’m so overwhelmed with work that I have little or no  time for family or a personal life”.

There’s no doubt that the job of an executive requires balancing demands and implementing change effectively, however, balance in life should never be elusive. It takes a creative approach and a willingness to accept change into your life. Most people struggle with the idea of putting the workload aside and finding their “Reset Button” in life.

 What is a Mental Reset?

Hitting your mental reset button is the concept of deleting all of the mental clutter and starting fresh with a new mindset. Here are a few tips to achieve a healthy work life balance:

• Take time to reset and discover a place to breathe with intent.  Use this time to create new ideas and identify the things that are holding you back.  An inspirational landscape like a river or botanical garden can provide you with a place to think creatively and will give you the ability to create a vision for what you want out of life.
• Identify your mission and purpose and start living your dreams with passion.  Living with purpose will give you a real sense of accomplishment.  Avoid letting doubts and fears stop you from progressing. Remember that failure is not the opposite of success… it is simply a building block to reach your successes.
• Learn to implement change effectively and you will see the world in a whole new light.  Try using sustainable patching to overcome bad patterns and addictions in your life.  Take a negative thought pattern that you are having and reprogram yourself for success.  The idea of patching your thoughts will allow you overcome those feelings of doubts and fear.  The best way to patch your thoughts is to identify the feeling associated with your negative thought and replace it with a positive feeling or emotion and an image to associate it with.  By mentally reprogramming your way of thinking, you will see great potential to overcome any negativity in your life.

Using these techniques will allow you to get back to a balanced state of mind. Remember that when we deprive ourselves from rest and relaxation, our family and business are likely to suffer.  Don’t let the stresses of life bring you down.

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Lou Figueroa is a speaker based out of Southern California.  He specializes in work life balance and helping people achieve mental wellness.  To learn more about the Reset Button visit http://www.InspiredBalance.org

I’m often asked by health care professionals how I was able to transition my substance abuse to the highest quality of life. At the age of twenty seven I was involved in a train accident that would forever change my life. The result would be the loss of both legs. This accident alone could have led to a lifetime of addiction and substance abuse.
Here are just a few things that brought me to the tipping point of my addiction and how I was able to transition my way of thinking to come out alive…

  • I realized that I was spending all my time in the doctor’s office waiting for my prescriptions
  • I recognized that I was arriving at the pharmacy at all hours of the night and I would often show up to the pharmacy before the pharmacists did anxiously awaiting my medicine
  • I realized that I was constantly making excuses to go and buy drugs or fulfill my temptation to use in isolation.
  • I had no control of my physical wellness… it was being controlled by the narcotics
  • I was clearly on a path to self-destruction and realized that if I continued this behavior I would find myself in jail for buying and distributing narcotics.
  • I recognized that I was over medicating in the office workplace and that my performance was being effected by my drug abuse. I found myself nodding off at my desk and struggling to paying attention to detail.
  • I saw the sadness in my loved ones eyes when we were at family and social functions. They didn’t know how to help me manage my pain and were often disappointed when they saw me.
  • I was constantly borrowing money from friends and family to support my substance abuse. I made good money yet I was always broke asking to borrow money for gas and food.
  • In 2010 I lost my best friend to narcotics, it was a realization that I was playing a fine line between life and death and it was ultimately the tipping point of my addiction.

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It wasn’t until I hit rock bottom and was about to lose my own life that I was able to transition my way of thinking. I knew that if I continued these patterns that I would not be alive to share how I came through this unique experience. I started using tools to help me effectively implement change into my life then I started creating patches to reprogram my thought processes.

I discovered that human beings have a mental “Reset Button” and that we are able to reset our minds and body very similar to the electronics that we use. This technique is achieved by finding a powerful setting to release any negative thought patterns and creating positive affirmations as a new patch. When you tap into this unique ability, you are able to clear yourself from the mental clutter that is initiating doubt and fear.

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To learn about the Reset Button and how it helped Lou overcome his addictions… Visit Lou’s website at www.inspiredbalance.org or contact Lou directly for your copy of Lou’s Laminated Guide to Finding Your Reset Button.

Staying Safe at Conventions

Lou Figueroa

Conventions are a great place to learn and relax.   For many of us, it’s a chance to get away from routines, often in unfamiliar towns.  We are able to let our hair down but shouldn’t let our guard down.

The other day I was in a city and noticed a well-dressed man stumbling and disoriented late at night.   He could have been either sick or drunk.  After observing him get up from the sidewalk I noticed him stagger towards four lanes of traffic.

His attire made him look like a conventioneer.   I approached as he was headed towards the cars, trying not to startle him.  I asked if he was okay and he drunkenly said, “I’m lost, and I don’t know which hotel I’m staying in.”  I offered to help and escorted him back to his hotel.

Unfamiliar Surroundings

A similar situation happened to me.  I was at a social event at which my unguarded drink was drug tampered.  I left the bar and wandered nearly two miles in the dark, having no idea of my surroundings.  No body stopped to help or ask if I was okay.  Eventually I walked into the train yard and was run over – resulting in the loss of both my legs.

Here are eight tips to keep convention attendees safe.

  • Study the Area – Know the safest route before you go (driving or walking) and identify areas you don’t want to encounter.   If unfamiliar with the area ask the hotel front desk, bell staff or valet.
  • Remove Convention IDs – Remove your name badge and ribbons.  Similarly, leave the convention totes back in the room.   These are signs you are from out of town and might be an easy target.
  • Scan the Environment – Look for well-lit streets and areas you feel safe.  Select routes that are the shortest between your destination and hotel or conference center.  Be leery of people who are overly friendly in wanting to be of help or offering you a deal.
  • Buddy System – Walk with friends.  If you’re in a social setting, let them know you want a buddy — don’t let them assume you left on your own and should not worry about you.  In my case, I wandered for over an hour and my friends assumed I’d simply left and went home.  Periodically check on each other and agree on departure times.
  • Guard Your Drink – If you leave your drink on the table or bar unguarded even a few minutes, say the time it takes to hit the dance floor or visit the bathroom, throw it away.   There are people who look for opportunities to spike anybody’s drink just for kicks.
  • Backup Identification – Be careful leaving valuables, purses and especially IDs in meeting and hotel rooms.  Travel with a second official government issued ID such as a passport stored in a separate location.   At a minimum, make a copy of your driver’s license so if it were lost officials could use the information to check databases.
  • Escape Routes – Whether in the meeting room or guestroom, notice the nearest exits.   In an emergency you want to be the first out the door heading for the exit.  Remember an emergency could occur at the most inopportune time and in the dark.   Consider leaving your shoes and clothing next to the bed if you need to run out the door.   It can’t hurt to grab the blanket and pillow since you don’t know how long you may be forced to stay outside in an emergency.  Keep the room key accessible.
  • Hotel Door – Don’t let anybody in the room without knowing they are expected and wearing a uniform or badge.  Think twice about hanging a breakfast order on the exterior door knob that identifies your name and room number for a stranger to pick up.  In a fire emergency, be sure to check the door for heat and smoke before exiting.

I travel to conventions every week and see the risks that meeting registrants take.   I don’t want what happened to me in a train yard to occur to anybody else.  Be safe.

 

Microprocessor Knee and Talux Feet by Ossur Prosthetics

Microprocessor Knee and Talux Feet by Ossur Prosthetics

Creepy Cool Curiosity

As an amputee I find myself being a magnet for curious questions. I often have people ask me how I lost my legs or what happened to them. I was recently sitting on a bench in a park when I sparked the attention of a 10-year-old boy.  From a distance I could sense the boy’s curiosity and he approached me with amazement. I noticed that his mother felt uncertain as to how I would respond to his questions as they both came closer with caution.

This was my opportunity to turn this situation into a teachable moment.  I’ve learned from personal experience that the questions can be creepy or cool.

People want to ask me what happened, but are uncertain as to how to approach me.  It’s my job to make them feel as comfortable as possible.  In most cases, I am able to convey a message of hope and inspiration.

My Approach

While I don’t go into details of my accident, I want them to know that I lost my legs above and below the knees. I answer the question in my 3 step model of appreciation, acceptance and responding to their curiosity. The second most common question is how my prosthetics work.  I explain that the prosthetics are unique and for many people it’s the first time they have seen a close view of how they operate.

I ask them if they’d like to know how they work.  And the answer is nearly always, “Absolutely!”  I describe each element of the legs and what purpose it has.   I explain that my knee has a microprocessor that assists me in my walk. It’s capable of tracking steps, assisting me down inclines and adapting to different heights of stairs.

Show and Tell

In certain cases I might show you my leg.  Wearing two molded sockets people don’t give much thought to how the system operates. If I feel the sincerity of the person asking, I may take off the socket to show the liner, socks and suspension systems.

I might even go as far as to show them the residual limb and explain how the legs stay on.

Discomfort

Some people that I encounter experience a discomfort when I show them my legs. It’s my role to ease their anxiety through inspiration and to give new perspectives.  Society is conditioned to have a “Don’t ask” approach to people with disabilities. I wear my legs with confidence and welcome when people ask me questions.

Summary

I close the conversation by asking what message did you take from this?  Was I able to give insight to your curiosity?  Was it creepy or was it cool?

In my role as an amputee; I hope my outlook encourages others to be ready for the questions they will encounter.  There are times when I might have preferred to enjoy the solitude of the moment and not want to be approached –but I’ve learned that I have an opportunity to make every contact a positive experience for me and for them.

Disability or Opportunity

Disability or Opportunity by Lou Figueroa

Many people see my disability as a disadvantage. As a survivor, it is my role to transform what seemed impossible into the possible. Several years ago I lost both legs in a train accident.  Some would say I have a disability but I don’t feel it.  I golf, travel, cycle, climb, hike, dance and everything else that catches my interests, in addition to my speaking and coaching career.

Amazingly, right after the accident I wrote in my journal, “I know my purpose is to help others overcome adversity through my tragedy.”

There are different ways to look at disability.  In fact it may not be a disability at all – simply a difference in how I look to others.   For those of us with noticeable differences we can choose to perceive it as an opportunity rather than a disability. In my case I wear prosthetic legs which makes me stand out.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the years since my amputation.

Teachable Moments – People are curious, they always want to ask, “What happened?”   Some are too shy to ask and I have to help them express their questions so the conversation is comfortable.

I have the opportunity to use my differences to help people understand that life doesn’t end with an accident. It merely is a transformation of image.  I answer their questions and offer insights into the operation of my microprocessor knee and carbon feet.   I have to be open to people approaching me in any environment because they often want to ask me questions.   It becomes a teachable moment; and I am able to convey positive messages of hope and inspiration.

Technology – Many people with disabilities use assistive devices.   Technology and bionics are being developed that are extremely helpful.   For example my knee processes and anticipates each step, providing a sense of stability and control while allowing me a fluid gate and natural looking walk.

I’m honored to be a part of the advancement of prosthetics and assistive devices.  While  some of the components may not be perfect, the feedback I offer helps developers build better arms and legs.

Acceptance – I had to accept my new body, missing one leg above the knee and the other below.   I used a wheel chair for two years, transitioned to prosthetics using two forearm crutches, then moving down to the use of a walking cane and now I am proficient on both legs.   I’ve accepted this is who I am and how I look.  Though I may be challenged in a few settings, there isn’t much I can’t do or won’t try.

The second aspect of acceptance is really more important.   I learned to say “yes” and accept the help of others whether or not I need it.   I realized that if I declined their offer of assistance I may offend or make them feel bad.   By accepting their help I open a door to their expression of care.   Allowing them to express a courtesy or make a connection that might not have occurred if I didn’t have a difference or disability.

Visibility – It’s fair to say that I’m easily recognizable when I wear prosthetic legs and I seldom wear long pants.

Being noticed and remembered is a good thing.   My prosthetics have opened doors to meeting people, creating opportunities, and being asked to speak about my transformation.   There is no doubt that I am noticed and remembered.

In closing, a difference or disability could be perceived as a negative.  In my case, as I awoke from a week long coma I recognized I would have a world of new opportunities.

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About Lou Figueroa:  Lou focuses on quality of life and balance, delivering his message through associations and companies.  Five years ago he lost both legs in a train accident.   He coaches others to maximize their potential and to improve quality of life.   He can be contacted at 720-285-7904.

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