Written by Marcia Frellick | Reviewed by Sophie Vergnaud, MD | Article on GoodRX
Barry Shore sat to rest in a favorite living room chair on a September day in 2004, but when he was ready to get up, he couldn’t move his limbs.
He yelled out for his teenage son, who then called Barry’s physician, who told Barry to get to the hospital right away.
Just hours before, there were no signs that his health was in danger, Barry says. But now his body was shutting down. He would spend months in the hospital and rehab programs and then 2 years in a hospital bed in his own home, unable to turn himself over.
Barry, then 55, and living in Venice Beach, California, became a quadriplegic that day because of a rare nerve disease called Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). He has not been able to get up under his own leg power since that day, though he has regained the use of his arms and is now able to stand with the help of a 6 ½ -foot walking wand, carved for him by a Zen master.
His stress included facing each day with uncertainty after his life had changed forever. Three major stressors in his life compounded, he says. His worries centered on money/work, family, and physical well-being.
How would he support the family? Would the strain on his family be too much? What was his purpose in life now?
Stress could have consumed him in the days and years ahead as he lay in a bed immobile. But he chose a different path. His physical recovery and strategies for living with stress developed over time.
He founded the Joy of Living Institute and wrote a book called, The Joy of Living: How to Slay Stress and Be Happy in 2020. He launched a podcast with the same name, which is heard globally, and became known as the “Ambassador of JOY.” Barry loves illustrating points with acronyms and that one stands for Journey of You, he says.
Prayer, therapy, and love
Barry says three things help him manage his stress: prayer, therapy, and love. While the first two are self-explanatory, the third has unfolded in ways beyond his expectations. He tells the story of how Naomi, his wife of 45 years now, cared for him after his health aides left for the night in the early days when he was unable to move.
Each night for 2 years, he said, Naomi, just more than 5 feet tall, set her alarm and turned her 6-foot husband every 2 hours until help arrived again in the morning.
In another loving act, his neighbor, an expert in water therapy, made it his personal mission for 2 years to help Barry make a brain-to-muscle connection that would allow him to pull his body through the water. Finally he did.
He now swims 2 miles a day, 6 days a week, his legs supported with flotation devices, his hands strapped to paddles because his fingers don’t close, and his breathing aided by a snorkel.
Friends came forward to give and lend them money, as well.
As a result of all this kindness, he had to learn to accept love on a scale he never imagined.
“It’s harder to receive lots of love than it is to give it,” he said.
Barry, whose home is now in Henderson, Nevada, also had to redefine his purpose, given his new physical challenges.
These four words have helped:“Diagnosis is not destiny,” he said. “Yes, you’re a quadriplegic now. Will you be that way for the rest of your life? I don’t know. But my destiny is not that I’m a quadriplegic.”
With that recognition, he says, he was able to see that life has purpose and he can make a difference.
“I had no idea what it was going to be,” he said.
But in the last 16 years, that mystery has become increasingly clear.
Barry became a motivational speaker and has one mission: “to transform the world through joy.”
His Joy of Living Institute distributes wallet-size cards globally in 22 languages with messages in big, block letters such as “S.M.I.L.E.,” “Life has a PURPOSE,” and “HAPPY by CHOICE.” The website explains how people can email such cards to others or order them to hand out, paying postage only.
His podcasts, speaking engagements, and instructional courses reach millions.
Barry also urges people to do a simple thing each day: breathe deeply and intentionally.
Breathe deeply through the nose until you feel it in the stomach, he says, and then let it out slowly.
“Do that four times in a row,” he says. “Your entire being is changed. Stress literally dissolves. Do it 11 days in a row. By the twelfth day, you will be consciously calm and aware.”