Life Doesn’t Wait w/Darrin Caddes


Life doesn’t always proceed the way we planned it. Many of us come to some kind of roadblock or speed bump that forces us to hit the brakes, change lanes, or turn around back the way we came. But what matters isn’t the loss of time or the frustration endured in the face of such an obstacle. What matters is how we choose to keep moving forward.

Enter designer/artist Darrin Caddes, a former board sports and motorcycle junkie who awoke facedown in the Mexican desert on March 6, 2001 with a broken back. He had been motorcycling from Southern California to Los Cabos with friends, and, around 600 miles from border, he went into a corner at 60 miles an hour, lost control, and crashed on a long dirt road. The crash resulted in the loss of movement from his chest down, dramatically altering his life in a matter of seconds.


While some would understandably struggle with how to move on, Caddes managed to kick start his life. He adapted to life in a wheelchair and learned to cope with his physical and mental duress by pushing through, shifting his spiritual motor back into the high gear that helped him achieve success prior to his injury. He worked in Italy designing cars for Fiat from 1991 to 1994, and for BMW designing cars and motorcycles from ’94 to 2001.

Eye for design
Eye for design

He designed first BMW GS Adventure, which was a bike set up for long-distance travel for both on- and off-road excursions. On his design, one could literally circumnavigate the globe. (Actor Ewan McGregor and his buddy Charley Boorman did just that, then wrote a book and produced a mini series about their travels, both called the “Long Way Round.”) After leaving BMW, Caddes took a job at Indian Motorcycle as director of design from 2001 to 2004, where he learned how to get the job done with his new limitations.


When offered a job as vice president of corporate design at Santa Cruz-based tech company Plantronics in 2004, Caddes found a position that let him work on something else he was passionate about: headsets. Being in a wheelchair can stifle one’s ability to freely move about an office space fielding calls, and he found that headsets helped solve this problem. Since joining Plantronics, Caddes has managed a world-class team of industrial designers.

His noteworthy work at Plantronics led the group Santa Cruz NEXT to honor Caddes as one of their four “Nexties” recipients in 2013. This award is bestowed yearly upon individuals promoting community action, spearheading innovation, and helping to reduce inequalities along the Central Coast.

While Caddes enjoys his job, his role as an overseer means less involvement in the creative side of the design work. Eventually, he found himself itching for an artistic outlet, and was inspired to fill this creative void with another long-lost passion of his—drawing.

"Daily Doodles"
“Daily Doodles”

“One day, I told myself, ‘You know, I’m going to draw something every day in 2013,’” he recalls. “I didn’t care if it was a smiley face, I just needed to do something.” He stuck to the challenge, posting his “Daily Doodles” to his Instagram account (@unclewillard). The sketches range from simple cartoons to intricate motorcycle designs, illustrations of waves to skateboarding scenes, and paintings to tattoo-inspired designs.


The posts began to attract a following. Without promotion, he garnered about 350 Instagram followers.

“Now I have this little audience who I have to feed—that I want to feed—everyday, and that’s been my thing,” says Caddes.


He has just two simple rules for himself: he must draw and post the image on the same day, and he must post a drawing every day.

“I’m so afraid that if I miss a day, the whole thing will be broken,” he says. He hasn’t missed a day since he started the Daily Doodles on Dec. 28, 2012, sometimes posting more than one per day.


“So I constantly remind myself, ‘I’m doing it everyday, I don’t care how bad it is, or how bad I feel. If I’m sick, in pain, or traveling, it’s going to be done,’” he adds. “They don’t all have to be masterpieces. It’s more about the discipline of drawing every day. Over all, it’s been very therapeutic for me. It keeps me in touch with who I am.”

Fueled by successes at work and his artistic endeavor, Caddes has nurtured a hard-to-miss joie de vivre.


“A lot of people ask me, ‘How do you do it despite all of your limitations?’” he says. “I find myself saying, ‘Honestly, I don’t find my accident or me being in a chair that interesting. Because there are so many other things in my life that are so much more interesting and meaningful.’”


Reinvention and the search for meaning at the intersection of design, technology and art–previously featured in Santa Cruz Waves magazine



“No society can change the nature of existence. We can’t prevent suffering. This pain and that pain, yes, but not Pain. A society can only relieve social suffering, unnecessary suffering. The rest remains. The root, the reality.”

Ursula K. Le Guin


 Naturally, the older you get, the more wear and tear you put on your body, so it’s not unusual to see gray-haired men and women limp around with the aid of a cane or walker. This is the demographic your average person sees affected by arthritis and chronic pain. At least in general. What is hard for many healthy, young people to comprehend, is just how many of their friends are carrying the weight of disease and chronic pain.


It’s very difficult, especially for men, to talk about their problems. Furthermore, there is an expectation, in “society”, that young people are full of vigor and potential, untethered from the constraints of prolonged suffering and years of pain management. Here we can see why a professional is often advised to keep their medical issues to themselves, lest they ward off potential employers or opportunities. Much like a homosexual hiding their preference for same sex relations, a young man or woman who has a life-altering diagnosis is often afraid to come out and tell their story; they bury the issue, only for it to come back years later in the form of some kind of somatic trauma or mindbody illness.

I’ve never held a full-time job. I’ve worked part time since I was 9 years old, getting up at 5AM for the paper route before school. I’ve worked as a janitor at Outdoor World. In surf shops and restaurants, as a lifeguard, and at a group home for adult males with developmental disabilities. I’ve devoted the last 7 years of my life to caring for incapacitated individuals who can’t do if for themselves. I’ve made a modest amount of money writing, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s only just pocket change– funny money.


From the age of 17, I’ve been working these jobs, in increasingly limiting amounts of pain and discomfort. Through gritted teeth, I finished my History degree from UCSC. I credit my last year of scholarly advancement to the helping hand of Tramadol. Tramadol, a lovely synthetic opiate medication also gifted me a Grand Mal Seizure, not long thereafter. No worries though, I just got upgraded with some real opiates afterwards! Oxycodone. Oxycontin. Also, Ketamine. Did I mention that I was prescribed liquid ketamine by the Lyme Disease doctor I began seeing after I got “diagnosed” with Lyme Disease? That really did not go well, I must admit! Plus. Xanax and Soma prescriptions all thrown into my daily menu created a toxic, super-band aid; a deceitful blanket of relief that lures those in pain into a life of empty, glassy eyes, slurred speech, irrational behavior, and some serious chemical dependency. Thankfully, I’ve been able to get off opiates and manage my pain responsibly through practical alternatives like yoga and meditation.


Long story short, my experience with pain, despite the medicine our culture treats it with, makes the thought of me being productive and happy a glimmering oasis, an unattainable mirage of hope that nevertheless compels me to claw my way through the hot sands of hardship and despair. Recently, I was in a program to attain my teaching credential, yet I had to pull out of the program because of my inability to stay cool all day, with twenty-five jacked up 1st graders constantly testing my patience. Which led to more tension, anxiety, and pain. I struggle everyday with these feelings of inadequacy and failure, regardless if I have a job to do or not…so where does that leave me? How do I fit into “society”?


As I attempt to navigate my way through this scary and alien landscape, I’ve tried working as much as I can. I like being productive. It makes me feel good. Nevertheless, I cannot afford to support myself at this point in time, which fuckin’ sucks. Especially so amidst the gradual gentrification of Santa Cruz, fueled greatly by the Silicon Valley boom, where rich “techies” bought up the real estate for beach houses and rental homes. In the face of all this Silicon Valley money, locals have been left landlocked or on the streets.


This sober reflection upon my future in my beloved hometown adds a layer of dread to my stress/pain/anxiety sandwich; to the point that I can become, at times, completely depressed and defeated. It’s such a vicious cycle. I work my ASS off to make it through the day. It’s truly a full-time job, and a shitty one at that! People have been telling me, “You look better, you must be feeling good!”. I must bite my tongue to not correct them about my weight loss being due to stress rather than any breakthrough regarding my many ailments. It’s tough.


So, what do I do? Disability is so frustrating that I quit after numerous appeals a decade ago. How can someone tell me what I am or am not able to do?! Oh, I can lift a stone, not because it doesn’t hurt, but because the medical professionals have no fucking clue how to explain my widespread pain and its effect on my brain and productivity. My parents have been beyond supportive. That won’t last forever, and I have far from a free ride. I’m extremely fortunate and thankful for my supportive parents, yet the top down pressure to become independent can feel hurtful, even though it’s exactly what I wish for as well.


With all the abundance around us in this beautiful world, it’s a shame that anyone should have to suffer. It may be strange, but I feel a true reservoir of healing light exists right in front of us, day in, and day out, yet we can’t see it with our mortal eyes. That kind of healing power can be accessed during near-death experiences, through responsible psychedelic trips (is that an actual thing?), prayer, kinship, deep states of meditation, acupuncture, as well as energy work such as Qigong and Reiki.  These healing “lights” inhabit another plane of consciousness and reality; true benevolent angels of light whose embrace is ready for those who choose to let go and feel their warmth..


This must sound like crazy talk, yet it’s my only way to describe the mystical, comforting feeling of truly letting go and, “dropping down”— to a place where the pain seems distant, my mind can rest, and this supportive “light” can lull my mind and body into a state of peace and complete bliss. To get to this state on my own is achievable, but my most profound experiences have been during Craniosacral bodywork, which I will discuss in greater detail in posts to come.


Chronic pain and illness tend to do a number on one’s self-esteem and confidence. To emerge from one’s own personal Hell is a dead-serious accomplishment that takes a lot of hard work, uncomfortable reflection, and a steely resolve. I’m far from the flames that had once consumed me in a fiery bath of suffering and despair, a throne of pity that I reigned over for years. In fact, tendrils of this torturous blaze remain with me to this day, nipping at my heels as I stubbornly climb, forever searching for that light. It beckons me to float above the fear, to bravely reach into its luminous cloud of comfort and ease.


People don’t like to talk about scary things. It’s easy to package them up and relegate them to a forgotten place of rot and despair, one that hides deep in your heart and soul. I believe that, within this physical plane, amongst these beings of light lies is a terrifying void of negative energy that can sap the nectar of your fear, capable of degrading your earthly experience. Yet only if you allow it to.


I need this outlet to digest my own fears about being an injured athlete, friend, brother, lover, and son, in hopes that these personal, intimate reflections reach and touch as many people as possible. It just might be my calling–to open my heart and soul to improve the state of suffering we are all confronted with. Life can be scary, but if you choose to follow my path on this blog, I hope you can find solace, peace, and a sense of community and belonging. I want to create a safe and therapeutic place for anyone who wants to share their own stories of courage, determination, and strength in the face of extreme discomfort.


~ I promise I won’t judge you. Peace!!!~

I implore you to share your own story in an interview or written reflection of your choice. If so, please email me at!


Millions of Americans suffer from chronic pain. It could be a lingering injury, a genetic flaw, disease, infection, or cancer. Many believe that pain can be a somatic experience, the residue of long buried trauma. What I can say is that pain is an extremely hard thing to describe, as every person comes from a distinct perspective, where one person’s reaction to a hangnail is akin to another’s neuropathic pain syndrome. Some people have a higher threshold for pain than others, and can therefore cope with it easier. There’s burning pain, dull pain, aching pain, tender pain, neural pain, it goes on and on.

My name’s Neal Kearney, I’m thirty-two years young, and have been living with severe chronic pain since high school. My story is that of a downward spiral, from a fit, competitive surfer, to a depressed, anxiety and pain ridden and self-consumed wreck. That is a hard sentence to share to the world, especially for a grown man such as myself. Historically, men have been valued as the strong, stoic members of society who can shrug off practically anything. This is, of course, bullshit. To express yourself and your story from a point of weakness, one must accept and acknowledge the problem with a willingness to explore feelings or emotions that you may have bottled up for years.

Life is Beautiful

How to Heal with Neal is a way to share my own personal experience, to use my gift of writing to inspire others to find treatment and therapy for their chronic pain– using my fifteen years of highs and lows to inform those who are seeking support. I will detail my journey, where I’ve come from, and where I’m headed, with the hopes that maybe, just maybe, I could help even one person who deals with chronic pain.

Again, this is my experience, and I’m no expert. Being struck down with disease or injury at a young age is scary, confusing, frustrating, and exhausting. I’m devoid of hope; waking up every morning feeling like I got hit by a truck. In this modern world, especially in the United States, one’s value is inextricably tied to their ability to complete tasks that generate profit. These expectations of being independent and dependable weigh heavily on my conscious, day in and day out.


To most, I look like a healthy young man on the outside. Inside my head however, there’s a constant specter of misery trolling my neural pathways. Concentration is a tall order, with the myriad of pain signals scrambling my circuitry. I’m in relentless, exhausting pain throughout most of my body. Relationships, career aspirations, my sense of self-worth, my romance with riding waves…all have become compromised. Even one’s sanity can be compromised by a life filled with pain.


As I said, this blog is an outlet for myself, a way to help others, and a reminder that no matter what is happening to you, in whatever stage of your life, you can’t give up! Other than checking myself into a looney bin or blowing my brains out, there can be no waving my problems away with a wizard’s wand. This is my reality and I have only one shot to live with dignity and grace despite a million reasons to check out. I hope you can find solace, affirmation, support, and information and therapies I’ve found effective in my efforts to tread water with what seems to be concrete boots.


I offer you this outlet no matter what your relation to pain may be, for, as all can attest to, there are painful struggles and battles that everyone must overcome in their lives. I hope that everything I share can be useful to those in need.

~You ALL Mean so Much to Me~

To share your story, email me at