As I laid in ICU hooked up to life support, sustained by IV’s, blood transfusions, and a very heavy piece of metal bolted to my head (halo), I was told I was facing the possibility of being dependent on a breathing machine. I was told I was paralyzed from my neckline down, and that I would never speak again. All I could think about was, “How am I going to be a mother to my kids?” Grounded in my faith, I began praying and fighting to gain back as much movement and independence as possible because I knew my children who were ages 13, 8, and 6 years old at the time, still needed me.
We don’t all respond the same to trauma and loss. Some people become numb to the situation, some angry, some depressed, and some accept it and move on very quickly. No matter how we respond, we all go through a transition of finding our “new normal.”
In order to find your “new normal,” you first have to identify yourself with a foundation that you’re going to stand on as your moral compass. For me, my faith has been my stomping ground. I celebrate my faith in good times and I rely on it for strength in times of difficulty. For some, it may be their determination to thrive, despite their limitations for others belief in a universe that’s greater than themselves. Having a foundation gives you hope and balance. It helps you learn from your past, live in your present, and no matter how much you’re struggling, look forward to the future.
Learning the New You While Holding onto the Old You.
I’m 10 years post injury and still forget to I can’t do all the things I used to do. While trauma does cause a lot of pain, for the most part, your mind, your heart, and your soul, post injury remain intact. Only your body has changed, not you. So first learn what you can do with the new changes and thrive to gain back as much mobility as possible in order to become as independent as possible. Then, realign your mind, heart, and soul with the body you have now. Your mind will always fall back into who you used to be before your injury, especially if your injury occurred later in life like me (I was 32 years old when I got hurt). You will learn to merge who you were then with how you do things now, and who you are today. Remember, past experiences make future experiences even greater!
Acceptance is the hardest transition. Even if you accepted your situation at the onset of your injury, you will face many challenges and even a few barriers that will make you cry out, “Why me?” There will be times when you will encounter people who treat you differently because sadly, all they see is the chair and you will cry out, “Why me?” There will be many times that you see your peers doing things you would be doing if you were not paralyzed and you will cry out, “Why me?” Some may tell you, “God will only put on your plate what you can handle.” Others may tell you, “This was your destiny.” My all-time favorite is, “Why does it matter you’re such an inspiration.”
I tell people as long as you’re alive, you have a purpose in life. Adversity is something we all go through to make our purpose stronger. We can’t change what happened to us, but we can control how we allow it to affect us. Either we choose to live as victims or we choose to live as survivors and push through every challenge, even when it feels like the challenge wants to consume us.
What now? We all ask. Sadly, for most, career plans and hobbies come to a complete stop along with their mobility.
The truth is direction changes in people’s lives all the time, regardless of trauma or paralysis. Once your rehabilitation plan is done or at least stable and you have learned your new body’s abilities, it’s time to discover adaptive living.
Adaptive living coupled with your old interests will help give you a new sense of direction. A huge part of adaptive living is maximizing all resources: Department of Rehabilitation, Independent Living, peer support groups, and even going back to school. Through these resources, you will occupy time, learn new skills, meet new people, and decide what direction you can take in life. Keep in mind, you will be starting all over again and just like the first time, you may try a direction that does not work out for you, but don’t give up. Just keep pushing forward until you create the lifestyle that fits you.
Here are some tips to follow:
- Have a vision.
- Create a plan.
- Set goals for your plan.
- Go for it!
- Succeed or not, but learn from your attempt.
- Then start again!
Life with a SCI has many transitions and sadly as an inpatient and outpatient, the main focus is getting you as independent as possible and not necessarily preparing you for all the different transitions you will face in the future. Main reasons being; it’s a lot to tackle in such a short period of time and not everyone’s transitions are the same, nor take place at the same time. The best person to help guide you through the many transitions life with a SCI will put you through is another SCI survivor who has already gone through them. Peer support and online groups will help get you the one on one answers to a lot of your questions and give you tips on new ways of living.
I run a faith-based group called Blessed with Life for individuals and families affected by disability. It has helped me find my new normal, keeps me grounded in my foundation and provides the peer support from like-minded people who understand my struggles.