I’ve been considering this post for a while now. I decided it was a good thing, and then no it wasn’t, wrote it, left it as a draft while I thought some more, and have finally committed.
This soul searching started when a good friend of mine posted a video of her monologue and, in it, she talks about her miracle friend who walked a mile and a half with a broken neck. I listened to a few audience members gasp and experienced a rather surreal moment. I’m that friend and it was…odd to hear someone else talking about my experience. I try not to talk about it myself. Oh, there are times when I think it’s necessary so others have an explanation for some of the weirdness that happens with me, but in general I try to keep it to myself. Maybe I worry it will change peoples’ perception of me. Why I care, I don’t know. A terrible thing happened to me and I sometimes have to remind myself of it and tell myself to cut me some slack. I was in a car accident. I am a disabled person.
I hate being disabled.
I am ashamed of my limitations.
Because it’s like a puzzle I can’t figure out and I’ve always been able to find an answer if I just looked hard enough. This I can’t fix. Oh, there have been improvements. My changing to a vegan diet did wonders for my arthritis and I almost felt like a new person. But, even with the dietary changes, there was a limit to how much I improved. Again, I came up against the wall of my limitations and couldn’t find a way to smash it. I’ve been told it’s been years since the accident, this is as good as it gets, learn to live with it.
How do I accept a disability? I am in pain every day of my life. I wake up in the morning and have to swallow the knowledge that every moment will be a fight against the pain and exhaustion; that I’ll push myself to accomplish something but I may run out of steam before it happens. I get angry with myself, tell myself I WILL do what I have set before myself to complete but I’m tired and I hurt and I can’t always achieve my goal. Then, I sink into a morass of failure and depression, and then I get to do it all again the next day. If this is as good as it gets, I’m not doing very well at learning to live with it. How do I learn to live with my limitations, accepting and loving myself for all that I am now instead of beating myself up for not being able to be more? How do I accept myself for all I am-or am not-right now and yet still strive for ways to be better? Where is that path and how do I walk it?
I think the first step is forgiveness. It was a car accident. I was in the car alone. There is no one to blame for my accident beyond myself. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been out alone but I wasn’t driving like a crazy person and I didn’t intend to go off the road. Accidents happen. Even if I am entirely to blame, there’s nothing I can do about it now. I have to forgive myself and let go of the self-loathing, the idea that I did this to myself and deserve to suffer.
The second step is gratitude. Yes, a terrible thing happened and it changed my life forever. And yet, it could be far far worse. When I begin to list them, I have several reasons to be grateful. Here goes:
- I’m not dead. Those who responded to my accident said they were sure a body had come out of that car. They were amazed that I’d dragged myself out and walked to find help. The accident should have killed me and it didn’t. I am grateful for my life.
- I’m still me. I suffered a traumatic brain injury, skull fracture, all that good stuff. My family told me the doctors who treated me kept asking what was I like, my personality, likes, etc. I was in a coma for five days and no one had any idea who or what I’d be when-or if-I ever woke up. In her video, my friend says I’m a little slower than I used to be. It’s true. I’m no slower taking information in but I have trouble getting it back out. I sometimes feel like I’m on a short delay. When I start getting tired, I’ll be aware someone is speaking to me and that there is a response I should be making, but I can’t remember what it is or how I should say it or…too much time has passed; maybe it’s better to let it go-pretend I didn’t hear. This delay comes on me all the faster if I’m in a loud restaurant or club setting. Let’s turn the lights low and assault the rest of Kate’s senses with bad acoustics, background music, and the constant roar of people’s conversations. I’d rather sit on tacks. The feeling of torture would be about the same. So, yes, I am slower than I used to be but I’m still me. I still enjoy reading anything I can get my hands on, I still play my flute and piano, I still remember and love my family. I am grateful for being me.
- I am not paralyzed. I ought to be. I suffered three fractures to my spine; the worst in my C7 vertebrae. This one I compressed quite thoroughly, and my doctors couldn’t be sure I wouldn’t be paralyzed from the shoulders down. I’m not. I deal with pain but I deal with it on my own feet. My other fractures were right between my shoulder blades. Again, they weren’t bad enough to cause paralysis. They’ll hurt and sometimes my muscles will cramp and constrict my breathing but it’s nothing a little ujjayi pranayama can’t handle. I’m grateful I can walk.
- Still grateful I’m not paralyzed. When I came out of my coma, my entire left side was paralyzed. I discovered this fun fact when I tried to get up and take myself to the bathroom, my left leg collapsed, and I broke my nose on the bed rail. The nurses kept me strapped to the bed after that. I quickly regained the use of my left leg and walked out of the hospital five days later. It took about three months more but I regained the use of my left arm as well. It’s weird: I have this strange weakness in my left wrist and ankle joints but nothing I can’t work around. I’m grateful both sides of my body work.
- I didn’t lose my right arm. Something stabbed me in the back as the car rolled over, breaking my right collarbone and damaging the connective tissue in my right shoulder. I don’t remember anything after walking for help, finding it, and being transferred to an ambulance, but I understand the damage to my arm was pretty bad. It still is. I have to be extremely careful of my right shoulder. There are times when I over extend and it expresses displeasure with me for days. Days of agony that include a numb arm and diminished ability to use my right hand. These days make me VERY grateful to have two hands. When my shoulder is bad, I have to keep my arm immobilized for a few days until the swelling goes down. These days make me grateful I regained the use of my left hand (see number 4) and also make me grateful to know that, eventually, the swelling will go down and I’ll have the use of both my hands. I cannot express my gratitude for both my hands.
I do, indeed, have a lot to be grateful for. I think focusing on my gains rather than my losses will go far in reconciling me to the life I now live. It isn’t such a bad life. Maybe I’m not a financial success but my family has always made sure I was taken care of and that’s enabled me to help others in (very) small ways. Number 6: I’m grateful for my family.
I try to make the most of this second chance I’ve been given. So, I have physical limitations; that doesn’t stop me from being kind. I try to be kind to my co-workers, my family, the world itself. I don’t always succeed as well as I would like. I was never the most out-going person and a hole in my head has done nothing to improve my disposition. But, then my missteps give me an opportunity to apologize and I think that’s a good skill to have. Number 7: I’m grateful for the friends I’ve made. They’re few in number but are of the most excellent quality.
Norman Vincent Peale stresses how important it is to change your thoughts. And it isn’t just him. I find all sorts of studies, blog posts, and quotes that speak to how crucial the way we think and talk to and about ourselves is to our well being. It’s been years since the accident and I still have a great deal of work to do in this area. My resolution is to be gentle with myself, be accepting, and be grateful for all I have. I also resolve to be grateful for the opportunities to better myself that come across my path. If they work, great, if not, at least I’ve lost nothing by trying.
Norman Vincent Peale The Power of Positive Thinking