Change is inevitable. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s bad. And sometimes it has no real effect on our lives.
But one thing’s for sure, most people are uncomfortable with it. I think it’s safe to say that many of us have a plan for how we want our lives to turn out and 99 percent of the time, that plan doesn’t work out.
I for one had a pretty precise timeline with deadlines for significant life milestones. Graduate college by 22. Buy a house by 23. Be married by 24. And have a baby by 27.
Well everything was going according to plan. I had graduated college at 22 and when I was 23 I bought a house with the love of my life who proposed to me that summer. But just a year later and four weeks before my wedding, a horrific accident happened that would permanently change my life’s course.
I was playfully pushed into a pool at my bachelorette party causing a severe spinal cord injury leaving me a c6 quadriplegic. Was I happy about it? Umm, not so much. But I dealt with it and continue to live a pretty cool life. The road hasn’t been easy, that’s for sure. But here are some tips I live by to rise above the challenges of change.
1) Think about what you do have and not what you don’t have.
I’ve said this from the beginning of my injury. But sometimes I still need to catch myself. It’s so easy to focus on what is frustrating you and it’s often difficult to look at the bright side. But when I find myself frustrated that I don’t have the strength to make it up a steep ramp on my own or that a cup has slipped out of my hand due to lack of dexterity, I stop and think about all of the mobility I am blessed to still have. I mean I play rugby, handcycle, surf and have even been known to break it down on the dance floor once in a while. I have friends, family, a home that I can freely move around in and season tickets for my favorite college football team. In short, do your best to replace a negative thought with a positive one.
2) Remember what’s really important.
There’s a lot that I lost the day of the accident but honestly I still have the most important aspects of my life intact. My family and friends of course are what I really need. My fiancé and I married a year later and remain madly in love. I know how quickly life can change, so we hug every morning before he leaves for work even if I’m half asleep. We make sure not a day goes by that we don’t say I love you because you never know when the day will come where you don’t get to tell somebody how you feel.
People like my amazing mother are what’s important. She helps me out and i have no idea what I’d do without her. When you start to get sad, nervous, anxious or just down right mad about a change in your life just think about the things that are really important. For me, it was the people who have stood by my side through it all. Hold tight to what matters most to you.
3) Well… it is what it is.
I know it sounds kind of cliché, but seriously, if you can’t change it -- embrace it. You can’t change the past and you can’t stay stagnant. Sometimes our only option is to move forward. And you have a choice on whether or not you want to continue your life with negativity or move forward with a smile. I promise the latter is way more fun.
4) Realize everything is relative.
Honestly this is the one I struggle with the most. Every now and then I’ll be around someone with a lower level injury and I’ll get a little jealous. If I could get my brain to start talking to one part of my body it would be my hands. So when I see someone using their hands it’s hard to not feel like I wish that were me. But then I think, it’s possible that I have something they wish they had. Everyone’s fighting their own battle and we should try not to compare our struggles with others.
5) Have a sense of humor.
We call them quad moments; when something goes a little array related to my injury. One day, about six months after the accident, my mom strapped me in the BraunAbility accessible van using the wheelchair straps. It was our first time in an accessible vehicle. A little down the road, as my mom stopped at a red light, I slowly started to tip back. I couldn’t even say anything I just fell back and started cracking up. Having a sense of humor about your situation makes you so much more approachable. It will show others that its ok to laugh with you and it will put them at ease. Laughter is good for the mind, body and soul so remember to crack a smile at least!
6) When one door closes another one opens. Embrace that new opportunity.
Before my injury, I was a full-time activities coordinator working with senior citizens and a part-time lifeguard. I figured I’d always be in the recreation field and would climb my way up the ladder in the community. My passion was in helping people but I never could have imagined that I would be given the opportunity to help others in the way that I do now. I speak to schools, religious establishments and to newly injured patients and I feel like I’m making even more of an impact than before my injury. Find a way to turn a negative into a positive. You never know. Maybe something even better than before will come out of the situation.
7) Take one day at a time.
If anyone had told me every detail of what a spinal cord injury really involves while I was in ICU or even rehab, there is no way I would have ever been able to process it. The day-to-day information was hard enough to comprehend, that explaining to me (on night five for example) what my life was going to be like years later, would have been information overload. I would have been terrified and am sure that I would not have come out of this with much positivity. The big picture can be overwhelming. You’ve got to chew your food before you swallow it all!
8) Allow yourself to have bad days.
You can’t always be strong. You just can’t! Bottling up your emotions and constantly putting on a brave face will drain you and eventually your feelings will explode in a very negative way. When I’m having a bad day I like to be alone. If I need to, I cry, scream into my pillow and let it all out. The key is to not define your life by those bad days. Yes they happen but tomorrow is a new day.
Honestly it’s all about staying flexible; not wasting your days away because something didn’t go exactly according to plan. I’m not happy this happened to me and if given the opportunity I would change it. But the reality is, I can’t. I can choose to be ticked off about it or I could celebrate the new friends I’ve met along the way, the memories I’ve made and the opportunities I have waiting for me. Look forward to new adventures and accept the challenges the unknown provides. “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” -- John F. Kennedy