It was a few days after the accident, while lying in that lonely hospital room that my doctor came in for a visit. In the course of the conversation he looked at me and said, “Jamie…you need to choose…get independent!” It didn’t resonate until a few nights later, once again in my hospital bed, perspiring profusely, anxious, motionless immersed in sweat-soaked sheets. In the course of the longest night of my life, I flashed back to that exchange and realized I needed to choose. My life was at a fork in the road, which way was I going to go? Surrender, let this injury defeat me OR fight the good fight and aim with all my effort to get independent. I resolved that night to do everything in my power not to be enabled by anyone or anything, especially no assistive devices. Ten years later that choice to get independent has guided all of my recovery efforts and continues to do so. I chose, you can choose to.
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I met a person at the gym today who introduced himself, and said he had read some of my story in the monthly newsletter. He said he was inspired by it and wanted to know more. I gave him the annotated version. He said something interesting about how difficult the emotional recovery must be. I thought this was very insightful, and touched on an area of great opportunity and challenge in my recovery. I reflected back to the time 4 months after my accident when I fell into a deep depression and was suicidal. Climbing out of that hole took several months. I thought about how important the gym, my exercise community has been in helping get my head right, and refocusing on the things I can do and letting go of the things I am not able to do. It helped save my life.
Ever get up in the morning and not want to get up? My body feels like that every day. The medications have worn off, body aches are everywhere, extensor cramps are active, and muscles are seizing making it difficult to stand upright let alone move. If my body were tin foil it feels like unraveling a crinkled up section of it. I tell myself every morning that movement begets more movement. I take a few deep breaths and remind myself that in an hour I will feel better, sufficient to do the day. It works.
What is it like to be vulnerable? What does it mean? Why can it be beneficial? It wasn’t too long ago in my mid-adulthood when I was seeing a therapist and was discussing vulnerability. She referred to me in this discussion as akin to a “greased-pig”, meaning that at the time I was unable to be real, authentic, and open to ‘exposing’ my deepest feelings. Today is different. I realize after having been though traumatic injury, where life is stripped clean and whatever ego I had erased, I learned about vulnerability and my ability to be so. I realized that being vulnerable can bring people closer to you rather than pushing them away. I understand now how important in life it is to be real, authentic and in places, vulnerable. The veneer is gone, and it feels great to be just me.
How do you find meaning and purpose in your life after traumatic injury that derails everything you have been building toward? My injury was a complete physical and emotional reset, like someone had pressed the ctrl-alt-del buttons on my life’s keyboard and everything was initialized. It was a complete start over. It was such an abrupt change. I’ve struggled with this question for nearly a decade, until I realized that I needed to do something bigger than myself, and refocus my energies on using my story to potentially help others who have suffered spinal cord injury, or more broadly anyone facing a life adversity. I know now what my life purpose is. It is not about me, it is about reaching others that might find benefit from my injury and recovery journey.