On June 30, 2018, I walked onto a boat. I walked onto the wrong boat and chose the wrong seat. I had no idea this simple action would lead to the worst year of my life and a completely new future for myself. I had no idea that I would soon be told that I lost both of my legs, and that wouldn’t even be the worst news I would get that year. I’d soon be told I had a spinal cord injury, a brain injury, and that I was in kidney failure. I had no idea this year would mean 5:00 am dialysis sessions followed by physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. That I’d have to relearn how to sit up, dress myself and even go to the bathroom. I would have to relearn how to pay attention for more than two seconds, learn ways to keep reminders for all the things I now kept forgetting, and how to look for things on my left field of vision that had somehow disappeared from me (thanks to a strange brain injury called left neglect).
Worst of all, I would have to do all this before attempting the only tasks I could think about…relearning to stand, walk, sit, step, and climb.
I’ve felt pain I didn’t even know was possible and not just physical pain. I’ve felt utter hopelessness, anger, and hatred, shame, and embarrassment. I’ve learned how humiliating a 5-month long hospital stay can be with no privacy and no ability to take care of yourself. I’ve felt the feeling of wanting everything to stop so that I could get away from the nightmare that was my life. I’ve screamed, I’ve cried, I’ve given up – but I’ve always gotten back up.
Now, I’m thankful for all these feelings I had. I’m thankful for all the hardships and challenges that made me a better person. All of the feelings that felt unbearable, have now taught me so much more than I could have ever imagined. Without feeling the humiliation, I don’t think I could be as comfortable in my new skin as I am now – this body that is covered in scars, doesn’t usually work properly, and is missing limbs. If I hadn’t been stripped of my pride for those months, I wouldn’t be humble enough to manage my new life. My pride might have kept me from gaining independence again by learning to drive with hand controls with a handicapped tag in my car. My pride might have kept me from going to the Adaptive Sports Center and learning to bike with my hands rather than my feet. My pride would have gotten in the way of these things. My pride wouldn’t have allowed me to have moments of the truest and purest happiness I have ever felt in my 23 years.
As I begin these new activities that I never pictured myself doing, it’s as if a weight on my shoulders, that I hadn’t even known was there, has been lifted. I feel lighter and more free than I ever have before. The anxieties of the pressure to maintain my physical appearance are gone, and I feel free, light and happy.
I’m thankful for learning that not every day is certain. That every day, whatever it is you want to do that day, you need to go out and do it. Don’t let thoughts of, “is my hair and makeup okay? Do I look okay? Am I skinny enough for this? What will people think of me?” stop you from doing something. Have fun in the moment. Let go of all of those thoughts. I know this is hard to do sometimes, as anxiety is a real issue. Anxiety is not imagined or made up, and for some people, it can feel debilitating. I’m saying, try to focus on the fact that your body is still capable of getting up and doing these things, no matter how you have to do it… in a wheelchair, with crutches, a walker, or perfectly-able bodied. I find that I push myself to do more after my injuries than I did before them. I don’t do them as easily or with as much grace as I might have before, but I find a way. I took my days and moments for granted before. I made excuses and worried too much. Just go and enjoy the day. Stop worrying, and thank your body for sticking with you for another day.
And lastly, I’ve learned that not everyone will stick around through the hard times unfortunately. That some people will find it too hard or too much work to find the right things to say, or find the strength to watch you in your most vulnerable moments. Moments you may be in physical pain, sick, or simply having a bad day. Your days don’t have to be as drastic as mine have been to learn this. Pay attention to who asks about your mental-well being. Who asks if you need anything when you’re sick. And who simply listens to you when you need someone. Hold onto these people, because they will be the ones who will sit in your hospital rooms, hold your hand, sit with you while you cry, and always, always be there for you. They will get you through what you think you can’t survive, and they will help you to find laughter and happiness again.
The thing about being knocked down is you get to see who’s there to catch you. For me, it wasn’t just my family, friends, and medical professionals there for me. I had a whole community. As my news spread around the country, we all felt support and love coming from every direction. I read about this and heard about this as I sat in the hospital, but when I returned home I got to see it first hand. It’s been amazing. The pure goodness of everyone around me has been overwhelming in the best way possible. From donations, handwritten cards, advice, support, home cooked meals, the kindest words, local businesses doing what they can for you, to a group of Chevrolet dealers giving you a brand new car – I’m so thankful for it all.
It’s been a wild year. Of course, I wish June 30, 2018, had been a normal day for me, but it wasn’t. I have to learn to adapt and look at the bright side. I have to learn from my experiences, no matter how hard they might have been. I have to choose happiness. Life is hard, but it’s also what you make of it.
Everything gets better in time. Work hard. Be kind. Be good. Be humble. Love yourself for you.
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