Some things will forever remain frozen in time for me, at least in my head. Or that’s just a conclusion I’ve come to over the last year. With every day that passes I understand a bit more about myself and what living with a spinal injury means, at least to me. But I also leave some parts of my pre-injury self further and further in the past each day: Aspects of myself that have essentially retired. And I’m not sure if I’ll ever reconcile those aspects of my life, I’m not sure if I should, or if I even want to. I’m just very aware that parts of the old me were retired and replaced by the new and current me the moment I was injured.
Living life post-injury meant having to accept I was essentially beginning all over and relearning how to live in this world. It’s taken a while to get me where I am and I’m still learning, accepting and tweaking every single day. I knew this would have to be the case very early on. What I definitely did not anticipate was how much of the old me had to be left behind to make room for this new me. And I’m not referring to the obvious things: I knew walking, playing basketball, writing and drawing by hand, hugging my family… and a plethora of other physical activities were off the table. But it was the things I assumed wouldn’t change that caught me off guard: The things that had retired without me realising. Let me explain.
In theory, nothing stops me from joining my friends on a night out and heading back home afterwards. In reality, my friends and I are limited to only going places that are wheelchair accessible, I have to take a carer with me or one of my friends has to be a designated chaperone i.e. spend the night out essentially looking after me; once we are out, I can’t move around the premises because crowds are hard enough to get through in a wheelchair without you having to try and get people’s attention while music blares at ear-numbing volumes, so I end up finding a table and sitting in the corner; I can get on the dance floor and “enjoy the music” but I can’t dance; I can’t order a drink myself as almost every bar is too high; in the end the whole affair becomes an exercise in trying to recreate an experience I am no longer able to have. At least not in the way I used to.
Typical nights out: Retired.
Even things as simply as grocery shopping. In theory, I can go into any shop, browse the aisles, interact with staff as needed, buy things and leave. In practice, the route to any shop in walking distance also has to be entirely wheelchair accessible i.e. be entirely level-surfaced or have ramps, dropped curbs, lifts; the shop itself needs to be laid out in a way my wheelchair can get everywhere I need to; again, I have to be chaperoned to pickup anything from any shelf; I need someone to physically pay for my items with my money or my bankcard i.e. my wallet stopped being my personal space years ago; and then of course I can’t carry anything I bought out of the shop myself. I guess I could place some items on my legs and exit the shop that way, but one unnoticed bump on the way home or ramp with an even slightly excessive angle and my newly bought items end up all over the floor, or worse still, the middle-of-the-road.
“Popping” to the shops: Retired
I could go on paragraph after paragraph about the retired aspects of my life, but that is not what this blog is about.
So, what has replaced the Retirees? Well, thankfully a lot of new and awesome things I also did not anticipate.
The only reading I ever did pre-injury were for school/uni, texts/emails or comic books. I put pen to paper a lot but only ever to take notes in class or draw. I would have never guessed I had any ability to express myself in written word, even more so after losing the ability to use my hands. Now, unless everyone who reads my blog also lies to me, I know I’m at least a decent writer.
I used to struggle to talk to strangers outside a few very specific conditions. Once even getting so anxious about meeting my girlfriend’s parents for the first time that I picked up a magazine pretending to read it only to be told 10 minutes in that I was holding it upside down. Today, I actively seek opportunities to talk to people I’ve never met, be it public speaking or engaging one or a few people in deep conversation, and aiming to always leave that interaction with at least one party having had a positive productive experience (either they learn something new or I do).
I once looked upon people in wheelchairs or with visible disabilities as missing out in life and needing help. The thought of being one of “them” filled me with a sense of loss and dread. Now, I take pride in who I am, how I look and the value I bring to every situation or location I find myself in. I genuinely believe everyone and everything around me can and will be made better by my presence if I put my mind to it. As such, it is now rare I feel lost, out of place or without purpose. Quite the opposite in fact. The old me was very confident but not for all the right reasons. I look back at him with some advice and guidance to give but I don’t need to. He’s played his part, took me as far as he could and is now happily retired, which needed to happen for the new me to even have a chance at being born. This version of me maybe relatively young but he’s already achieved so much and it’s only just beginning.
Again, I could write paragraph after paragraph on how my life is now better since the old me was retired… Oh wait, I already do… on this blog, and where I can’t write it I definitely say it. To anyone who needs to hear it or wants to know it. It’s unfortunate it took an experience like my injury for me to see all these things I could always do (because let’s be honest, these were always skills and abilities I had but never wanted or needed to harness) and I will never wish it on anyone. So in place of any of you having to experience something as drastic as I did to reveal your hidden potential, why not look for them now. Put yourself out there, try something new, improve something old, help someone else tap into their potential. No matter what, don’t wait like I did. You don’t have to find a new you to be your best self. You already have all the tools you need. You just have to find them, and put them to good use.