Spinal cord injury is hard. It’s painful, it’s complicated, and it’s a lot of work. There’s so much I feel that disability has robbed me of, so many things I would do if I could, and so much time that feels like it’s been “wasted” on just having a spinal cord injury. Most days, I wish I could go back and do so many things differently.
But I’m wrong. More accurately, my outlook on my life with spinal cord injury is wrong. Maybe not entirely but in all the ways that matter and more.
It’s the easiest thing for someone in a position like mine to somehow blame everything I’m not happy with in my present on the most significant negative experience from my past. It’s easy to feel the day-to-day difficulties of my life were all caused, even if only indirectly, by my disability. And it’s not just me. I’m just one of the many who has one significant, negative defining moment from my past that I can blame my present on and, unfortunately, also allow to dictate my future. The truth is everyone has times when things from our past seem (at least to ourselves) to be the cause of all our problems and will therefore be deciding factors for our future when neither needs to be the case at all. Now, I’m not saying past experiences don’t affect our present and future. That would be silly. We are all a product of our individual experiences up to any given point. But in too many cases, we give far more weight to specific events and circumstances from our past when assessing events and circumstances we are experiencing now. And though this rarely happens without good reason (after all, stubbing your toe one day and still feeling the pain the next day is clearly a past event affecting your present/future), it’s far too easy to wrongfully conclude why your reality is the way it is when there is an irreversible, ready-made explanation always waiting for you in the form of a past experience. This isn’t supposed to be a bad thing. It’s part of how we learn as humans. If you stub your toe and it hurts, you’ll be more aware of how to avoid being in a situation to stub it again, you will be better at dealing with it happening again, and you’ll even empathise easier the next time someone else stubs their toe, probably even being able to help them deal with it. But if you stubbed your toe 10 years ago, and that’s why you say you’ve chosen to use a wheelchair for the last decade and onward, you’ve either got a far bigger problem than you realise or you’ve got it massively wrong my friend.
This means even though something isn’t true, our minds can make it so real to us that we can feel it emotionally, psychologically and sometimes even physically. But that’s where it gets fun. Our minds, as powerful as they are, will ALWAYS try to protect us the best way it knows, even if it doesn’t exactly know what the best way we need to be protected should be. So why don’t we use some of that ridiculous brainpower to our advantage and try an unlearn some of the negative mindsets we have in our approach to living life? Better still, why don’t we try and change those negative mindsets into positive thinking? After all, if we can trick ourselves into thinking something that might not even exist is not only real but negatively affecting us, surely, we can trick ourselves into understanding how something that’s potentially bad can actually benefit us, real or not. I’m not saying you should pretend problems don’t exist. I’m saying maybe every problem is just an opportunity to find a solution. I’m saying maybe most, not all, but most of our negative experiences were life’s unnecessarily cruel lessons, but lessons nonetheless and therefore opportunities to learn and be better. Maybe our past negative experiences don’t have to cause us problems in our present or future. But instead, improve them. I know that’s a lot of maybes, and I know it is far easier said than done. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. But the only way to begin making that kind of change in ourselves is to first realise and accept that it is indeed possible.
And that takes me back to the first paragraph of this post.
“Life is hard. It can be painful, it’s complicated, and it’s a lot of work. There’s so much I feel that time has robbed me of, so many things I would do if I could, and so much time that feels like it’s been “wasted” on just living life. Most days, I wish I could go back and do so many things differently… but I can’t. So instead, I will try and make the most of the life I have. The past will never change, the future hasn’t been predetermined, and the present doesn’t have to dictate how I see any of the above. Instead, I can make the present feel more like I want it to by learning from the negatives in my past, making sure to leave them in the past, and pulling as much of the positives into my present as possible, thereby improving my future as much as I can.
Yes, spinal-cord injury is hard. But like so many other things in all our lives, it is just one of a myriad of past experiences that I live with in the present and doesn’t have to stop me from flourishing in the future.
If you’re still reading this, I need to do something. Think of one event, situation or experience in your past that still causes problems today. Is there any way whatsoever you can look at it a little bit differently? Because chances are you might find something good that you didn’t know was there. I don’t have to know what it is. That’s for you and anyone who might be able to help. But don’t be upset if you don’t see the positive yet, be patient. It takes time. It takes work. And if you can, don’t do it alone.
Until next time, stay safe, and stay blessed.