10 years of disability. A blessing or a curse?
Just recently I celebrated (yes, celebrated) the passing of 10 years since the accident that resulted in my broken neck, my complete paralysis from the neck down and transferring onto a ventilator to breathe for me 24hrs a day.
I realise that for most people the idea of ‘celebrating’ this kind of occasion would seem strange. I can only suggest that you would need to have lived through the ups and downs, the successes and failures and the many humbling lessons of the last decade. If you bare with me I want to try and explain a little bit of my journey and in turn, why it is a celebration that I am here and able to tell my story.
To be quite honest, a couple of years after the accident I did not expect to be alive now. I don’t think I really cared and if I continued my self-destructive lifestyle I would have been dead many years before now. I can look back and recognise that severe depression is the most challenging disability I have had to overcome. Something that can still be a daily struggle.
It is interesting that those problems did not begin until after I had spent my 15 months in hospital. You could easily believe those 450+ days would be the most frustrating and morale crunching possible. While it was far from easy, I was in a safe bubble surrounded by highly trained doctors and nurses. I would spend all day surrounded by people in wheelchairs so my disability became ‘normal’. I wish someone had taken the time to prepare me for what was still to come. Leaving the hospital and getting home was always my incentive to keep improving because I thought that would be the final step toward my recovery. The truth is that leaving hospital and facing the harsh reality of everyday life was when my recovery only began. I was not prepared, it hit me like a house collapsing and I did not manage it well.
I was in phenomenal pain every day and I was heavily addicted to morphine and many other heavy duty drugs. I was eating myself to death. After being so fitness conscious before the accident I was comfort eating to the extreme. My diet was disgusting and I put on about 6st. On top of all the heavy medication I was drinking excessively and I still look back on that spell as a time that I lost many friends. I cannot blame them. I was not myself and that life was horrible. If I wanted any lengthy and quality life then something had to change. It came in one moment of clarity when I was looking at pictures of a night out when I saw myself and, for the first time, recognised what a state I was in. To give you some perspective, I don’t even think I would have been able to pull. Honestly, it was THAT bad :-)!!!
I was determined to get my life back and find myself again so I started to change instantly. The biggest impact came from getting rid of the morphine. Being the impatient, irresponsible and stubborn bugger that I am, I decided to come off the morphine cold turkey. Not my brightest decision. The withdrawal symptoms were brutal and I went 27 days without any sleep but I was not going to stop. After the fog of the morphine had lifted I could see that I was merely existing, not living so I began to tackle my problems with focused determination. Bit by bit I changed my diet and have now lost the 6st. I started to get out the house more and explore all the possibilities still available for someone with a severe disability. I stopped drinking as much (slowly!) and started to enjoy the company of my friends and family again. I cut back on my medication, getting rid of everything I could possibly do without. I made an effort to smarten myself up (needed a good Tinder picture!) but most importantly I started looking after my health.
My lungs had done well to survive the two years of neglect but I don’t think they would have been able to fight many more infections. I needed to follow a strict chest management routine every day and I still do. I also had to tackle my depression but I needed some help from the doctor with that. Taking antidepressants is no different to taking antibiotics for a chest infection. I had a medical condition (one that never completely disappears) so I took medication. It’s not something we should be embarrassed by or be afraid to talk about. There is some momentum behind tackling mental health at the moment and it is about time. So that is the short version of what has gone before. It is all in the past and I will never go back there again.
I have been saying “I did this” and “I did that” but in reality it was very much a team effort. My family and my closest friends have been by my side since day one in Spain. There is no way I would be the person I am today without them and their support. When I think back to those first couple of years, I must have been miserable company so I will never stop appreciating those who stuck it out and are still here, still supporting me when I need it and still putting up with my shit banter! You know who you are.
So does celebrating make sense yet? I have been through my own hell but I have fought through it to come out a much stronger person and much happier person!
Last week, on the 10th anniversary of my accident I went out with 17 of the most important people who have blessed me with their support and friendship over the years and we celebrated life. It was a fantastic night and gave me the opportunity to thank them all for the role they have played in shaping my life. Those people and many others have been the source of motivation and encouragement I needed to claw back as much life as I could from the darkness of my trauma and depression. Sitting at the table, last to leave the pub, we laughed at stories from our time together as young teenagers through to now and I could not have been happier as I realised that I have so many happy memories and I still have so much to look forward to.
Sure, I have missed out on many of the milestones I expected between the ages of 25 and 35. Getting married, becoming a father and so much more but I have had the pleasure of watching my friends mature into the kind of people and parents I am proud to know. It really has been my privilege and in many ways has helped fill the gap left in my own life by missing out on what I assumed lay in front of me. Definitely a lesson for all in taking nothing for granted!
Many people would think of the years after developing such complex disabilities as being too difficult to enjoy, full of setbacks and a strain on everyone involved. In many cases they would be right but I am happy to say that I am different. I do love my life. I have a great family, very special friends, I am healthier than anyone could have imagined, I have a great social life, I am going into the 3rd year of my psychology degree, I work as a volunteer offering support to others with spinal cord injuries, I know I am surrounded by support if I need it and I am also surrounded by love.
The last 10 years have been a blessing and most definitely a reason to celebrate!
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