Today marks one year since I badly broke my neck, since my life turned upside down, and since everything I ever knew about my body, my health, my accomplishments, my ambitions and my future were all thrown out and it all hit the restart button. I have to admit, I’ve been dreading this day for quite some time now and I could feel in recent weeks that my stress was building about what this day means to me and what I should do moving forward.
On the one hand it devastates and frightens me to think that an entire year has gone by since I last willingly moved my legs. I used to get antsy and grumpy if I went a few days without running, biking or exercising my entire body somehow. For the last year I’ve had to settle for rebuilding my body piece by piece, and slowly accepting that I could (and would) still regularly push myself to my physical limits, even if I didn’t have function of my entire body. It’s scary and depressing and horrifying to realize how much has changed in me physically since before my accident. To think of the physical accomplishments that I had, to think of how much respect I had for my body and how that translated to what I ate, how I behaved, and how I approached life in general, and to think that all of that has transformed now…words can’t describe it.
I remember waking up in the hospital, under heavy medication, staring at the ceiling because I was unable to move my head and not being able to see my legs but knowing that something just didn’t feel right. I remember every conversation I’ve had with every single doctor and how each of them wanted to show that they “had the answer” by telling me how soon my body’s rehabilitative abilities would stop. Some told me six months, others said one year or more but they all had a firm belief that after a spinal cord injury, the healing would reach this magical point in time and just come to a halt.
Never mind that this sounds bogus and arbitrary. Never mind that case after case of people with this injury have had changes and improvements in their body two, five, eight, ten, twenty years after their injuries! Never mind that by saying these things, they were placing a limit on my potential and possibly devastating my spirit. Never mind that their “medical knowledge” was supposed to trump the power of will, of hope, of dedication, of faith, of perseverance, and of love.
And I don’t just mean the love that comes from family, friends, community and others, but of the love that comes from within. The love I had for everything that I was capable of before my accident. The love for enjoying life on my own terms, the love of being able to stand and walk and jump and kneel and lean and kick and tumble and tumble and tumble…and RISE. When do we fall and NOT want to get back up? Does it ever happen that a baby that’s learning to walk stumbles and falls and doesn’t try to do it all over again, albeit after a few tears? So why should this be any different? If a baby can do it, why can’t a grown man, let alone a grown man who has so much still to live for?
I remember leaving the hospital seven weeks after my injury and my doctor (who I’d seen and spoken to every single day during my time at inpatient rehab) telling me not to engage in too much activity or put too much hope or effort into my recovery. “All of this acupuncture, exercise therapy, alternative interventions and these other things out there…all of this is just experimental and there’s no proof of its potential efficacy in healing after a spinal cord injury. The body will heal as it will, there’s not much you can do so you might as well just wait for it to come.”
Oh really? Well just watch me…
I’m not naive. I’m not expecting everything to just go back to the way it was. I know that recovery is slow and the last year has proven that to me over and over. Nothing about this process is going to be easy or quick and I’ve accepted that. But I also know that my body desperately wants to get better. I know that it makes no sense for the body to heal for 365 days and then on the 366th day just suddenly stop and say, “ahhhh ok, I think we’re done here.” I know that I’ve made extraordinary gains in the last year and I see no justification for the belief that things are just going to slow down or stop now. My attitude isn’t scientifically or medically proven but I think that my recovery is one of the many things out there that cannot, and maybe will not, ever be explained by medical reasoning.
Despite the overwhelming challenges that come with my current situation, I’m extremely grateful for some of the lessons that I’ve learned in this last year, many of which I’ve written about on this blog. I’ve learned of the resilience of the human condition and how strong we can be in the face of overwhelming adversity coming from so many different angles. I’ve learned about the meaning of faith and how I’ve been able to interpret my own understanding of what I believe in, and why. I’ve learned about the surprises that can come from waking up one morning and discovering that a body part has suddenly regained its functionality. I’ve learned about the importance of perspective again, and again and again and how I will always be grateful for what I have. I’ve learned that positive thinking can be a conscious practice taking place underneath the surface of willful actions or it can come in the form of dreams, reminding the mind and body and soul of how great it feels to be able to walk.
More than anything though, I’ve learned about the intensity and magnitude of the power of intention and will. I’ve learned that hope is always alive as long as the intention for it is active and strong. I’ve learned that as difficult as it may be, it’s possible to listen to the “experts” and actively work to prove them wrong; to show an entire industry that’s based on suppressing my expectations and accepting the unacceptable, that there is another way. But it can only come if I truly believe in it and am willing to spend every last of drop of tears and energy and blood into pursuing it.
I spoke with someone recently who has had a lot of experience healing people who have suffered spinal cord injuries. She believes that the first year is purely a matter of dealing with the massive trauma that has occurred, that true healing doesn’t really begin until that trauma has died down and that happens in the second year and beyond.
I too accept this belief and I feel renewed and reenergized about my recovery. I know I will never forget this day again, that it’s an anniversary of sorts. I acknowledge this day now, and am ready to move forward, to keep my intention and will focused on my ultimate goals and to stay on my path to a full recovery.