Finding Happiness in Struggle | Guest Blogger Kristin Beale

Posted by Antonio Rivera in Daily Dose on July 11, 2019 # Health

My freshman year in high school was the best year of my life. My grades were slightly above average, I was active on 3 competitive sports teams, and I got along well with my family. The triumph I had experienced in my first year of high school continued into the summer I had tan skin, an athletic body, and more friends than I could count on two hands. I was invincible.

On the last weekend of summer, only a week before my sophomore year of high school, I went to Lake Gaston with 3 of my friends: Aubrey, whom I knew from church, and two boys named Mark and Feild who I had just met. On the last day, we split up on 2 jet skis: Mark was the driver of my ski and Feild driving Aubrey on the other. A combination of Feild’s inattention and a No Wake Zone resulted in a collision of our 2 skis – Mark and I on the bottom.

We were rushed to Pitt Memorial Hospital in North Carolina where Mark was declared dead on arrival and I was not far behind him.

My doctors were certain that I sustained a traumatic brain injury and spinal injury; two items off a long and numbing list of internal injuries that even I can’t fully comprehend. The gravity of my condition led my doctors to tell my parents I wouldn’t survive beyond those initial moments at Pitt. When I did, they said I wouldn’t breathe independently, talk, speak, swallow, and my brain would be a vegetable.

My first comeback happened when I woke up in October – 2 months after the accident. I had short term memory loss that didn’t fade until late October, but I was awake. The combination of a coma and memory loss made me forget a large chunk of the trauma of my body in those 2 months. I “woke up” in time for Halloween in the hospital, which is just about as fun as it sounds.

My doctors’ next prediction was that I’ll never leave my wheelchair; they said I won’t feel or move below my injury level, which is mid-torso. That meant no more sports, no more feeling in my feet, and no more effortlessly navigating the world. That crushed me… absolutely crushed me.

In the time it takes to tie your shoelaces, the happiest year of my life came to an abrupt halt. Everything I’d ever known was turned inside out.

I woke up from my coma, which was my first victory. No surprise to anyone, I was faced with a lot more problems than just overcoming my doctors’ forecasts. Alongside physical challenges, I was faced with the emotional burden that came with relearning my new paralyzed body, socially trying to fit in with my peers during an already difficult time in a teenager’s life, and my faith in God becoming more applicable than I would have ever wished it to be.

Because of our immaturity and the intensity of my accident, I lost a lot of friends during that time. I understood though, - If I didn’t know how to handle myself, I hardly expected other people to take time to figure me out too. A few stuck around though, and I had to really dig deep to find a meaning for not only my story, but for my survival. Thank God I was looking in the right places.

With strength I still cannot fathom, my parents never gave up; they refused to accept the prognosis and instead started looking for ways to prove the doctors wrong. This was the beginning of my journey.

When the doctors told me I wouldn’t ever walk again, I started on my long journey to prove them wrong on that too. I’ve traveled the country for rehab and have never given up since then. I was able to move from a Complete injury to Incomplete by working very hard to regain a relatively long list of movement in my legs and feet. Even to this day some feelings are still returning to me. I never have and never will give up on my dream of walking independently.

In the meantime, I’m making the best of my life with paralysis. I’m very involved in my community of Richmond, VA, have completed 7 marathons, tried every adaptive sport available to me, and published 2 books. I have a beautiful boyfriend and built a house for me and my dog, Achilles Jones. I was able to graduate high school and college on time, and even get a job.

I know this next part sounds too cliché, but it’s there’s truth behind it. Stay with me.

It’s easy for people to look at my situation and focus on the things I don’t have and can’t do. What they don’t see is that I’m the happiest person I’ve ever met; life is so much fun. Sure, I miss being able to run around on the lacrosse field and slide around the foyer in my socks but popping wheelies and getting priority at concerts and amusement parks is pretty great too.

When bad things happen to people, we turn to other things to get us through the storm – whether it be friends, family, drugs, or alcohol. Often, we have tunnel-vision on the bad thing that’s happening and miss out on the beauty and opportunity around us. A lot about my situation is a bummer, but I’ve found that it’s also easy to find happiness – you just have to look for it. Maybe that means changing a routine, adjusting your internal dialogue, or rethinking the people you surround yourself with. Whatever it takes, really.

Kristin Beale is a native of Richmond, Virginia. She is the author of a book, Greater Things, and a comic book, Date Me. Check them out and read an excerpt at www.kristinbeale.com. Her comics can be found on Instagram @greater.things.comics .