Peer Mentor Spotlight: Cindy Kolbe shares her caregiving experiences in "Struggling With Serendipity"

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on May 16, 2019 # News, PFSP

Cindy Kolbe has always known that she wanted to make a difference in the world, but her journey to finding her own happiness and helping others along the way hasn’t always been easy. Cindy pursued her passion of helping others by working at the Tiffin Center in Ohio, where she began in direct care and soon became a literacy instructor. Everything was going great for Cindy when an unexpected accident changed the course of her and her family’s lives.

One day while driving home from a long trip with her fourteen-year-old daughter Beth, Cindy fell asleep at the wheel, resulting in an accident that left Beth paralyzed. In the wake of the accident, Cindy was left unprepared to confront her feelings of depression and guilt, while doing her best to help Beth adjust to life with quadriplegia.

In her new role as both mother and caregiver, Cindy did everything she could to help Beth in her transition, while still coping with her own internal struggles. “It was definitely a 24 hour a day job initially after her injury, and being her caregiver was my complete focus,” said Cindy. “Part of that was just wanting to do all I could for her as she was adjusting to this new injury and new life, but another aspect was my guilt and blaming myself for falling asleep at the wheel and causing the accident.”

Even with her extensive background working with individuals with disabilities, Cindy was left feeling insufficient in her ability to help Beth. “Even though I had experience with a pretty wide range of disability, including physical disabilities, when Beth was injured I felt completely unprepared,” said Cindy. “I did not feel equipped to handle that.”

Battling depression for years even before Beth’s injury, it was a long road for Cindy to come to terms with their situation and feel confident again. Thankfully, Beth had a way of remaining positive despite the challenges she faced and helped to lead her mother out of this dark time. “I was very lucky that my daughter never lost hope, we don’t know how but she was able to see hope from the start,” said Cindy. “So, I followed her lead and I’m very grateful to her that she carried me for a long time, until I was able to do so myself.”

Today, Cindy continues to help motivate and inspire others through her work as a peer mentor for other caregivers through the Reeve Foundation Peer & Family Support Program. For Cindy, this has been rewarding, as has been sharing her story via her blog, which has allowed Cindy to make meaningful connections and have a platform to inspire others.

Navigating their new life together with hope as a guiding light, Beth went on to accomplish many remarkable things, including breaking records as a Paralympian and swimming for Harvard’s varsity women’s swimming and diving team. Cindy and Beth’s story is one of the power that hope can have and the importance of persevering against life’s obstacles, which Cindy shares in her soon to be released book Struggling with Serendipity, which will was released on April 9.

“I think the title sums up the book really well,” Cindy said. “After Beth’s injury, she seemed to attract serendipity, and she still does. Through that, I could see the good things that were happening and be grateful for them.”

It took Cindy many years of healing to be able to revisit and confront her emotions in the process of writing her memoir. Before making the decision to write the memoir from her own perspective, Cindy had asked Beth if she was interested in telling her own story. “Beth has been very supportive and comfortable with me talking about my feelings, she just wasn’t ready to tell it herself,” said Cindy. “I am grateful that she trusted me with her story and has allowed me to share it. I’ve always enjoyed writing and have had different jobs involving writing in the past, but it wasn’t a topic I could approach until a decade later, and then I just felt like it was something I needed to do.”

The prospect of sharing her and Beth’s story with the world in Struggling with Serendipity was an emotionally intense undertaking for Cindy. One of the most difficult aspects of writing the memoir was being honest and vulnerable about what she was dealing with, but Cindy’s editor told her that she needed to put her emotion into the story.

“My biggest challenge was sharing my depression at that time with my family,” said Cindy. “Since I’d been writing I had worked hard to hide my feelings. I really didn’t want to go there, but part of the writing process was thinking of the details of the accident and the time after, which aren’t pleasant memories. But it was necessary to give enough of the story to help the readers understand what was happening, how we felt about it and where we went from there.”

Although Cindy was struggling to cope with her feelings of guilt, she was cognizant of the fact that Beth was the one who was really facing a difficult time. “I was very aware then, and I am now, that I am not the one with a spinal cord injury, and I never wanted any kind of pity or attention for my feelings,” said Cindy.

Above all else, Cindy’s goal for publishing Struggling with Serendipity is to spread a message of positivity to encourage her readers who may also be going through a difficult time. “I would love it if readers could find a message of hope, especially when they’re at a point in their lives where they don’t see the hope,” said Cindy. “I would also love it if people could understand spinal cord injury and depression better, as there are a lot of stereotypes still out there.”

You can connect with Cindy on our online forum Reeve Connect, or on her website and Facebook page.