A Flashlight on Humility

Posted by Kristin Beale in Life After Paralysis on July 07, 2020 # Lifestyle

When I was in a jet ski accident in 2005 that left me with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and sentenced to a wheelchair, I thought I had it the worst. I was given a long list of casualties guaranteed by my disability, with the loss of my ability to move or feel sensation below my mid-torso at the top. Also on that list, my doctors assured me that I wouldn’t be able to play sports like I used to, I’m doomed to a butt-level perspective from my seated [in a wheelchair] position, and my ability to predict or control my bladder voiding is a luxury long gone. Kristin Beale

Are you kidding me? In my 14-year-old teenaged mind, I had the hardest situation out of everyone. To me, at that time, paraplegia was the worst fate in the world.

A couple of months later, when I was discharged from the hospital after what felt like half a year’s time, I waited only 2 weeks before boarding a plane for Carlsbad, California. I was diving headfirst into not only an intensive physical rehabilitation program aimed at regaining the things my disability stole from me, but also headfirst into a disabled community – my first disabled community.

At a place called Project Walk in California, I worked out 5 days per week for 4 hours at a time. I was at the gym for the majority of my days, so I got to know a crowd of people with all types and degrees of disability: some without use of their arms, some with missing limbs, others without use of an entire side of their body, and a few who were like me. My paralysis originates from my T8 vertebrae, meaning I have full use of my entire upper body; where I was sad about the “loss” of my lower body, people were working out as hard and as dedicated as I was, just to have use of their fingers.

Humility slapped me in the face.

I lost the ability to play able-bodied sports, to control my bladder function, and to escape the smells of people’s butts, yes, but I still have hand function and I still have my mind. I had the opportunity to work hard and improve my body’s situation, and I have people around me to support my dreams. It took me being in that community and exposing myself to varying degrees of disability to realize that I really don’t have it that bad; my obstacles are nowhere near the biggest. A flashlight of humility was shined on my “hardest” situation and I see that, really, it’s not that hard at all.

Especially in these times that feel like there’s constantly something to stress about, the best thing we can do for ourselves is to list our gains, instead of focusing on our losses. In the instance of disability, it’s often the case that we have to work a bit harder than our able-bodied peers to blend into crowds and complete tasks that come easily for others. The “unfairness” of that is something that took me time to be okay with but, when I opened my eyes to the struggles of my neighbors, I’m humbled in what I can do, not what I can’t.

With our culture of comparison at an all-time high, it’s easy to get down on ourselves. Some of you may be able to relate and have thought “I have the hardest situation in the world.” When you feel like that, listen to me: it can be worse, and people are climbing bigger hills. Some have physical hills, and some have mental hills but, no matter how happy and healthy those people look, we’re all sitting on some kind of incline. No matter how hard or terrible your situation feels, find peace in knowing that you haven’t hit the bottom; it can always be worse. Start counting those gains and stop thinking about the things you can’t change.

This is not meant to belittle what you’re going through or even to change how you’re going through life. I’m hoping only to shine that flashlight and give you some perspective. For me, with my sudden disability and paralysis, that perspective was helpful in my recovery; in the midst of my life flipping inside out, I was able to look around and see how good I actually do have it. With that, my challenges felt smaller and I felt more confident in my ability to overcome them.

Take stock of yourself. Regardless of if you have full use of your body and a fully functioning mind, a bad attitude and a lack of humility can put you farther behind someone without either of those. Your perspective on life and your sense of humility, truly, is your best ability.

Kristin Beale is a native of Richmond, Virginia. She is the author of two books, Greater Things and A Million Suns, and a comic book, Date Me. Check them out and read an excerpt at https://kristinbeale.com/. Her comics can be found on Instagram @Greater.Things.Comics.