Beauty in the Unexpected

Posted by Kristin Beale in Life After Paralysis on March 10, 2022 # Lifestyle

Kristin and her husbandThere are a lot of things in my life that haven’t happened according to my plan. Heck, almost nothing has unfolded the way I thought it would.

I thought I’d fall in love and be married in my 20s – I just got married at 31.

I thought I’d go to college and play on the varsity lacrosse team – I became paralyzed at age 14.

I thought I’d be a scientist working in a laboratory as my career – I’m an author working from home.

See? My plans and my reality are, actually, almost opposite. There’s a word – cognitive dissonance – that describes our mental discomfort from the inconsistency of how we think things should be, and how they actually are. There are ways a lot of us cope with that dissonance – all equally as unhealthy, and all heavily trafficked by me.

I regret or am guilty over things out of my control: I should be able to play able-bodied sports, and I’m not happy with my paralyzed body.

I’ve justified, and over-justified, a new direction my life has taken: I didn’t have the money for grad school, so I let go of that dream.

I’ve built a barrier around myself, mentally, thinking it would protect me. I don’t need a boyfriend, friends, or anyone else. I’m happy on my own forever.

I’ve tried them all and, actually, they all worked for a little while. But are they smart, and did they set me back some steps? No, and yes. Depending on which instance you’re referring to, my defenses led to more of my stress, regret, sadness, embarrassment, all the things. That “little while” rarely feels worth the extra steps to catch back up, though.

Instead, let’s talk about some healthy ways to deal with unpredictability.

  1. Seek new information. Research has shown that people tend to fill holes in their memory with tiny embellishments or mistakes, reaching for a complete picture. That includes [unintentionally] altering a memory to fit our wishes, misinterpreting facts, and changing the details of reality to what we believe. This is relevant to your dissonance because, if you dare to educate yourself on something you thought you had figured out, you may find some wiggle room. To my earlier example: why not try adaptive lacrosse?
  2. Justify yourself out of it. We all know a sedentary lifestyle isn’t good for us, and eating too many potato chips is bad for our diet. But, you know what I do? I sit in a wheelchair all day, and I eat Doritos like it’s my job. But, here’s where I balance: I keep up my physical activity by handcycling and adaptive fencing, and I otherwise eat a balanced diet. Making an effort in other areas of my life allows for some accommodation where I want it.
  3. Give yourself grace. Our lives are unpredictable, complicated, and beautiful. So, what if it’s not going to plan? Can’t it still be good? Certain milestones might take longer than you expected (my getting married), and some might never happen (my lacrosse and laboratory careers), but it’s okay. There can be beauty in the unexpected, and in the reroute. The beauty might be harder to see, but it’s there.

There are a lot of things you could have told me ten, twenty years ago that I would have no idea how to respond to. The last few years have taught me a lot about myself, and I don’t think I’m alone on that. Ask me 15 years ago, and I would have told you: “I won’t be married until I’m 40;” “I’m in a wheelchair, so I can’t be an athlete anymore;” and “my dream is to live on a beach, on the West Coast, with my hair to my knees.”

Then, my reality: I got married and completed my 14th marathon this year; I live on the East Coast; and I cut about 4 inches off my hair last week – on my front porch, with kitchen scissors. I definitely didn’t plan on that. Some diversions are more visible than others.

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://www.kristinbeale.com/. Her comics can be found on Instagram @Greater.Things.Comics.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.