Letting go of relationships that no longer serve us, after sustaining a spinal cord injury | Elena Pauly

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on August 06, 2019 # Caregiving, Relationships


I know the title is a bit, "heavy”, but this conversation has been popping up the past few months, in very different situations and with different people. This isn't necessarily a topic that I enjoy writing about, nor really wish to spend too much time on, but I have been lead here so...let's just blurt it out and be done with it. By that I mean, I hope we can all heal and move on with our lives....

My partner sustained his spinal cord injury on January 2, while we were vacationing in Cuba. While many aspects of our lives changed rapidly, and our biggest concern was Dan’s stability and health, a close second was around relationships and having a support circle. We are fortunate and can say confidently that both of our families stepped up and supported us in a big way during this time. This is not always the case for many of you who are reading this and for that I am sorry. Nobody should have to go through this life alone, let alone endure the devastating effect of an injury or illness alone. There will always be people in our lives who drop off and say they just can’t handle what you are going through. For that I have written a piece from my personal perspective of what I believe to understand and to be true in terms of acceptance, forgiveness and moving forward.

From my personal experience, and as a girlfriend of someone who sustained a high grade, spinal cord injury, I can openly say that we have "lost" a few people who we thought were our "friends".

The reason I bring this topic up is because I am surprised at how often this happens. Injury and illness often brings forth a shift in relationships, friendships, and family members. SCI, and I suppose any other abruptly and quickly onset illness or disability truly frightens people. Maybe it makes them question their own mortality? Maybe it's a rude awakening that human life and connection doesn't revolve around materialism and personal gain. Western society in particular teaches us to put ourselves first, and often times we act from an unconsciously selfish perspective. “What’s in it for me?” Media portrays these images adequately and I believe its main focus is a consumer based one. You should buy blank to feel blank… We spiral out of control trying to fill a void that truly cannot be filled with materialism. Being adopted out of a Siberian orphanage at the age of eight, watching both my cultures and environments flip drastically, I can truly say the one constant I have learned that creates true happiness is human relationships.

SO, what does any of this have to do with spinal cord injury and letting go of relationships that no longer serve you?

Well, this…

I'll tell you this, SCI doesn't discriminate. It doesn't care if you're rich or poor, whether you have many friends or none. It's called an accident for a reason; it didn't happen on purpose. And yes, it hurts seeing the people you thought loved you and respected you hit the road. But, know this...those are the people who are out for personal gain. While you’re trying to make sense of what just happened to you, they would suck all of your energy to help them understand what happened to you as well. You would have always spent your healing energy consoling and counselling them. And guess what? You physically, emotionally, and mentally absolutely CANNOT! If there is a time to look within yourself and be a little bit selfish during your healing process, this is it.

I had a close friend once tell me that my boyfriend’s injury was, "too much" and "too stressful" for them. How can it be too stressful for someone who is simply a bystander and not the individual trying to survive? Well, let’s go full circle here, “people are self centred and operate from a personal gain perspective”. And lately, I keep on hearing a similar theme with other men and women. "My family couldn't handle my injury", or "my friend said this was too hard for them.” What about the people who you see maybe once a year because an hour’s drive it too far for them? Hey, it’s okay. Let that be a sign, and understand that people make time for things that are important to them. It doesn’t mean your not important it just means you’ve outgrown these relationships and trust me, it’s totally okay.

After my partner’s injury, one of the ways he met new friends and like-minded people was through organized sports and events in the spinal cord injury community. He quickly joined wheelchair rugby and began working out at The Blusson Centre, here in Vancouver: a building that is dedicated to spinal cord injury research. Having peer support and spending time with like minded individuals will provide you with resources, tips and tricks from others going through a similar situation and of course the comradery. We are social beings, we are meant to spend time with others and while isolation can be a very real part of spinal cord injury push yourself to find a group or space that you feel safe and like you belong. This reason in itself is why Brooke and I began WAGs of SCI; Wives and Girlfriends of Spinal Cord Injury. This life can prove to be overwhelming and unpredictable, with medical, emotional, financial, relationship, travel, sexual and fertility issues to name a few, so please don’t go through this life alone. There is always a space for you and your partner. The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation have made this accessible portal and forum for you to come with any and all questions for the entire community, utilize it. Reach out to your fellow WAGS of SCI if you ever feel lost, we are all here for you.

Well, what are your thoughts on the topic? Do you have any words of wisdom when it comes to closing doors to expired relationships that no longer serve you? Let us know!



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.