Living Well with Dr. John. Adjustment through the Lifespan, Post-Injury. Series Introduction.

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on August 10, 2020 # Events, Lifestyle

Attempting Karaoke

Several years ago, my wife and I went to a karaoke night with several friends. Being coerced up front to sing karaoke, I felt the sweat begin to roll down my neck. Normally, I try not to be the center of attention; although, I am almost always the center of most individuals’ curiosity. People don’t usually encounter an Asian quadriplegic man in a wheelchair… let’s face it; I don’t exactly blend in. In spite of being used to drawing attention, the thought of getting in front of a crowd to sing was intimidating. Yet somehow, there I was belting out “Love shack, baby love shack…” at the top of my lungs. Despite my horrendous performance, I had a blast singing, and shortly after my singing debut, I was approached by a gentleman in his 50’s. He stated, “My son was a quad over 20 years ago. Unfortunately, he passed away a few years after his accident. I wish he could have met you. I am so proud of you, you sounded great.” We looked at each other; no further words were needed. With tears in his eyes, he gently squeezed my shoulder and walked away. Getting out and just living life can be daunting and even scary. Yet, even during these uncomfortable situations, there are moments, just like meeting that gentleman, that can remind us true humanity still exists.Dr. John Chang

Background: The Daily Grind

It has been 33 years, or as I like to keep track of 12,299 days since my accident. I was 19 at the time of my surfing accident. I had the world in front of me, and similar to many other spinal cord injured individuals, it all changed in the blink of an eye. As a C-5 quadriplegic, life can never be classified as easy. However, by implementing the several nuggets of wisdom I have gained through my personal life experiences, ongoing education, and working as a clinical psychologist over the years, I can at least say my life is valuable and continues to have meaning.

The Roots of Change

After reaching out to several of my SCI peers, I asked what issues and topics they felt people in our community would like to know about most. I received numerous suggestions, but all of them seemed to be somehow rooted in themes of anxiety, depression, intimacy/sexuality, meaning in life, and financial stability. Often, to truly tackle these issues, we all must pause and take inventory of ourselves. Our identity, self-concept, the ongoing stigmas, and stressors we face, all have to be confronted at some point. Recognizing that none of these issues ever entirely go away, knowing that they all recycle themselves over and over again throughout each of our lives at different times and to different degrees, makes not just being aware of them, but addressing them that much more important.

The Cost of Living Disabled

Life is priceless but living with a disability can cost a small fortune. It was estimated, by the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (2020), that on average: those living with anywhere from basic motor function impairment - at any level, to high tetraplegia (C1 – C4) can cost between 1.7 million to around 5 million dollars throughout their lives. These are estimated lifespan costs for a person having an injury that occurred around 25 years old. Individual costs will, of course, vary based on the age of injury, lifespan, and degree of impairment. With these significant costs, it is critical that you have some sense of financial stability and are informed of available services within your state. Having a way to be financially secure not only helps alleviate stress but allows you to live more independently and confidently going forward.

Education

As a professor of psychology for over 22 years, I am biased that education is the key to having a successful life in general. Not just for people with disabilities but everybody. I believe that education leads to having a sustainable career post-injury and is one of the best ways to continue to remind yourself you have a purpose in life and a reason to get up every day. Although getting up every day for me happens to be a three-hour process!

Physicality vs. Non-Physicality

Following Beatrice Wright’s work, to truly make a positive adjustment following a spinal cord injury, a mental shift needs to occur, from valuing one’s physical (what I can do) self to one’s non-physical self (what I can think/feel/express). Sometimes just regularly adjusting your perspective can be monumental in managing everyday stressors.

In Closing…

  1. Life does get easier, and by living intentionally and with purpose, life can be highly rewarding. In my initial webcast, I will talk about some common concepts, strategies, and tips to help you cope, adapt, and navigate life more effectively. You can register for the webcast here.

Dr. John Chang is a licensed clinical psychologist, professor, and consultant. He lives with his wife and two dogs in Northeastern, Pennsylvania.