Step Away From It

Posted by Kristin Beale in Life After Paralysis on August 30, 2021 # Lifestyle

Kristin and her dog taking a selfieI go to the bathroom approximately every four hours, on schedule. When I was first hurt, I lived my life four hours at a time. I would go throughout my day always in the back of my head saying, “only three more hours until I have to go again,” “two hours until I have to find an accessible bathroom to use,” and “30 more minutes until I have to take another break.” Not only was I letting myself be consumed by my disability by keeping it at the forefront of my mind, but I was also letting my bladder program determine what I did and how I am going through my days. It was stressful, and it was monotonous. My disability was the only thing I could think about because I hadn’t yet figured it out, and I was nervous about the anonymity of my newly paralyzed body.

When I was inpatient in the hospital, my doctors gave me a list of things I wouldn’t be able to do anymore: get up and downstairs, participate in sports, live independently, function as a “normal” teenager, and a long list of limitations. Very much to my detriment, their forecasting was all focused on what I could no longer do and how my disability would negatively dictate the rest of my life. With their prognoses, I missed my chance to consider the opportunity, self-growth, and eventual joy that would come from my difference. Instead, their destructive foretelling confined my thinking into a box, and it pushed me to focus on the losses I took with my disability. I was already ten steps behind when I was finally discharged from the hospital and starting my mental healing after the accident.

To be clear: I’m not blaming my entire ignorance on my doctors, because that isn’t fair; lack of information and disability awareness back then were also players in my unfamiliarity with the adaptive world. Those doctors saved my life after a traumatic Jet Ski accident, for which I’m infinitely grateful. I’m grateful to the medical community for getting me out, but more for my unwillingness to accept defeat, and to rediscover my happiness.

Last month, I celebrated my sixteenth anniversary since a Jet Ski hit me and left me paralyzed from the mid-torso down. This October, I’ll complete my 10th marathon in a handcycle with Team Reeve; I’m a competitive wheelchair fencer; I lived on my own for seven years before getting married this year; I’m able to get up and down small flights of stairs in my wheelchair, and; I’m the happiest person I know.

My happiness was a slower process, considering my later-in-life diagnosis, and it only became real when I decided to have a completely open mind to new things. I promised myself that I would try everything, even when I thought I wouldn’t like it; let go of things that didn’t bring me joy, and; hold on to the things and people that did. Everyone’s “happy” is going to look a little different, and it’s not usually something that falls in your lap. Your goals may feel insurmountable or more long-term than you’d prefer, but that’s just perspective, and that can be fixed.

Perspective has been the key to my happiness, and the magic word in my experience with disability. It wasn’t until I was introduced into the disabled community in California that I realized, despite my lengthy list of inabilities, how fortunate I am and how bad I actually don’t have it.

Is there someone in a worse situation than yours? Always. Could your situation be worse than it is? Of course. Are you able to set goals for yourself and work toward them? We all are. Do you have something or someone in your life that makes you happy? If you don’t, take the time to find it.

Most times, happiness is something you have to work for. The first step toward reaching that happiness is to take a step away from your situation to get some perspective, then use that perspective to push toward contentment. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do and the limitations you might have, turn your eyes to the potential you and your situation have to be great. For me, that looked like: a fake smile and nod to the small thinkers, and a deep-seated determination to prove them wrong.

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.

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.