The Work for Contentment

Posted by Kristin Beale in Life After Paralysis on July 28, 2020 # Lifestyle

There are no steps to recovering from a traumatic event – let me speak from experience here. There are some loose guidelines, maybe, but there’s no punch list that will universally mute the suffering in your life. The internet provides hundreds, maybe thousands, of programs that attempt at a step-by-step, but many of us can attest to the fact that, most of the time, it’s a bunch of bologna.

Majorly, the resources out there look like: first, you need to fully accept that the trauma occurred, reflect on it, meditate on it, then repent or move on – depending on the incident. Every website I found had a different version of these steps which, honestly, felt kind of pointless to me. At the end of my search, I concluded that I need to figure it out and reach contentment on my own, my own way.Kristin Beale

The bottom line: everyone is so, very different. I’ll share my story, and you might not get anything from it. On the other hand, it might give you a starting point. I’m hoping for the latter.

For those who don’t know my story, I was hit by a jet ski while I was at the lake with my friends for the last weekend before my sophomore year in high school in 2005. There were 4 of us on 2 jet skis – Mark and I leading the way out of a No Wake Zone for two other friends. One was a friend I grew up with and one was a boy I had just met and had a giant crush on. That last part isn’t relevant to the story, but it adds a little flavor.

The jet ski with my crush on it ran into the one that Mark and I were on, leaving him dead on impact, and me not far behind. I was rushed to the hospital, forecasted to not survive the initial days after my accident but, by the grace of God, woke up and turned the page to a new chapter of my life. We’ll call this new chapter: Paralyzed. The subtitle can be something like “girl obtains spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury, and loses everything.”

When I was discharged from the hospital 3 months later, I was told that I was stuck with a wheelchair for the rest of my life, the right side of my body would be forever weak (due to the traumatic brain injury), and I was back at square one. I was given one week after discharge before I would return to classes at my high school, which was full of crazy-attractive girls and good-looking boys.

Then there was me, rolling around with my post-inpatient figure and perpetual enthusiasm for very ordinary tasks. I didn’t have confidence in my new, paralyzed body, and I didn’t have the wisdom to know how to get it. “Meek” is a good word to use here. I kept my head down and accepted the excuses that my accident gave me.

I didn’t have a boyfriend throughout high school – I didn’t want anything or anyone to distract me from my recovery.

I didn’t regularly go to my friends’ house on the weekends – I had to be lifted up the stairs, and I didn’t want to burden anyone.

I left in the middle of the school day to work out, instead of having lunch with my friends – I didn’t want to waste a minute of gym time.

The list goes on. The theme is: I let my disability hold me back from living, instead of finding a way to let it enhance my living.

College was where I really grew into myself. I was still very focused on my rehabilitation, but I gave myself the slack of blending into my peers a little bit, and having a social life. I even acquired my first post-disability boyfriend, which was something I felt was an impossibility and was exceedingly excited about. During college, I split my life in four directions: my relationship, my rehabilitation, my social life, and my studies – in no particular order. “Overflowing” is our new word.

This is where I began to excel, and where I saw my biggest mistake up to that point. That is, I wasn’t focusing enough on my relationships, and I wasn’t allowing myself to slow down. Me, personally, within relationships is where I succeed in not only my happiness, but also my confidence. Without friends and community, I was comfortable with my “outsider” status, as opposed to the completely normal young woman I am – just sitting down. I was both physically and emotionally alone, until I changed my perspective to “alongside.”

It took me years, too many years, to understand that, in order for me to recover from the trauma of my accident, I needed to learn to love and accept myself, and the confidence will follow. Once I had the confidence part down, I learned to shrug off my shortcomings and say “whatever. It’s just how I am.” That, in every way, has been the key to my recovery.

Everybody is different, so I’m only telling you what worked for me:

Don’t let your disability give you an excuse for not participating in life. Do what it takes to turn a tricky circumstance, in my case paralysis, into a favorable one. Don’t let anything or anyone stand in the way of you living your greatest life. Figure out who or what gives you confidence and spend time with it or them. Most importantly, be patient with and love yourself through every stage of your life.

For me, that meant loving myself as a disabled woman. That’s not the most appealing-sounding, I realize, but the patience and confidence that follows has been pivotal to the recovery of both my mind and my body. Put in the effort to reach acceptance and join me in saying “whatever.” I promise you that it’s worth it.

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.