​Why the Paralysis Community Should Reflect on 2020 as an Accomplishment

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on January 05, 2021 # COVID-19, Lifestyle

By guest blogger Lauren Presutti

Let’s be honest. 2020 was painful and exhausting in many ways. You might have used the pandemic as an opportunity to renovate your home or master cooking foreign cuisine, but if all you did was survive in 2020 (like most of us), that is perfectly okay. We experienced a global pandemic (and we are still experiencing a global pandemic). For people living with paralysis or caring for someone living with paralysis, the pandemic likely brought extra challenges. Especially for those newly diagnosed with paralysis this past year, your trauma was likely intensified by social distancing and the mandatory safety precautions. Accessing physical rehabilitation appointments may have been difficult or you may have experienced added stress from limited access to caregivers. No matter what this past year looked like for you, I want to encourage everyone in the paralysis community to view simply surviving 2020 as an accomplishment that can be celebrated.woman in front of steps

As a mental health therapist, I have noticed many people struggling with feeling like this past year was a “wasted year” or a “failure of progress.” Many people have expressed feeling extremely disappointed – and sometimes resentful – for the ways in which COVID-19 has put their life on hold. It halted their progress. It made them feel like their life suddenly froze when the pandemic began. You have every right to feel hurt and disappointed for the loss of this past year, but it’s also important not to live in the space of resentment for too long. Holding onto anguish and chronic disappointment over time can lead to worsening anxiety and depression. We must find a balance between acknowledging our disappointment from this past year vs. feeling strong and resilient for overcoming this past year.

Letting go of disappointment and loss can be a complex process, particularly for those with disabilities. For many people in the disability community, experiencing a loss sometimes feels more intense than the average non-disabled person. This is because most people with disabilities have already grieved many losses in their life. For example, someone with a spinal cord injury has likely gone through a grieving process where they were forced to accept the loss of physical abilities. They probably also experienced the loss of independence in some form (maybe the loss of being able to drive or the loss of independent caregiving). In some cases, people with spinal cord injuries may have even lost friendships after being diagnosed with paralysis. Because of these life experiences, feelings of further loss throughout the lifespan might feel increasingly painful. Because COVID-19 has resulted in many losses over this past year, it makes sense that those in the paralysis community may have experienced more intensified feelings of pain and loss than the average non-disabled person in 2020.

This is all the more reason to view surviving 2020 as an accomplishment. It was not a waste of time. It was not a failure. It was not a pit of empty space. It was not something to bury under the rug. Instead, surviving 2020 as someone living with paralysis or caring for someone with paralysis was an extraordinary triumph that speaks volumes about your sense of resiliency, adaptation, perseverance, mental stamina, and ability to cope. Sure, maybe some days were messy and hopeless and you maybe even went a little stir crazy stuck indoors – but you made it. You survived it. You relied on your coping skills during a time when everything was chaotic and uncertain. Let’s not look back at 2020 as a failure or a wasted space – but rather, let’s look at 2020 as a victory because we made it through the year.

Finally, remember the internal coping skills and resources you have to continue forward in 2021. The pandemic is still affecting our lives in significant ways. While news about a vaccine brings hope, we must be patient in this process and continue to persevere in the upcoming months. Continue to check in with your loved ones. Make sure you are following a healthy routine. Monitor your energy and sleep patterns. Get fresh air whenever possible. Use this time to feel what is best for your unique needs. Be proud of how far you have come over the last several months and believe in your ability to continue coping in healthy ways. If nothing else, remember that surviving 2020 was possible because of your resiliency and determination to press forward. Use the same skills as we embrace whatever 2021 will bring.

To learn about River Oaks Psychology, visit www.riveroakspsychology.com and follow River Oaks Psychology on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

This project was supported, in part, by grant number 90PRRC0002, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.