When I was in hospital following my accident there were a number of people from different professions that made a bedside visit; lawyers, benefits advisors, psychologists etc. I remember very little from all of these visits as I was so overwhelmed with information, and for the first couple of months nothing felt real to me. I kept thinking that somehow things would just go back to how they were, and so I wouldn’t need any of the advice or help that was being offered.
In particular, I think I was quite frosty towards the psychologist. She was very friendly and kind, but asking me questions about how I was feeling and trying to make me talk about what had happened was not what I wanted to be doing at all. It is only now, a couple of years down the line, that I have thought about the couple of visits she made to me before I told her that I really wasn’t ready to talk about it.
The one thing she said that has stuck in my mind, and that I have thought about a lot recently was that I needed to grieve. I had effectively lost a massive part of my life (my legs) and I needed to mourn that loss. And I have to say, this now makes complete sense to me, although at the time I thought she was just talking shit.
So I have been looking at the Five Stages of Grief, and although they are only a guideline to how we deal with grief, I can see exactly how I have experienced each stage over the last 2 years.
1. Denial: I have definitely experienced this feeling, although I am quite often embarrassed about it. I spent the first three months hoping and pretending that things were going to go back to normal. I kept thinking that I must be in spinal shock, and that I would start to regain feeling and movement in my legs. I saw it happen to some of the other patients in the spinal unit and was just waiting for my turn. I was convinced that I was going to bounce back from this injury and I’d be good as new in no time at all. So when the three month spinal shock ‘deadline’ was up and I started to realise that maybe I wasn’t going to be one of the lucky ones I left the hospital. I couldn’t face being around all the people who were learning to walk again; it’s a fairly depressing situation to be in.
2. Anger: This emotion has been present from the very beginning, and although I am less angry in general now, I still have my rageful moments where I just want to scream. Any kind of accident is always unfair, and my circumstances definitely seem unfair to me. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I was very unlucky. And when the consequences are so irreversible and the damage is permanent, it is so difficult to not be angry. People close to me will have definitely experienced my anger… I feel awful about it but I often take it out on those who are closest to me. The smallest frustration or tiniest thing going wrong will set me off and I am pretty sure I am a complete bitch to be around. But I am learning to deal with this better, and I hope I am much more pleasant to be around. I definitely think the amount of exercise I do helps with anger, I can take my frustration out in a healthy positive kind of way and it gets it out of my system.
3. Bargaining: For me, this stage of grieving occurred most when I was in hospital. I thought that if I became a really nice person then I would be rewarded with recovery. Quite embarrassing really, but I felt so desperate that I was prepared to do anything! I’m not a mean person anyway, but I made a point to be so nice to all the nurses and X-ray people etc, and I thought in return something good would happen to me. Life doesn’t really work that way though, and there was no logic in my bargaining, so maybe I can just blame my naivety on all the drugs I was on in hospital!
4. Depression: Well this is a pretty obvious one to everyone that knows me, or has read my blog about New Years Eve. I try pretty hard to stop myself spiralling into depression on a fairly regular basis. My current life couldn’t be much more different to how I was before my accident, so it is natural that I will have some very low moments where I just want to go back. Thankfully I have learnt that I have some amazing people around me who are always ready to listen and to give me words of encouragement. And as with my anger, exercise massively helps me to stay positive and to feel good.
5. Acceptance: This is the stage that I never really understood, and I only now get it having done some research into the grieving process. I always thought that to reach this stage I would have to be fine with being in a wheelchair and being paralysed. And a few people that I have met who have been in wheelchairs for a long period of time said that they just ‘got used to it’ after 5 years or so. I will never be fine with being in a wheelchair, but acceptance is about accepting that things are different now and learning to live with it. And I think I can handle those kinds of feelings to a certain extent. I have learnt to live with my injury and I can accept that what happened to me was really really shit, but I can’t change the past. And I can’t predict the future either, so all I can do is focus on the present. I have more good days than bad days, and for me that is enough.
I also believe that if I just accepted my disability then I wouldn’t make progress in my recovery. I work my ass off to stay fit and healthy, and it is my determination and stubbornness that keeps me going every day. I’m not saying that is the right way for everyone, but for me it is what makes every day worth getting up in the morning for.
Sorry for the lack of pictures and the slightly sombre tone of this post, but I feel a whole lot better now… I’ve come a long way in the past couple of years, and I’m pretty proud of myself for how I have handled it (with a few exceptions)!