3. Positive Steps

I had a different blog post planned for this week. But when I learnt about the reemergence of an old friend’s health struggles, it prompted me to think about resilience and perseverance.  I think the hardest moments in any recovery, be it from mental health issues, physical injuries or a disease like cancer is when you think you have turned a corner or that you are over the worst and something comes to push you right back in your chair.  It’s that feeling that no matter how hard you work and how positive you are, you just can’t catch a break.  I had many moments like this, where I thought I was making great progress only to face a major setback.  Or even as recently as 2015 when I thought I was over all the surgery I may ever need for the foreseeable future and then found out I needed surgery for something completely unrelated to my accident.  I remember sitting in the doctor’s office and hearing her say the word surgery and having a melt down.

Through all of this however, I really only had one overwhelming feeling: survival.  Survival is not an instinct it’s a choice.  You decide in that moment am I going to be defeated or am I going to come out on top. You focus on how to take each day at a time, draw strength from wherever you need to and fight.  These moments may come at any point in your life.  Bereavement, injury, heartache, work – whatever it might be – the minds’ power to overcome every obstacle is astounding.  Dig deep, believe in yourself and keep moving forward.  Positivity is not innate, it’s a skill.  It’s not a given, it’s another choice.  When people hear my story the most common thing they comment on is my positivity.  And I tell them – the hardest times were when I gave into the darkness and let the negative thoughts take over.  But when I focused on the positives, on what I had survived instead of what had been taken away, that’s when I made the most progress.  Focusing on what you have achieved and the positive elements in your life, as hard as it might seem, has an incredible impact on the mind’s ability to cope.

One such time was when I had to learn to walk again for the first time.  I subsequently had to go through this process twice over but the first was by far the hardest.   It was about two months after the accident and I had been bed bound the entire time.  I learnt that after 48 hours of not moving, muscles completely waste.  So, my legs were literally skin and bones. Not to mention my blood pressure was incredibly low having been lying down for so long. My physiotherapist came in, with a big grin on her face.  Today is the day she said – you are going to get out of bed! I was so excited.  I had visions of getting up and hobbling around, getting some fresh air and finally feeling a bit more human. I thought I might get some independence back and slowly start to be able to do things for myself, instead of being reliant on my family and nurses for everything.

But as I sat on the side of the bed, mustering every ounce of energy to stand up and make my triumphant first step, I felt dizzy. I was weak, I started to doubt myself, I couldn’t do it.  And as I tried to stand it was all too much and I collapsed back in my bed.

The next few days I remember so vividly for their darkness.  I was inconsolable.  If I couldn’t even stand, how would I ever walk again?  I didn’t want to see anyone and nobody knew how to help me.  My parents and sister, beside themselves with worry called in the cavalry: my Grandmothers.  These women are the most incredible human beings on the planet. My Father’s Mother insisted on visiting me despite being frail herself.  My Nani raised 10 children as a single woman, after losing her husband when the youngest was just 5.  They have seen so much in their lives and yet always had a smile on their face, sage advice and a comforting hug.  As they sat by my bedside trying to soothe me I asked them, why was this happening to me?  What had I done so wrong that I was being punished like this? My Nani turned to me and smiled.  You have it the wrong way around, she said.  “You were saved that day.  All that good karma saved your life.  Don’t waste that opportunity.  You have the strength to get through this.  If you set your mind to achieve something you can.”

Those words, so simple but yet so powerful started to lift my spirits. That was the turning point.  I saw everything in a different way.  Instead of torturing myself with the Why? I stopped to look at my saving graces.  Her face so earnest and pure, even after everything she had endured in her life made me want to fight.  This was mind over matter.  It was me that was holding me back, not my physical injuries.  If I wanted to walk again, I had to put one foot in front of the other and take a few steps.  I gave myself a pep talk.  Stop wallowing and pull yourself together.  Because the longer I languished in this bed the further and further I drifted from getting out of hospital, from putting my life back together and achieving all the things I wanted to in my life.  I was only 21, I had my whole life in front of me, so how I could look into my grandmother’s eyes for her to see I had given up.  I had to fight.  And within 5 days I was walking around the hospital, with my zimmer frame (tennis balls included!), seeing my familiar surroundings for the first time. If I can pin point a moment where my recovery turned a corner, literally and figuratively that was it.

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