Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Strength Through Adversity
I'd like to share the story of a couple bloggers I met recently. I first stumbled across Shannon last month and was struck by a post that was so heartfelt and vulnerable it made me want to know more about her. What I found inspired me.
Shannon's partner Megan was involved in an accident in November of 2007 that left her paraplegic. Through the course of Megan's recovery Shannon stood by her every step of the way, and although it was at times a struggle they both pulled through.
What really moved me is their outlook on life and their relationship. They've both allowed me to inquire about these events and present their story in the form of an interview, it's a long post but it's a story that I feel really needs to be told. I hope you find this as inspiring as I do.
Can you tell us a bit about the accident?
It was the night before Thanksgiving in 2007. Shannon and I took a trip down to Charlotte [where my dad and step mom lives] to celebrate the holiday. We had planned a romantic evening out to eat but about a week before we headed down there my sister [Katie] wanted to go out to eat with us. So, it turned out to be Katie, Brandon [her husband], a friend of Brandon's, Marc [step brother], and his friend. We had reservations for Nakato [hibachi] but when we got there our seats where not ready so we headed over to the bar to get a few beers. While waiting I have myself two carafes of Sake. [not two shots, but two carafes] We sit down to eat, I only order sushi yet again having another carafe of sake. We head on over to the bar next door because we really weren't ready to go home yet. We get a pool table, get some drinks....a large beer for me and two shots [pineapple upside down and a royal flush] Marc was our DD but when I got finished at the bar we didn't want to go home yet so we headed over to Katie and Brandon's house [which ironically they had just gotten back together a couple weeks prior to this evening] Obviously, open up some more beer and hang out. My eye caught attention of Brandon's 4 wheeler he uses to take on camping trips and took it upon my self to get it out of the garage. We ride around the neighborhood a number of times, each person taking turns. Shannon rides one time with me but decides she doesn't want to do it anymore. So, Katie and I hop on and take it for one last spin. I was driving and Katie was riding. As I was doing a U-turn to go back to the house [this is where my memory goes blank] Katie screams "SLOW DOWN" The next thing I knew, I woke up 6 days later in the hospital with two H rods [which are two titanium rods that are bolted into my spine from T-6 to T-11, my injury is T-7] I had lost both feeling and movement from my sternum down and I will be like this for the rest of my life.
What gave you strength to carry on?
I had a great support system. My Dad and step mom visited me every day while I was in rehab. I would like to say that my "work ethic" had a lot to do with my recovery. I have always tried to succeed in everything that I do and this situation was no different. It wasn't easy but after you repeat doing things so many times you don't even know you are doing them .
How do you view Shannon's role in your recovery, and how has the relationship between you changed?
Shannon was an essential part of my recovery. First, she came out to her boss [being in a same sex relationship] and having to ask her for the month off. Second, she lived in rehab with me, she went from my life partner to my caregiver. She did everything from cathing me, to giving me my blood thinner shots, to doing my bowel programs. Our relationship since definitely has not been a walk in the park but we both know that everything happens for a reason. Our lives have both become humbled in the aspect of us dealing with things a lot differently as well as understanding other peoples disabilities.
How did the Paraplegic Chef (link) come about?
Shannon had started a blog, forgive me, I do not remember what the name of it was. She was blogging about everyday life and things and I sort of wanted to have a blog talking about the everyday things a paraplegic had to go through. It was named A paras life indeed. Well, it wasn't really going anywhere so I kind of just stopped writing stuff. Shannon and I were in the kitchen one night about to make dinner and she said "Hay, why don't you make a cooking blog, that what you did before your accident" So, we took pictures of me cutting all the veggies and such and made a blog!
What activities are you involved in now? What do you want to achieve that you haven't yet?
I am super involved in ASAP [Adaptive Sports and Adventure Program] (link)
I water ski...
and hand cycle for the moment...
Right now I don't have the means to do as much as I want because I live 2 1/2 hours away from Charlotte but that will soon change as Shannon and I are moving there in May of this year. I plan on playing tennis and getting more into hand cycling, I really want to race, time trials. Things of that nature. I am training right now for something called Cycle to the Sea. It is a 180 bike ride from Charlotte to Myrtle Beach in just 3 days. I drive to Huntersville and have training rides there with some of the guys from Charlotte. I have to raise $1000 before April and I need a lot of help. If you go to this link you can donate for me! I have written over 40 businesses in Asheville and have only heard from 3 so.....I am getting a little nervous!
What made you believe you could do things that typically require a fully-functioning body?
I could ask any able bodied person what they would do if they were to become paralyzed, there answer would most likely be "I wouldn't be able to", or "I would kill myself", or "I couldn't handle it". It is more or less for me, I gotta do what I gotta do. There are some things I am not able to do but I learn to adapt. Some tasks might take a little longer but I am in no race in life. Time does heal everything and the longer I live with paralysis the easier it gets.
Do you have any advice for someone living with a disability?
Don't give up, don't sit back and watch your life waste away. No one said life was easy, no one said paralysis is easy but we all have been at the point of giving up. You have to keep your head up and stay positive. I feel very good about where I am in my life, I have accomplished all my goals I have set out to reach, but then I keep making new ones, harder ones.
How has this experience changed you? Do you feel it's made you a better person?
Honestly, and I hope this doesn't come out the wrong way, but I don't think it's changed me, or made me a better person. I've been the type to support the ones I love my entire life. I've always been the type of person that's sympathetic and emotional about other's life obstacles. When Megan was in her accident, the thought of leaving her or not being able to "handle it" never even slightly crossed my mind . It was already a part of who I was, to stand by her side and be there for her 100%. It wasn't what I had to do, it was what I wanted to do. The only way in which this experience has changed me, is that it has opened my heart to a whole new world of people and taught me so much, and that's a beautiful thing.
How has this changed your relationship?
We've learned so many things, and grown up together because of it. People joke and say we're 25 going on 50. People tell us in all seriousness, that we have old souls. Having this happen in our lives has forced us to see what really is important in life, and we try to stay focused on that daily.
Not everyone would stand by their partner in the face of a traumatic situation such as this. Where did you draw your strength?
It's funny, because I've been a hypochondriac since I was a little girl. I've gone into full fledged panic attacks from thinking that I was dying, and been medicated for my anxiety. I was a wreck the night of the accident. I was a puddle of worry, fear, and helplessness. I thought I was going to lose my soul mate. Do you know how scary that actually is? You see it in the movies all the time, and look at your significant other and say "What would you do if that happened to me?" or "I would not want to know what that feels like to go through that..." but it did happen to us. It wasn't a question, if I could handle it or not. It was a test of true love, and no one can say what we have isn't real.
What advice would you give someone who is struggling with providing support for a loved one with a disability?
No matter how much it hurts, and how hard it is to watch them struggle, do not do everything for them. You would only be enabling them to be immobile, and hurting them and their health in the long run. You have to let them learn how to do things on their own. They have to adapt. In the end, they will be much stronger, much healthier, much more independent, and happy with themselves and their life.
A few journal entries from Shannon:
"I can go on and on about how much our lives are going to change from this split second accident. But I'm going to tell you the one thing that's NOT going to change and that's my love for her, and her love for me. She doesn't need her legs to love me. I only need her heart and soul."
"Things will be okay. They have to be. She's still got her life. Everything happens for a reason I always say. Every dark cloud has a silver lining. We may or may not ever know why this happened. The reason doesn't really matter. We just have to take it, and do with it what we can and deal with it the only way we know how. And that's with optimism, hope, determination, strength, motivation, and acceptance."
Parting words from Megan:
Life after my Spinal Cord Injury has not been the easiest. That doesn’t mean I regret what I did. That doesn’t mean I hate my life. That doesn’t mean I think my life is over. I’m grateful every day for what happened to me. I’m alive, and I get to see the sunrise and sunset. I get to spend time with my partner of four years who loves me very much and who I love just as much. I get to spend time with my family and with my dogs. I no longer have an alcohol problem. I live with challenges everyday, but who doesn’t? Mine just may be different than yours. Everything heals with time. I go to support groups here in Asheville and also in Charlotte to speak with others who are in my situation. We share ideas and stories, problem solve, and just hang out and chat. I’ve met some amazing people along the way. I’ve taken a drivers test and passed, and am getting hand controls installed in our car so I can have my independence back.
I will be going back to school to get a degree in psychology. I want to work in a Rehab clinic where I can speak with people who are in the situation I was and let them know their life isn’t over. I want to peer mentor people in my situation who need to talk to someone who’s been there before. I’m doing something with my life now. I’m making something of myself, and just because I’m in a chair doesn’t mean I can’t do it. You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it.
Shannon and Megan I want to thank you for collaborating with me on this, you're a tremendous inspiration. I love you both.