After my spinal cord injury, it took me quite some time to learn, or re-learn, the concept of trying, of living. My go-to response was, “I can’t.” Over the years, I’ve learned to live a full life. After all, what’s the use in being alive if we aren’t fully living?
In my experience, truly living involves putting four beliefs into practice.
1. Defy other’s expectations
After my injury, not much was expected of me after rehab. I went to a small facility and I never learned that I could become independent, even in getting dressed. It was only after I met others with disabilities that I slowly learned to defy the lack of expectations that had been placed on me. Actually, this probably makes me more willing to try things out-of-the-ordinary.
2. Live outside your comfort zone
I feel that as long as I’m in my comfort zone, my world, my views, and my abilities will never expand. Being willing to face fear, or discomfort, head-on is where growth occurs. For me, my greatest fear is the fear of failure. So I push myself into situations – like rowing, rugby, and travel – that are new and unknown; circumstances that stretch me and grow me.
3. Don’t compare yourself to others
As a recovering perfectionist, it took a long time to be willing to try many things knowing I would not be good at it. But being the best isn’t important. Although I’m a work in progress, I try not to compare myself with others. Each person has different talents and abilities. I only get frustrated and disappointed when I focus on what I can (or can’t) do in comparison to others.
4. Live life to the full
My faith calls me to live “life to the full.” (John. 10:10). Another translation says to live “a rich and satisfying life.” This looks different to each one of us. Abundant life can be having satisfying relationships with family and friends. Daring adventures. Pushing yourself physically in athletics. An evening (or a whole weekend) in yoga pants and your most comfortable hoodie, and devouring a good book. Indulging in dark chocolate. For me, it’s a bit of all of the above. Whatever it is…live.
Putting it into practice
I saw a picture of a friend – a paraplegic – who went rock climbing. Using her upper body strength, she ascended a two-story, indoor rock-climbing facility using an adaptive pull-up bar and harness system.
My immediate response was, “I want to try it!”
As the day approached, I admit I had my fears. My internal dialogue was full of doubts, fear of failure, and comparing myself to others.
My internal dialogue sounded a bit like this: “But she’s a para. Do I have enough strength? What if I can’t do it?”
Pushing my doubts to the side, I reminded myself that I’ve worked around my lack of hand function and limited arm function in other activities. This would be no different. And if I fail? Well, then at least I’ve had a fun outing with friends.
The moment of truth
We drove to Eastern Kentucky University and as we entered the rec center, I nervously looked up the tall wall.
As I transferred with assistance into the sling seat, the volunteers strapped in my legs and chest. Using my Active Hands gripping aids, I closed my hands around the pull-up bar.
“Are you afraid of heights?” the staff asked.
“We’ll find out!” I responded.
I lifted my arms up and pulled down on the rope. My body lifted a few inches. I pulled again. And I went up again. Over and over, I pulled and pulled. About three-quarters of the way up, my weaker right side became dependent on my left arm to get my right arm up the rope. But I did it. Not as quickly as the others with more functional upper bodies, but I did it nonetheless.
I defied my own expectations that I may not be able to do this activity. I got outside my comfort zone and tried something new. I faced my fear of possible failure. And I only briefly compared myself to others. (Life is a process!)
And in the process, I lived. I really, truly lived.
This article contains an affiliate link.