Going To College After SCI

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We all want purpose and a reason to wake up every morning. We want to be happy and live our lives to the best possible version they can be, but when we lose apart of our ourselves or others it can feel hopeless. Now, I by no means at 20 years old believe I have all the answers to moving on nor will my experience simply rectify your viewpoint on life, but it’s comforting to know you’re not alone. It is possible to find purpose,happiness, and other characteristics associated with a healthy mindset in a life after such loss.

After a bad day at the beach, I was  paralyzed. My mind was blank and I felt lost in the present. On the brink of attending college my identity was wiped clean, all the activities and ways of being had been cut off. Just as everyone else has, I played the recovery game. With a smile on my face I made it seem like I was alright and that I was dealing with trauma as if it was a warm up lap.  Although frankly, I was angry,depressed, and unsure of my future. It was all a façade. As a stubborn young adult I clung to the ‘what ifs’ in my life, what if I went to college, what if I could put myself to bed, but what if I could actually start doing things again in my own way?

So in search of moving on, I began the long road of becoming an “independent quad.” My hope was that I may gain newfound independence as well as busy my time up. As a Cervical 6 complete injury, my goals at first were small like eating with a regular fork and putting on my shirt, but the process of setting little progressive goals led me to bigger goals like completing bowel programs and getting changed. In turn, all that time that was dedicated to improving didn’t go into feeding my anxiety towards living with such an injury, but rather opened my eyes to a perspective I wouldn’t trade for. Although, those skills that allowed me eat alone or go to bed weren’t achieved overnight  and failure happened countless times. The one insight I hold dear was that through failing hundreds of times I found the right and wrong ways of attempting things. I’ve now fallen on enough squat pivot’s to now know what hand placements create a good jump and which create a thunderous high five with the carpet. I learned what it meant to succeed through failure, and as cliche as it sounds only a select few really understand the gravity to that expression.

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I wanted more from myself  and I wanted out of the house most of all. My peers were at college and I wanted that experience and the chance at a job of my dream after. The long college process began in hopes to establish a new chapter. I had so many questions about taking tests, notes, classroom buildings, and goodness even dorms.  A year later, After a blast of a first semester at UMass Amherst I’ve completed a goal no one thought I’d pull off. It was rough at first as is any new adjustment, but I was prepared. Seeing my skills pay off in an environment I didn’t think I could handle made me proud. I was thoroughly elated in pulling off something even able bodied folks struggle with. It wasn’t just a completion to me. I made a lot friends in a school environment where it’s very easy to become secluded. I became apart of a media campaign to showcase a need for accessibility on campus and I now care for myself at an even higher level than before.

Now that’s a great list, but that’s gibberish to you all if it’s not a somewhat tangible experience. I guess a better way to picture it is that I do just as other college kids do. I get up early with a little help of a PCA, and then take myself to class throughout campus. I whip out my iPad and engage in class just like the person next to me. After maybe I meet friends for lunch at the dining hall or scoot off to the gym. As a Finance major I’ll try to stop by Isenberg, the business school, and see what’s going on in terms of events. Finally after dinner I’ll go hang in a friends dorm and decompress even finish off some homework. It’s a simple day, but I didn’t think I’d reach a point in life in which I was comfortable with who I am or do things just as everybody else.

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I’m on a path that will elevate my life. I’ve moved from being a disabled person to a person with a disability. In engaging in the many tasks of my life I found purpose. Yes I would find peace in staying out of sight, but I became so much more in just doing. Whether it’s school, peer mentoring, hand cycling, the pursuit of doing gave me an escape. This isn’t to say I don’t cry, act bitter, and want to quit sometimes. I’m stubborn and lock up too.  So take your time to deal with pain and let it out, but don’t let it consume you. If you want to be stubborn and wallow in it for eons understand you’re not alone and that there are small ways to improve your mindset or lifestyle.