“An accident left me paraplegic and also saved my life. I know, this seems crazy, but after reading about my journey you will understand what I mean.
It happened in July 2018, when I was 19 years old. I was going through tough times at that period; honestly, I had struggled with my life for the previous 19 years. It was not easy to perceive it from the outside: I had outstanding grades in high school, a good reputation, I was competing nationally as a horse rider, and at that point, I was starting college in Paris to become a surgeon.
I was particularly good at hiding my internal turmoil and few people knew that I struggled with anxiety, eating disorders, and insomnia. I used to thrive too much on perfectionism and it caught up to me.
Ironically, when my accident happened, I was doing a little better. I had some medications for my extremely pessimistic outlook and my anxiety, and I was really excited about the idea of starting college. Then, in the middle of the night that day, I somehow suffered a 40-foot fall at my place.
I don’t remember what happened at all; I don’t remember the days before the accident either. I can only imagine and live with it.
Because of the fall, I broke my spine in three places, both my legs, and my wrists. I damaged many organs, and I suffered from a spinal cord injury. My life was saved thanks to several hours of surgery, but the damages to my spinal cord were too serious. I still ended up paraplegic.
I understood it quickly when I woke up in the ICU. At first, I was very confused. I was in a hospital bed, I couldn’t speak because of the intubation, and I didn’t remember what happened. A doctor came and he told me what happened and that I would probably never walk again.
He was forward with the news. I guess he didn’t want me to have false hopes. It’s better to be surprised by an unexpected recovery than to be disappointed by the lack of improvement.
At that point, the doctor was waiting for me to have some sort of meltdown, but I just asked if I would be able to ride my horses again. I am deeply passionate about horses and at that moment I apparently cared more about that than walking.
Well, to say that he was perplexed would be an understatement, he looked at me like I had grown another head and then he told me that I would probably be able to do so, but that it would be preferable for me to wait for my bones to be healed before breaking them again. Yes, he had a good sense of humor.
I was satisfied with the answer, and I frankly didn’t think about how much my life would be different from that day on. I was just telling myself, ‘It is what it is.’ I couldn’t change it, so I might as well try to still give meaning to this life.
I understood pretty fast how different my life would be. I stayed a month and a half in the hospital and more than a year in a rehabilitation center to recover and learn how to live with my disability.
It was there that I was introduced to my first wheelchair, the catheters, the neurogenic bowels, the endless hours of physical therapy, and many other things. It wasn’t easy and at that point, I wasn’t being very positive about the whole situation.
I was determined and I was recovering well because I would have never let myself be defeatist (I wanted to be strong as always), but I wasn’t doing it out of happiness or hope. I was just doing what I had to do.
When I went back home a year and a half later, I wasn’t sure of what I had to do. I had to now manage all my health issues, the medications, and the endless doctor appointments, while also having no goal for my future.
I tried to go back to college, but I physically couldn’t take it. I maybe could’ve later, but then, I didn’t have the strength to learn how to live with my disability and adapt to my new place in society while also taking care of my career path. My recovery was a rollercoaster; getting used to a wheelchair wasn’t easy. I wasn’t sad or heartbroken, but I still hadn’t found that something that I needed to really start a new life.
During that period the doctors kept giving me psychiatric medications; I know they can be very useful for many people, but they were detrimental to me. I had no mental illness and yet the medications I had were supposed to be for seriously ill people. I know they tried to help me, but this wasn’t the way.
I decided to take a risky choice a year after leaving the center, and I suddenly stopped all the medications they were giving me. I wouldn’t advise that to anyone; it’s dangerous and it should be done only under medical supervision. But it was the best choice I could’ve made at that point.
Soon, I found my mental sharpness back, my usually very fast metabolism healed, and I finally lost all the weight that was slowing me down. When you’re a wheelchair user and paralyzed, being even slightly overweight can make it much harder. 2 and a half years after my accident, I found the energy to finally start my new life. And it felt great.
I name this period ‘the rebirth of the Phoenix.’ It was a painful process because I had to accept that I was responsible for my own happiness, and I had to face my own emotions I once always kept at a distance. But it was worth it; it was the moment that changed my life. I started to look forward to my future.
I didn’t feel as burdened by my paraplegia anymore and I decided to keep going, not because I had to be strong, but because I wanted to be happy.
The last piece of the puzzle came in a very unexpected way a year and some months ago. I met my now husband through social media. He is from the United States and I am from France; we had to build a relationship through video chat for the first four months and many people doubted it, but it was the best choice we ever made. We are the same, we have suffered, we have fallen, but we are strong, and we found the right path in the end.
He is the one who understood me the most and helped me find the meaning in life I was looking for. He gave me the key to that very simple answer: the meaning of my life was to live it. I decided my new favorite quote: ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’
Four months after meeting online we met in real life in New York City. We stayed ten amazing days together. We decided to wait at least two months before meeting again, but we ended up staying apart only for two weeks. I joined him in Arizona, and we have been together since then. We married in France in July and we’re now working on my visa to become a resident in the US.
Since we met each other, I progressively started to take much better care of myself. I sleep much better, I work out several times a weekend, and I have a better diet. All these changes helped me tremendously to improve my general health and my energy levels. When you’re healthy and strong it is much easier to stay motivated and positive!
Living With Paraplegia
Now I have goals and I can finally see a bright future for myself. I have the chance to travel very often, probably as much as I used to before my accident. When I first became disabled, I thought that it would probably be impossible. The world isn’t made for wheelchairs, and it seems ten times harder to go around.
You don’t notice it when you can walk with ease, but everything can become an obstacle for us. A trash bin blocking the sidewalk, a broken elevator, an inaccessible train, and five steps to access a hotel.
It’s not easy and it’s easy to get discouraged by all this struggle. However, my husband changed this for me. Having the right partner for your travels is what will make all the difference when you are disabled. Since we’ve been together, we have visited several countries, hiked in beautiful forests and national parks, did small road trips, and many other adventurous things.
How did we make it possible? By planning a lot and by thinking outside of the box. You must be sure that you have a plan B for every problem, because there will always be something and you have to be creative. It demands a lot of energy, but it’s worth it. Exploring this world always was one of my dreams and I didn’t want to drop it because of my paraplegia.
I also found myself a new vocation. I love to help people, more precisely I love to inspire people and give them strength through positive messages. I understood this thanks to an Instagram page I started a year ago. In the beginning, it was only a fun way for me to share my journey and to be more confident with my wheelchair.
Now, it’s the opposite for me. My community helped me at the beginning to gain confidence. I reached the point where I love myself and my life, and it’s my turn to help them. It seemed like a silly side hobby at the beginning, but now it’s what I want to do. I’m finding ways to build a living with this, and it brings me so much joy.
Now you can understand why I said that my accident saved my life. Going through all of this was rough, but what I gained from it is infinitely more precious.
I had many doubts during my recovery. Losing my ability to ride horses as freely as before was incredibly hard, just as much as not being able to run, jump, and climb as I used to. I was an athlete. Grieving your physical strength and accepting your disabled body is never easy. But this journey gave me the will of life.
Isn’t that the most important thing in our lives? After being so close to death I gained a strong thirst for life. I don’t wake up anymore asking myself if everything will be fine and stressing over some mistakes I made the last few days. I wake up and I appreciate the first breaths and the oxygen going through my body.
I don’t wake up thinking about my life, I wake up feeling the life inside myself.
The only thing that changed is my mindset. Now I’m just a positive person, always, at every moment. Having a positive outlook is fantastic and everyone should try to go in this direction. There’s a misconception around the idea of positivity and optimism. I don’t blame anyone for this; I thought this way before my accident as well.
In particular, many people think that when someone is a very positive person it means that they just think that everything is beautiful, that the world is a wonderful place, and that life is always right. It’s not like that.
I see the darkness of this world. In fact, I’ve experienced it many times during my life. I don’t consider it easy, and I don’t think that everything is always good. I simply try to always find the good side of everything, and I try to build something from this and not focus on the bad.
It’s easy to find the worst sides of things. It’s like a domino effect, and it’s going to keep falling apart if you don’t stop it. It’s not easy to find the positive side of things, but it’s always possible.
My accident will be a very good example of this to people with limitations like myself, but also to everyone else. I lost my ability to walk, I gained many health issues, and I can’t do many of the things I loved anymore; but I’m still alive. This accident was so close to taking my life away, yet I’m still here. That’s what I choose to focus on.
I don’t consider my paraplegia to be a positive thing. I don’t love my disability and I don’t think that it’s easy, but I will keep focusing on the life that I still have and all the possibilities that it still offers me. This is what having a positive outlook means.
You don’t have to be positive because life is easy and beautiful; you have to be positive to try to make your life as easy and beautiful as possible.”
This article was submitted to Love What Matters by Lorie. Join the Love What Matters family and subscribe to our newsletter.
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