September 19, 1987, is the day a stranger shot me in the back and almost killed me. That is the last day I ever took a step without the help of a mobility device. For many years on the anniversary of that day, I was full of dread. Saddened by the fact that another year passed and I still couldn't walk, run, jump or climb stairs. I can feel the pain now as I write these words.
For me, the meaning of the day has evolved from one of mourning to one of celebration, but it has always come with great reflection. My family members and close friends call to let me know they are thinking about me, and like a birthday, it's always nice if they remember. My boyfriend at that time, Mike, remembers that day as vividly as I do. He always sends a text or calls to catch up on life. I have noticed that trauma bonds people in a way that is impossible to explain. It is a bond that lasts a lifetime because you don't have to start from the beginning. I don’t have to get past the long and detailed history of why I use a wheelchair.
I have spoken to many friends over the years and asked if they do anything to commemorate the anniversary of the day they became paralyzed. The answers range from, "I don't even think about it" to "I like to spend the day alone in quiet reflection." I am in several online spinal cord injury support groups and I have read many posts about the ways people spend their paralysis anniversary. I know in the early years it is challenging to want to celebrate for most people. I know that in addition to the loss of mobility, people that can't handle their new circumstance might "hit the road," as they say. That brings on an additional layer of sadness and grieving that can make the early years rough.
One of my good friends, Madonna Long
was in a car accident in high school, which caused her paralysis. Her best friend died that night in the same accident, and she found out before she knew she was paralyzed. For Madonna, losing her best friend made her paralysis secondary. She has told me she made a promise to her friend while still hospitalized that she would not let her wheelchair stop her from having a great life. She decided at the young age of 16 to be grateful she was alive.
Madonna has the kind of positive energy I love, and I enjoy every moment spent in her presence. One way I have stayed so positive over the years is to keep negative people out and bask in the light radiated by people living their best #LifePossible! I think Madonna's story is an excellent example of how diverse our "paralysis stories" are. Our stories and the way we commemorate the date of our own paralysis are unique as a human fingerprint. There is no right or wrong way to commemorate the day.
My first five anniversaries after the shooting were painful. I hated my wheelchair so much! When they asked me what color I wanted I said, "invisible, please." I didn't want neon colors and light up casters; I just wanted it to go away! The day I had to order my wheelchair in inpatient rehab I asked the therapist, "Can we just rent it and see how things go?"
Each year that my anniversary passed I knew the chances of me walking again were diminishing. To be totally honest about it, for three solid years, I thought I would walk again. I was very quiet about my delusion because I knew people would think I was crazy. What came from my belief that I would walk again was the determination to use my braces to stand EVERDAY and to ride my FES bike
to keep my muscle tone. I need muscles to walk again, right? Once I was in the routine of standing and using the FES daily, I did not break my healthy habit. Even when I realized walking again would take divine intervention, or the scientific equivalent. I have not given up on a cure for paralysis, but I don't need it to be happy and healthy.
For me there was a shift in how I recognized the day in 1993 - when I was close to giving birth to my first child. That was the first year I was so busy and excited I didn’t have time to reflect on what I had lost. I eventually had three kids and a job that kept me very busy. Ultimately, the anniversary of my paralysis became a celebration — a party where I gathered with friends and family to celebrate the fact that I survived. There was a year when it was like a second birthday, with cake, balloons and the whole nine yards! I think the lesson learned from that is to fill your life with people that love and support you so that your injury is no longer the focus of your life. That takes time, but once you decide to make a new beginning, life is much sweeter.
Planning a celebration of your paralysis anniversary is not about being happy that you now have to use a wheelchair for mobility. It’s about celebrating the fact that you are living!
This year I am excited to have my daughter visit and enjoy a family dinner at a great restaurant in the French Quarter to eat some AMAZING New Orleans cuisine. We will raise a glass to celebrate the day that changed my life forever. My life would probably look very different had I not been shot in the back that night. Having a spinal cord injury is no picnic, I'm not downplaying the extreme difficulty that comes with it. But I think the highs are higher when you have experienced the lowest lows. Today I can say with full confidence that my life is great and I Madonna Long
not be more thankful for it.
I would love to hear about how you commemorate your paralysis anniversary. Message me through my social media pages or send me an email to LifePossibleKR@numotion.com