As I’ve been working on some basic outlines and structure for how I intend to proceed with my posts on trauma and recovery, there is one thing I believe to be so critical to successful and strong recovery from trauma that I chose to make it the first piece of advise that I would like to offer to fellow survivors of physical trauma. I make this my first topic because I believe that the sooner in your recovery that you realize and truly understand what I am going to discuss, the more power you will gain to make your recovery easier. I want to be clear, though, that the word is easier, not easy. Any person who has suffered physical trauma of a serious nature – whether it be a broken limb that inhibits your ability to perform a task you could previously accomplish as second nature, or much worse – knows that healing and recovering from trauma is a difficult process that often takes longer than expected, and certainly longer than desired. The road ahead of you is difficult. It will take physical, mental, and emotional effort to rebound.
Some people experience trauma that is so severe, they may never fully recover. This is true in my case. I will functionally recover, meaning there is going to be nothing preventing me from leading a relatively normal life after my recovery. There are, however, things I might never do again. I am currently struggling with limited flexibility and range of motion in three of my four limbs. Neither of my knees are likely to bend as fully as they could before. My left knee is on track to reach near-full range of motion, however it is unlikely I will ever be able to do a standing quadricep stretch with that leg. My right knee is probably going to be even more limited, and might not bend past 90 degrees. I may never ride a bicycle again (and I certainly won’t ride a motorcycle). I’ll probably never ski again, which I shall deeply miss. I may never be able to lift my right arm to a fully vertical position again. It probably will be able to be raised high enough to get an item off of a high shelf.
Standing quadriceps stretch
Some people reading this may be much more restricted, and impacted in the long term, than I will be. Every traumatic injury is unique, as are the people who experience injuries. Physical trauma has mental and emotional effects. You will have different strengths to bring to bear, weaknesses to overcome, and coping mechanisms to help you get through it than I have. I can never fully understand what you are going through, nor can you fully understand my experience. The principles I will discuss in this blog, I hope, will apply to the vast majority of situations.
I recall one day, a few days after my accident, I came to a profound realization. I was starting to get a realization of how long and difficult my journey of recovery was going to be. Incidentally, I underestimated by a pretty significant amount. What I realized that day, though, was that a trauma like this has the capability to have serious long-term negative emotional effects on me. I could easily become bitter, jaded, and depressed for the rest of my life. I also recalled several stories I had come across throughout my life of people who have emerged from a serious crisis stronger, happier, and more fulfilled. I decided that day that I was going to do everything in my power to be in the second group. As I lie in my hospital bed, unable to move without experiencing excruciating pain, being driven crazy from the irritation of a chest tube, multiple IV lines, and metal exoskeletons affixed to my leg bones through holes drilled in my skin, I decided that I was not going to squander this opportunity to become one of those people that emerge from trauma with a far more satisfying life than they had before.
I decided that I was going to challenge all of my priorities, and focus on the ones that would truly enrich my life. I made a conscious decision to learn new ways of dealing with challenges in my life. I want to learn new coping skills. I want to learn about the human experience. I realized I was going to be spending months in a wheelchair, and that I could seize the opportunity to experience what life is like for people who are permanently bound to wheelchairs. I do not believe that I can every completely understand how life is different for people in that situation, but I genuinely wanted to be able to empathize with their human experience.
I chose to use this as an opportunity to learn appreciate life, art, the natural beauty of our planet, and the little things more than I had before. These things were always important to me, but the order was wrong. I often let work dominate my life. I have no intent to become any less successful in my career than I have been in the past, but rather to achieve that success in a way that is more balanced than it had been before the accident.
That is my advice to you. Make a choice. Decide which path you want to take. Decide if you are going to passively let your life after your trauma happen, or if you will use your trauma experience as a way to improve your life in some way. If you choose to follow the path of learning and discovery, there is no guarantee that you will succeed. There is no guarantee I will, although I feel highly confident that is what the outcome will be. I hope that the words I write in this blog will help you achieve success, and I hope that we can experience that journey together.