Hi, I’m Alejandra, I’m 35 years old, I’m a psychologist, a mother of three (beautiful children) and wife of one (amazing and challenging husband). I studied psychology as a way to comprehend the human mind and it’s extraordinary complexity. How it can affect so much in a positive or negative outcome. I have worked with people with different abilities, some of them blind, deaf, or in wheelchairs only to (re)learn how amazing the human body is and how it knows when something is not working and compensates by empowering other senses. With this knowledge I focused my work on lifting their soft skills from their daily life, helping them to see how thanks to their “disability” they had developed other outstanding abilities that gave them some sort of advantage (and not a disadvantage) from people with their five senses intact. Learning that, they could go to job interviews knowing exactly how valuable they are. My way of approaching life, looking at others, being a psychologist and being a mom was greatly tinted and enriched by the powerful experience that I’m about to share with you.
I will not try to lecture you nor to tell you how life should be lived, I just want to share with you a piece of my life that will hopefully reflect on your soul in a positive light.
I’ve always been a passionate and intense kind of person: I like running around, climbing trees, hiking, admiring nature and it’s living creatures. I’m impatient and welcome new challenges but I feel the need to learn things right away otherwise I get frustrated. I like making everything work fast; click… ready, read… learned, thought… done. But life has it’s own way of doing things and it kicked me hard to teach me my most valuable lesson.
When I was 18 years old, my boyfriend at the time asked me what was the worst thing that could happen to me, to which I answered without hesitation: “being paralyzed”. Not even two months after that conversation, my boyfriend was driving, my big sister and her boyfriend in the backseat, when suddenly we hit head on with another car… as the co-pilot I took the biggest toll: a broken femur, a broken humerus, broken scapula, broken ribs -that punctured my lung-, injuries to my face and to make it worse, two pulverized vertebrae with a severely compromised spinal cord. Fear, numbness and confusion, then red blackness. Part of me wanted to fade away with the pain, follow the light I guess? Another part of my brain yelled “hang on, don’t fall asleep”. The internal fight to save my life (both physically and metaphorically) started right there and would continue for the foreseeable future.
As doctors and nurses were preparing me for surgery all I could think was… No! Don’t cut my pants, those are my favorite ones! When I woke up 7 hours later I still couldn’t move my legs, nor my left arm and I felt nothing from the waist down. There were only two questions in my head:
Will I walk again?
Will I be able to have kids in the future?
The doctor’s answers felt cold and awakening. “The probabilities are low, your injuries were fairly severe.” What I didn’t know until later was that they told my parents that the possibilities were zero. The doctor’s report called it semi quadriplegia, but the real paralysis wasn’t just in my left arm and from the waist down, I felt it in my heart and I felt it in my dreams, as if they just came to a standstill. Maybe you haven’t been physically paralyzed, maybe you have, but I’m certain that most of you have felt paralyzed from within, when a moment in your life changed everything. How do I move on and continue when something so important to me was without notice, simply gone?
I couldn’t make the process of recovery go any faster, because it was exactly that, a process. All the things that are important in life, like love, relationships and real accomplishments, take time, and now it would take a slow steady consistent and resilient determination to achieve them. We live in a world where everything happens at the speed of a click, where we are taught instant gratification, and that makes it especially hard. I knew I had to make “slow” my ally, learn to understand it and ultimately make peace with it. I needed all the strength I could gather, but it didn’t always come from within, and when I felt it was missing I would search for it in the people that surrounded and supported me.
Of course I wanted it all to go away, but there was a certainty that it wouldn’t, and at times I felt anger, deep anger, red hot kind of anger…I knew that the only way I could live with myself was by fighting so hard, that there would never be a doubt it was not my fault if I were to never walk again. Thankfully, my beloved stubbornness surfaced and the rebellious part of me fought back! For every fifty exercises I was asked to do I would silently do an extra hundred and if people around me tried to make it easier for me by, for example, moving my bedroom to the first floor, I would literally crawl upstairs to declare that that was still my room.
It wouldn’t be true if I told you that I knew I was going to walk again, I didn’t, and sometimes despair would find it’s way in. It was important to take one day at a time because everyday was a struggle. A struggle to wake up from a dream where I could run again, a struggle to force food down my throat, a struggle not to yell “I can’t!”, a struggle not to look at the clock on the wall staring back at me, threatening to show me how slow one second could pass… it was a struggle not to surrender. I chose to fight, but within that fight I had to leave room for all the feelings screaming for my attention.
I had to look forward, secretly begging that every effort—no matter how small—would make a difference someday.
Fear or sadness are NOT “bad feelings”, they are honest and should not be suppressed or controlled. The most important choice I had to make though was whether I would let them paralyze my will. I chose they wouldn’t. I had to look forward, secretly begging that every effort—no matter how small—would make a difference someday, I had to organize myself in short, medium and long term goals, knowing that the path laid before me wasn’t a sprint, but a marathon.
Electrotherapy, occupational therapy, psychological therapy, water therapy, physical therapy, at first nothing changed, it was frustrating and thankfully I had the support of my friends and family. Embracing the power of humor helped me through the darkest moments: Secretly breaking out of the hospital in my wheelchair just to go to an exhibition, disguising myself in whatever funny clothes I could find or arranging my food in funny faces were some of the things that kept my spirits up. That support, laughter and the need to feel that I was giving my 200% were key factors on my way to recovery.
It took three months just to move my left toe. Although that little bit of progress could actually be the beginning of a miracle, neither I nor my doctors had any certainty and were cautious on our expectations. Another three months passed and I started to see more movement in my whole left leg. From there, we turned the focus to making that leg strong enough so that it could support my body weight. More time passed, but soon thereafter I was able to achieve that too! Then, for the first time I stood tall again… I could feel the grass kissing my feet and my inner strength and hope renewed. What a GLORIOUS feeling! Like being given a second lease on life, I felt born again. Deep down, I knew the struggle wasn’t over, but neither were the achievements. (To be continued…)
—A. C. (@AlejandraCostaP)