One of my grandfather’s great lessons in life was to always make the best out of every situation -- for every dark night comes a brighter day – and I regularly apply that to any situation I come across, including my spinal cord injury.
After my injury, life changed drastically – both physically and mentally. Afterwards many people focused on the physical difficulties, but for me, there were a ton of mental challenges I also needed to overcome. Just as you must go to the gym regularly and eat properly in order to get into phenomenal physical shape, you must also take the time to work on your mental health as well. Building your mental strength is what will push you through any obstacle. As cliché as it may sound, for me, since my spinal cord injury, it's always been mind over matter.
Before I leave my house to go anywhere, I must always ask, “Is it accessible? Can I get into the restrooms?” I don't bring this up for sympathy, but for others who have a disability to know they aren’t alone. It was hard for me at first. People who do not use a wheelchair do not always know the best ways to respectfully approach individuals who do. I feel that sometimes they are wondering if they should hunch over when they speak. I know they don't mean to be offensive, but at times it can feel as though they are talking down to me. It used to bother me when people looked at me when I passed by or didn’t know how to approach me, but now, nothing phases me because I’ve learned how to keep a positive mindset.
One of my main assets in staying positive is my power chair, the Q6 Edge 2.0 with iLevel from Quantum Rehab. Having this chair enables me to maintain my independence and improve my social life. With iLevel, I'm able to travel at walking speed while elevated, making conversations easier and less awkward. In turn, this has helped me to build my self-esteem and mental health. iLevel gives me the opportunity to lend a helping hand, not feel looked down on when having a conversation, and have freedom to keep up with life on a professional and social level.
I can recall a time last year when I really felt the difference my power chair made on my mental health. A coworker and I were walking across the parking lot to our cars. It was dark outside and as we were walking side by side, he began to say it was too dark to see where he was walking. My power chair has fender lights which I switched on to lead the way. He told me he was glad I was there because he was able to finally see. I felt empowered because it's not too often that an able-bodied person tells someone with a wheelchair they were happy they were there. For that brief moment, the roles had switched and it felt great.
Sometimes I think it’s hard for people to imagine what it’s like to have a spinal cord injury. Before my injury, it was hard to think about everything I wouldn’t be able to do without my ability to stand. But now, I don’t have to worry about those things, even with my disability. While using iLevel, I can grab a shirt off the top rack of my closet, make coffee, cook breakfast, and clean the snow off my car all before work. If I couldn't elevate, I would have to rely on endless amounts of help and people to get things done. Now, I can easily do it myself, thanks to iLevel.
Because of everything my Q6 Edge 2.0 power chair allows me to do, it has enabled me to keep a positive mindset. I can maneuver crowds without having to tap people on their legs to get past them. I feel more social because I feel involved in conversations and activities. Sitting at a bar or high top table for dinner was never an option, but now it is. I can hold hands with my girlfriend (while being taller than her), go grocery shopping and feel respected on a professional level while at work. I can never fully express how much this chair has impacted my life. I can do everything I had done before my injury, just in a different way.
Using a wheelchair has taught me to look at life from a completely different perspective. People take things for granted, especially walking. It's funny how we don't really appreciate what we have until it's gone. So, until next time I will leave you with a quote from Hall of Fame NFL wide receiver, Jerry Rice, "Today I will do what others won't, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can't."