Have you ever thought about what it means to be who you really are? We all know who we are, essentially. But I mean the actual personal qualities that you express when you are at your happiest states. It could possibly be those times where you first fell in love with doing something or someone (no pun intended lol). Imagine all the molecules of gratitude you encompass in these moments where you feel completely free to be yourself. It has always amused me to think about how we act when we are in tune with our personality. On the other hand, when are you not yourself? Perhaps those times when you are restricted from doing what you want. Imagine how you are in these moments when you feel trapped and unfulfilled. This was the attitude I needed to break free from to appreciate my new life.
After experiencing my accident, my physical identity had completely changed. I now had to face the fact that I was always going to be sitting down and pushing wheels to get around, rather than being able to stand and walk like everybody else. I was very resistant to the idea of living my life in a wheelchair, as it was really tough to accept that I couldn’t control half of my body anymore. This then led me to believe that my new situation was completely ridiculous because I now felt trapped in my own body. However, when I was in the rehabilitation hospital I was exposed to many other people with all types of spinal cord and brain injuries that led me to realize that it could have been a lot worse. I fell from a 3rd floor balcony, landed on a patch of grass that was right next to a sidewalk and 6 inches from a sprinkler head, and somehow I managed to only be paralyzed from the waist down. Others constantly reminded me that I was lucky to just be alive, let alone not having to face a quadriplegic or brain injury. I was known to have one of the lower injuries at the rehabilitation hospital, and I was able to appreciate that I have full upper body function after observing how many others didn’t and had to learn how to live their lives again from their new perspectives. Being in the rehabilitation hospital I was exposed to people in similar or worse situations on a daily basis. However, my next step was to go home and face my new reality head on.
Moving back home to face the real world for the first time in my situation was intimidating because now I had to make a life out of my paralysis. It was a drastic change from how my life used to be because now I needed help to do almost everything. I had to live at home with my parents by necessity because at that time I needed assistance to bathe, get dressed, and even use the bathroom! I received this assistance in the rehabilitation hospital but it was different now because I wasn’t exposed to people in wheelchairs everyday. Now everybody that I was exposed to could stand, walk, and lived what I felt was a “normal life”. A normal life to me was anybody who was physically able to live their life independently. I used to have a normal life and now all I could ever think about was how much I took that for granted. Consequently, this led me to feel envious of others because I wanted to be independent like everybody else. I would think, “How am I ever going to be able to be independent like this?” I thought the only way I could truly be independent is if I was able to walk again because I felt it would be too difficult with the limitations I now had. And for 3 years I held on to this thought waiting for a miracle to happen so I could live my life normally. However, eventually I had to reach acceptance and detach from this thought in order to be able to achieve independence in my situation.
When I reached the point of acceptance I thought about how far I had come since my accident had happened. I was now dressing myself, driving, and even got a job. Slowly but surely, baby step after baby step, I was able to overcome so many obstacles. After analyzing my thoughts I realized that I was only able to overcome an obstacle once I decided to believe that it was now possible. This then led me to think, “why didn’t I believe that I could overcome these obstacles from the start?” I then came to an amazing realization about my thoughts. I thought, “My thoughts are just my thoughts. I am the one that decides which thoughts I will believe. I attach myself to the thoughts that I choose to believe. And I detach myself from the thoughts I choose not to believe.” Then it became clear to me that I needed to let go of the thoughts that held me back from living my life right now to the best of my ability. I now understood that I could do anything I wanted to do if I just believed that I could. And I thought, “I choose to believe the thoughts that make me feel happy, excited, and joyful. And choose not to believe the thoughts that make me sad, angry, and depressed.” This idea was ingenious to me and I decided that this was going to be my mode of thought going forward. I was always going to decide what thoughts to believe in based on how they made me feel. I had so many thoughts about what I felt I couldn’t do anymore since I was now a paraplegic. These thoughts made me feel inadequate and led me to believe that I could no longer live a high quality of life. But with this new way of thinking I could now believe that I could do anything that I wanted to.
One of my favorite things to do since I was a kid was to attend amusement parks. I have always enjoyed the thrill of riding on rollercoasters and other amusement park rides. After my accident, I didn’t believe that this was possible for me anymore. It really upset me to believe this because I thoroughly enjoyed being able to go on these rides. After I reached my new way of thinking I told myself that this could now be possible. And in June 2010, I went on a family trip to Orlando, Florida and I knew that this was the perfect scenario to make this possibility a reality. So along with two of my cousins, we ventured out to Universal Studios to make this happen. I was a little bit nervous but with my cousins by my side I knew that if I needed any assistance transferring on to any of the rides they would be there to support me. It turned out to be better than I expected. Not only did we ride every thrilling ride Universal Studios had to offer, we were also able to cut in front of every line since we had handicap access. I was so thankful to know how strong I was to be able to get on to every ride without any assistance. Being able to achieve this was so imperative for my mentality because it validated how I now was supposed to think moving forward. I was not going to let my thoughts hold me back any longer. And 2 months later, I developed the courage to move back to Houston to be independent once again, despite being a paraplegic.
Moving back to Houston was a very surreal experience for me because I used to believe that this was not possible in my situation. However, now that I knew it was possible didn’t mean it was going to be easy. My parents and sister helped set me up in my new apartment, and after that it was all me from there on out. There were so many obstacles I knew I had to overcome now that I was pursuing independence. For example, when I went grocery shopping for the first time by myself I realized I couldn’t push a shopping cart and wheel myself around the grocery store at the same time. Instead, it made more sense to use a shopping basket and place it on my lap as I rolled around the store picking out my items. However, the shopping basket was limited in space and didn’t fit all the items I needed. So I decided the logical thing to do was to pay for what I got so far, put them in my car, and go back in the store for a second trip to get the rest of the items that I needed. It didn’t matter that I had to take a second trip; all that mattered was that I was able to overcome the obstacle. As time went on, I discovered more and more obstacles I had to overcome; it almost seemed like I was overcoming obstacles on a daily basis. It gave me so much joy to know that I was able to do this and finally achieve independence in my situation.
Today I am so appreciative for my life because it has taught me to be resilient. I now believe that I can accomplish anything that I want to. And by thinking this way it’s actually difficult for me to feel negative about anything. Additionally, by filtering out negative thoughts from my mind, there’s nothing to hold me back from achieving any goal I wish to. It’s truly amazing for me to think about how far I’ve come on my journey, and I look forward to what is to come in my future. I think life is so enjoyable if you want it to be, regardless of what situation you have to deal with. Shortly after I moved to Houston, I attended a quadriplegic rugby game to see what it was about. This was a sport that was made strictly for quadriplegics, which is also known as “Murder Ball”. I had so much admiration for them because despite their situations they were still having fun. I then imagined what it would be like in their situation. Would I have been able to accomplish as much as I have if I didn’t have full upper body function? I met one of the players after the game and realized that he shared a lot of the same views as I did. We discussed how we got into our respective situations and he was amazed to hear about my accident. He said, “Man you’re lucky, you could’ve broke your neck.” And in that moment, I knew I was lucky because it could have definitely been worse. But after witnessing people in worse situations living their lives to their fullest, I realized that wasn’t the only reason why I was lucky. I now know that I’m lucky because it can always gets better.