Thank you to everyone at RTÉ for such a truely wonderful experience and for making my adventure at the RTÉ studios one I will not forget in a hurry. I was truely honoured and humbled to be part of their television series about people who have suffered trauma in their lives but have found the inner strength to take stock and rediscover a new sense of purpose. The changes I had to work through were way beyond just physical. I’m referring to the mental process that I experienced when transitioning through this whole process. How you go from one way of life to another, literally overnight and the power of the mind.
The initial stages of the post-accident recovery
When I was in the hospital after having my accident, I probably wasn’t fully aware of the extent of what had happened. People tell you that you will get better, or that I was a fighter – I don’t think anyone really knew the enormity of the situation at the time.
Even though I had studied science and I knew all about the body and the spinal cord, I guess it was just completely different when I was put in that situation and I had to live it. 48 hours after my accident, the consultant in the hospital came into the ICU where I was with my sister and he just said it out straight “You will never walk again, do you do know that?”.
That was extremely hard- I remember gasping, not even able to lift my head to look over at my younger sister, just wishing her to say that he was wrong.
I think that is what I sought for a long time. I got angry at people who were closest to me; my family. I remember feeling so much anger towards my father, just thinking to myself “how could you let this happen?” – you expect that they are meant to protect you but then you realise it is not their will or their life.
Some of the biggest realizations I came to during this time and how my mind began to process this.
You are suddenly reminded of how fragile our bodies are. The mind is a lot more resilient – but it takes a lot more time; well it took me a long time for the whole mental side to process what had happened.
To be honest, over five years later and I am still processing it – everyday. In the beginning I would cry a number of times per day. I would get into my bed in the hospital, pull the covers over my head and just cry and cry. You can’t believe you are there in that situation
I was one month and a half in the Mater hospital, 9 months in rehab and I never got to go home during that time as there were not health care services available to do so.
People continued to tell me that I would get better – and they fully believed that.
Spirituality or faith in my situation
People would bring me religious relics and tell me God would fix it.
Maybe it was helpful, in a sense.
I think I even started to believe it- but as time went on it would be a challenge. I know that consultant who was brutally honest in the beginning was harsh, but that was the first step. He knew that I had to understand the reality and to keep going from there.
It is a grief and as time went on you start to latch to different things.
It is like losing somebody – you wake up everyday and you are still here in this situation.
There were easy spells and hard spells, I remember the first time I was able to make coffee by myself again and feeling elated and then thinking “Is this it?”.
The mental process was quite challenging. Anxiety was a major issue as well.
In the hospital I was in a 19 bed ward, we couldn’t have open windows due to body and blood temperature being an issue with spinal cord injuries. Not having your own private space where you can deal with all of the anxiety, the depression and all of the other mental processes that come up when you are just thrust into this unknown world, was hard.
I think if you can get through the hospital experience, you can get through any phase of your life.
One day you are healthy and the next it all changes. I was preparing to go away to Manchester for a weekend with my girlfriends when this all happened, I had said goodbye to my boyfriend and gone out for a cycle before going to work.
You have your whole life set up and then all of a sudden to be just plucked from that and put into this life where you are told you can’t get out of bed, you can’t shower yourself, you can’t walk. It was like something from a horror story.
I was brought up in a catholic home, I wasn’t overly religious. I don’t know what I believe in any more. I suppose people do find comfort in many things and maybe people find comfort in religion or spiritual practice during hard times, personally I didn’t find comfort in these things.
I just wanted to rebuild my life, I wanted to get down to the nitty gritty – things like how to get from a to b, how to re-engage with friends on a social level, how to get back to work.
However, perhaps I do have my own form of prayer. I speak to my deceased granny. I had an experience when I was in the hospital and I swear I could see her sat next to my bed, in the same arm chair that she sat in and wearing the same clothes and with her rosary beads in hand.
I don’t know if she- or her spirit, or my memory of her- was letting me know she was there or if that is just the human mind latching onto something to pull us through? A way for us to cope?
When we are pushed into situations like these, at times perhaps it isn’t even logical things that we use to get through the tough times.
With things like depression or anxiety, you can be so far inside the fog that you don’t even know that you are there. It may not be until you get to the other side that you can see where you were and be so grateful that you got through it.
I wrote an article about anxiety afew years back. I spoke about when I was in college (before my accident) and how I went through a very dark time. I was extremely stressed and I had gone through a very bad break up .
It was only when I wrote the blog that I could see that I had gone through depression during that time and I could recognise that I had built up a coping mechanism because of that.
When my friends read about it they were astonished to learn what I had gone through all those years ago , as they never knew. Is that another coping mechanism? We try to hide it, we don’t want to show how we are feeling because there is a stigma. Why… why don’t we ask for help?
Perhaps we are afraid that it is considered a weakness, or that we don’t want to be a nuisance on people or we don’t want to recognise it in ourselves as there is such stigma around it? Even though this is actually the human condition. To suffer, to feel down, it is normal – everyone feels it.
We are all human. We are just flesh and bones, we are so fragile. In any given moment anything can happen.
I think that so much of our anxiety and depression can stem from that, that deep knowledge that at any given moment everything can change .
If you think about it too much you can drive yourself crazy worrying about things that could happen and usually it is the least thing you worry about that comes your way to challenge us.
I met some amazing people in the hospital, everyone had gone through a loss in there and in the end it was the spirit of everyone and how we all kept each other going through it all.
Enjoy your life – that is the main thing.
We can so easily just forget to really enjoy things. Be it sitting down having tea and a cake with your mam or meeting up with your friends, enjoy every minute of it. We don’t enjoy things enough until we are looking back and seeing that we should have.