These past few months have been extremely hard for me. After the Paralympics…I have really struggled.
I had just spent the last 7 years of my life working towards this one goal of making it to the Paralympics. And I reached it. And now it’s over. For seven years that was my life. Every single day I thought about what I needed to do to get there…and everyday I worked towards it.
I always told myself that by the time I made it to the Paralympics I would have overcome everything that was ever holding me back, I would believe in myself, I would feel good about what I was able to accomplish…and that I would overcome the accident and I would overcome my depression.
And I did all of those things… except the last one. But what I have learned through it all is that I have no control over the last one. And the depression is not me. It is far from who I am.
I am happy. I do believe in myself, I know that I am strong and I am capable. I love helping people. I have fun helping people. I have fun playing wheelchair basketball. I have fun goofing around and being funny. I love to laugh. I love my friends and family, and I love people that I don’t even know.
And when I am depressed…that is not who I am. That is something I am fighting. That is something I don’t want in my life. Why would I ever choose to be like that?
When I am sad…I want to die. My sadness can get to that point…and it got there again…after the Paralympics…multiple times. It was a fight these last few months.
As I have said a million times, I have ALWAYS had depression…for as long as I can remember. In grade school I remember, more times than not, choosing to stay in and eat lunch with our school counselor rather than go play at recess (She was and still is an amazing person, but as a kid, I should have been excited to go to recess). I remember all of the sports that I played and how, no matter what, I would never think I was good enough. And I remember when things started to get worse throughout middle school and eventually led to full on depression by High School. And I don’t just have depression…I have severe depression. But people that don’t know me well would probably never guess that.
And when I tell them, I almost feel as if I have let them down. I feel like they wanted to believe that I was this superhero that had overcome this crazy devastation and had become this crazy strong, happy, extremely positive person. And when I would tell people the truth when I was having a hard time, I would watch their expression change from super excited and happy to what I always read as disappointment, and then they would always say “but you look so happy in all of your pictures …?”. Because of this common reaction, and because of my own fear, I would start to second guess who I even was. I would start to think that maybe I am not that strong girl in those pictures. Maybe I am not a happy person. How can I be, when I feel this sad? How can I be, when people react as if it is not possible to be both happy and depressed. But I am not happy and depressed, I am happy and I have depression.
This kind of reminds me of a time less than a year after my accident, when someone asked me how I was doing and I decided that I was finally going to tell them the truth. And you know how the saying goes “you have to open-up to the right people” well I still had to learn who those right people were because this person was not one of them.
This person had walked into the kitchen where I had gone in order to hide from everyone until I could stop crying. I was hanging out with a group of people at a friend’s house. It was summer and everyone was laughing and having a good time. They were walking around in their shorts and flip-flops on a nice sunny day. We had just graduated high school and everyone my age was just enjoying life and acting carefree. Yet, there I was, wearing baggy sweats to cover up the bony sticks that were left from the deteriorated muscles in my legs. I was trying hard to use a walker and keep pushing forward and hold my head up despite the sad looks of pity that every person I ran into gave to me. I felt stupid. I was embarrassed to be who I was. I often felt like I was trapped in a body that didn’t belong to me. But I tried to always laugh it off. I tried to pretend that losing my ability to walk at the age of 18 was not as bad as people thought it would be. I was trying so hard to convince the world around me that they were wrong, that my life was not over and that I was going to be fine, that I began to lose sight of who I even was. I felt so disconnected from the world and so incredibly lost. And there was no one to show me the way, because as I have said before, I knew no one with a disability. And I especially knew no one that was the kind of person I wanted to be. No one that was in a wheelchair and still played sports. No one that was in a wheelchair and was still extremely outgoing and fun and funny. And I never saw anyone in a wheelchair out with friends, just enjoying life.
After my accident, my first exposure to someone that was semi-close to me was in rehab when the physical therapists organized support groups for all of us who were doing in-patient physical therapy. All of us whose entire lives had just been destroyed and who now had to find a way to rebuild them. We tried our best to support each other, but we all felt a bit of deadness inside and it was hard to see that light at the end of the tunnel, let alone show it to each other And because they knew we needed some encouragement, our physical therapists invited a few people, who had been injured years before and had gone through the whole recovery process, to come talk to us. I was really excited for this meeting. I had wanted to meet someone who had become paralyzed and had overcome it; someone who still lived a life worth living. This meeting was the one thing I had been looking forward to all day, and I felt like it was my lucky day when in comes this girl, about 25 years old and with almost the exact same disability as I had, she was five years post injury. She had regained the use of her quad muscles and she could walk with a cane. I was so eager to hear what she had to say. I was just waiting to hear that one thing that I needed, that one thing that would let me know it was all going to be okay. I was listening intently to everything she is saying, and then she said “I like driving… because when I am in my car, nobody knows I am different.” After hearing this, my heart completely sunk in my chest. I felt devastated once again. All hope I had started to build went right out the window. It had been FIVE YEARS for this girl…and she still hated her life. She was living her life feeling embarrassed of who she was because she had a disability…and she wasn’t even in a wheelchair anymore.
I am not putting her down. I know that everyone heals differently and in their own time. Maybe it was harder for her to be positive about things when she had no choice in her paralysis. She had become paralyzed after being held hostage at the Tacoma Mall and being shot in the back. I, on the other hand, did have a say in my paralysis. I was the one that chose to get on the back of the motorcycle. Maybe she had so much resentment that she just couldn’t let go and move on…or maybe she had no one to show her how to move on. And despite how sad I was, I still knew deep down that it happened for a reason, and maybe it was harder for her to even want to think that way. And I just remember during that time, when I was far from feeling like things would actually get better, I still told myself that someday I would be the one coming into the hospital to talk to people who were newly injured, and I would be able to give them the reassurance that they needed in order to believe that everything would be okay.