LIFE WITH SPINAL CORD INJURY: BUILDING ON YOUR STRENGTHS

Each person reading this is at a particular point in life’s journey. You may be young, middle aged, or old. You may be newly injured or you may have lived with your injury for many years. You may be at peace with yourself or still struggling with difficult adjustments and unsettling emotions.
The future holds many challenges, of course, some anticipated and some unknowable. As you get older you’ll face new tasks, changes in health, and declines in strength. Medical problems related to your spinal cord injury may require you to adjust to additional losses or adapt to new technological aids. You’ll have highs and lows in your personal and social life, achievements and disappointments in your work life, losses and additions in your family.
What strengths can you build on to meet these and other challenges? How can your life be gratifying and full of joy in the years ahead? Everyone has unique character strengths, talents, ideas, and dreams, and these can be your building blocks.

Humor
Humor is an invaluable tool in dealing with adversity and in celebrating life’s joys. Humor releases tension, eases pain, soothes sorrow, and enhances communication and bonding between people. It helps people feel they have some control during seemingly uncontrollable or overwhelming events. People who can see the funny side of life often cope better with stressful or even catastrophic situations, and they may be able to elicit more support from others. Not only is laughter “the best medicine,” it can give you the strength to endure life’s many stresses and disappointments.

Reading joke books, watching funny movies, visiting a comedy club, reading the “funnies” and cartoons, or listening to comedians on audiotape are some ways of stimulating humor. You might try writing comedy or performing as a comedian or comic actor. Several people with disabilities have been highly successful as comedy entertainers, such as Gene Mitchner, a wheelchair user once referred to as a “sit-down comic.” One Hollywood agency caters specifically to comics and entertainers with disabilities. Being able to find humor in the ups and downs of everyday life and to laugh at yourself is a real gift. Terry Galloway, a deaf performance artist, tries to communicate “Joy! Absolute joy! That jolt of love for life in its infinite complications.” Humor helps us accept those complications with a laugh.

Pursuing Your Dreams
Dreams or passions evolve out of our interests, creativity, relationships, and values. They can be specific and personal, like Franklin’s dream to learn scuba diving and parachuting after he became paraplegic. Or they may be general and altruistic, like Nora’s passion for disability advocacy after her spinal cord injury. Sometimes dreams evolve from personal passions to entire movements. Ed Roberts’s dream of going to college eventually led not only to his admission as the first quadriplegic at his school, but to a campus-wide, then community-wide, movement for independent living. Sometimes dreams that are purely personal, such as accomplishing difficult athletic feats, can change the attitudes or behavior of others simply by setting inspirational examples.
More “ordinary” dreams – to find a steady, loving relationship, get married, have children, go to graduate school, help other people, play an instrument, run for local office, and so on – are just as important. Not everyone dreams of extraordinary accomplishments, but most people who live happy lives are able to look beyond their present circumstances, imagine where they would like to be in the future, and find the means to get there.

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