This is a guest blog from my lovely friend Pauline Vetuna, who writes at Just the Messenger.
I met Pauline through writing for DiVine. Here are her articles. She also writes for the ABC’s Ramp Up. She is a brilliant writer, I am proud to call her my colleague in writing. And in a short time, has become a brilliant friend to me.
Here is her guest blog:
Thank you, sweet irony.
My disability is so ironic.
In some parts of my body that I can move, the sensation is dulled. Some areas where I have sensation, don’t move so well. When I was walking, and seemingly ‘able-bodied’, I was miserable, frustrated, with mild damage to my spinal cord in the “incomplete quadriplegic” category. Now in a wheelchair, after suffering a second spinal cord injury in the “incomplete paraplegic” category, I am, oddly enough, the happiest I have ever been since aged six (now that was a stellar year).
This ironic state of affairs has augmented for me one of the biggest lessons of my life thus far: that happiness, and freedom, starts in your head. It’s all about your state of mind.
Back in my walking days I suffered from serious depression. Not clinical, but serious. It was initially triggered by medication, but sustained through repeated trauma. My mind went to some very, very dark places. I’ve heard it said about people who attempt to take their own lives, that “if they only knew how much they were loved, they wouldn’t have done that”. But my experience of depression has taught me that it cuts you off from EVERYTHING. Although, on some level, I knew there were people around me who cared a great deal about me, I couldn’t feel any of it. What I felt instead was a constant homesickness, combined with an impenetrable grief and complete mental isolation. Every day felt like a funeral. My thought processes cut me off and alienated me from LOVE. And that is, to me, the very definition of hell.
And I hated my body. HATED it. I recall once having an argument with an ex-boyfriend, about a compliment he gave about me being tall and lean that I, wrapped up in self-loathing, took to be facetious. I resented my illness profoundly, and found the amount of energy it took to keep up with my able-bodied friends, who were clueless about my physical needs, was both physically and emotionally taxing. Rather than call attention to my vulnerability though, and risk being seen as sick or, worse, disabled (a word that absolutely terrified me), I pretended I was fine. Normal.
I was a closeted sick/disabled person.
But my goodness, things have changed. For four years now I have been comfortably and conspicuously sailing around in my cute, hot orange Quickie wheelchair, and my mental outlook and, indeed, the people in my universe, are completely different. I feel comfortable talking about my disability, communicate my needs unapologetically, and know that all the difficulties I’ve experienced have made me a more empathic human being. Everyday, despite physical pain or whatever else is going on, beneath it all lays a peaceful, uncomplicated sense of contentment.
So what brought about the change?
Somewhere between losing all hope and making peace with myself and my disability, something that had been my biggest fear since the age of 12 (the year I was diagnosed with the illness that has lead to this ironic predicament), I developed a superpower: the ability to be present, to let go, and to appreciate EVERYTHING. I discovered on my own what studies have shown to be true: that practicing seeing and giving thanks for the things in your life today, big and, especially, small, that make it better and give you joy, is conducive to good emotional health and a full, abundant experience of life.
So, in the spirit of good emotional health, abundant life and all that jazz, I’d like to take a moment here to give props to some people (and inanimate objects) that make my universe wonderful to live in:
Thank you to my mother, who cared for a disturbed teenager through the toughest years of her life, and still cooks meals for this 26-year-old princess because the kitchen isn’t modified to accommodate my disability.
Thank you to my father, who goes to work everyday but looks forward, longingly, to the day he doesn’t have to anymore. Thanks to you, I know what integrity at work looks like. Hope I can live up to that model some day.
Thank you to the vending machine that gave me $6 change for a $5 note two days ago. I was in a great mood after that!
Thank you to the man who picked off a flower from the bouquet he was carrying in an elevator at a train station on the weekend and gave it to me.
Thank you to all the friends, family and acquaintances who make me LAUGH, bring me JOY, and encourage me to keep pursuing my goals, my way, against overwhelming (but, I now know, not insurmountable) odds … even though the interim poverty is tough to live with.
Thank you to my body, that has survived illness, damage, intense surgeries, extreme pain, sleep deprivation, and all manner of abuse I have subjected it to over a decade. And still, it goes on. You champion. You shaky, chronically painful, bane-of-my-existence champion!
And thank you, Carly Findlay, for allowing me to write a guest blog for you. And for embodying in so many ways what it means to have a healthy, beautiful outlook on life.
Read more of Pauline’s writing at Just the Messenger.
If you want to write a guest blog for Tune into Radio Carly, let me know!