Dave Jacka

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5 lessons I learnt from quadriplegia to deal with uncertainty

I read a book recently that touched on why some people like to go on adventures or take on challenges.  With our lives being so controlled and uniform each day—at least in the western world—some seek out challenges because they provide a level of uncertainty that makes life more exciting.

I’ve been thinking about this lately and have to agree that I fit into this category. I love a challenge that comes with a level of uncertainty, pushing me to explore my capabilities and solve problems when things don’t quite go to plan.   This uncertainty of not knowing whether I will achieve the goal or not adds to the anticipation and excitement.  This is similar to participating in competition or cheering your football team, the unknowing is a thrill—an adrenaline rush. 

Can you think of a time when you have taken on a challenge?  Did the uncertainty of not knowing whether you will achieve it or not, make it exciting?

A few weeks ago my wife, who is the main bread winner in our household, was one of the many people made redundant due to the pandemic.  She was very upset as the news was so unexpected, and when she told me I felt the shock and didn’t know what to think.  It instantly changed our lives. We went from living our life with a high degree of certainty to a future with much uncertainty.

Being thrust into this uncertainty, was initially very uncomfortable.  So why is this uncertainty so different from the uncertainty of an adventure?

Because it’s SO out of our control!  Let’s face it, unless your climbing Everest where it could be life or death, the uncertainty of an adventure or a challenge we take on is generally still within our control.  It’s up to us how hard we push ourselves; we can alter direction if circumstances change and if we don’t achieve our goal, the consequence is generally minimal, apart from some personal disappointment.

However, with COVID-19, much of what is happening is out of our control with an environment changing daily making life very uncertain. My initial reaction to all the restrictions being placed on us, concerns for catching the virus, plus my wife losing her job left me feeling somewhat helpless, without direction.

These feelings shunted me back to memories of when I first had my motorbike accident that left me with quadriplegia 33 years ago. At that time, I felt helpless from all the uncertainty. I didn’t feel like I had control over my life or my future. 

What helped get me through those tough times, and what I’m doing now, is focusing on what is within my control, including:

  1. Take one day at a time – with so much in a state of flux, the governments changing advice and not knowing how long our lives will be affected makes it difficult to plan. After my accident I did not know what my future would be. This was incredibly depressing.  By taking one day at a time, I became less overwhelmed, allowing me to move forward and focus on my immediate goals that led towards my future.
  2. Set goals – now is a great time to set yourself a goal that you may have been putting off—then break it down into smaller steps and focus on one small goal each day. Two years ago, I put an online course on hold because I wanted to focus on completing my book.  I’ve now just re-started the course again and my plan is to complete it by the end of July.  Also, my wife is using this time to set new goals and develop some workshops, and trial them on Zoom.
  3. Do things differently – try thinking of creative ways to work within the current restrictions, taking care to limit exposure to COVID-19. Skype or Zoom are an awesome way to see people and stay in contact.  If you are in a high-risk group, like me, instead of going to the shops yourself, can you get another person such as a family member, friend, carer or possibly go online for food delivery.
  4. Exercise – exercise if very important not just for keeping the body fit, but it is equally important for mental well-being. Personally, if I don’t exercise, I start to feel flat and lose motivation.  I try to get out every day for a walk and a handcycle once a week.  I go to areas where there are few people to maintain social distancing.  If you can’t get out, can you do weights at home?  I have cuff weights that I strap to my arms for a work out.
  5. Support – now, more than ever, it’s important to stay in touch with people. Although we can’t see our friends, family or work colleagues in person, pick up the phone or arrange a video link-up on Skype or Zoom. It was my dad’s 82nd birthday yesterday and most of the family got on Zoom and we had pre-dinner drinks together—it was a lot of fun and the advantage was not having to worry about driving home after a few wines! Also, if you know someone who may be alone or struggling with isolation, give them a call to see how they are. We are all in this together.

With the current uncertainty, it’s important that we focus on what is in our control. This helps to alleviate stress. Also, can you use this period to do things you have not had time to do previously?

From my experience of spinal cord injury and through my peer support work with AQA (Vic), it is clear that humans are incredibly adaptable and resilient. We will all get through this together.

Take care.

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