As I sat in the recliner wheelchair unable to move, all I could do was stare at the pale blue wall in front of me. In that moment, the reality of the consequences of my motorbike accident suddenly transformed from a vague detached thought, to the dark and painful realisation, that my life as I knew it was over. Two months previously, I’d broken the fifth vertebrae in my neck, leaving me with quadriplegia. I was nineteen years old.
The depth of my despair felt like a plastic bag being pulled over my head, unable to breath. My identity and dreams were gone. Any remnant of hope that I had clung to for a worthwhile future had instantly dissolved.
Over the next seven months of rehab, I began the slow journey of relearning how to do the most basic of tasks: feeding myself, brushing my teeth, putting a top on. These tasks—so simple in my previous life—were now challenges that felt so great, I didn’t know if I could ever achieve them.
Before my accident I had had a plan for my life, but now I felt utterly lost. I desperately needed a little hope that my situation would get better, to feel that I was in some way progressing forward. I began focussing on one small goal, feeding myself. Without functioning fingers to hold a spoon, the nurse strapped on a Palm Pocket—a Velcro band that holds a spoon or fork—to my hand and slid a spoon into the pocket. My first spoonful of soup hit my chin dribbling down my neck. I felt embarrassed and frustrated. Not ready to give up, I changed tact and attacked the casserole, managing a good mouthful without spillage, munching away with a very satisfied grin. Initially, it was exhausting, but with each mouthful I got better at it.
With mastery of these small important goals, over time my confidence grew, allowing me to take on bigger challenges. As my goals got bigger, I followed the same strategy, breaking them down into smaller goals—’micro-goals’ as I called them—that were far more achievable than the huge goal itself. Each time I achieved a micro-goal, it boosted my determination and commitment to keep going.
When I encountered an obstacle that seemed impassable, the key was to get creative and find different ways around it. When I began learning to transfer, I couldn’t lift myself from the wheelchair to the bed because the chair would shoot away and I ended up on the floor.
It was only after trying many different options that I eventually came up with the idea of a hook to hold the wheelchair in position against my bed. This simple solution enabled me to transfer independently, increasing my freedom and changing my life.
This strategy of focusing on a goal and breaking it down into micro-goals, committing to taking action, and finding different pathways to get around obstacles when they arose were key to helping me move forward from my accident.
Now, 33 years on, I can affirm the value of this approach which has become the foundation of how I live my life. It provides an open attitude to life that helps me navigate the everyday challenges of living with a physical disability. But more importantly, it constantly focusses my perspective, allowing me to see possibilities instead of impossibilities, giving me the confidence to dream again and transform those dreams into reality.