In 2012, I fell into a semi-conscious state; when I woke up, I could not speak, breathe on my own, or move my legs. Six weeks later, I could speak and breathe but my legs still wouldn't move. I was told it wasn't looking good for me to walk again. During week seven, my right big toe flickered up, then down. Six months later, I was walking on my own with the help of a cane. Many people have told me I am inspirational. I am touched by this reaction, but I have a confession to make: Being inspirational has very little to do with my desire to recover—it is to make my own life easier.
Over the past four years, I've come across several stories of people feeling insulted for being called inspirational just because they live with a "disability." I see the point. Everybody has talents and shortcomings. Everybody adjusts to live their lives the best way he/she sees fit. Why should disabled people be singled out as inspirational for using the same strategies as able-bodied people? I've been guilty myself of this mindset. Often I've used the lives of others to motivate me into dealing my own spinal cord injury. It's not like I won't or can't deal with my injury, but it is comforting to know that others have gone through a similar situation, and I believe that has made it a little easier for me. So, just like luck can come from taking advantage of an opportunity, inspiration can come from confronting a hardship. However, when stories emphasize the inspiring nature of recovery, sometimes the practical benefits get overlooked.
I've worked very hard to recover the functions that I had lost when I injured my spinal cord. I am also grateful that I sustained my injury in such a way that recovery was possible in many areas. One way in which able-bodied people misinterpret stories about recovery is a one size-fits-all myth of spinal cord injury. While two people may have an injury at the same location from a similar cause, the outcome for recovery may be very different. In reality, some functions return with effort, some with time, and some with time and effort. Some functions do not return, no matter how much time and effort are spent by the patient. But, we have to try, otherwise we will not know.
Ultimately, recovering and living with a disability isn't about inspiration. It is about making one's life easier. For me, a return of a lost function makes my life easier. Absent that, adaptation is the next best thing. Before I was able to walk without any assistance, I preferred using a wheelchair over being bed-ridden; I preferred walking with a cane rather than risk a fall. Though less and less often, for the past four years, throughout the day, I've worn and changed urine guards for bladder leaks – but this is preferable to changing clothes after an accident. Inspirational? Perhaps some can find inspiration in the way I've dealt with my injury. But really, the reason I do these "inspirational" things is to make my own life easier.