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Finding Meaning and Joy After Spinal Cord Injury

Aug. 26, 2022 – Preethi Srinivasan was an 18-year-old with a shiny future in sports activities and teachers. A state-level medalist in swimming, she was additionally a proficient cricket participant and dreamed of representing her native India in cricket.

Her tutorial achievements have been equally stellar, and she or he was enrolled in a 5-year MBA course in Chennai, India. “My life was perfect, and the possibilities seemed infinite,” she says in an interview.

Srinivasan was on a school journey with associates on the ocean. She was standing in thigh-deep water when the sand below her toes gave manner and she or he stumbled. As a seasoned swimmer, when she realized she was falling, she dived into the water.

“As soon as my face went underwater, I felt a shock-like sensation travel through my body and instantaneously, I could not move anything” Srinivasan recounts. “I tried to stand, but nothing happened.” From that second, she was paralyzed under the neck.

“My life as I knew it was over, but a whole new life was beginning,” she says. “I just didn’t know yet what form that would take.”

The Serenity to Accept

Annually, there are an estimated 17,730 new spinal cord injuries within the U.S. and 250,000 to 500,000 worldwide. The U.S. Senate has designated September as National Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month.

People who’ve a spinal twine harm confront not solely sensible, medical, and monetary challenges, but additionally the sensation that their lives have been completely upended, in keeping with Rex Marco, MD, chief medical ambassador for the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. This can result in a way of despair and lack of that means.

Marco himself had a spinal twine harm that paralyzed him when he was in his 50s. He had been a nationally famend spinal surgeon and musculoskeletal oncologist in addition to an energetic snowboarder, mountain biker, and yoga practitioner.

All of that modified when the tire of his mountain bike stalled in a dip alongside a path, catapulting him headfirst over the handlebars. He heard a crack however felt no ache. He knew that if the cracking sound got here from his neck, he might be paralyzed.

“I had been doing breathing exercises to find calm for several years. In that moment, I used them to calm myself,” he says.

When a good friend touched his leg and hand and he couldn’t really feel the contact, he realized he had damaged his neck.

As he lay there, he considered the Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” He requested for the serenity to just accept no matter bodily limits lay forward.

“I knew there was less than 5% chance I’d ever walk again. I may never operate again, and I may never hold my unborn child.” Marco additionally knew he needed to get to a hospital as quickly as doable, so he helped coordinate his rescue and arrived on the hospital after which the working room inside lower than 3 hours, which he describes as “miraculous.”

He considers himself lucky that he by no means despaired as a result of he had already been utilizing practices that deepened his sense of that means and he drew upon them after his accident.

“I knew it was important for me to do my best to live in the present moment and not dwell on the past or worry about the future; just try to smell and taste and listen and feel. I did that throughout the day and tried to be as present as possible.”

‘Why Not Me?’

After her accident, Srinivasan at first did fall into despair. “I didn’t cope well with what had happened and tried to escape this new reality any way that I could,” she says.

She felt an acute sense of loss. “For the first 18 years of my life, I had effortlessly excelled in every area, and the future seemed to be brimming with infinite potential,” she says. “Then, in just a split second, it was all over, and I found myself having to come to terms with life in a wheelchair.”

What was particularly painful was how others handled her. “I had been looked up to all my life, seen as a role model and hero, and now suddenly people looked down on me as if I ceased to exist. I couldn’t bear it. I felt invisible and invalidated and tried to shut myself away for 2 years.”

She questioned what she might have completed to deserve such a destiny. “I was shattered. Who was I? I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to know. I just wanted to die.”

Her mother and father’ unconditional love and knowledge slowly introduced her out and gave her a deeper understanding of life. Srinivasan’s father suggested her to not ask, “Why me? Why did this happen to me?” Instead, he suggested asking, “Why not me?”

He inspired Srinivasan to make use of her harm as a possibility. “Your body is going,” he informed her. “Everyone’s body is going – if not today, then 10 years from today, and if not 10 years, then 50 years. Look within and find that within you which can never be taken away, which can never go.”

It was the start of a profound internal journey. Srinivasan started expressing herself via mouth work. “Slowly, I started feeling passionate about life again,” she says. “My parents gave me a beautiful spiritual lineage, and through grace, I started healing from within.”

‘There Is a Plan for Me’

Several weeks earlier than the accident, Marco had began a apply of starting the day with itemizing three issues he’s grateful for, three issues he’s enthusiastic about, a each day focus, a each day affirmation, and a each day train plan. He positioned this apply into his new actuality.

“I felt grateful for life, grateful for my breath, and grateful for my recovery program,” he says. “I felt excited to see my family, my friends, and my caregivers. My daily affirmation was, ‘I am enough,’ and my daily exercise plan was to get out of bed and into the chair.” At night time, when he couldn’t sleep properly, the nurses performed a guided meditation for him.

“These practices gave me meaning and purpose, and I knew there was and there is a plan for me, although I wasn’t sure what the plan was,” he says.

Ultimately, Marco turned concerned with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. “Christopher Reeve was a childhood hero of mine, and I watched him play Superman,” Marco says. “I remember the day he got injured, and I remember his appearance at the Oscars when he was on a ventilator, which was so inspirational to me.”

Marco remembered that speech when he was within the intensive care unit. “I knew I wanted to do something that he did, which was try to find a cure and raise money for spinal cord injury research, which is part of my role in the foundation, as well as increasing mental health awareness, and introducing more people to mindfulness and mindfulness-based meditation.”

Founding Soulfree

When Srinivasan’s father was alive, he “took care of everything,” permitting her and her mom to be in a “bubble of safety, insulated and isolated.” But after his sudden dying of cardiac arrest in 2007, there was no supply of monetary help. Some years later, her mom had cardiac bypass surgical procedure.

“We began to wonder what would happen to me if my mother could no longer take care of me, and we began to look for long-term care facilities in India that were equipped to care for a person in my condition,” Srinivasan says.

She was “shocked” to seek out out that, all through all of India, there wasn’t a single long-term care facility the place an individual with a spinal twine harm (SCI) might stay with dignity. “So if the parents or family of a woman in my condition is unable to care for her, there’s nowhere to go,” she says.

She began to listen to horrifying tales “Family members of women with SCI often think of a disabled daughter as shameful and refuse to feed or care for her. Two families even provided their daughters with poison and encouraged them to kill themselves.”

The lack of help for folks with spinal twine accidents led Srinivasan to discovered Soulfree, a company devoted to creating long-term care facilities round India which might be outfitted to look after these with extreme disabilities completely and guarantee they are going to be skilled for jobs and monetary safety, she says.

In addition to her work with Soulfree, Srinivasan is a motivational speaker, holds a grasp’s diploma in psychology, and is and a senior analysis fellow pursuing her PhD on the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras.

“I know I’m being kept alive on this earth for some greater purpose,” she says. “I’m content in being fully alive in this moment and trying to spread love, light, and laughter in this world.”

Helpful Resources

Research shows that individuals who have supportive household, associates, and group and a religious connection have a better time coping with the challenges of discovering new id, that means, and objective after a spinal twine harm.

The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation’s National Paralysis Resource Center gives free sources about residing with paralysis, together with a weblog by which folks with spinal twine accidents describe how they discovered that means after their accident. Getting psychotherapy or turning into concerned with a help group (in-person or on-line) or peer counseling, similar to via the Foundation’s Peer and Family Support Program, may also assist.

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