This year I turned 40! Yes, I can admit it...publicly. But I would be lying if I told you that turning 40 came easy. It wasn’t until after the celebration that I actually began experiencing emotions that made me question, “Am I having a midlife crisis?” I took to my normal nightly routine and searched the internet. Googling everything from hormone issues to aging (and of course aging with spinal cord injury). Somehow every issue in my life seems to circle back around to my injury--perhaps others can relate to this.
I found myself reading things like “Woman in Their 40’s Want Woman in Their 30’s to Know This”. What I found very interesting is that turning 40 (and your perspective on age) is very similar to the foresight required to overcome negative thoughts regarding SCI. Bear with me, I promise there is a parallel.
At age 40, I found myself reflecting on what I had accomplished. I took inventory of regrets, things I would have done different, and what was remaining on my bucket list (yes, I have a real, hand-written bucket list in my journal).
After weeks, or maybe a month or two, of soul searching here’s what I discovered:
Love and accept yourself fully.
In my 20’s and 30’s, I was brutally tough on myself. I had secretly convinced myself that this trait was a way to “push myself” or a mechanism that inspired motivation. But at 40, I have come to see this as a type of self-infliction that actually prevented me from being myself.
How does this relate to my injury? Imagine if I had accepted this many years ago. Loving and fully accepting myself, spinal cord injury and all! How empowering! All the negative self-talk I could have avoided. All the things that could have been averted when I was trying to prove to others I was “worthy”. To love thy self and accept yourself is a process. But a process that should be sought after daily. In other words, why did I have to wait until I was 40 to fully grasp this idea?
Feed your soul.
Being a wife, a mother, a homemaker and having a career had taken its toll on me by 40. Now, don’t misunderstand me here; the best treasures in my life are my husband and my two boys. I repeat…the best part of me is being a wife and a mother! However, all of these responsibilities are absolutely the greatest challenge of my life. (Can I get an AMEN here?)
I was starting my career at 22 (Medical Marketing). I was married at 23 (and very eager to be the best wife of ALL time). Owned my first house at 23 (a small 1500 square foot ranch house with Pepto-Bismol Formica from the 70’s--but it was ours). Had my first child at 25 (what a blessing), changed my career at 26 (Real Estate Professional) and had my second child two years later (what a joy). And did I forget to mention--I am a quadriplegic! Exhausted yet? I was!
At 40, somehow it was like the blinders just feel off. The tunnel vision I had been living with since age 23 had disappeared. From the start of my career, all the way through 40, I had lived very much by the “business plan for my life”. No, I don’t have an actual business model for my life, but subconsciously, I think I had developed an outlook approach to where I should be at certain stages in my life. To say, I never feed my soul, would be a huge understatement! There was no time for that…or so I thought.
Did I get more time in my days after I turned 40? No. In fact, time seems to slip away faster. What did change was my priority list. What was really important? Climbing the corporate ladder or going fishing? Washing that fourth load of laundry or playing a board game with my son?
So, how does this relate to living life in a wheelchair? Most of my days--as a quad--can be consumed by a highly demanding regimen of daily care chores (cathing, dressing, weight shifts, meds, stretching...the list goes on). My daily care list never included “Feed your soul”. Isn’t that important to thriving after injury? ABSOLUTELY! In fact, after I cath first thing in the morning, I should hear a voice scream in my head, “Leslie, feed your soul today!” I now understand if I invest time in the things I enjoy, then my disability does not seem to consume me. Finding pleasure in the simple things of life--getting outside, reading a great book--provides a sense of freedom that helps me tolerate the daily care chores and task more effectively.
And last, but certainly not least, turning 40 was a moment of great clarity regarding my anxiety.
Turning 40 did not make my anxiety just vanish. But it did however mark that I had struggled with this far too many years. At 40, I made a conscious decision to fully embrace that worrying had NEVER (not even once) changed the outcome to a circumstance in my life. So, why in the world would I carry this habitual habit into the next decade of my life?
And the parallel with injury, you ask? I strongly believe that my anxiety over the years had grown from the vulnerability I feel from being compromised physically. Living with certain limitations can make anyone feel exposed or unprotected. But in fact, my limitations have made me stronger in my mind and spirit. How?
Where I am weak physically, I have gained strength mentally. In the task I cannot accomplish independently, there are other tasks I am successful at. For example, I’m not too shabby at public speaking. (In fact, public speaking is feared by most. So much so it has a definition. Do you suffer from Glossophobia--the fear of public speaking?)
This treasured trove, to worry less, translates so well to thriving after a spinal cord injury. Challenge your anxious thoughts that relate to your injury. Turn your worry into action. And don’t allow your fears to become greater than paralysis itself! Turning 40 is not so bad after all. It’s like a brand new chapter in my life and I fully intend to make the next decade count...in the department of living life to the fullest. Will you join me on my journey?
Stay strong, Leslie.
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The opinions and experiences presented herein are for informational use only. Individual results may vary depending on your condition. Always consult with your health care professional. This individual has been compensated by Bard Medical for the time and effort in preparing this article for BARD’s further use and distribution. BMD/BMDA/0815/0008