Self-Image and Injury

Jenny - "As an athletic 16-year-old girl, I was solid muscle."

I gained a bit of weight after quitting competitive gymnastics and I matured as a young woman should. But my body image was warped. I thought I was fat. Fast forward two years after my injury. Quadly hands. Atrophied legs. A body wracked by spasms. A quad belly. Swollen ankles. While my family was visiting my cousins in Arizona, they convinced me to put on shorts for the first time to get into the swimming pool. I hated my skinny legs and forearms, deprived of the muscle that once defined them. My swollen ankles, feet, and legs reflected the sun as they saw daylight for the first time in years. And suddenly I realized that I would always dislike something about my body. That was it. A switch flipped. I’m not saying I like my quad belly. Or my purple and swollen ankles. I show my arms and legs despite children asking me why I’m so skinny. (How do you explain atrophy to a six year old?) But I have come to accept the fact that my body is a part of me that I cannot change.

I might as well embrace my body rather than hate it – or myself." - Jenny

 

Jeremy

What impact does spinal cord injury have on self-concept?

Self identify can be shaped by societal views but Jeremy relies on his perspective to shape his self-image. He explains, "I see my strengths and that's where I focus. I will not allow any 'judgment' from the public alter the way I view myself." Watch him just one time, with his strong arms and strong hands out in the woods in his all terrain wheelchair and you will see a man that continues to fulfill the stereotypical "tough guy image." - Jeremy

 

Josh - "Before my accident I was a fit, athletic 23-year-old guy who went to the gym about four days a week and played pickup sports the other days.

Josh explains how his self awareness has changed since his injury. "Before my accident I was a fit, athletic 23-year-old guy who went to the gym about four days a week and played pickup sports the other days. I prided myself on my physique and physical fitness. It made me feel confident about myself. After my accident, my self-image dropped to basically nothing. My physical strength was stripped away from me and what muscles I worked on for years would waste away. It wasn't just my appearance that I didn't like but my physical inability that I hated. I thought to myself, “Who would be attracted to me now?” To be honest I don't know if I'll ever have the same self esteem I had before my accident but I'm working to at least accept my new physical form. It's something that just takes time and each person is different in the time they come to accept themselves." - Josh


After injury emotional healing is just as important as physical healing. Here are a few tips to help you regain positive self-awareness:

  • You should get support from family, friends, colleagues, health professionals, and other spinal cord injury survivors who may share and/or understand your experience.
  • When fearful, we tend to focus on negatives. Try your best to manage anxiety and focus on the many positive attributes you still have.
  • Eliminate internal negative chatter. This can be called "your self-talk" or managing your negative “brain trains”. A common negative self-talk involves telling yourself “I look so different". Replace that with "I am unique and wonderfully made" and watch your self-awareness (and mood) change for the better.
  • Take the time to do things that help you feel better about your appearance. Shop for clothes you enjoy, workout or engage in sports you can do, and indulge in massage and spa time! Invest in yourself.

The BARD Care Team

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