Autobiography, Coping, disability, Life, Love, Motivation, SCI awareness, spinal cord injury

What I Now Know

September is Spinal Cord Injury Awareness month and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation has asked us to write a letter to ourselves pre-injury. Not only is it an amazing way to reflect on how far we each have come, but it also is an excellent way to share our stories and to help inspire one another. The theme is What I Now Know, and this is my letter…

Dear Annie,

I’m going to start by being brutally honest. It is not going to be easy, you are going to be scared, you are not going to even understand at first why this even happened to you. The second your feet leave the pavement and you dive into that pool like you have done hundreds of times before, you will not know that this time is different. This time it will completely turn your world upside down. It’s not going to hurt, you are not going to feel a thing, and that will be the scariest part of it all because you are not going to know anything is wrong until you try to stand up out of the water to breathe. Even almost 15 years after this night, you are not going to really understand how it happened because you never hit the bottom, and you will think of it often, and you will replay it in your head. It is a freak accident, Annie, and it is going to happen to you. It is going to affect everyone in your life that loves and cares for you, but please trust me when I say you are going to be ok… you are going to make it.

I will tell you this, and it may take quite a while for you to understand, but this freak accident is going to happen to you because you are strong enough to survive. You have a fight in you that you do not even know is there. You will wake up in a hospital bed with a body that was once yours, but now it is a body that is not going to respond or listen to anything that you want it to do. So, from that moment you open your eyes you are going to have to start all over. You are going to have to work so hard to do things that you once took advantage of and did not even have to think twice about doing.

Your first year in the wheelchair is going to be one of the most difficult and trying times of your life. You are going to feel uncomfortable when people look at you, and you are going to feel discouraged at how some people treat you. That first year will pass and you are going to start feeling more comfortable with who you are as each year goes by. Some people in your life may fade away, not because they don’t love you or they don’t care for you, but because they are not sure how to handle what happened to you. On the other hand, there will be people that stay by your side day in and day out. I want you to wrap your arms around those people, and wrap your arms around your family, because these people are your support system, your number one fans, and the ones that will pick you up when life gets heavy.

I know you had big plans for after college, and you had it all mapped out. I know how hard you worked for your degree. You will quickly learn that the only thing you can truly plan for is the unexpected. You are going to meet people and do things that you never would have if you hadn’t dove in that pool. You are going to become a strong and confident woman, and realize you have talents buried down deep that will find their way to the surface. These are talents that you do not even know you have, and you will do things that begin to help you understand why you were sent down this life’s path. Your life and your experiences are going to help others, and you have to truly believe that.

Before I end this letter, I will give you a few more important pointers….

– You will experience love and heartbreak… Being in a wheelchair does not make you immune to that, and just because you are in a wheelchair does not mean you won’t find love and a partner to take on life with.

– You have to allow yourself to feel vulnerable, or frustrated, or just plain mad, because you are human.

– Don’t give up… whether it is on life, love, or the Chicago Cubs.

– Truly and deeply hang onto the memories of things you love… like playing softball, feeling the sand between your toes, holding onto a warm cup of coffee, or dancing face-to-face with someone you love, because even though one day you may not be able to do all of these things, you will always remember how they made you feel, and nobody or nothing can take that away.

– Do it. Even if it scares you. Do it. Life is short.

– Your spinal cord injury does not define you.

This is your life Annie, and it is the only one you’ve been given. Giving up is not an option. It never has been, and it never will be. Take a deep breathe and put your seatbelt on…. it’s going to be a crazy ride. This life of yours will be a life full of love, support, happiness, and laughter with a few ups and downs.

You are strong… You are beautiful… You have a purpose, and the wheels are just how you get from one adventure to the next.

Keep on pushing forward and you are going to be just fine… I promise.


The Future You

Growing up, adolescence, life

A Letter to 16-Year-Old Me….

When I was in high school, I thought someone in their 30s sounded so old. Now, here I am, 35-years-old… but I do not feel so old. What I do feel is confidence. It is a little ironic that I am rolling around in this wheelchair, but I feel more confident and I feel like I have found more purpose compared to when I was walking on two feet. I love being in my 30s. I know what I want, I know my true friends, I understand the meaning of family, and I do not feel bad about going to bed at 8 o’clock on a Friday night. One of the many things that I wish was possible is that my 35-year-old self could write a letter to my 16-year-old self. You know….. A, “I wish I knew then, what I know now” kind of letter. It would not be a long letter, because I remember me at 16. I was constantly on the go, and I would not take the time to sit down and read a five page letter, front and back, from my future long winded self….

What I really want to tell 16-year-old Annie is to trust quality over quantity. Yes, I remember hearing the term, but at 16 I thought the more friends I had, the better life would be. It is a competition that all teenagers experience. As a teenager, you put on so many different masks in order to fit in, but all of those masks are just hiding what is real. It’s exhausting.

So, here is the letter. It is overdue for my 16-year-old self, but maybe you can pass it along to someone you know….

Dear 16-year-old ______________,

That small group of people that would call you out if you tried being someone other than yourself, that small group of people that loves and supports you despite your beautiful flaws, that small group of people that builds you up and respects and celebrates your accomplishments, and that small group of people that comes into your life and truly sticks by your side… Those are the people you wrap your arms around. That is the type of quality you need in your life, because your “crew” are the ones that are gonna stick around when things get messy, and I’m sorry but things are going to get messy sometimes. No amount of preparation can stop certain difficult or frustrating things from happening, so the best thing you can do is to keep pushing forward and learning from your experiences.

Quality… keep it in the back of your mind for every decision you make. Unfortunately, your heart will be broken… more than once and for different reasons. Trust me, you are going to be fine. If the person you love breaks your heart but is of high quality, you will heal. Through all of the hurt you will take something away from that heartbreak that will change you. Let your heart heal before you open up again. It will, and you will know when the time is right.

Throughout life people will frustrate you… disappoint you… and just flat out piss you off. So, trust your gut. Whether it is telling you to turn right when you want to turn left… whether it is telling you to make a complete U-turn… or it may be telling you to say hi to a beautiful stranger. Trust yourself. Trust that little voice in your head. Trust that churning feeling in the pit of your stomach. You will develop this skill over the years, and even at 35-years-old you will have moments of doubt, because sometimes the right decision is the hardest decision to make.

Stay true to your beliefs, and your morals, and who you truly are. This is not always going to be easy, and at times there will be people who look down on you based on your beliefs, but in the end you will have more respect for yourself. Sometimes people will talk, sometimes people will stare, and sometimes people will just not understand, but that is not your problem. Life is too short to try to make everyone happy.

Always make time for yourself. Sometimes, one of the scariest places to be is by yourself with your own thoughts and fears. When you learn to love yourself, it will reflect upon all the other relationships in your life. You will learn to embrace your time alone, and you will learn to find peace with your own thoughts. Believe me when I say this, some of your best ideas and answers to whatever is testing you will come to you during the times where it is just you, the music in your ears, and the sun on your face.

Now, to end this letter I will give you a few more bits of advice:

~ Do not ever underestimate the power of a smile and a simple hello.

~ Do not judge others, because you do not know the battles they have fought or may still be fighting.

~ Always set two morning alarms.

~ Being polite will always make a lasting impression, but so will being rude.

~ Sometimes the best way to get your thoughts out is by using a pen and paper.

~ Mom and Dad really do know what they are talking about.

~ Choose the people who choose you.

~ Always keep $20 hidden in your car for an emergency, and a Ricker’s pop is not considered an emergency.

~ Peer pressure is a thing. It will always be a thing.

~ Moderation is important.

~ There are two times when music lyrics make more sense… when you are in love, and when your heart is broken.

~ Always send thank you cards.

~ If you are going to plan for anything, plan for the unexpected.

~ Perfect is boring.

~ You are allowed to have a bad day, moments of frustration, and make mistakes… you are human.

~ It is completely ok to be picky… especially about relationships, shoes, and pizza.

Last but not least… When you reach your 30s, please try to hold on to a few things you had when you were 16. Hold on to your innocence, the warmth and excitement you feel on Christmas morning, your love of life, your competitive edge, and your smile. Do not let anyone ever steal that smile. You are going to make it… Trust me.


The Future You

Family, Life, Loss, Love, Motivation

Life Goes On….

When I was a little girl, I had my life all planned out. I was going to be a monkey trainer, married, two kids, and riding horses in the mountains with the gobs and gobs of free time I would have because my personal cook would have dinner ready every evening, and my responsible children would finish their homework every day without being asked, and they would have a weird obsession of picking up after every mess they made.

It did not work out that way… At all. What can I say? This flashback to my little girl dreams getting crushed, brings me to my next topic…. “Life goes on.”

“Life goes on…..” You know, it was a phrase that I never really liked. Yes, it is the truth, but it seems so insincere, so blunt, and so lacking of any emotion or empathy. Now, at the ripe age of 35, I am sitting here in my wheelchair, at the end of the dock, writing down my thoughts, looking across a gorgeous lake, and watching “life go on.” I have come to accept that phrase.

I am not heartbroken about those dreams I had as a little girl not working out. There have been many points throughout my life where I thought I had it all planned out, but the forces that be shook their heads and thought otherwise. Every single time my plans completely got thrown into the blender in regards to how I thought my life was supposed to be, there was always one thing that was guaranteed… Life goes on.

There are so many things that can turn your world upside down. Whether it is the death of someone you love, a traumatic event, a broken heart… Life does not stop and wait for you to catch your breath. The sun still rises and sets, deadlines do not disappear, bills arrive just on schedule, traffic still piles up at rush hour, and you come in contact with strangers who are completely unaware of the pain you carry inside. At times it does not seem fair that the world keeps going with complete disregard to your own feelings of loss and defeat, but maybe that is what helps us heal. Think about it, if life stopped every single time you faced a detour, it would be kind of like trying to watch a YouTube video with really slow Internet. We all know how annoying that is… Nobody likes “buffering.”

Maybe you just need to coast on that detour, just for a little bit. I have learned to look at the detours of life from the perspective of relating them to real “detours.” Yes, some detours absolutely throw you for a loop, and get you so lost that you have to use every lifeline necessary to find your way. Sometimes though, there are detours that may in fact make it a longer ride to reach that final destination, but if you truly open your eyes, that ride is more beautiful, and it would have been something that you never would have experienced otherwise. It may be a blessing in disguise, it may scare the crap out of you, it may open doors to amazing opportunities, it may shut doors that you never thought would close, you may meet the love of your life, you may lose the love of your life, but it is life, and it is yours, and it is unpredictable.

I by no means claim that I have it all figured out. So, until it is my turn to see the ones I have lost throughout this journey of life again, I will put my seatbelt on every morning and keep rolling with life as it “goes on,” doing my best to embrace the detours and wherever they lead me to, and holding on to the belief that hearts that are meant to be together will always find their way.

Also, monkey training is never out of the picture…