Wheelchair Wisdom

Social media is sometimes tagged as a bane and burden of modern society; deemed with the potential to encourage narcissistic selfishness and ironically lead to isolation. No doubt that this can happen; everything in moderation, as they say. However, an undeniable and invaluable advantage to social media is that it can bring people together who would not otherwise have the opportunity to communicate.

This is such among people living with paralysis. I myself am a member of several Facebook groups and pages for people living with paralysis due to spinal cord injury. The sites provide opportunities for people to collaborate for trading ideas about how to make life easier and possibly seek support to get through the hard times. In a world that can be difficult, sometimes impossible, to access and with the fact that there are people with disabilities who may be isolated, seldom leaving their homes if ever, the benefits of social media speak for themselves.

As stated before, social media sites and other web pages can be great opportunities to trade or gain knowledge and express perspectives based on experience. About one year ago, I was going into year four being a power wheelchair user. Over the previous three years, I learned about many people who had turned tragedy into achievement and success. They had come away from their injury stories stronger and better people after hitting rock bottom; like the story of the Phoenix that rises from ashes.

Although the first three years of my injury were arduous and difficult to bear at times, I had slowly begun to experience growth through suffering, amidst setbacks. I had learned several lessons along the way that I felt compelled to share but I wanted to learn more about the perspectives of others who had similar experiences. I thought this could be beneficial for others struggling with grief and fear after an injury to know what it takes to get to a place of peace and perseverance.

I decided to take to my Facebook communities and post a question. Word for Word, the question was:

“Wisdom Wednesday: Since the injury, how have you grown as a person? (I.e. mentally, emotionally, perspective, life philosophy).”

Through posing this question, I had many charismatic and uplifting messages accentuating strength and wisdom. There were also very sobering posts about then-current struggles responders were facing and unable to find wisdom out of the situation. There were real difficulties with grief over the loss of abilities once passively taken for granted, such as showering, dressing, driving, walking. Persistent physical pain from neuropathy, muscle spasms, and other sources were also expressed among a few respnoders as well.

Another person also countered the notion that injuries can change a person, stating that they believed the wisdom of age and the teaching of experienced changes people. In other words, most people’s attitudes and beliefs adapt over as they mature, seeing the world and relationships differently, throughout their lifetime.

I appreciate this perspective and agree that growth and maturity impact perception of a given situation. Also, change is subjective to the person undergoing an experience, given their own resources in temperament.

However, I do feel that the experience of injury and the years following our traumatic experience at a significant level of intensity. I also believe living with paralysis, or any disability creates more adversity for a human being that many able-bodied people may not counter without especially challenging circumstances in their life.

Hardships make or break a person. The experiences endured by people living with paralysis put their feet to the fire and when this happens, people go through mentally, emotionally, and spiritually changes, as much as they do the obvious physical changes. They may adapt, they may atrophy, in all levels mentioned.

Through the responses in the comments to my Facebook post, I received excellent insights into perspectives people had that help them adapt to their situations and other lessons learned. Some key areas for acceptance, awareness, perspective, gratitude, fortitude, honesty, patience, attitude and goal orientation, and resilience. The comments regarding each theme will be revealed and discussed in separate upcoming blogs.

© 2018 James Murtha III

James Murtha III, MSW,

James is a proud Michigan native. He had a spinal cord injury on October 5, 2014, after a fall while mountain biking near Aspen, Colorado; resulting in C4 incomplete quadriplegia. From his powerchair he completed a masters in social work at the University of Michigan in 2018 and is now an aspiring caseworker and counselor, hoping to make life easier for people with disabilities navigating resources, especially after spinal cord injury, to help them live their best lives. He enjoys learning about and inventing assistive technology, spending time with family, listening to music, watching football, and playing with his service dog Phoenix. He attributes the progress of his post-injury life to his family, many friends and strangers, Craig Hospital, and God.

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About the Author - Reeve Staff

This blog was written by the Reeve Foundation for educational purposes. For more information please reach out to information@christopherreeve.org

Reeve Staff

The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.