My husband just celebrated the five year anniversary of the accident that changed our lives forever. Many people ask us why we “celebrate” the anniversary of the tragic incident that left him with a debilitating spinal injury.
Often I simply say explain that we celebrate because he’s alive. One of the other reasons that we celebrate such a sad and life-changing event in our lives is because we like to think about how our support system has grown over the years and the relationships that we’ve built.
Not only does my husband feel less alone, but as a caregiver, I finally feel like I have the support and resources that I need; although I didn’t always feel that way.
When It All Began
Most caregivers have a specific date when they know they became a caregiver or when their lives changed forever. Mine was on March 18, 2013. I was on my way to work when my cell phone rang.
Never answering the phone when I drive (and not recognizing the number), I ignored it. It rang a few more times, but I was in a hurry to get to a meeting. Like many unknown numbers, I assumed it was an annoying sales call; little did I know that it was the hospital trying to call me.
An hour into my meeting, my coworker motioned for a break and took me out to the hall. She told me that Alex, my husband, was in the ER with injuries from an accident that took place earlier in the morning. I drove to the hospital, found my husband, and talked with the doctors. The days that followed blurred into one.
Alex had been t-boned by an early morning driver who was still intoxicated from a St. Patrick’s Day party. My husband, who had run a St. Patrick’s Day 5K the day before, was in and out of consciousness. His doctor said that he had a spinal injury and there was a chance that he would never walk again.
Selfishly, I remember thinking that I had so much to do. I didn’t have time to be a caregiver. I didn’t want to be a caregiver; not like this, not yet.
In The Days That Followed
As I sat in the hospital, waiting for the doctors to give us a definitive answer about Alex’s condition, the hours felt like days and the days felt like months. My coworkers brought work to do, our parents brought food, and our neighbors picked up mail and fed the cat.
People started telling me about support groups and people they knew that had been through the same thing. “No one has been through the same thing,” I kept thinking. Everyone was well-intentioned, but I was overwhelmed and in denial. I didn’t need help; I had this (didn’t I?).
The Breaking Point
After spending about a month in the hospital, my husband was released and came home with a wheelchair and the inability to walk unattended, due to the injury that left him paralyzed in his left leg and part of his right.
We were told what to expect; we had appointments and therapy sessions lined up for months. I worked from home, and our home was filled with visitors. Rather than feeling relieved or even supported, I felt like I was suffocating and got frustrated quickly.
One evening as we were having a relatively “normal” evening watching a movie, eating ice cream, and folding laundry, I hit my breaking point. I felt guilty, sad, angry, embarrassed, and ready to flee. Alex was eager and had really taken the whole tragic and life-changing event in stride. What was wrong with me? Why was he so cool?
Reaching Out For Help
The next morning I browsed the web looking for spinal injury support groups in my area. I knew I had a packet of helpful information for caregivers that were given to me by the hospital but it was buried under piles of mounting bills and get-well cards.
I found a group that was meeting that morning at 10 am. I sat in my car in the parking lot, drinking coffee, and waiting to go in. I didn’t go in but watched everyone leave the meeting. No one looked sad; no one seemed overwhelmed, no one looked like they were on the brink of fleeing.
I returned to the parking lot five more meeting times before I finally dared to go in. The first meeting was rough. I cried, I apologized a lot for sharing my experience. I was overwhelmed with guilt.
Each week, I went to a meeting and started making friends. Then I started attending events, which resulted in my doing fundraising and creating events for people living with spinal injuries.
This didn’t happen overnight. It wasn’t easy. I didn’t think I wanted or needed help and it took me months to figure out that support was exactly what I needed. Even today, with five years of experience as a caregiver, I’m still looking for resources that I can share with others and utilize myself.
Most recently, I came across Embrace Your Space, which is full of data, resources, support groups, and other valuable information for people living with spinal injuries and their caregivers. As long as I’m a caregiver, I will always ask for help and offer it, too.
Whether you are new to caregiving or are trying to find the courage to seek support, you’ll know when the time is right to ask for help, and there will always be support waiting for you.
Landon Biehl is an avid reader, runner, and writer. He enjoys sharing his experiences and knowledge though various article contributions. In his spare time, you can find him spending time outdoors, or journaling.