This post is long overdue. I have wanted to write this for quite a long time, as can be seen by how long ago I wrote Stages Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. I did not know where to start so I avoided it or told myself I would write when I had time to relax. I still do not know where to start or what to say and I have a few other things I really need to do, but I shall write. I do almost all my writing in one sitting and when I speak, I almost never have things prepared. That ensures that everything I write and speak about comes from the heart.
Acceptance is the last stage in Kübler Ross’s model of the stages of grief that one goes through in dealing with something tragic or traumatic.
There were many times when I thought I had accepted things. I was okay. I was not angry. I didn’t curse the heavens. I was not bitter. If you have kept up with my blog from the beginning, you will see that that is true. I have been put in difficult circumstances but it is in these circumstances that I carry on with my life.
It is in these circumstances that I have found peace.
It is in these circumstances that I have found purpose.
Acceptance of my disability was not as straightforward as I thought it would be. First, I had to accept my own mortality.
I almost died. That phrase gets thrown around a lot by many people, but in my case, I really was just a few inches or a few breaths away from leaving this life. I am not sure what impression I would have left upon this earth if I had passed away four and a half years ago.
As many of you know, I moved out of my family’s home to my own apartment in a different city and started medical school one year after my accident. “I am ready,” I thought. I was hit with reality once classes started.
I had to adapt to living on my own. Life was different. Things took longer for me to do. I could not relive many of the memories I had made in Athens. Needless to say, medical school classes were a lot tougher than I had imagined.
“You cannot compare yourself to others,” a friend said to me after I told him how I was having a hard time. “You are different than all of them. In addition to overcoming the challenges and rigors of medical school classes, you also have a lot more to deal with. You had a significant injury and became completely paralyzed just a year ago. That alone is more than enough. That alone is more than most people can deal with.”
That consoled me a bit. I am not one to back down from a challenge and I knew this would be difficult. But just like I was blindsided by this injury, I was blindsided with what to expect. I carried on with my life by moving out and starting medical school as soon as I could not only for myself, but for everyone else. I knew I could do what I wanted to do. As I have said before, I am stubborn. But others did not believe that I could do what I wanted to do. This is not to say that other people did not support me in my endeavors. They just did not expect much of me. I knew, however, that in order for me to be considered an equal to the general population once again, their expectations of me would be much higher and that I would forever have to prove myself.
All through my first year of medical school, I worked hard. I pushed through any all obstacles. There were times when I fell onto the floor with no one to help me. There were times when I was depressed. There were times when I was frustrated with everything.
One Friday night, after receiving a harsh score on an exam, I found myself dead tired but unable to sleep. “What am I doing?” I asked myself. “I should not even be alive. I am living on borrowed time.” In my frustration, I came to an interesting realization: I was not happy. I mean, I was outwardly happy as far as people could tell, but I was not living a life of peace and fulfilment. I spent every day studying. I spent most nights either studying or worrying about classes. I was not spending time with my friends or enjoying life. I could have died. I can die any day. All of us can die any day. So I asked myself, “Suppose I was told that I would only live for a few more months or a few more years. Is this how I would want to live life?”
That question, with all the thoughts and musings that came along with it, was a big turning point in my life.
I thought a lot about death. I saw a lot of sickness and death in the hospitals.
I accepted my mortality.
Next, I had to accept my life.
To be honest, I am not sure when or how that happened. As I said earlier in this post, I thought I had accepted things from the beginning. It was not until much later that I realized that that was not the case, though I knew from the beginning that I was different and that things would always be different for me. After I accepted my own mortality and the fragility of all of our lives, things seem to just fall into place.
In the summer between my first and second year of medical school, I underwent a sort of “enlightenment,” so to speak. I took a break from studying and the fast pace, goal-directed life of which we seem to all be a part. I spent a lot of time by myself in my apartment. I read for pleasure. I watched movies. I listened and I learned. Everywhere around me, there were things I had never noticed. In each moment, in each movement, in each breath, I was there.
As John Steinbeck wrote in The Winter of Discontent, “I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen.” From then on, I made sure to truly “see” everyone.
I moved on to my third year post-injury and my second year in medical school as a different person. My eyes were finally open.
During my second and third year of medical school, I found immense joy in everything that I did. I really loved being in medical school and doing everything that I was doing, especially interacting with patients. Learning things had a purpose for me. I could use everything I had learned to help someone else.
I overcame my insecurities and overcame my fear. I moved past thinking of myself as different from everyone else and knew in heart that I was the same as everyone else.
I am not sure how it happened, but it happened. How did I know I had accepted things?
I knew I was in a better place when I finally realized that I was genuinely happy and at peace with what I was doing and what I intended to do. I intended to take care of others. I had already affected and helped others in many ways over these past few years, but this realization was different.
When I accepted my life, I accepted one thing: in everything I do, I will do my best to ease the suffering of others and I want each and every person I come in contact with to be better than me. I want them to progress and to be healed. I myself am paralyzed and have to live in a wheelchair but nothing would make me happier than to see others at peace with themselves. I would gladly volunteer to take the suffering of others upon myself.
I can now say that I have not only accepted by disability, I am thankful for my disability.
“'The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain