A Letter to My Thirteen-Year-Old Self, Twenty-Two Years Later...

September 28, 1989

Dear Me,

You will get through this.

You probably don't believe me right now.  You are thirteen years old, in a bed in the PICU, looking around and hearing sounds as you slip into and out of consciousness, wondering where you are and how you got here.  You ask your mom, "Why can't I feel my legs?" and hear her say to you, "Honey, I don't know," not realizing that her response is less about her own misunderstanding of your question and more about the fact that she doesn't quite know how to tell you the truth just yet.  You don't realize the challenges that you are about to face in the days, weeks, months, and years that will come, and so you sleep.  You need your rest and your energy to shore up for what's ahead of you.

And then you wake up.  The following couple of weeks will be ones of chaos, full of people trying to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.  Your friends and family will be the best distraction.  They will cheer you up and make you laugh at a time when, in retrospect, you will accept was the most mournful state of your young life.  They are your gift right now as the next steps are planned out for you, and they are the reason that you have hope that everything will be okay.

The months of rehab in a place that's far away from your home, your friends, and your family are hard, but you will do what you can to get through and move on.  You will meet other patients who are in some ways just like you, and in other ways, worlds apart.  Some are hopeful, and some are not.  Some are convinced that things will someday go back to the way they were, and some who accept that this may be their new reality.  Learn from them - their stories and journeys may be vastly different from the one you have experienced, or what you believe will be your own fate, but all of you have a common bond that people outside of your little club can never possibly comprehend.  

In addition to your family, you will also meet doctors, nurses, and therapists who help you to see that your life will go on.  It may look like nothing you had ever imagined for yourself in your first years here on earth, but I promise you, it will be just as good.  Trust them - they know what they are talking about.  Some will even become your friends and mentors and will see you through, well beyond this moment and into a time when together you can celebrate how far you've come.

And then there's the outside world.  You will leave the safe bubble that is rehab and emerge into a new place that, on the surface, looks a great deal like the one you left behind - and yet, completely different.  What will frustrate you is that it seems like you are the only one who sees the differences, because they are subtle.  It will be a world full of obstacles, both physical and emotional.  There will be some that the world places in front of you by way of stairs into buildings with no ramp in site, or a bathroom stall that's just a bit too tight.  Some very well-meaning people will tell you, "Oh, I'll just help you up the stairs or into that bathroom," but it's not the same.  There will be people - even those who love you the most -  who place expectations on you to be the person you were before, even though it's impossible.  They may say, "I know you will walk again," but their wishes for you are not as strong as what reality may have in store for you.  And there will be the thoughts that come from within, saying that this isn't the way things should be, and if they aren't the way they should be, then why bother?  

Before you listen to all those other voices, stop and think.  Those people who are pushing you to do things you know you can't do are doing it because they too are grieving your loss right along with you.  And those thoughts that you are mulling when you can't fall asleep at night?  While they are valid, they are by no means a reason to give up. 

There will always be times when life is tough as you go through the growing pains that come with any change.  These growing pains hurt, both physically and emotionally.  You may think that if you pretend that nothing's different, or if you glue a smile to your face, it will mean that all of it will go away.  But don't act like it doesn't exist, because this will only get you so far - believe me.  Instead, trust that the people with whom you choose to connect are going to understand.  Those who can't handle it, won't.  Those who can will become your safety net as you navigate this uncharted territory, and that safety net will grow even wider as time goes by.  

You may have always had a plan of how things were supposed to be.  This plan has changed, to be certain.  But you can still do all the things you ever wanted to do, just in you own way.…in your own time.  You'll put on that cute dress and go to those high school dances.  You may just have to dance a bit differently.  You'll learn - and LOVE - to drive, and all the freedom that comes with it.  You'll just do it with hand controls in a car that has a bit more room for your chair.  You will head off to college.  It may not be at a place that has the most gorgeous, historical 200-year-old buildings, with all those beautiful staircases and tricky architecture, but it will be accessible to you, and that will make it the best fit for you.  You will graduate, get a job doing what you love, and you will be great at it - despite your chair.  Somewhere in there, you'll meet a boy who adores you, and you will feel the same.  You'll tackle the world together, "like peas and carrots," going together so perfectly.  You will marry him, and together you'll make the world a lot brighter by welcoming two little girls to the mix.  

Your girls will notice your chair, and look right past it.  To them, you are Mommy, and the demands they place on you will not make space for any limitations you may have.  Again, there will be a big period of adjustment with this, but that's okay.  You will do anything for them - even move the world.  They say your child is your mirror, and so you will look at them: compassionate, flexible, happy, and STRONG.  They will be resilient because of you.  They will always - first and foremost - see the good in people because of you.  They will see that, despite the challenges we all face in our daily lives - and in spite of the fact that we can't always control what comes our way - we all have in us the ability to bounce back and reshape things.

Fast-forward, twenty-two years:  

Here you are, at 35 years old.  You did not, for one second, choose to go through the added struggles that your injury handed you, nor would you wish these struggles on your own worst enemy.  But you can, in some way, look at the perspective you have been "gifted" through your challenges as something of value.  You are also wise enough to know that, while things are never really going to be "perfect"  for you, they will usually turn out just fine - and sometimes, they will be unbelievably amazing.

Trust me.  I am a wise woman.  I know these things.