Inspiring: Paralyzed bride Rachel Friedman in her own words on holding onto her identity after her accident...
By Rachel Friedman...
There are very few moments that can happen in one's life that can change everything forever. In a split second your relationships change, your job, your finances, your home, your clothes and your independence.
After my accident I felt like I was a new person and it was difficult to accept. I went from being a lifeguard at a local pool to being watched over by a lifeguard while wrapped up in floaties as if i were an infant learning to swim. I used to teach aerobics and light weightlifting to seniors and now here I am having a difficult time lifting a two-pound dumbbell. Being active and athletic was my life. I had gone from being a leader in the aerobics studio to a patient in a rehab facility. I defined myself partly by my work and that part of my life had disappeared completely.
Not working and losing my independence made me feel so infantile. What was I going to do now? I felt lost and confused. How was I supposed to act? How will my friends react? Will I go back to work? Its almost as if i needed to find a new identity.
I had always been so graceful too, having danced since I was little. Now I looked like a rag doll when I tried to dance. Dancing always made me feel so free and beautiful. I took hip hop and ballroom dance classes all through high school and I can't express enough the amount of love I had for dance.
Even my hands are no longer graceful. My hands which were once so feminine were now balled up in a loose fist. The hardest thing to accept was my new body.
I’m sure most can relate whether you have an injury or not. We as a society often judge ourselves. And unfortunately our insecurities can rear their ugly heads.
I was no exception to this before my injury. I taught aerobics to seniors and believed in keeping my own body fit. I had general confidence, but I picked myself apart and harped on things about my body that I now realize were probably unnoticeable to anyone but myself.
After my injury, my body morphed in ways that I wouldn’t have imagined from the beginning. Yeah, I knew my muscles would atrophy, but seriously? The legs weren’t the only thing that lost tone. My chest muscles weakened and I lost a lot of weight. At the time I didn’t even feel like I looked like a woman.
The anesthesia initially made my blonde locks fall out in chunks and I was forced to wear a wig to grasp on to some sort of femininity. The core muscles are no longer able to hold position and this terrible humty dumpty like belly widely known as the "quad pooch" in the spinal cord community is the result.
At first, just being seen in public caused some anxiety. As a young able-bodied woman I’d get looks from people for positive reasons.
Now people stared or avoided me. I looked “different” to them. As time passed I started to laugh, hold my head up and wear cute clothes. Once I started acting like myself, most people treated me as they had before the accident.
I've learned many things since the beginning of my injury. Beauty isn’t what other people say is beautiful or sexy. Instead it’s up to you to decide and own it.
During the first year of my injury, I decided to work with what I had. I got hair extensions, a padded bra, a wipe on tan and a corset for that quad pooch. Maybe it sounds shallow, but hey, it helped me get through the tough beginning of this new life. It’s what made me feel good about me. It made me feel like nothing had changed. I could still be my girly self.
I couldn’t work full time, but I volunteered with local senior citizen centers, talked to newly injured patients and took up public speaking.
The difference is that now I don’t define myself by my work, body image or what my body used to do for that matter. Aerobics, dancing, swimming were all things I loved before the accident, but they were not “who” I was.
You may feel like you’ve lost who you are as a person after an accident. But you do not lose your identity unless you surrender it.
Sure your life will never be the same. But even though I’m having to reinvent my path in life, I don’t need to reinvent my personality. I can’t say I love this new body because I’d be lying. That’s a happy universe that I have not reached and in reality I may never get there.
I will say that I have made a huge effort to define my love for myself based on what's on the inside. I think once you start really loving who you are, your positive vibes will be noticed by those around you.
And you know what’s really sexy? Confidence.
This has been a journey to love myself again. To define myself not based on what I do in life or superficial characteristics. So, really, I’m not a different person now. I just have a different body and new hobbies. Regardless of this new life, I am still me.