5 experiences I would have missed if I had died as planned

Today marks the first anniversary of my suicide attempt. My emotions regarding this milestone differ by the hour, but mostly it feels like any of the other things one suddenly remembers, such as, “Oh yeah, I’ve been living in this house for five years now,” or “Huh, can’t believe it’s been nine years since I graduated.” It changed my life, but it doesn’t define me. What a relief to realise that.

Looking back, I can only relate to that day in terms of all that has happened since. Now, I can’t imagine my life without the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had over the past year. Here are five of them:

1) Feeling proud of my body for the first time in my life

And not because of how it looks, but because for the first time, I have taken charge of my body and know what it is capable of. I used to take my body for granted and treated it as a functional tool for getting around and expressing myself. The rest of my body has had to compensate for the loss of my legs. I have pushed it and challenged it. My body has risen above my expectations in ways I would not have thought possible. Body, you rock.

2) Playing volleyball with some of the coolest people I’ve ever met

I have never been a sporty person or an adrenaline-junkie. My hand-eye coordination sucks. But learning to play paravolley (sitting volleyball) has been a liberating experience for me. I have learnt that you can do anything if you practise long enough (despite my hand-eye setbacks, my volleyball skills are improving). I have also gotten to know several other people with disabilities (including a Paralympian!), who just happen to be awesome. We are all learning from each other and encouraging each other. Most of all we get each other when it comes to the challenges posed by our disabilities.

ParaVolley South Africa | Facebook Page

3) Acknowledging and understanding my depression (and myself)

It wasn’t until after my suicide attempt that I spoke to anyone about my feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and failure. When I finally understood that there was a medical cause for them and that treatment was possible, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t crazy, I could be easier on myself and life could get better.

No matter what scary thing you’re going through, sharing the load with someone will always make it easier. Yes, sometimes they won’t be able to fix it or solve it, but they can hold your hand and go through it with you. There will always be someone willing to help. If you don’t want to make a loved one responsible for coping with your struggle, talk to a professional or call a helpline. The people on the other end of the line really do want to help and they’re usually experienced. Wouldn’t you rather learn to drive from a seasoned driver than from your brother who takes the bus?

4) Finding a new passion and purpose

For a long time it felt as though I had pursued my dreams and failed at all of them. It took a disability to help me realise what I had in me and how I could use my experiences to make a difference. Always have faith in yourself, because there is no one else exactly like you and somewhere out there is a need and a gap the perfect size for you.

5) Making new friends and reconnecting with old ones

Over the past year, my depression, disability and rehabilitation have introduced me to a number of kind, intelligent, talented people that I would never have known otherwise. The road to recovery has also been smoothed by the constant, unfailing love and support of old friends and family. Near-death, life-altering experiences seem to erase the social barriers between people. We say the things we almost didn’t get a chance to say and reassess the content of our lives. The wonderful people in my life have taught me how great and diverse the world is, and shown me how bright the future can be if we nurture the good in it.

6 New Year’s resolutions to review

I never used to make New Year’s resolutions. Not sure why. Maybe I thought I should just try to be awesome all the time, rather than in one particular area for one particular year. Or maybe I thought it would be pointless, because I would never be able to see them through.

Anyway, this year I decided that making several resolutions would help give my life the sense of purpose that it lacked. As we are just over halfway through the year, I thought I should review some of my resolutions to see if I am on track. These are my New Year’s resolutions and my progress with each:

1) Be kinder to myself.

It turns out that much of my depression is a result of many false assumptions I have about myself and the way others see me. My psychiatrist has recommended keeping a journal, which has helped me to identify certain thought patterns. The most difficult thing in each situation is choosing to believe that everything I have held true about the world and my place in it is wrong. For now, at least – until I retrain my brain to make different connections.

2) Make more time for the people who matter.

I “borrowed” this resolution from my friend Nicola’s list. At first I did quite well, but alas, I have always been bad at keeping in touch with people I don’t see often. I don’t like speaking on the telephone and it’s become so unnatural to send long emails or, heaven forbid, letters via snail mail.

Now that I am dependent on others for transport, I see all my friends less frequently, because I hate inconveniencing anyone or asking for help. Of course, none of my friends would feel inconvenienced by seeing me, but I can’t help feeling they’d much rather be doing something else (refer to resolution #1). That is, however, no excuse for not letting my friends know that I care, so I am resolving to do better at this resolution over the second half of the year.

3) Be able to lift my own weight in free weights by the end of the year.

The journal containing my  NY resolutions.

The journal containing my NY resolutions.

Please, before you dismiss this as a particularly douche-y jock* resolution, let me explain:

Until last year, I had never lifted a weight in my life. Even on the few occasions I went to gym, I stuck to cardio workouts or classes like Pilates (which I really miss, FYI). After I lost my legs, I spent four weeks at a physical rehab centre, where I had to lift weights every day. It was never more than five kilograms, because the aim was not to bulk up, but rather to improve my upper body strength to the point that I could easily lift myself from the ground into my wheelchair and wheel myself around all day without getting ridiculously out of breath.

It was very difficult for me to maintain this level of training at home after my rehab ended, so I set myself this resolution as a goal to keep me motivated. By April I had gotten about a quarter of the way, but I was really struggling. I was very fortunate to be invited to exercise with a personal trainer whose gym is a block away from my home. He is teaching me a lot about mental, emotional and physical training, so it is one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

Since I began exercising with him twice a week, I have lost track of the exact weight that I can lift (so I have no idea how much progress I’ve made on this resolution). All I know is that I am in better physical condition than I have ever been before (besides the fact that I now have no legs, obvs). I can do pull-ups for the first time in my life, so I feel like I have already achieved this resolution in spirit, if not in technicality.

4) Learn to speed read.

After making my list of resolutions in January I Googled how to speed read and it turns out that it basically means skimming over the text, rather than being able to take in each word much faster. I could skim if I wanted to, but I am too paranoid that I would miss some vital piece of information, so I have crossed this resolution off my list as no longer desirable.

5) Learn shorthand.

Why?! Why would anyone make this their New Year’s resolution? I don’t know what I was thinking – most people hardly even write these days. And apparently learning shorthand is way more complicated and time-consuming than I thought. I am never going to be someone’s full-time secretary, so this is another misguided resolution that has been crossed off un-attempted.

6) Start helping others like myself.

This blog is my first step towards achieving my last resolution. I have looked into doing counselling courses and discussed studying psychology with my psychiatrist, who has put me in touch with some of her colleagues who can advise me, so I feel okay about my progress with this resolution so far.

If you made resolutions at the beginning of the year, maybe now would be a good time to take stock – not so that you can feel guilty for not achieving them yet, but because there is still loads of time to pull yourself back on track before the next year rolls in. Good luck and let me know how it goes!

*No offence meant to all the non-douche-y jocks who genuinely enjoy weight training. I envy you. Also, I think you’re hot.