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.

Introducing … me! (and my disability)

After I lost my legs in a failed suicide attempt, I was presented with new physical challenges on an almost daily basis. In some ways those first few months were easier, because I was so determined to overcome my new limitations and I was certain that life would get better. Learning to use my wheelchair, increasing my upper body strength and figuring out how to beat those odds was invigorating. Now that my life is normalising to the point that I can’t really do things much better, faster or easier than I am currently doing them, I have to get used to the still-unreal fact that I have a disability and I must finally face the depression that got me here in the first place.

During my physical rehabilitation at an amputee centre in London, all the other men in my ward had diabetes. Thinking that my newly incompleted body suddenly put me at risk of developing diabetes myself, I immediately visited the dietician’s office. She explained that it actually worked the other way around – all the men in my ward had lost their limbs because their preexisting diabetes reduced their blood circulation! Although I dodged that  particular bullet, I have had to make a concerted effort to keep fit.

MyCiti disabled bus trip | darylhb on Instagram

Before losing my legs, my fitness regime involved walking through the park or dancing in a club. Now that I spend most day in a wheelchair, I have had to adapt my diet and exercise regularly to prevent putting on weight. Maintaining my upper body strength is essential to my independence, ensuring that I can transfer from my chair to another surface and lift myself from the floor to my chair or bed or car. As long as I can get on and off the bus, I can go almost anywhere (this photo was taken on my first bus ride as a disabled person in South Africa).

I gave up on sports early in my life when I had no aptitude for it and no interest in learning. I took for granted the freedom I had for skipping (which I was prone to spontaneous outbursts of), jumping, walking and pole-dancing (don’t tell). Now that my physicality represents such an obstacle to me, I am determined to show my body who is boss. I have taken up paravolley (volleyball played sitting on the ground) and personal training. Although all my friends have been unfailingly supportive and inclusive of me since I became disabled, it feels wonderful to socialise with other disabled people and not worry that I am inconveniencing anyone or slowing others down.

The stumps remaining of my legs are too short for prosthetics. Perhaps in the future there will be a new solution that will enable me to walk again, but for now I am embracing the Professor X look. Being wheelchair-bound has placed limitations on my life, but it has also opened a world of new opportunities and introduced me to several amazing people that I would not have met otherwise.