Catastrophic Injury: The Struggle to Heal

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Alpinist climbing a rock wall

Written by Dan Harren

“Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before.”Elizabeth Edwards

 “Never, never, never give up.”-Winston Churchill

The catastrophic injury survivor must eventually face the question: do I accept my current abilities and disabilities, or do I keep striving for more? Do I keep pushing to reattain my old self or do I accept where my limitations are and work with them?

For many, there is shame attached to the concept of acceptance; instead of applauding those who accept reality as it exists, often our culture sees accepting reality as being defeatist, of being lazy, of giving up.

In North America, there is a culture of hurry-up-to-get-better. And better means returning to your prior functioning, completely. All resources are geared towards healing quickly and overcoming obstacles.

We have decided what is “normal” with respect to sickness (or injury) and healing. We think it is normal to want to get better quickly, to fight against all odds (because that’s what they do in the movies) and never stop, no matter what. What if fighting against the odds only makes the survivor’s life more painful and less fulfilling? There are times when there are no more improvements to be had, or that the improvements that can be had may not be worth the struggle and the years.

What if normal was that there is no right way of healing? Just as there is no right way of grieving, everyone has their own process, their own needs, and priorities. Some may wish to fight every step of the way, others may choose to accept their new reality and move forward, still others may find some middle ground between the two.

Our culture of healing can take this choice away from survivors, or make them feel guilty for not making the “right choice”. What is normal anyway? Maybe normal is letting the survivor act in accordance to their nature, whatever that may be.

“Who you are is always right.”  -Ming-Dao Deng

 “At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.”-Lao-Tzu

Accepting is not the same as giving up. Accepting means living in accordance with reality as you see it, and integrating this acceptance into one’s self. This is an important distinction. For some, accepting and moving on is the healthiest course of action, and the best way to a more fulfilling life.

For the survivor, is life about recovery? Or is it about choice? Is it about the struggle? Is it about acceptance? These questions are ones that only the survivor can answer – and none of us can judge.

After all, the questions that the survivor must wrangle with are the same ones that we all must one day face.

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