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My New Normal: Living with a Spinal Cord Injury

So, how do you adjust to your ‘new normal’ after an accident is a question I have been asked a lot over the years.

This saying of ‘new normal’ is quite common after an accident like mine because it goes without saying things will never go back to how they were before. It is, however, down to you to create the best version you can of that new normal.

But, the way I see it is that life is too short to be just ‘normal’. If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be!

I think I speak for the majority when I say that most of us worry and care about what other people think about us. At the time of my accident, I especially did as was still so young, and if I’m honest, I still do.

I remember a conversation with my Mum while I was still in ICU so it would have been only a few weeks after my accident. I told her that I didn’t want people to cry when they visited, which, looking back now, I know that it was only natural for people to get upset when they saw me hooked up to all of these machines with wires all over the place. I had a tracheostomy sticking out of my neck, I was attached to a ventilator and I’m sure my face would have still been bruised quite a bit; I would have been shocked seeing myself!

Asking for people not to get upset was my coping mechanism to get me through those first few days and weeks. There was nothing I could do to change what had happened, and I felt like I had to stay strong for the sake my family; after all, it had been my mistake to cross the road at the wrong time which meant we were all in the position we found ourselves in. I remember thinking that if they didn’t cry, I wouldn’t cry. I didn’t want my family to see me like that; they had enough to cope with without having to console me.

In the early days whilst I was a patient in Sheffield hospital, my Mum and Uncle Nicky received the training to be able to care for my ventilator. This meant that I was able to get away from the ‘bubble’ of being on the ward and it gave me the opportunity to get used to being around people again; some form of normality. Was I nervous about doing this? Absolutely, but I just had to keep telling myself that I couldn’t hide on the hospital ward forever, I had to change my mindset, look for the positives and tell myself that I needed to start getting used to my new life. We would often go down to the hospital café, especially when I had more visitors on the weekend. To get a change of scenery was great but to also get used to being around people again was really beneficial for my confidence.

Once I had moved back to a rehab facility close to my Mum and Dad’s house, I would start to go back into town shopping and out for lunch. As we walked through town, I couldn’t help but notice I was getting a few stares from people which initially made me quite self-conscious, but I soon forgot about it as we started to look for clothes and nail varnish! This was the time that I learnt to just smile at people if they looked at me. Harrogate is quite a small town and I think a lot of people had heard about my accident, plus the fact that there weren’t that many people on a ventilator being pushed around in a wheelchair in the town.

I know that growing up people are often told to not ask questions as to why someone is in a wheelchair, but I always welcome children (or anyone) to ask me any questions about my disability or my accident and will always answer them as honest as I can. I was once at a zoo when I heard a child ask their parent why I was in a wheelchair and they were told not to be rude so I did say it was ok to ask and we had a little talk about being safe on the roads.

Quite a few relatives and family friends that I have known my whole life initially found it hard to talk to me as they didn’t know what to say and some still find it hard if they see me out in public or at an event. I understand why and am ok with it. People don’t know what to ask you.

But I’m still Lauren; it’s still me. I still love shopping, I still have too many clothes and handbags in my wardrobe, I still love a takeaway, I still love watching films, I still love Malibu and lemonade and I still laugh at the things I used to. The only difference is that I need help doing things now.

Changing my mindset to look for the positives and starting to get on with my new life was not the only thing I had to do to move on. I also needed to find something meaningful to do, something to focus on and take my mind off the fact that life as I had always known it had changed.

As the years went on after my accident, naturally my friends had started to move on with their lives; progressing in their careers, getting married and starting a family. I always wondered what my next step would be and how I would fill my days because there’s only so much shopping and going out for lunch that one person can do!

Ever since my accident, I had wanted to go into schools to educate children about the importance of road safety in the hope that no child would have to go through the pain of having a life-changing accident like mine, I just didn’t have the courage to do it.

I first met Rebecca in 2014 when I made the decision to move to a new care company, the one that, at the time, she owned and ran with her husband, Chris.

Rebecca always knew of my dream to share my story to help others and as I got to know her from her and Chris managing my care package, she encouraged and supported me to take the first step.

Chris and Rebecca’s youngest daughter attended Dacre Braithwaite School at the time, and the school kindly allowed me to do a practice run of my presentation to a group of ten children just to see what their reaction would be. Apart from scaring one little girl with talk about my tracheostomy (we showed them my spare tracheostomy which I carry in my emergency bag and she suddenly felt a bit unwell!), I hoped the rest of my presentation went ok.

As we said goodbye that day, I said to Rebecca that ‘if they didn’t like it, I didn’t have to do it again’ to which she replied by saying that she was ‘absolutely sure I would be doing it again!’ She was right and the rest, as they say, is history!

So as I write this four years on from that practice run at Dacre Braithwaite School, Road Safety Talks is now a registered charity, I have spoken to nearly 8000 individuals personally, received several awards for my work as well as my story reaching thousands of people through social media, radio, television, magazines and my guest blogs with CFG law.

I say it time and time again but in all that has happened over the last four years, if it has prevented even one person going through what my family and I have done, then sharing my story has been worthwhile.

This work though in return has not only given me ‘a job’ as the children see it as!, but something to focus on and which motivates me...which with Rebecca keeping my diary full, I have no option other than to do so!! It has also been a kind of therapy for me as it naturally makes me talk about and process everything I’ve been through over the past 12 years.

I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. You might think that I’m crazy for thinking this because of course, I wish my accident didn’t happen, but it did, and I have had to accept it. I have often thought that maybe it happened to me because life knew that I would cope with it, that I would adapt and that I would use the experience to try and prevent other injuries or deaths on the roads. Who knows.

I’ll give you another example of things happening for a reason. As I have mentioned before in a previous blog, I had to go through a difficult time with my first care company to make me look elsewhere, meeting Rebecca and Chris in the process. Not only did the change of care company make a great difference to my life care wise, but without Rebecca, I don’t know if I ever would have got the courage and opportunity to start Road Safety Talks and I know I wouldn’t have been able to get to where we are now.

So yes, I do believe that everything happens for a reason. You don’t always know what that reason is at the time, but one day you’ll discover why.

And as for finding this ‘new normal?’…

Aim for the moon. If you miss, you’ll still land among the stars.

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