Guest Post: Finding True Happiness After Your Life Is Turned Upside Down by Eirin Cecilie

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My name is Eirin Cecilie, and this is my story.

I loved to move my body. I loved my hobbies and I had a lot of interests. I didn’t really enjoy sitting still and I didn’t enjoy being social all that much. I just preferred spending my time playing instruments such as the piano, the flute, the piccolo and the violin. I did gymnastics and I played tennis. I also had a horse that I enjoyed grooming, and going horseback riding with. I would spend several summers at horseback riding camps.

For 3 years I did competition swimming, and during the winter I went up to the mountains for snowboarding, skiing and cross-country. For each season, there was just a lot of fun things to do. I treasured doing all of these wonderful activities that you’re able to do with dexterity and fine motor skills. That was the hardest loss.

My accident caused a huge and traumatic change, which was brutal for me, as an active child. It is terrible when experiencing something as dramatic as losing your ability to not only control your own body, but to feel your own body in the way that you used to.

People often wonder if I have any sensations, or if it is it just numbness from the neck down. The reality for me was that once I damaged the nerves and became paralyzed, it’s been pain 24/7. It’s a chronic pain that’s often hard to manage and medicate. It’s awful and unfortunate, but many people like me, become physically dependent on, because they have to live on painkillers that are incredibly strong. I am one of the lucky few who have been able to manage without medication, thus far.

This could change in a heartbeat, scarily enough. When I get asked what it feels like for me to be paralyzed, I explain it with an example you know when you sit with your foot bent under you, or you sit with one foot on top of the other and either one of them or both of them fall asleep You get this really tingly and numbing sensation

When you then touch or press on your skin, you get this prickly sensation that’s incredibly uncomfortable That’s what it’s like all of the time. It’s as if my body is numb and every sensation, every touch feels like needles hitting the skin. Even if a touch is meant to be comforting or loving, that’s not the signals that my body transmits to my brain. It’s all pain. My loved ones and those close to me have learned where to give cuddles and where not to. It’s hard, but that’s just the reality of it.

Flashback to my injury on the 3rd of July 2001. It all changed in one split second. I spent the summers at my grandparents, whose house was right next to the ocean. Just a couple hundred meters away, was this pretty, sandy beach. It has a short and low stone pier that goes into the water that we would walk onto and then jump off of.

This day, I had a friend visiting and we decided to go for a swim. It was a nice, sunny and warm summer day. We walked over with our blankets and our snacks, sat down and talked for a while. Suddenly, I got an uncomfortable notion that something wasn’t right. I felt like the skies darkened somewhat. I was looking around to see if there was something covering the sun, but it was a cloud-free day.

I turned to my friend and told her you know, I have the worst feeling that something awful is going to happen today. I just feel so sorry for whoever it is, because it’s going to be terrible. I just feel like it’s going to happen really soon and I don’t know what, when, who or why. She just looked at me with this question-like stare.

I told her that throughout my life, I have had these sensations sometimes when things happen and sometimes I’m lucky that it’s due to something good. Mostly, it’s unfortunately before something bad happens.

I just shook it off because what was I supposed to do It’s not something that I could hinder or prevent, as I didn’t even know what it meant. We decided to go down to the water and she thought the water was a bit too cold, so she didn’t really want to swim. I felt like it was a bit too cold as well, so I stepped onto the stone pier and walked right up to the edge.

An adult man was standing in front of me and he dove into the ocean. He came up, swam on his back and told me just jump on in It’s really nice once you once you’ve done it I’ve jumped off that stone pier many times, in different angles and it’s a place that I knew or at least I thought I knew. This was a time during the summer where there were a lot of algae, so the water was really muddy.

You can’t see the bottom, but having jumped off there so many times, I knew that I was fine diving into it. I got ready, went into my competition swimming stance and I did what I’ve always done. I jumped off in the same way. Our goal is to to pierce the water as shallowly as possible. We do this in order to fling ourselves as far out in the water as we can, before we have to use energy to move ourselves forward. This time it all went wrong.

I pushed off and broke the water surface. The cold water felt revitalizing and then in the blink of an eye I just feel myself crashing into something. My entire body just stopped and everything behind it just pushed in on itself. It was incredibly painful for a really short second. The sound that went through my head that came from my neck, was one of the most terrible sounds I’ve ever heard. Just like that, my entire body was lifeless.

I couldn’t move. I didn’t understand what was happening. I felt this overwhelming panic, because I was underwater and I couldn’t breathe. I saw my arms floating beneath me and mindfully yelled at them why aren’t you moving I tried to turn my head. I tried to move my body. Nothing responded and I could see the bottom of the ocean becoming more and more obscure. I was floating toward the surface of the water, face down. I tried to scream so hard and I really wanted to breathe. It was so difficult and so painful. I was breathing in, filling my lungs with water and essentially drowning.

I came to the surface, and my hearing could pick up sounds around me. My friend was screaming from the stone pier just feet away please Eirin, stop joking Please I’m scared Stop messing around.. I try to scream so hard I’m not joking Please help me I’m dying I could hear myself screaming into the water and I just knew that it was muffled, that no one could hear me. I fought so hard and, then I stopped fighting.

Suddenly it felt like I didn’t even had to breathe. It didn’t feel difficult anymore. It wasn’t painful anymore. Everything just became calm and quiet and I was thinking to myself that well this is it, I’m dead now. I was looking towards the bottom of the ocean and I saw this beautiful swirl of gold starting to appear, floating beneath me in the water. It was quite breathtaking and it felt like this warm, sunny energy that was just pulling me towards it.

Suddenly I hear this thundering sound and I thought to myself is there thunder in heaven I came to realize after a few seconds that it was the sound of people running into the water to help me. The gold faded away and my face broke the surface. I gasped for air and I could finally breathe. I was so lost in everything, so traumatized and in such a shock, that I didn’t really speak or cry.

I was focused on breathing for the life of me. They laid me down on the edge of the water. There wasn’t really any pain at this point, it was just numbness. I started speaking to the people who saved me and they asked me if I could move, and how things felt, if I could breathe. I thought to myself I’m not in any pain. Why is everyone rushing so hard Why is everyone so stressed..

I was eventually rushed to the hospital for surgery. The doctor who operated on me came into the room and he said that they had decided to go in through the throat instead of in through the neck, and that the injury was complete – which meant that there was damage to all of my nerves in one way or another. He told me the words that I will never forget that I was paralyzed and that I would never walk again.

How do you process that How do you even begin to understand what your life is going to be like now How are you going to manage or find a way to live through the physical and emotional pain It was extremely overwhelming. From there, everything suddenly went very slowly and the days felt like years. I was transported by plane to a different city, and to a unit called Spinalenheten, or Spinal Unit.

I didn’t really realize that that’s where I would spend the next year of my life. I also didn’t realize that I wouldn’t be able to actually do that. I went home after seven months, because it was just too much. It was unbearable not being in charge of my own body, having other people touching me, seeing me naked, washing my body, helping me to the toilet. It was so degrading, so humiliating.

Every day, several times a day, it was traumas over and over. My reaction was anger. I got really angry. It got to the point where sometimes a nurse would leave my room, step outside the door and cry. My mom would go after and she would stop her to tell her you have to know that this has nothing to do with you. This is an angry child who’s had her life turned upside down, basically ruined. It has nothing to do with you. Please know that.

Even though that’s the truth, when you are the person who is getting yelled at, it’s not that easy to distance yourself from it. We’re not really built to do that. For most of us, it’s natural to take things personally. It’s actually really difficult to remove yourself from the situation, and then just truly believe and be fine with it having nothing to do with you. A lot of people who go into nursing and healthcare professions are empaths and the type of people who really care.

All they want to do is help, which makes them even more vulnerable to these kind of situations. This is something that has bothered me for a really long time and I often wish I could meet every single one of them and apologize. I actually got the opportunity as the years went by, to do that with some of them. It was always the same response, that there was nothing to apologize for, that they just felt for me. That was a really amazing thing for them to do, to forgive, as it allowed me to forgive myself.

Thankfully, as time went by, I calmed down and found my footing again. I came home and we built an addition to the house that was accessible for me. My mom and I started to piece together a new life, a new way of living and forming new daily routines. I learned how to live again and just a year and a half after I got my first personal assistants.

I was the one who interviewed them, hired them and trained them. It was just the most wonderful freedom tool, because here were these amazing people who came to my house every day that I knew and trusted, and that I had a lot of fun with. They were my hands and my feet, and they would do things for me so that I could have a life that felt valuable. I experienced some sort of self-mastery.

I could suddenly be more independent and self-dependent, as well as go out and do things. The welfare system arranged for me to have a car that could carry and lift my chair. I slowly came to realize that even though I wanted nothing else than to have my physical freedom back, it was still possible to have a life.

There’s been a lot of ups and downs, and a lot of difficulties. Still, through it all, what I’m left with is that I am able each and every time, to find a way to live. I am incredibly thankful for that. I actually have opportunities that a lot of people in my situation don’t get, and I will treasure that for what it’s worth. I always remember and be grateful for that and I think that even though life is the way it is now, I don’t think that my best years are behind me. I think they’re yet to come.

Things are starting to take shape and I truly believe that they are changing for the better. There’s no need to feel sorry for me, I certainly don’t. I’ve come to terms with my life and my situation. The only focus now is how I can make the best of it. In some way it felt like I was living really rushed before the accident, because maybe somewhere deep down in my subconscious, I knew that it was a matter of time. I didn’t have all the time in the world.

Either way, I am grateful for everything that I got to experience and I’ve had a lot of amazing experiences since as well. Even though I thought my life was pointless and meaningless when the injury happened, I couldn’t have been more wrong. For the first time in my life, I’ve been able to learn that I can feel true happiness, even though things are difficult.

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Spinal Cord Injury
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