Article by Prateek Khandelwal
While recovering from a spinal cord injury I suffered back in May 2014, that left me paralyzed waist down, I learnt some crucial lessons on how to live a life outside the wheelchair.
Never recognize failure: As a result of a spinal cord injury, the body experiences drastic internal and external changes due to the damage caused to the nervous system. This includes complete paralysis below the point of injury, bladder and bowel issues, sensation loss, spasticity, muscle atrophy and sexual challenges. If I were to sit and worry about the extremity of the impact of the injury on my body, I would have just been this big ball of depression getting sucked deeper into the pit everyday. Though the doctors never raised my hopes due to unavailability of any proven medical solutions, from the first day I was completely focused on my recovery through exercises done right under the guidance of my able physiotherapist, Dr. Pradeep Thotekat. I decided to take up all the challenges my new body-type threw at me, head on, and always looked for solutions in the direction of having a normal healthy body again. There have been very tough days but I have never given them too much importance as I always believed in the process of recovery that kept me going. And today I am happy to say that not only have I made significant improvements from the paralysis where I am walking on elbow crutches, I also have the other internal body changes under control. How many of us sit and cry and refuse to move on because of a failure or persisting problem and how it has affected us adversely? We suffer from opaque perspectives and do not see a way forward or out of the issue. We stop trusting ourselves. There is ALWAYS a solution to your situation and you will only find it once you stop paying that unwanted and unnecessary attention to the problem. Don’t be a part of the problem. Be a part of the solution. Be the solution. Never recognize failure.
Life is outside your comfort zone: With a debilitating injury also comes the social isolation. In the first 18 months, I was confined to my room and house, as I was not aware of how to go out on a wheelchair. Adding to this, my friends stopped catching up with me, as they had no clue about how to talk to me apart from talking medicines. In December 2015, when I met a friend outside for lunch at a local eatery, I realized how much I always loved going out and how I needed to change not only the perspectives of people around me but change the social recluse in me. It was time I stepped out of my comfort zone. From January 2016 onwards I made conscious efforts to meet people outside because it made me happy. Sympathetic talks were now replaced by natural free flowing conversations. Later that year, when I was able to walk short lengths using a walker, I went shopping to malls, bought groceries at super markets, cooked myself meals, attended weddings – all on my feet while people stared at me in disbelief, recorded it and posted on YouTube, serving an element of hope to people living in similar solitary confinements. Brimming with confidence and increasing social presence, but still using the wheelchair, I was learning to walk more smoothly and learning to climb the stairs. This is when I realized the gripping issue of inaccessibility at public places for wheelchair users that gave birth to my initiative, #RampMyCity. I requested the eateries in Bangalore to provide a ramp in case there is a staircase right before the entrance so that food is accessible to all. Increasingly, restaurants are now installing ramps, not only changing the structure of the city but also changing the lives of wheelchair users. Every time I go out, I carry a smile and am always returned one by strangers, who carry so much love, humility and care in their hearts. Living outside our comfort zone makes us learn so much more about ourselves and the infinite potential we all have. Every new challenge is no longer comprised by fear but an excitement. Whatever milestones you want to achieve in life, they are not going to be served on a platter. So step out. Push yourself. Take that chance. Make that move. Don’t be scared. Grow. Learn. Evolve.
You are your best friend: Love for others, animals, food, vacations, habits, hobbies, etc. is always glorified and seen in good light. But when you say you love yourself the most, suddenly you are considered selfish, self-contained, self-absorbed. On the contrary, I believe and because I have learnt from my own struggles and experiences, I can say that loving yourself only means that you are ready to learn, correct yourself, improve and grow. Love yourself enough to be the better version of yourself. There isn’t a greater power in the world than the power within. Be your best friend. And when this happens, you will naturally start loving and appreciating people and things around you more. Your best friend in you will teach you emotional intelligence and how it is far better than emotional dependability and vulnerability. Nurture your friendship with yourself – live the small joys of life and love the moment – do that holiday, go on that trek, meet that friend, surprise someone, call that old lost buddy, hug your parents, appreciate people, get out of the online world and meet people in real, get attracted to people in real life rather than getting attracted to their number of likes on social media. You are in the process of painting your life’s canvas. The more you live truly, the more beautiful your canvas will be. The small things in life – there’s nothing bigger than them.
De-clutter your mind: Until December 2016, I was in my own zone and single-mindedly focused on my recovery. In 2017, when I started sharing my recovery videos on YouTube, my journey started getting attention from the media. I was flooded with inquiries from people all over the world suffering from a similar spinal cord injury. My inbox, WhatsApp, and social media accounts were filled with love and affection from all kinds of people.
There were ones who were inspired and motivated but there were also the depressed, those who had lost hope, who didn’t believe that recovery is possible, who thought my progress is a stroke of luck, who ridiculed me for posting my story because it offended them rather than motivating them, who were mentally shattered and had no ambition to live anymore, who sent me very emotional messages and emails to help them out somehow because they had given up on this life after paralysis. Reading all kinds of opinions everyday for months together took a toll on me.
Slowly by mid-2017, I started giving more attention to the dark side of this injury. The negative energy started sucking me in. I started doubting my own recovery and if I will ever lead a wheelchair-free life because clearly, now my focus had shifted from the way forward to all the problems I was facing. I had allowed the thoughts of these many messages get to my head. On a sunny Sunday afternoon, having a conversation with a friend, I was introduced to the word – de-clutter and this word brought about just the change I needed at that junction. I realized how I had cluttered my head with unnecessary thoughts and perspectives, none of which mattered and all of which only digressed me from my path. I re-aligned and eliminated all the negative energy, which I had allowed to settle and clutter my headspace. It was time I got back to believing in myself more because my life story will only be known for one thing – that RECOVERY IS POSSIBLE.
In December 2017, my physiotherapist, Dr. Pradeep Thotekat, and I did a soft launch of a unique recovery program, the Spinal Cord Injury Home Recovery Program, designed to give a direction to people who had lost their way and reinforcing the belief that recovery is possible, even at home. How many times do all of us fill our mental space with opinions that don’t count, perspectives that are shortsighted and opaque, people who don’t matter and doubts that are self-created? We waste so much time giving attention to things that hold no value. Why do we do this to ourselves? De-cluttering is a very important act. Be good, feel good, do good and believe in good. You solely are the scripter of your own story.
Focus on the next step : In 2017, my physiotherapist decided that we should take my walking to the next stage and that I should start walking on uneven ground outside my house. The ground that we chose had a very tricky terrain – rocky, muddy, uneven, and full of upward and downward inclines. Till then I had only been walking on smooth surfaces. Standing at the beginning of the stretch and looking at what is to follow and how challenging this walk is going to be, I was petrified. I told him that I couldn’t do this as I may fall on every step and then he gave me the most important learning of my life. He advised me that instead of thinking about how difficult the walk is going to be, I should just focus on getting the next step right. Instead of worrying about the enormity of the task in hand, I just focused on getting the next step right. Slowly with each step I took, I grew in confidence. It is not that I did not fall. I fell on certain steps but this time even after the fall, all I had to do was learn from the last step and get the next step right. In hindsight, isn’t this life in its true form laid in front of you? Wherever you wish to reach in life, whoever you want to be, whatever your parameters of success are, however audacious your goals are – it always boils down to the next step you take. With each step you take, you will grow so much as a person. You may fall but you will rise to correct what you did wrong. And with every small win and attainment of short-term goals, you will start believing in yourself much more. In times of crisis, you will count on yourself that you will win over this too. It’s “the” trip of your life, my friend, because you are a force within yourself. Live it!
The journey of life we all are leading is not about destinations. It’s about milestones. And attainment of each milestone paves way for the next one. Live this journey. Love the milestones. And keep spreading love and laughter! That’s all there is to life.
About the Author
Prateek Khandelwal, a Spinal Cord Injury survivor, is a social entrepreneur actively working for the cause that Recovery from Paralysis is possible through active exercises. With this, he is also running campaigns to make restaurants accessible for everyone. Holding a degree in IT engineering, Prateek is a partner in RPN Granites which his brother and he founded in 2012, before his accident in May 2014. A social enthusiast and having an inclination for playing guitar, Prateek lives life to the fullest while giving hope to people against the prognosis they were given after suffering a traumatic Spinal Cord Injury.