A child’s perspective is a beautiful thing. To be able to see the world through their fresh, untouched and unbiased eyes would be an incredible experience. I started writing this blog two nights ago and went to sleep struggling with inspiration for it, then yesterday nine year old Ella walked through my office doors. After peeking through my window to the training floor she turned and innocently asked me “Aunty Kristee, where are all the girls?”
Where are all the girls? It seems like an obvious question, there were five young men out there training at the time. But here I am today writing this blog and as I look out the same window; there are again five young men training. It was easy explanation that I gave her - there just aren’t many of us with spinal cord injuries. Lots more boys have this type of injury.
This got me thinking. It is something I often hear people say when talking about Making Strides - “There are so many young guys with this injury, this is so sad”. And it is. It is heartbreaking to see young men in the prime of their life having to deal with such a traumatic change to their life. But what has an equal impact on me is just how lonely this injury can be for a young woman.
I sustained my injury when I was 18 years old and spent five months as an inpatient at the spinal unit as the only girl amongst 30 boys and men. It was the scariest and loneliest five months of my life. Peer Support has come a long way since then, growing the team and incorporating females, however back then there was just a male available to me. Patient education sessions were conducted in a group setting, so I learned about my bodily functions, relationships and sex post injury as a young girl in a room full of grown men. There was not one person who had already lived my experience or was currently on the same learning curve that I could talk to, so I left the spinal unit never being able to voice the questions I had.
How do you self-cath if there is no accessible toilet?
How can I transfer into my car with my spasms, short girly arms and no slide board?
Why cant I find jeans that fit right any more?
How can I wear high heels?
How do I stop my dresses from getting caught in my wheels?
How do I start dating again?
What do I do about getting my period?
What do I need to know about having sex for the first time post injury?
How will I ever be able to be a mother and look after a baby?
I left the spinal unit and returned home to a town where in a population of 22,000 I was the only person with a spinal cord injury. I started to miss those boys. I was physically and mentally isolated, so I joined online forums and asked strangers a few questions I was comfortable putting in writing.
Finally, eight years post injury I relocated to California for three months to attend Project Walk. The program itself was physically beneficial but it was the connections I made with girls (so many girls!) that completely turned my life around. I met so many young women who had all the answers. I never even needed to ask the questions. Just to be in their presence, watching how they do things and learning from their experiences, changed my life.
Shared experience is such a connective tool, we felt like we had been friends for years. I was finally relieved of my fears and hopeful for my future.
It was hard to return home and be away from this amazing support base of beautiful women with so many ideas and answers. Im so grateful that here at Making Strides - although there aren’t many of us - I get to meet a few more amazing ladies as the days go on. I watch them, I learn from them and sometimes Im able to share something Ive learned with them in return. Every now and then a smiling face comes through my door and she stays a little longer than necessary to ask me questions about myself and I feel an overwhelming sense of relief - Relief that if I ever need to ask a question, they will be there for me as I will for them.
So this one goes out to all my girls. Sisters by unfortunate circumstances. May we be able to find each other and lift each other up, because it sure gets lonely out there.