Love The Life You Live
by Noelle McNeil
On August 2, 2005 at the age of 20, my world got turned upside down.
I was riding a four year old horse for some friends at a horse show. I was a nationally ranked equestrian, had ridden since I was five years old and had trained horses for years. I thought this show would be uneventful…I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I was always a perfectionist. In high school I became a perfectionist about my body. I was young and impressionable. I have since learned that you cannot live your life with regrets. So I let this foolishness go, but I have to admit that it became far too important for me to have the approval of my peers. My friends all smoked so as to stay skinny. I was a track athlete. So, I chose diet pills and food restrictions as my methods to help keep thin. Even though I was five foot nine inches tall and a size four, I was never comfortable in my body. I always sought perfection. I kept trying to be a size zero. It even sounds crazy. Zero means nothing...literally. My preoccupation with thinness was soon to be replaced with a preoccupation to stay alive and regain basic human functions.
The horse I was riding went berserk and threw me. Upon impact with the ground, I immediately went into a coma. I thank God everyday that the EMT’s that were on site recognized the severity of my injury and called for a medical helicopter. I was medivaced to Robert Wood Johnson Trauma Center in New Brunswick, New Jersey. I never regained consciousness during my two weeks there. I almost died several times. My prognosis was dismal. I was semiconscious as they transported me to JFK Medical Center into an intensive care brain trauma unit. I stayed there for two months and eventually regained consciousness. After that time, I was moved to a rehabilitation hospital affiliated with JFK, Hartwyck at Oak Tree, in Edison, New Jersey. Once I realized where I was and the condition I was in (a wheelchair, in diapers, and on a feeding tube), I immediately began requesting cyanide pills to end my life.
With a head injury, your logic, comprehension and understanding of the situation at hand comes back slowly. I was unable to reason as to why the doctors and medical practitioners would not help me end my life. To me, I saw being dependent on people (wheeling me around, feeding me, and taking me to the bathroom) as not truly being alive. People would always tell me how lucky I was to have awakened from the coma and to become aware of my surroundings. I didn’t see it that way.
As I became aware of my surroundings and what had happened to me, I sank into a very deep depression. My neurologist/head injury rehabilitation doctor immediately put me on a small dose of Lexapro. I am no longer on this medication, yet I recognize how much it helped me and kept me from ending my life during the first year following my injury. It is for this reason, I am a huge advocate of identifying and treating depression. Antidepressants have their place as treatment options for those who are suffering; be it physically (as I was) or psychologically.
Now I am able to keep my head clear and focused on whatever situation I have at hand. I am in the gym seven days a week and I realize that even though I have regained the ability to walk, talk, go to school, and drive, I seek more. I have grown to very truly know myself much deeper through this experience. I am not satisfied with anything that I see as typical. I understand that what I have gone through and achieved is not typical, yet I seek to become as successful and able bodied as any other typical 24-year-old. I have made it my mission to keep on improving in every way I see possible. I recognize that I was saved for a reason. I feel that it is my responsibility to act in the most proactive way possible to overcome this injury and share my experiences.
I do have some residual issues from my injury. I was stricken with an extremely ataxic right arm and I am right handed. I have short term memory issues. Even though it bothers me beyond belief, I remain slightly dependent when it comes to having my food cut for me. I have realized that eateries offer a pasta dish for vegetarians. Since I have mastered cutting pasta with my fork, or even better, requesting penne pasta, I usually order the vegetarian meal when I am at a formal dinner.
Thank goodness I am a girl because I am not sure that a 350 lbs. football player could enact the “Damsel in Distress” routine as well as I do!
I have made some motivational speeches at the United Cerebral Palsy Center in Edison, New Jersey and at Monmouth University. They have been well received. I think it is so important to help young people realize that there is so much more to life than being skinny and popular.
I think the world at large needs to understand that people with disabilities should not be devalued.
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Thank you. Tony Lombardo
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