April marked a very significant milestone for columnist Tim Rushby-Smith. Here, he looks back on a decade of spinal cord injury
The first of April 2015 marked the tenth anniversary of my spinal cord injury. Yes, it was April Fools’ Day 2005 when I fell from a tree and broke my spine, and this year I really struggled with how to mark the anniversary.
As anyone who has suffered a sudden and permanent disability will tell you, each anniversary can offer a tricky milestone. It’s easy to view the transition as a grieving process, and to find oneself in a reflective mood, calling up all the activities that are no longer possible, and I readily hold my hand up to this.
But while 1 April may lead me to an increase in thoughts like these, I have them at least once a day, every day. I miss climbing, be it rocks or trees. I miss mountain biking. I miss playing football – oh God, do I miss playing football. I miss standing up and being taller than most. I miss running, I miss walking on the beach, I miss surfing, I miss feeling the sand or grass between my toes. And most acute of all, I miss sharing these pleasures with my kids. So this year, I was braced for an emotionally painful day, but it didn’t happen. Because grief is only half the story. On reflection, I found that I also spend time thinking about the things that I can still do, the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met because of my disability.
There is no equation that can quantify the loss versus positive experiences, and I would certainly not claim that my life has been better because of my injury, as some spinal cord injured people are keen to proclaim of their own lives.
We all view our lives differently, but I have no way of making a comparison because I only have the one life. What I can say is that I miss those things that I can no longer do, and that I find the complications associated with my injury to be emotionally exhausting still, ten years on (especially the constant pain).
But on the tenth anniversary of my accident, my wife Penny and I went for a bike ride (I have a handbike) in nearby Kangaroo Valley (no, I am not making it up. I live in Australia, just up the road from ‘Kangaroo Valley’. I do not, however, wear a hat with corks tied to the brim, nor have I ever referred to anyone as ‘cobber’). The ride was physically hard but very satisfying. We had the roads to ourselves, the sun was shining, and the scenery spectacular. We went home and I cooked a nice meal, which we shared with our kids. Simple pleasures.
On this most inauspicious of dates, I spent my time enjoying something that I can still do, and it felt good. Next year I hope to do the same.
Looking Up by Tim Rushby-Smith is available on Virgin Books.