Home Coping & Grief Do I Really Want to Age with a Spinal Cord Injury?

Do I Really Want to Age with a Spinal Cord Injury?

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I said I would kill myself when I turned 55.

I was 28 years old and had only been paralyzed a few short weeks when I told Ian of my decision. He smiled a sort of sad, half smile, knowing I was very serious in that moment but also convinced that the years would soften my resolve. Still, suicide seemed completely reasonable to me. I was willing to give my present life over to my injury. I was willing to learn how to function and thrive inside my new existence. But I was unwilling to give it my future. The thought of aging while able-bodied was scary to me so the thought of doing it with a spinal cord injury caused panic, anger and tears—lots and lots of tears. I needed an end game; I needed an out. And 55 years old seemed like a great number

At 55 years old, my children would be grown. My husband would be young enough to find someone else that makes him happy and they could interact with the world together in a way that him and I could not. I would not have to deal with the realities of age on an already altered and unpredictable body. I would not become a burden. And—what was oddly important to me at the time—I wouldn’t have to say I rolled through life longer than I walked. It would be 28 years walking and 27 rolling. Yes, 55 was the right number.

As time passed and I better understood my injury and my body became more familiar, I didn’t dwell on my fears that surrounded aging quite as much. At some point along the way, I decided that I would extend my timeline to sixty years old. And then somewhere between years one and two, I stopped relying on that end date altogether.

Slowly I was able to envision myself aging with my injury. I could think about the prospect of having grandchildren without believing I would be incompetent as a grandmother. I could see the potential for adventure with my husband after our children were grown. I realized how lucky I would be to age after such a serious accident and injury—regardless of how many years I’d be rolling for. And I began to understand that I did not have to become obsolete with age.

Recently, my own grandfather had his 90thbirthday. On an average day, he is a grumpy old man calling bullshit to every little thing that isn’t exactly how he believes it should be. But we celebrated him anyways because, grumpy or not, he loves his family. And as we sat there that night, he was happy.

I watched him and thought about all of the years he had behind him and was reminded of my selfish plan to cut my own life short because it wasn’t going to be how I had imagined. I thought about how he lost his own wife when he wasn’t much older than 55—that certainly wasn’t in his plan. Or how he has outlived all but one of his six younger siblings. Or that if he had died at 55, I would only know him like I know my grandmother—through stories.

But he was here, at 90 years old. And maybe he let some of his experiences tarnish his outlook on life (or maybe he was always grouchy), but he could look around that room and see people from age 4 to 85 that cared about him. People he shared a history with. He was in their stories and they were in his. Even as a grouchy, semi-involved, 90-year-old man, he is not obsolete.

Aging is a privilege and everyone reading this knows of too many people who were denied the opportunity. It will unfold differently for me and my SCI will add hurdles to the process. But aging is full of unknowns for everyone and at some point, we all have to work with the story arc we’ve been given. That’s not to say it doesn’t still scare me—it scares the hell out of me. My point is, it’s worth the risk.

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7 comments

helensamia December 13, 2018 - 8:59 pm

Yes I felt like this but I was already 63 when I became paralysed .. suicide was very much at the front of my mind for a good 18 months but now at 67 I have changed it to ….if the time comes when ai can no longer look after myself then it is my choice to go …I have told my husband and kids this… so things can change in out heads as we go along .. nothing wrong with being 67!!!!!

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Codi Darnell December 13, 2018 - 9:47 pm

Thank you for this! That’s kind of my thinking now too. It’s my control. If I get to point where my independence is too affected, I have the choice. So glad to hear you are still rocking it at 67! ❤️

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helensamia December 13, 2018 - 9:49 pm

Yes gym twice a week and all good and have a wonderful grandson…. yes I am not the grandma I would like to be but would not miss the joy he gives me for anything … ❌❌

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Mitch Sturgeon December 14, 2018 - 8:20 am

I found it ironic to read your post, because I am now 55 years old. I was diagnosed with MS at 38, and essentially became a quadriplegic by my late 40s. My mother was a quadriplegic from age 35, due to a SCI, and she lived a good life until the last year or so before her death at 74. For that reason, I’ve never had a fear of growing old as a disabled person. But, because I have a progressive disease, I still worry about becoming so disabled that life is no longer worth living. That is my criteria. Some sort of assisted suicide is still on my radar, but it’s far down the road, and I will only know it when I see it. I can’t predict when it will come. But as for now, I’m a reasonably content 55-year-old quadriplegic who hopes to have many years left to enjoy my family and this amazing world I live in. Thanks so much for your thoughtful blog posts. I blog at http://www.enjoyingtheride.com. Mitch

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Dave Martell December 15, 2018 - 3:34 pm

I was 58, 59 now, and the thought never crossed my mind. There are times when I think my wife wants to kill me, but I got that feeling before my SCI too. One of my favourite songs has the line in it:
Black gold in a white plight
Won’t you fill up the tank, let’s go for a ride
I don’t care ’bout no wheelchair
I’ve got so much left to do with my life

Black Gold, by Soul Asylum

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Codi Darnell December 15, 2018 - 4:01 pm

Great lyric! Glad to hear you are coping so well 🙂

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A Stranger’s Story at Starbucks – Help Codi Heal June 4, 2019 - 11:29 am

[…] addition to that, as I’ve written about before here, aging with paralysis is a difficult topic for me and the thought of aging with it while still so […]

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