Fighting for the light

I recently met with a man who sustained a tragic accident 10 years ago leaving him significantly impaired.

He said he spent the first six months not wanting any therapies as he saw no reason for them. After all, he was going to be “crippled” for the rest of his life.

And then something happened. After all of these days and weeks of despair, he decided to begin therapy anyway. As he said to himself as the time: “what the hell, I’ve got nothing else to do with my time.”

So he started those therapies and worked on the strength of his body and strength of his brain. And in the process, he discovered the strength of his heart and mind. So he worked and worked for a year. He was an angry man and turned his anger into a ferocious determination to push through adversity.

I told him that what I was hearing was that there was always that piece of him inside that was a fighter and that wanted life. The light of his life may have flickered, but for most of us it returns again to its previous life force.

He spent those early months railing against the gods torturing himself with the “why me” question. He fought with his body hating it for what it didn’t do. He fought with his family for trying to help him feel better and be more productive. But when his six months of self-pity was over, he somehow stopped fighting with something: and began fighting for something: his strength/dexterity/mobility/independence. He was fighting for his life.

When I heard the detailed description of those weeks and months after the accident, it brought up some very painful memories for me. My accident was in 1979 and I remember the feelings of not wanting to go on and not knowing if I could and how I could do anything. And then something happened to me also.

Something inside woke up and had a clear eyed look at the painful truth of my life and said: “okay, what now?” And for most of us that’s when this new life begins. The process is not pretty, linear or easy, but it’s our lives. And once we take full ownership of this new life, we begin anew .

Whenever I hear stories like his, my deepest belief in what it means to be human gets reinforced. As I say in my forthcoming book: “the wisdom we’re born with: reawakening faith in ourselves”, we are born with a fierce life force that helps us get up when we are knocked down. Almost all of us go through shock and anger and helplessness and self-pity. But it is that life force that won’t let us stay there.

Even when I was carrying the thousand pound gorilla of a clinical depression, I still forced myself to go to work. It’s not that I am special or strong, it’s simply that I am human and because of that, I want to live as long as I can as well as I can.

Just like the rest of us.

2 Comments on Fighting for the light

  1. Hi Dr. Dan,

    I was very moved by your recent post on the Reeve site entitled “…behind closed doors”. Unfortunately the blog no longer seems to be available (or I can no longer access it) so I’ll comment here.

    I can emphasize with the injured who feel that there may be no good reasons to go on. Pain often times can be invisible to others but profoundly crippling to the afflicted. Many web sites and videos show miraculous recoveries for SCI patients, with folks in wheelchairs jumping in and out of cars, pools, etc. But the reality for many of us is that even minimal activity can bring on a severe bout of pain and suffering. Life becomes severely restricted, in spite of the expectations of friends and family. I often feel that I have not only hurt myself, but I’ve hurt those that love me more.


  2. hi Bob,

    Thanks so much for your follow. I will have to double check the Christopher Reeve people as I didn’t even know that discussion was no longer there.. I think it’s so important for all of us to take ownership of all of our lives-tthe good news and the bad news. We are good people and we do stupid things. We are capable of great love and compassion. And hatred and judgment. Quadriplegia has opened up so many doors for me and has opened up my heart even more. It has also caused great suffering and daily difficulties.
    As the Zorba once said: “you know, the full catastrophe!”

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