A person will have many different feelings after spinal cord injury. While everyone deals with stress and change in his/her own way, there are some things you can do to increase your chances for success in adaptation and coping. This is a life-long process. In life, there are always new issues to handle, despite the presence of injury.
Normal adaptation involves having a wide range of feelings without getting "stuck" in one feeling. For example, at certain times you may feel sad, frustrated or have feelings of disbelief. You may also have feelings of denial about what has happened.
Pay attention to things that might make you feel better. Sometimes being around other people or doing fun things may decrease depression. A simple coping strategy is to deliberately include more of these activities in your days.
If you are staying sad, angry or depressed or having other emotions you are worried about, you should contact your doctor. Symptoms of depression include:
- changes in eating or sleeping habits
- withdrawal/isolation from family and/or friends
- loss of interest in activities that are usually enjoyed
- feelings of helplessness / worthlessness
- thoughts related to self harm
Symptoms that last for 2 weeks or longer should be reported to the doctor. Any thoughts of self-harm should be reported immediately.
It is important to know when to ask for help. You may have had people offer to help you since you've been home. Build supports through your family, friends, church, hobbies or peer supporters. Spend some time making a list of how you need help. Have it ready when people offer! At the same time, by doing as much for yourself as you can, you will develop independence, which will help you feel better about yourself.
Adaptation and coping also involve fitting the spinal cord injury into how you see yourself. You may see yourself as a tall, handsome man who happens to have a C-6 spinal cord injury, instead of "I'm a quad." You may wish you were still able-bodied, but as long as it doesn't stop you from living life, it is normal.
It is also important to address the permanence of the injury. This does not mean giving up hope. Wishing the accident never happened is normal. Hoping for a cure is normal. Stopping your life because of the injury is not healthy and can lead to depression. If this is happening, contact your doctor.
Make time for yourself, family and friends to get back into doing some of the normal things you used to do before your injury. Go to sporting events, attend a concert, go to church, have a picnic, have some fun. Include leisure and productive activity into your life. Ask your vocational counselor for help with these issues.
Healthy adaptation and coping also involves finding ways to help you relieve your stress. Exercise, read, meditate, garden, go camping - whatever. Be sure to carve out time on a regular basis for yourself. You deserve it!
Visiting with Peer Supporters is also a way to help adapt after a spinal cord injury. Peer supporters are people who have had a spinal cord injury for awhile and can help with daily life and adjustment issues after injury. They are not counselors. They do share information and understand how to deal with certain experiences. Topics may include family and social adjustment, employment options, transportation, leisure interests, activities of daily living, and ways to deal with stressful situations related to your spinal cord injury.