Does Suffering a Spinal Cord Injury Automatically make You Brave?

"Spinal Cord Injury" can be replaced with any sort of traumatic event or obstacle, but since this is a blog about spinal cord recovery....

When we hear about people who have suffered an injury to the spinal cord and have either recovered well, or adapted well to their situation, many times, we refer to them as inspirational or brave.

Recently, there was one TEDTalk, which argued that it was wrong to automatically classify people who live with disabilities as inspirational - because we are just living our own lives as anyone else would given the same circumstances.  There is really nothing extraordinary in that.

I see the point, but I disagree.  When people come up to me and tell me I am inspirational for going through what I went through (and still deal with some of the things I deal with), I am happy.  Although I am not inspirational for the sake of others - I am only trying to live my life as easy as I can live it - if it benefits someone else, so be it, who am I to complain.  During my own recovery, I took how other people tackled their obstacles,  regardless of origin, and used them as inspiration.  For instance, I saw a video clip of a young man who was abandoned and homeless in South Korea from age 5 - 15.  Was he being homeless on purpose so he could be inspirational to others?  I think not.  But when he became a contestant on some national talent show, he was able to share his story, and really, by default, inspired people, including me.

I believe its both the same and not the same with bravery.  Sometimes people say I am brave for going through what I went through.

In the sense that I dealt with the hand dealt to me without giving up, some could define that I was brave. And if others want to see me as brave, that's fine with me - especially if they can find inspiration and motivation from that.  Just like I am not being inspirational for the sake of others, I am not being brave for the sake of others.  I am just trying to make life easier on myself. Although I think determined is a better word than brave for not giving up.

But then again, when you are in the ICU, and mentally, you are determined to get better again, I think it is brave to face what is ahead of you instead of giving up.

But being brave is also different from being inspirational because to me, inspiration doesn't have to involve risk.  I think being brave often does.  I didn't risk anything by dealing with the spinal cord injury. I fought it the best I could, but I had to - I really didn't see a choice.  I believe, many times, bravery is risking something you don't have to give up.  It is a fireman saving someone from a burning fire.  It is a lifeguard saving a swimmer in distress.  It doesn't have to a professional - it could be a regular Joe saving someone, but they are risking their lives voluntarily to save someone else.

There is a Winnie the Pooh - Christopher Robbins cartoon which I posted earlier that implies we are stronger and braver than we think we are.  I think that's true.

So, bottom line - I think those of us who have experienced spinal cord injury and have recovered or adapted are inspirational.  It does take a lot of hard work to do both.  While we do it for the sake of ourselves, and not for others, there is a residual effect it has on others, and that is inspiration.

Are we brave just because we suffered spinal cord damage and live with it?  Yes and no.  I think in the beginning we are brave.  We can just give up, but we don't, and there is an element of braveness in that.  However, once we adapt and live our "new normal" lives, while we can still be inspirational, I don't think we are brave anymore.


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