Many differences – few similarities – uniting elements.

We are referred to as community – a community of fate.

This expression sounds turgid for many of us, although it hits the nail on the head. The consequences of a spinal cord injury determine the fates of the affected persons. However, we tend to sweep this fact under the carpet and accept our fate. What’s behind this attitude is described as Airbag Effect by psychologists. The stroke of fate triggers a defiant, protective reaction and releases unexpected energies. Life goes on, we roll up our sleeves, now more than ever! These battle cries become our new life mottos.

This reaction is probably especially prevalent among those persons, who secretly blame themselves: They have to admit that this accident or foolhardy somersault could have been avoided by being more careful. Our community is characterized by a comparatively high proportion of adventurers and daredevils who like to take risks. Most of them are men. They are risk lovers – women take things a little easier.

The second large group amongst us are accident victims. Nobody can anticipate that the step of a staircase breaks or that a speeder crashes into the car at the traffic lights. If things get really bad, these accidents cause spinal cord injuries and the victims are suffering. They want to live, they want to resist – driven by legitimate anger.  However, the start into their new life is conflicting and therefore more challenging. They were wronged. They demand atonement – loud and clear or just deep inside. Maybe they want to be pampered as an offset. They are entitled to it, but the rehab clinic doesn’t offer it.

Daredevils however ignore their desire for affection. They have and want to face the challenge. For example on the sports field. This is where they can prove their motivation and physical capacity. Everybody can do sports. Those who demonstrate commitment will probably be successful, because there are generally equal opportunities. In professional life, opportunities are less equal. The demands are high and not everybody is able to meet them. It requires a strong presence as well as a certain attitude. In most cases, even the most ambitious wheelchair user is not the first choice.

Somewhere in between the daredevils and the accident victims are those, whose spinal cord injury is the consequence of an illness. This number is constantly increasing, from one third to almost half of the persons affected. The paralysis does not occur abruptly but gradually – accompanied by hope and fear. Many of these persons seem to believe in healing, which remains to be their source of confidence. Whether this belief is justified or not, cannot be fathomed. Many aspects are very vague and cause confusion. Their status in society is also more unsteady. Accident victims are virtually always presumed innocent – persons who are ill only to a limited extent.

The lucky ones are those who escaped a spinal cord injury and its far-reaching consequences by a hair’s breadth. They suffer from temporary paralysis. At best, they fully recover – in the least fortunate case, slight impairments remain. They consider themselves to be unlucky.  Their Airbag as source of energy doesn‘t really open, because their mind and soul demand “full recovery” – in Latin: restitutio ad integrum. These expectations might result in disappointment and bitterness. 

Our community of people who supposedly seem to be the same is – in the plain light of day – a bunch of very different life stories and life plans. And our condition is also very diverse. We are complete or incomplete, flaccid or spastic, high or low, “paras” and “tetras”, some of us are remarkably healthy, others are tormented by pain and complications, some are almost completely healed and very few of us are “fully recovered”.

And yet: Despite all the differences, we wheelchair users recognize each other right away and from a distance – just like dogs. Dogs smell it, we see it. The sitting posture, the equipment of the wheelchair and some key movements tell us straightaway: That person in the second row has a spinal cord injury. The guy next to him is in a wheelchair, too, but has a different condition or just wants to be served. This ability to recognize each other is what makes a community. People form southern Germany would call us a “Völkle”.

[translation from the original German blog post]

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