“In the simplest terms, transition is change. In a broader sense however, transitions are life’s way of asking us to reexamine our present way of being. These transitions can be predictable such as a child leaving for college or marriage, or they can be unpredictable, such as the sudden death of a loved one or a traumatic accident. Whatever the degree or intensity of the event, every transition we experience has one thing in common. It forces us to make changes to our existing life. And with change, comes resistance. A major life transition literally closes one chapter of our life, and starts a new one, putting us in a new place and direction that we have not walked before.”
I have come to the understanding that life is full of transitions. We are constantly faced with both predictable and unpredictable challenges that force use to change life as we know it. I have focused a majority of my blog on my own life experiences in my current situation at 26, but today my purpose is to show that these ideas I share are ones that should be reassessed for a life time. With that being said, I have decided to interview one of my close friends, Chris Chapman.
Sunday, March 31, 2019
Q: You know more than most that life is full of transitions. Can you share your background with our readers of your current situation?
A: I am currently a 35-year-old male living in a wheelchair. Going back, life definitely changed the most for me on one specific day, May 8, 2010. I got hurt on an obstacle course in a local fun-run just under nine years ago. I broke my neck which resulted in a spinal chord injury which left me as an C5 Incomplete Quadriplegic. This was not only my biggest change and hardest life struggle- it was easily the biggest mind fuck I could never describe to anybody. Now I find myself living on my own, operating my own nonprofit business, Livin Life on Wheels, and being a productive, contributing member of society. At the same time, I am trying not to get caught up in just going through the motions. I know how precious life is, and how much potential I was wasting before. I am trying to live my life to the fullest given the new circumstances and limitations I find myself in day to day. My goal now is to travel, meet new people, experience new things, be independent, and guide others in a similar situation to do the same essentially, become a better version of myself in some way every day.
Q: Prior to your injury, what were some of your more notable transitional periods of life?
A: My earliest transition of life was at eighteen years old. I had just graduated high school and was leaving for my freshman year of college at Gonzaga University, in Spokane, Washington. I was not only leaving my comfort of home, but everything I knew about life growing up in the rural town of Elko, Nevada. Not only was I moving to a new place, encountering new people and a new way of life, but I was doing it on my own with no friends, no family, and the stress of my parents’ decision to divorce. While I should have been looking forward to a new chapter of life, I was distracted by the anger and hurt that was going on at home rather than focusing on what was ahead of me.
Due to the fact that I approached Gonzaga from a negative state of mind, I set my self-up for failure. Mentally, I could not succeed mentally. I decided to transfer to the University of Nevada, Reno, which would allow me to continue to grow as a young man while still being able to find comfort in my brother and friends in a more familiar environment. Even though I saw it as a positive change, my family did not agree with my decision to change schools. I lost financial support from my parents forcing me to work full time, while going to school full time, also “partying and enjoying the social life,” that Reno and the University had to offer.
In the winter of 2009, life finally began to settle. I had successfully graduated with my Master’s Degree in Political Philosophy, found financial stability as part of the management team at a road construction company, was newly engaged to my girlfriend of five years, and still living an active and social live with friends and family.
Q: How did your life change after your injury?
A: May 8, 2010, my life got completely turned upside down by my injury. Not only was it unexpected, it changed every aspect of my life. I woke up from surgery and couldn’t even touch my face, let alone move any parts of my body or get any comfort what so ever. This not only affected my physical state, but my mental state as well. I knew that this was not a normal injury, yet at the same time I thought it was one I could fully recover from. After 110 days in the rehab hospital and recovering at a snail’s pace, I realized that this was a life altering injury that would not only change the rest of my life but the closest people around me. My life’s goals were no longer educational and professional based but that of minimal survival and average daily living tasks.
Q: Describe the transitional process you went through trying to adapt to your new life in a wheelchair.
A: Right away, I began rigorous inpatient rehab through physical and occupational therapy. The obstacles and the path ahead of me seemed achievable yet discouraging at the same time. In the beginning, I couldn’t even sit up in a wheelchair without passing out. The progress and the gains were minimal and slow to say the least. With every gain I got, I became addicted to getting more function and strength back. The hardest day was not the day I got injured or any of the subsequent days in the hospital- the hardest day I had throughout this injury was the day I went home. I had to go home to a different house than the one I got hurt in because my home was not wheelchair accessible. I was faced with the realities of how harsh it was to return to my normal life I had once lived on my own. This was depressing, yet for me motivating at the same time because I would not allow my self to be stuck or feel like a prisoner in my current situation. Progress began to pick up, I began to see more of it on a day to day, week to week basis, but as I saw this, I also saw the trend of the decline of the relationship between my fiancé and I. My family and friends already seemed to have disappeared as soon as I left the hospital. I started to feel I was undertaking this all alone. As time would tell, my fiancé and I split and parted ways. In a two in a half year period not only had I seen a change in my health from the injury, it was the first time I had ever lost a job, I lost my partner in life, I lost all my stuff: cars, boats, homes, etc., I felt that my life had hit rock bottom- I felt I had nothing and no one. As I continued physical and occupational therapy, I also continued to work on my mental health. I began to piece my life back together one step and one day at a time.
As I continued with therapy, we set out smaller short-term goals and longer life term goals for each facet of life that I was struggling in. My life and my obstacles were difficult to face every single day. More days than not I felt like I was going backwards and not forwards. Even though I was constantly seeing physical progress through returned function and strength, my mental state and current life status were not what they were or what I thought they should be as a productive 27-year-old. As the constant change and growth continued, I was redefining myself as a person. My physical well being was my main goal and task at hand- to get back to taking care of myself and being independent. This seemed even farther out of reach than the goal of walking at the time. As I began to see myself grow and a new me beginning to take shape physically, it allowed me to start growing mentally strong. As I became more mentally strong, I was able to reshape the professional side of my life and started becoming more financially independent as well. Yes, the struggle was real, I cried a lot. There were days I didn’t get out of bed, there was times that I didn’t want to get out of bed and even contemplated taking my own life. But for some reason I had this fire burning inside driving me to continue to move forward each day one step at a time.
In short, three in a half years after my injury I became independent. At four and a half years, I became financially stable again. At five and a half years, I started a nonprofit business to help others in wheelchairs, Livin’ Life on Wheels. These accomplishments were extremely hard due to the given circumstances of my life and obstacles I had to overcome. I had to take one moment at a time, one day at a time, one goal at a time. This is the approach I use to this day. It took a lot of hard work, determination, blood, sweat and tears; but one thing I can say I never did was give up.
Q: What is your advice to anyone who is currently going through a major life transition?
A: For me, since life is constantly changing, it seems that everything is new and being done for the first time. I am constantly reevaluating and reassessing my goals- small, short term, more achievable goals, which ultimately are steps to the bigger, end game goal. You have to set the appropriate goals so that you can see the progress in the short term, while pushing yourself to the ultimate goal during this transitional time to what you want to achieve. With that being said, this is not an easy process, or an easy path. You will face hard, real obstacles day to day. It is okay to have downs, and not constantly be on the up and up. This is a time of growth and not everything will come easy. Remember this is a transitional period and everything is temporary, including these hard times. Stay in the moment and live each day. Always have your goals in mind so you can stay on the right track. You must constantly be reflecting and adapting your goals as time changes. At the end of the day, there will always be unforeseen circumstances that arise in life and are difficult to overcome. Don’t focus on the negative and get caught up in your own head because we only have on life so have the courage to live your best life no matter what hand you are dealt.
The message I hope you take away from this post today is that we all go through major transitions of life and are faced with new challenges through at all ages, and all walks of life. We need to stay humble and realize that we will never truly have “it all figured out.” Always keep in mind what your purpose is. Adapt to the circumstances that life throws at you. Remind your self that pain and struggle is temporary. You will always rise above.