What It Takes to Be a Happy Paraplegic – The Most Important Virtue

Reading time: 5 minutes

No matter how you define happiness, I can tell you what it never is. It’s not doing little. It’s not living a secluded life. It’s not doing what’s easy. It’s not bathing in sulk everyday and feeling pity for yourself.

I’ve heard horror stories, all too common occurrences, of people getting injured – paralyzed of any kind – and then they recluse. They go home and stay inside, depressed and lame. Sure, you have “reasons,” but those usually follow actions and thoughts rather than precede. You’re biased. (don’t make excuses).

I can’t act like I’m an average guy. I remember meeting someone in a wheelchair and they asked how many years it’s been for me, and in fact it hadn’t even been 1. It was like 7 months, and they thought it had been many years.
I went on an airplane just a few weeks after rehab, and right after rehab I came back to uni to live in my same apartment with my mates and survived a greatly cold and snowy winter. I then went to Germany for spring break and somehow was able to shower in bathrooms that were more art than a place to be comfortably naked.

I wasn’t able to do any of it without the relentless support of my friends and family. But they wouldn’t have an opportunity to help me if I weren’t the type to do crazy things.

Essentially, one month after rehab I had skills people are lucky to gain 2 or 3 years after rehab. Flying internationally, going up and down stairs, getting in and out of houses (inaccessible), crazy bathtubs, trains, planes, and a Mercedes van (parked 2 feet from the curb). And I still don’t like green eggs and ham.

It goes without saying, and largely with observation, that a very large factor is the physical ability I have. As a bodybuilder, I already had the strength. After my injury, I only can’t move my legs (everything else is perfect).

With all this in mind, I want to tell you that the most important virtue anyone in a wheelchair can have is courage.

Forget for a moment all the things that were in my favor. I mentioned them so you have all the facts, but none of them matter if I didn’t have courage. I’m not sure where I got it, or how you can get some.

All I know is that it begins with courage.

When I wake up at 5am and head out to the gym in 0F weather, angry winds, and terminal snow. Not only do the wheelchair wheels leave a path, but my feet as well. It’s deep snow, covering my feet at points. I get stuck in the parking lot at least 2 times getting to my car and 3 getting into the gym (and I park right next to the door).

How many people in a wheelchair would do this? How many would just go later?

Yes, it takes more than just courage to do all that. But it begins with courage.

Have the courage to try. Have the courage to brave conditions that any normal person would avoid. Have the courage to learn. Have the courage to stop caring what other people think. Courage to love yourself. Courage to begin again. Courage to initiate. The courage to leave the house. The courage to go outside. The courage to ask for help. The courage to look silly. The courage to risk momentary embarrassment for eternal triumph. The courage to believe that you can do it, you will figure it out. Courage to leave your comfort zone. To push yourself beyond what others expect of you. Courage to persist through hardship. The courage to never give up. The courage. to try.

Have the courage, my friend.

And it shouldn’t be everything I do, but it must be all that you are capable of. Then, you will be happy knowing you’ve lived a life worth living.

Immediate actionable items: Really think about this quote by Churchill, “if you’re going through hell, keep going!”

Summary: To be happy, you need to live. Everyone is met with pronounced adversity. Moving beyond those obstacles, displaying strengths and virtues, having the courage to keep going. That is what it takes to be happy. Not doing what’s easy.

Overdeliver:  I’ve noticed that all it takes is the courage to try and the world will help. People can’t help you out of a hole by getting in with you, but when you get close to the edge, when your hand rises above and shouts, “here I am!” that’s when you’ll feel the warmth and firm grip of a friend to help.

I was never fully comfortable doing the things I’ve done. My first flight was about 2 weeks after rehab, and I was alone. Personally, I truly enjoy being out of my comfort zone, but that doesn’t mean I’m entirely calm on the inside. I have the unbreakable belief that I can figure anything out and achieve anything. Having that belief takes courage in oneself.

The reason I talked about myself so much is that I don’t know how to tell you what to do to gain courage, the type of courage that enlightens your life. However, I can inspire you by telling some of what I accomplished with courage.

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