Why Continue Life in a Wheelchair?

For those who were paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair at a point in their life when they had already established a mature, adult identity, it is undoubtedly a change so dramatic that it takes a lot of time or a strong will to put up with the ensuing endeavors. Most people, once getting injured, take years to fully accept and lean in to being paralyzed.

What does it look like to “lean in?” Well, there is a certain subset of the wheelchair community that is very content and happy. They do pretty much everything that anyone else who leads a fulfilling life – involvement in some type of community, working in some way, and having enjoyable experiences (to list the main things).

It may be years or many months of depression. Yet, they made it through and didn’t kill themselves. Why not? I’m sure there are some people who have, and even when considering everyone alive right now who has been through depressive times for any reason, what is keeping them alive?

It comes down to some form of hope and or a type of “meaning to life.” This is what some people, such as John Vervaeke and Richard Feynman, have talked about.

When I was injured, I was able to avoid depression entirely and jump right into doing many things very early on because of two main factors: I had (still have) an unwavering belief that I would walk very soon, and I have an extremely supportive community of friends and family that compounded my optimism/attitude. That was the hope part. In terms of the “meaning of life,” that came from my Stoic/mindfulness beliefs, mainly that I can only do my best now and accept the moment as it is. This is what allowed me to really avoid being sad because I was able to say to myself, “alright, here I am and I have no time to be sad because I have to get on this flight alone or travel to a new country to live for a while.”

For a given reason, and it doesn’t matter what so much as there is one, people like to be alive in any condition. The hardest part is getting out from under the negative beliefs. This is why it may take years for someone who just got injured to really live life as they want, and let the wheelchair just be a small detail, not an insurmountable obstacle. It might take another person to be their friend and help introduce them back into social life. And then once they have a good support group, that will give meaning such as “there are people who want me to be happy, I should let go of my sadness.”

I don’t actually have advice for why continue life in a wheelchair, there are lots of reasons to continue living in any capacity. What’s important is understanding that everyone has a belief system that will push them to endure anything, and many people have done this while confined to a wheelchair. The difficulty (sometimes) is developing this “system of meaning.” The best way to develop some type of belief system is to learn about other people’s and take all the pieces that make sense to you, and then hang on tight.

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