I realize that shortly after my injury, I began to perceive myself differently. There were countless circumstances and subsequent feelings that brought me to recognize the changes in the way I viewed myself As I looked in the mirror for the first time at the crippled and diminishing Carson sitting in a power chair, I was embarrassed of the person I saw in the mirror. I was sickened at the sight of myself, and fought the tears welling up in my eyes. During my first few outings into the community with occupational therapy, I saw that people looked at me differently than they did before, or completely avoided eye contact altogether. I realized that to some degree I was viewed as abnormal, and in my mind that meant less than normal, or less than human. Sub-human.
Before, I used to take time to make sure I felt well groomed and presentable, but after my injury I found myself feeling like that was a waste of time, not because I thought it was unimportant, but because I thought it was a waste of time on someone like me. The thoughts, "It doesn't matter, I'm in a wheelchair anyway" filled my head. In essence, I began to feel like I had less value as a human being, and the respect I had for myself was quickly dwindling. I used to be happy to present myself to others and was pleased with the person others saw in me… And now I fight feelings of embarrassment when people I know see me rolling around in my wheelchair, or sitting reclined on a couch. Always sitting. These feelings are devastating to me, especially because it is so unlike me to feel such negative things about myself.
These feelings of depreciated self-worth began to make me believe that happiness was outside my reach. Like an ever-reoccurring nightmare, I constantly wonder if I will ever feel whole again in my lifetime. I wonder if I will ever feel like the true Carson again. While it is difficult to fathom the possibility, I hope with everything I have that happiness is still within my grasp, and that I can feel complete again, even as a quadriplegic. More than anything, I long to feel whole... But one thing is for sure. Happiness is not guaranteed just through my mobility. Without a doubt, all of us know individuals, perhaps even ourselves, who seem to have everything one could ask for, but are completely unhappy. In understanding this, I have recognized that I must have misunderstood happiness to some degree, and that there is something about it that I must learn. Happiness is not some emotion that waxes and wanes, or simply comes and goes with the luck of the day. It's something deeper.
I am reminded of a passage from Jesus the Christ, by James E Talmage, referring to happiness:
“Happiness is not akin with levity, nor is it one with light-minded mirth. It springs from the deeper fountains of the soul, and is not infrequently accompanied by tears. Have you never been so happy that you have had to weep? I have.”
So, my priorities have shifted slightly. My first quest must be to secure happiness in the now, and in my current circumstances. I do not need, nor should I wait to be happy once I'm walking. This requires a lot of emotional effort for me, since I so desperately yearn for that which I had before. Even the thought of never regaining that wholeness brings a surge of anguish and despair... But I reluctantly acknowledge that the time of adaptation has arrived. I feel intense hesitance and resentment at the prospect of accepting the now, but something inside, something from God, tells me it is the solution to finding peace... to find the happiness that is independent of any other external source, an invincible happiness that radiates from the deepest part of who I am.
Just like necessity is the mother of invention, negative and harmful feelings have always been the mother of the learning of new principles for me. These feelings motivated me to ask some questions. Since much of my unfulfillment and unhappiness comes from a feeling of lessened worth, I have been prompted to ask, What makes Carson valuable? Or for that matter, what makes any human being valuable? Was I more valuable before only because I could run and walk and jump? I doubt it. Was I more valuable because I was independent and self-reliant? Again, doubt it. I decided that that simply couldn't be the case.
There is more to me than my mobility.
Our world defines value in an inaccurate way. The world puts the highest prices on external beauty, physical attraction, popularity, talents, ability, education, money and power, just to name a few. If you have one or any of these in great abundance, you have a good amount of value according to our society. Now, I want to make it clear that I believe that many of these things are beneficial. It's good to take care of yourself, it's good to have an education, it's good to be successful and make money, as well as hone our skills and abilities, but what I'm saying is that this is not where true value lies. If value were to lie in any of those things, then ironically value would be cheap, value would be transient and dependent. I have found that a misunderstanding of where true value exists usually leads to unhappiness.
I believe that value is independent of any external source or influence. It lies in the things that neither accident nor time or circumstance can never change. The only aspects of our person that can never change are things having to do with the character we have developed. There are things that, for better or for worse, are woven into the material of who we are. Regardless of where life takes us, we carry with us that fabric we have woven throughout our lives. There is peace for me in knowing that neither heaven nor hell can take from me what matters most. A businessman whose life is his career, can lose his business, and therefore his wealth. A world-class athlete may have a tragic accident that terminates his or her career. Movie stars and celebrities can fall victim to cancer or any other number of human illnesses. I guess the point I'm making to myself is that life will take it's toll on each of us, and at the end of the day the only thing that any of us can count on retaining is the character we have developed throughout our lives. Now that's stability.
I would never undermine the value of the lives of people who have made important contributions to others and society, but I would argue that personal value lies in kindness and integrity, in compassion and sympathy, in service and generosity, and in true, unadulterated love, among other qualities. Love is the greatest of all virtues, and is the greatest defining characteristic of God. In our attempts to become like him or his Son, doing so without focusing on love is an attempt in vain. I think about the individuals that have influenced me most throughout my life. Without a doubt, I knew each of these people had love for me, and a love for all people in general. Couldn't most of us say the same? Love is the diamond of all valuable qualities.
I suppose I have been forced to think about these lessons because of my accident. I have lost many of those things that the world puts a high price on. I've lost my physical stature, and most of the abilities I worked hard to obtain. I suppose that in the eyes of the world I might have lost the things that matter most, but I strive to reinforce the understanding that what truly matters most is yet within my reach, perhaps even more than ever before.
Happiness won't bring my legs back... It won't give me what I had before... but thank God that there is more to life and worth, than what simply meets the eye.