“It was a straight downhill roll to the highway, and if I timed it right and gained enough speed, surely I could collide with a speeding semi-truck.”
Five years after the car accident that left me a C4 complete quadriplegic, I was losing my “why” to live and experiencing fleeting ideas about “how” to end my life.
A caregiver would have actually to show up and get me out of bed first. That was no easy feat; a primary source of my soul-sucking depression was directly associated with being stuck in bed with no help. I’d been in that pitiful position a hundred times in the five exhausting years since my injury.
I was 32 years old, a very independent woman, when I had become paralyzed from the shoulders down, the passenger in a car accident.
After being weaned from the ventilator and hooked up with a power wheelchair, at first, I had been determined to live life to the fullest. I surrounded myself with friends, went to concerts, blew my meager settlement.
No one saw the toll my injury and care took on my family, though. Finding reliable caregivers in my tiny rural hometown was close to impossible. I felt like a burden to my family, and I couldn’t see past my worries about care to focus on personal goals.
I lived in my memories while writing my memoir, draining myself emotionally for my project’s authenticity.
I briefly touched on my rising depression in my memoir (self-published five years post-injury), the dangerous daydreams I had while I waited, supine in my sheets, while the world went on without me, dreams where help arrived to get me into my power chair and open the front door. It was a straight downhill roll to the highway, and if I timed it right and gained enough speed, surely I could collide with a speeding semi-truck.
Then the endless days waiting in my bed for help to arrive would be over. I wouldn’t have to bear the guilt over the pain and accusation in my daughter’s exhausted eyes. I saw only a bleak and hopeless future, and the voice that told me over and over she was better off without me was deafening.
After five years, I finally packed up my rental house and checked into a care facility. My daughter was 18 and pregnant, and I helped her get a place with her boyfriend. I worried about her, but even though I had been capable of keeping a roof over her head, it came at the great sacrifice of her doing the majority of my care. I knew I couldn’t put her in a position where she would have to her juggle the care of her mom and her baby.
At first, going into care was a nightmare because my initial stop was at a skilled nursing facility for two months. It was the first summer of COVID, and I was restricted to my room, seeing visitors through my window. Within that time period and those four walls, I decided I would not let the depression kill me and make a life for myself again somehow.
I started thinking about what I wanted out of life for myself. I’d hit rock bottom, but it was there I managed to begin having healthy, happy daydreams about my future for the first time.
Worries about not getting care and burdening my family were no longer an issue; I began to experience a sort of independence and to utilize this mental energy that felt almost unfamiliar; I’d been depressed for so long.
I started a self-help book for people with quadriplegia that summer, compiling over 150 quotes from my quadriplegic family online. I started a mental health blog. I started blogging for a humanist NGO and SCI blogs and published articles about mental health and disability in several national magazines. I spent the whole year in assisted living writing and decided to apply for grad school. In my happy daydreams, I had a career again, something I was passionate about.
Now I wake up to attend college online every day, typing with a homemade mouth-stick stylus. In a couple of years, I will be teaching. I’m going for my Masters in Education to teach Language Arts to 7th through 12th graders. I thought teaching or a career of any kind was not in my realm of possibility. I spent over six years telling myself I couldn’t do it.
I had told myself I needed my hands to fly across the keyboard to write, but eight months in, I was mouth-stick typing 35 words per minute.
I told myself I wouldn’t be able to focus on school because of my meds, but I got off all the meds four years in. I told myself I could never succeed because I couldn’t even guarantee I’d be out of bed to show up at work. I told myself no one would hire a teacher who couldn’t use her hands.
Finally, I stopped lying to myself and went for it. I am loving grad school!
Accommodations have been awesome, and I’m so excited that soon I will be sharing my passion for literature and writing for a living while also normalizing disability- and people with disabilities meeting with success- for the next generation.
Working toward a career isn’t the only element in my life that wards off notions of ending it. Writing about mental health and disability and advocating for causes I’m passionate about gives me a lot of purpose.
My relationship with my daughter is healing, and I have a precious grandson who fills my heart with joy. Finally, I’m in an excellent group home where I never have to worry about getting the care I need.
The soul-sucking depression is gone, and my heart is full of hope. I’m so glad I hung on. Some days are still difficult; quad life is a tough road. I’m at a good place in my life, not only because of a personal drive but sheer luck. My health is excellent, and I hear that finding a good care home as I have is like finding a needle in a haystack.
My advice to anyone experiencing depression similar to my state of mind a few years ago: HANG ON. Things can get better. What changes can you make to improve the quality of your life? It’s terrifying to leave our comfort zones, to chance change, and it’s scary to set goals high, to snatch back the life that was taken from you.
But it feels so good.
My book Iron Girl: Tomboy, Tradeswoman, Tetraplegic: a memoir
My blog. Www.mysoquadlifeblog.wordpress.com
My Facebook https://www.facebook.com/cassandra.brandt.50
- A Tale of Two Assisted Living Homes - July 22, 2022
- A Quadriplegics Dreams of Suicide Turned to A Life of Passion and Purpose - February 17, 2022