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My Paralysis Story



For Mental Health Awareness Week, NERD’s Jelena Tomić shares the deeply personal experience of how she used the power of her mind so she could walk again

My Paralysis Story
Every time I think back to that day, those same emotions rush through my veins. The memory of being on the ice rink, joyfully skating swiftly past my classmates not knowing that the next day I would experience something that would forever change my life. 

I was 13 years old when I lost all sensation in my body - from hip to toe, I was paralysed. 

People always knew me as the energetic, annoyingly happy child, who would always be the first to involve themselves in any kind of sports or activities. Having to make the transition from being so fit, healthy and active, to spending what felt like a lifetime and a half in hospital beds, became really quite traumatic. 

Moving from clinic to clinic, from hospital bed to hospital bed, it was not only my body that was suffering but also my mind. I remember waking up every morning with more than ten of my school friends sitting around my bed, intrigued and perplexed to hear about my obscure and unordinary story. While my mornings were scheduled for specialists and their trainees, most of my day was spent under the sheets or strolling through the neurological department in my new two-wheeled transport, my wheelchair. I’m not entirely sure which part was overall more challenging; accepting my own reality or observing the heart-wrenching suffering that other children were experiencing. For that reason, I never allowed myself to express my emotions. I still felt grateful for the position that I was in. I felt I had to be strong for those children and especially for my family. 

Trying to keep a clear head wasn’t easy. I would remind myself every day to take a step back and observe the whole situation as if I was someone who wasn’t in it. Every single action of mine during that time contributed to determining whether my condition would improve or deteriorate. Suppressing my emotions may have not been the best way to cope with the situation but it helped in those moments. 

My case was never diagnosed. Doctors would tell me that I was one in a billion and they had never seen anything like this happening to a 13-year-old child before. Not exactly what you want to hear when you’re hoping for the best help you can get. 

One of the most painful moments was perhaps when I went out in public, bound to a wheelchair and as I watched a young woman walk past me all I could think was: “I truly hope you appreciate your health and are grateful to be able to walk and not depend on anything.” The fast-paced lifestyle we have adopted has conditioned us to take things for granted - what seems ‘little’ only gains value once we lose it. 

After my stay at five different clinics and numerous doctors certain that I would be dependent on a wheelchair for the rest of my life, I eventually learned to walk again. Baby steps, but I did it. And how? 

Although I most definitely experienced a trauma, it was my spirit that never gave up, my mindset. We allow too much power to someone in a white coat and that for sure was a lesson learned for me. Learning how to walk again was more an internal fight than a physical one for me. My body was not responding the way I wanted to and my mind was struggling to push me through. What do you do when doctors tell you there is little or no chance of recovery? What do you do when they tell you the paralysis might expand and rob me of my mind, taking away everything that made me the person that I was?

Take my word for this – there are always options no matter what position you’re in, even if you feel like there aren’t. As soon as you realise that your mind is the most powerful piece of machinery that you need to determine your physical and mental feelings, you’ve completed half the journey. For me, there were two options. One - listen to the people in the white coats and their scientific investigations. Two - I could listen to my body. I decided to go with the latter, despite the fact that I didn’t even know what was happening to me. I refused to accept the fate that I was told I was destined and the state of the unknown truly distressed me. There was one thing I knew – this was not my fate; this was just an obstacle. 

It was only later that all emotions that I’d denied for so long were catching up with me and I was left with another internal battle, depression. Although I was out of hospital beds and wheelchairs, my mind and spirit were only just beginning to realise and accept what I’d been through. Pain demands to be felt and if we suppress it, it will not go away, it will haunt us until we deal with it. It hits you like a really hard slap in the face, basically. 

Now that I was capable of walking down the street again without any support, it was time to heal my mind and spirit. If someone were to ask me which battle was the hardest, I would probably say the mental part. My body wouldn’t have been capable of moving ever again if it wasn’t for my mindset. Putting all mental energy I had in to picking my body up completely drained my spirit and mind. I had to recharge but this only worked in collaboration with my body. I was so weak. Every single day after school, I was fighting to keep my eyes open until I pushed my body to the next stage and forced myself out of bed. I started going for little runs after school, I changed up my diet and was giving my mind and body the nutrients it craved. I ended up running 10km a day. 

Looking back to this significant chapter of my life, I now can say that I am proud of every single obstacle that I experienced and overcame. Now my past is part of me. It’s shaped who I am, the lifestyle choices that I’ve made and the positive outlook that I have on life. It’s taught me about the tough, but incredibly crucial relationship that the mind and body need to have. 

Our minds have such power. If you nurture yours holistically, you can achieve incredible things. 

Jelena Tomić is creative content strategist at NERD.

Photo credit: @orangetiephotography
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NERD Productions, Fri, 17 May 2019 15:53:35 GMT