Building an Identity and a Life You Love After Disability

Acquiring any type of disability means gaining an identity while also losing one – maybe even more than one. For the first 18 years of my life, I had built my identity around being the most athletic on my team, the most hardworking at my job, the smartest in my class, the loudest person in the room, and the most giving friend. I thought that if I could be the best at everything that I did and could do whatever makes others happiest, then people overall would value me. Upon acquiring my disability, I realized just how wrong I was.

Eden jetskiing with friends

Suddenly I wasn't able to work at my multiple jobs, be on my previous sports teams, attend every social gathering, or give to my friends as freely as I used to. I had to leave my out-of-state college, withdraw from my sorority, and rewrite my educational goals. It was only after this change that I realized my value wasn't contingent on these things. I had lost everything I was and had been forced to discover a new identity.

Not knowing much about disability prior to my accident, I had a lot to learn. I had to decide which of my interests I could adapt to fit my new lifestyle, which things I had to let go of, and which things I may be interested in now that I hadn't been before. It was when I came to terms with this that I began to build a new life – a new life that I've come to love.

While in rehab, I tried a multitude of things such as art, horticulture, and gaming, among other stationary activities. I wasn't too interested in those things before my injury and definitely wasn't after. However, something that I maintained was being involved with my church, and I have become slightly more involved in it after becoming disabled. Having a community to support you is crucial to successfully living with a disability.

Eden adaptive waterskiing

But the two main hobbies that I loved and knew I would miss were music festivals and working out. At first, I wasn't sure if these things were compatible with disabled life. I began to mourn the loss of these pieces of my identity: being athletic and social. It was only after I finished rehab and regained as much independence as I could with my injury that I decided to try to find a way to get back to the things that I loved. This is when I discovered adaptive sports, the ADA, adaptive activities, and different mobility aids. Since then, I've tried adaptive snow skiing, hiking, water skiing, road and mountain biking, tubing, jet skiing, weightlifting, rugby, swimming, kayaking, and more. After trying different ways to get exercise, I decided swimming was my favorite. Since then, I have joined a para swim team. I swim twice a week, lift weights five times a week, and travel to various competitions across the country. This has been a way for me to get an adequate amount of exercise as a quadriplegic and regain the identity of being an athlete. I wouldn't have been able to do this if I wasn't willing to try.

Eden in the swimming pool

In terms of music festivals, I began to do some research. Over time I have become familiar with the ADA laws and regulations which has helped me immensely. Often, venue employees are unaware of ADA laws, so educating them helps you and others. This goes for traveling, too. Once I knew that I had access, I started looking into mobility aids that would help me navigate the large and sometimes unpaved spaces that music festivals are hosted in. The combination of these things has allowed me to return to music festivals. I was even able to attend a music festival in Cancún, Mexico, which was something that I had never done, even before my injury. My biggest tip for festivals would be to to always call ahead to let the venue know you're coming and to get an idea of what you will need to do. Through research and my willingness to put myself back out there, I have been able to regain this piece of my identity as well.

Eden attending a music festival in her wheelchair

Overall, one of the most crucial parts of creating and maintaining a fulfilling life after disability is being willing to put yourself out there and to put in the work. All of the pieces of my identity have allowed me to build a community. Being able to put myself out there and try to find ways to get back to the things I enjoy has allowed me to meet some pretty amazing people. My support system has strengthened immensely because of this, and having support makes it possible for me to do so many of the things that make my life fulfilling. Over the last three years I've learned that while disability makes things a lot harder, there's so much you can still do. I've discovered things about myself that I never would have otherwise: my true, authentic identity. My value and worth isn't found in being the 'best' or in what I can do to make others happy. It's about being myself, surrounding myself with the people I love, and doing that makes life enjoyable for me. Believing in this has allowed me to find people who appreciate me for me and to build a life that I love while being disabled.

About the Author

Eden Schroeder

Hi! My name is Eden Schroeder and I am a 21-year-old college student studying psychology in hopes of completing my doctorate. I sustained a C5 spinal cord injury in November of 2020 and have since found a passion for adaptive sports. I enjoy traveling, camping, and finding new ways to make the outdoors accessible in my free time. My favorite food is Mexican...especially the cheese dip! I hope you enjoy learning about paraswimming!

Eden's ride is a Quickie Nitrum.

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Date: 7/2/2024 12:00:00 AM

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