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Coping with Guilt After a Spinal Cord Injury: Personal Experiences with Paralysis
Q&A: Do you ever feel guilty?
I feel like I, I wish I could do more to take away his pain. That’s my guilt. I honestly tell him all the time, if I could take away your pain away, I would take it, If I could literally absorb his pain, I would take it. He tells me, “I would never give it to you.” That’s exactly what he tells me.
Yeah, I feel guilty, but, like I said, everything happens for a reason though. You know, I give my wife a lot, she goes through a lot. I want to deal with all the things that she has to deal with. I ‘m sure she’d rather want somebody that was able-bodied as well. But, things happen.
There are still times where it is difficult to ask for help. And, I try to remind myself that if I don’t ask for help, I’m going to be the one who pays the consequences. If I try to struggle through something on my own, or I just leave and say, “I think I can handle that, don’t worry about trying to help me,” I’m going to be the one who pays the consequence.
About what? You know, not really, I mean there’s very few times in the 35 years or so, has there been a “why me?” or “if I wouldn’t have gone that day swimming.” But I’m married, I’ve got 2 kids, I’ve got a great job, I do things I want to do. Life is good.
I still feel guilty if I want to go on a vacation, or I need to do something for myself, I still feel guilty. Maybe I, it's easier now because I'm just saying, I'm doing it, I don't do it a lot; I should probably do it more, especially if you ask my friends. But, and giving myself permission to still have my own interests. That was a real difficult step to take, and once I took that step, I just feel like I've blossomed. I went back to school, and that was something I did for myself. And, you know, it was a difficult choice, and it was a sacrifice that the whole family had to make so that, you know, I could complete my masters. So now that I did that, I feel like I can move on to the next place where I'm supposed to be in life, and it's energizing.
I did initially because I was the driver of the car; the car was parked. However, it may be an antiquated philosophy, but I felt I was the driver, I was the captain of the ship, and I was responsible for the welfare of everybody in the car. And, I felt bad about that.
I did at first. Only in the sense that I could have said, “no, you’re not going to the gym tonight.” You know, that’s where my guilt is. You want to protect your children so much in everything that they do, but he had been in gymnastics and cheerleading all his life. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, it was just an accident that happened. But I did feel guilty that I couldn’t protect him from it happening, you know.
Sometimes, like people having to help me so much. Like I kind of have a guilt like they don’t have time to do whatever they want to do now because they have to help me. So, I feel like guilty there, “oh, they’ll tell me 'no.'" I just can’t help it.
I feel guilty for, you know, putting my younger son, because he was only entering kindergarten. So yeah, I tried real hard to balance being with him, but I feel—and I went to all the field trips as much as I could with him—but I do feel guilty because I know he had a different childhood, and I feel guilty like, "how could I have maybe been there more for him?" My step-daughter, I feel guilty about—she was in high school at the time, and, you know, it's a tough time—so I feel guilty for not being there more for her. But at the time you make those decisions, you take everything that's happening then, and you, you think you're doing the right thing, I mean that's all you can do. You just, and you can't regret too much, because then you can't move forward. So you have to just let go and say, "well I did the best I could."
Yes, I mean in some respects I’m thankful that I did this to myself because I can forgive myself. But if someone else did it to me, I might be a little less easy to, that might be harder to let go of. At the same time though, being that I sort of made a momentary lapse, or had a slip in reason, or paying attention and thinking back to “what if I would’ve just done something a little differently?” how my life would be different in this respect. And it took a while to sort of get over that, but even, you know, and now I ponder the thought, but it’s not something that drives me.
Now I don’t feel guilty. I’m sure when I have kids, and when they’re like, “Dad, I wish you could be like one of the other dads playing soccer with me.” So I’m sure there’ll be that moment, then I’ll feel guilty again. Like, “Boy, was it really selfish of me to have a kid, because I can’t be a very normal dad?” Right, but, I know that there’s so many other ways I can be a good dad to my kid, that hopefully the balance will be more in my favor.
Not really, I think I’m proud. And, I do feel bad that we sometimes can’t do things, but we work around what we can’t do. You know, we don’t dwell on what we can’t do because of that, we just do it in a different way. So, no.
Yes, because in Mexico, when a girl turns 15, it's a big deal. When a girl, especially a girl not a boy, when a girl turns 15, parents usually make a huge party, we call it "Quinceañera," and I was looking forward to that. I was looking forward to having a little party or a big party, it wouldn't matter, and that didn't happen because the accident happened just a few months before. So, I think I felt angry back then because of that, but now that I think about it, I think I was a little selfish because my sister's life had been turned over completely, and she was not able to walk anymore.
Yes, I do feel guilty. I feel guilty for everything that my friends and my family had to go through because of the incident. You know, there is not anything that I can do about it; it’s beyond my control in terms of the incident and everything that happened.
Nothing to be guilty about, I mean the accident wasn’t my fault, so I don’t have any guilt at all. Every once in a while, you might feel a little guilty that you’re in a chair. Because, you know, my kids, might be something they want to do that I can’t necessarily do with them. But we’ll go about another way to do something different, not necessarily, it might not be that thing, but it will be something different. But there’s not really much guilt. Feeling like the kids are missing out in life, I guess that would be a little guilt. But as a family, we overcome it and do different things, make things better on different aspects.
I felt many times that I wish I had done something that night that would have changed the course of his evening. I was visiting my boyfriend, at the time's, family in Wisconsin, and the accident happened at about one in the morning, and I kept thinking and wishing that maybe if I that had just called him. It was the week before Christmas, maybe if I had just called to ask about what some of his holiday plans were, maybe it would have offset the night five minutes or so; that would have changed it. So, I felt guilty from that end. I also felt guilty because he's my younger brother, and it shouldn't have happened to him. You know, I sort of feel, like a responsibility for him, at least I did. I didn't want that to happen to him, I would have taken it those first few weeks. I would have done anything to switch places with him.
I’m not so sure guilt is a good description. But, yeah, I think sometimes that, especially when we were newlyweds, that yeah, there was some things that I felt, like, that an able-bodied person would be able to provide, and do that I would not be able to do. And Marsha has been very quick to correct me in that area. So, that’s probably the only area of guilt.
Yes, I do feel guilty. Because, you know, till this day, you know, my mom still cries. You know, it still bothers her. You know, because I'm her first born, I'm her baby; I'm always going to be her baby. So, she was there, you know, when I first started to walk, and to see that I can't do that any more, you know, it kills her. You know, and it kills me because I did that to her, I caused that pain. You know, so now I just, I try to live life just to show her that I'm going to be all right. You know, I try to be as independent as possible, and, you know, she needs me, I'm there.
Yeah, a little bit. Kind of stupid things. I had taken the air conditioning out, you know, the main unit because I was putting a deck on. And Johnny had stayed home, I went to a ball game with my wife, and he went swimming, where he got hurt. So, maybe if the air conditioning would have been in, he wouldn’t have left, you know. I had that in the back of my mind all the time.
I did at first. At that time, it was me and another gentleman that were survivors of the shooting, and being one of the only survivors, I had survivor’s guilt. Being the first one that was shot, having the thought “what if I had jumped out a tackled him?” “What if I would’ve done this?” Or, “what if I had done something differently, would everyone else still be alive? Through counseling, Mike McNulty, who was the counselor here at Shepherd, he really helped me work through that. You can’t feel bad for things that, you know, “what ifs.” You just have to keep moving on and do what is, not what if.
Oh yes, yeah. I tend to feel guilty about what I’m putting my family through, that they’re having to go through these emotions and these feelings about my being in a wheelchair and I feel, guilty that I have put them in that situation. There is a sense that “what could I have done differently?" And in my situation, there is nothing I could have done differently, it was a medical fluke, it happened, and I just have to accept that. But you still have those guilty feelings that you could’ve done something different.
It was an issue early on. I did feel guilty that I put my family through this heartache that came with seeing me as I was. And I also feel guilty that I had a hard time forgiving myself for what I let happen. But at a certain point, you know, those feelings are valid to a degree, but you can’t hold on to them because they are not particularly useful, they won’t help you grow.
It feels like it’s my fault for everything that gets put on my family and my mom, and it is a lot of work, and I understand that. And I know it’s not directly my fault, but it’s still me, and it’s still doing for me and that’s difficult to deal with. But it really wasn’t my fault, and that’s not really something I should feel guilty about, but it’s very hard to avoid.
Yes, I feel guilty because I’m more needy on a given day than maybe another day. The scale has tilted towards my side and I haven’t been pulling my own weight. Guilt can be challenging thing to deal with.
I received a settlement because it was, there were other parties, and it was a school trip, so there was a settlement involved, and I've always felt guilty about that. Partly because my family never had any money, and so all of a sudden I had more money than the rest of my family, and there's obviously the part that I didn't really feel like I did anything to deserve the money. You know, there's nothing, I didn't earn it, I didn't work for it. But then there was also, later in life, the guilt over, there are people, you know because I don't feel that I don't deserve the money now, or don't do something to earn it because I think being disabled is payment enough, you definitely earn every penny you get, but that other people with disabilities are not that fortunate, you know, does make me feel guilty.
In the beginning, I didn't know what to mourn more—the death of my husband, or the death of who I used to be, you know, because of the guilt associated with me physically driving the car. So, in the beginning, I think guilt drove me to over-function. You know, if kids had a small party, my children would’ve had a bigger party. You know, it was one of those, you know, want to be bigger that Jones, so my kids didn't feel like they were left out somehow because of my disability. So, guilt probably led me to do a lot of things that I didn't want to do or I wouldn't have done, but I think as I progressed with this injury or this, yeah, life with the spinal cord injury, I think it started to have its place. Do I still have guilt? Absolutely. I would be lying to you again if I said that I didn't live with guilt, but I don't led guilt drive me.
No, sort of the same thing. I think it wasn’t anyone’s fault. So, and I guess I could’ve said it was my fault but I never really, I don’t know, I never really spent a lot of time doing that. I think that I realized that that definitely could’ve driven me crazy.
I always feel guilty; I always feel guilty. A part of this happened because I never went to the doctor, I was one of these people, you know, who thought they were just out to get money out of me. And then I still do fight the battle of how much my aliveness is a burden on people, I do fight that. I cost a lot of money in hospitalization and doctor bills; I cost a lot of money and time. I cost of lot of money in—you know, the kids come over now, we don't just say, "Let's go here," they come and we sit and we talk. So I feel like I am, I have, I cost a lot in time and money. But the reality is there's almost a part of me that in a fantasy would say I'd be a lovely person to miss, you know, you'd have so many wonderful memories that wouldn't cost you a damn dime.
I do not feel guilty, but I do pray that it would happen to me instead of him. And, it just won’t.
When I was out there, you know, I, I kind of knew, or I kind of felt the consequences, and I was willing to accept them for myself. I knew was doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons. But what gets to me is all this extra pain, and hurt, and work that I'm putting on my family, and especially my mom. You know, she doesn't, she never deserved none of this, and for me to basically ask her to help me do to this, help me do that, it's just a whole bunch of extra, you know, that I'm putting on her shoulders and that's, yeah, it affect, that gets to me. You know, we're talking about a daily routine, you know, it does get to me.
Oh yes, all the time. I feel guilty because I almost feel like I’m a burden sometimes. And, it’s more with my friends and my parents because they do so much work, and often times it feels like I’m not doing anything. I’m just sitting there and just waiting for things to happen. So, it just puts me in that predicament. But, they always tell me I’m not, and I kind of understand, and I try to do as much as I can.
I feel guilty that I didn’t, wasn’t more observant in seeing that things weren’t good, or that I couldn’t have done more to help or prevent his injury, you know. There’s only so much you can do. You can’t be like sitting on their shoulder every minute commanding their life. They have to, I guess, learn.
I feel guilty that my injury is so low and that I am so able. It’s not fair to myself. I think it’s probably similar to like a survivor’s guilt. If everyone perished in a plane crash, the one survivor, I’ve heard, often feels guilty because they were able to survive. When I had my accident, I thought, “oh, if I had only this or if I had only that, to make it better for myself.” For every ‘if’ to my benefit, there’s another ‘if’ to my detriment. And so, if I had been going a little bit slower or little bit faster, maybe I would’ve broken my neck, up higher and I would have more limitations. And I work in an environment where I see people who in the same random sets of circumstances, they came out in a situation that is going to provide them with greater challenge than I have been confronted with. So, I do carry a little bit of guilt. It’s not reasonable but I do carry a little bit of guilt.
Yes, I felt a lot of guilt in the early days when Ryan was still in rehab. And it wasn’t necessarily for what happened, but for the fact that I was able to do things still in a way that he couldn’t. I felt a lot of guilt to be able to leave at any way at any time. Going to work was painful, I didn’t like to feel like I could get away from it, it wasn’t comforting to me. It was hard for me to even like go to the bathroom because I knew he couldn’t do it the way that he used to, and it wasn’t that easy for him. Pretty much everything—getting dressed, getting up, out of bed, just everything I felt guilt that I could do those things and that he couldn’t. It was really hard to deal with. But I think over time, I just kind of, I think that was part of my grieving process. And over time, those feelings dissipated, and I was able to recognize obviously that I don’t need to feel guilty about those things, but I think that I just felt bad that he was going through that.
I feel guilty a lot for my mom. Because she had to do so much in the beginning from staying in the hospital with me, to when I first got out, when I couldn’t dress myself, you know, the things that I couldn’t do she did. And then once I got better, I wasn’t driving, so I wanted to go back to school, she was right there with me taking me to school, taking me to the classes until I learned how to push myself. Because at Ole Miss it was hills, l so she would come and push me to classes until I got stronger, or until a friend or something like that helped me out. And so, I always say I feel guilty about that a lot because I hated taking her through that process. And especially when I finished my bachelor’s I was like, “man, I want to go get my master’s, but I don’t want to take my mom through driving me around and stuff like that again, that taking time out of her life.” And then I was like, “you know what, I’m not even going to go get my Master’s.” But she came to me and said, “you know you want to get your master’s I don’t mind,” and I was like, “yes.” So, but I feel guilty about it still because I just hated taking her time out from doing all that.
I think in the beginning I did, yeah I definitely felt guilty in the beginning, I don’t feel guilty anymore. It’s tough of course, you feel like you’re letting yourself down, and letting your friends and family down for all the things that you’ve tried to work up to and were planning on doing with your life. And so, then you think, “oh man, if I’d just never done that trick, or something different would’ve happened and I wouldn’t have gotten hurt.” So, you feel guilty in the beginning.
My daughters were 7 and 11 at the time. The guilt that I feel for not being with them more, I probably would have focused on them a little bit more. Not saying that I would have taken anything away from my husband, I still would have been there for him as much as I could, but I think I would have handled my time with them differently. I think I would have made sure that they were handling it. Definitely they always seem that they are handling, they always seemed that they were handling it well. Now I’m not so sure that they always were. I think I would have just, that would have been the biggest thing for me is from the beginning to make sure that they were okay. They’re both good kids and I can’t complain, but I just wish that I’d, looking back, that I could go and do more for them.
Yeah. Because I was in this car accident, and I can’t tell you to this day if I was distracted, what I was doing, I just remember looking up—and, my dad says, “Looking up from what?”—but I just remember looking out the windshield and going, “Holly shit, this guy is stopped, and I can’t get over.” And I quick looked at my other mirror, and there was another truck, and car over there, and I couldn’t get over. Could I ditch it in the grass? Well I don’t know, there was a big concrete thing down there that I’d probably smack into. So, I just rode the brake as hard as I could. And with a flatbed truck—it’s a flatbed truck, so there’s nothing on it at all—the depth perception is really deceiving. The back of that truck is a lot closer than you think, because you see the cab, you don’t see the parallel back, and you don’t see the wheels as much. And I really believe that if there was a study done, they’d find there’s a lot more accidents with flatbed trucks than anything else on the road, so that’s just a little insurance moment there. But I do, I feel guilty, “Why did I have to be there at that point?”—“Why did it happen to me?”—“Why did…?”—You know, “I was wearing my seatbelt; I shouldn’t get all these injuries.”
No, the good thing about my injury is it happened from I don’t know what. I definitely say it was God wanted me to have this spinal cord injury, and he wanted me to do something great with it. So, I have been, the last six years trying to find meaning in it.