"Live with it" - Gretchen Remington's Story

by Al Siebert, PhD

THRIVEnet Story of the Month - February 1999

Gretchen got in her car to drive to town one day in 1992, she had no anticipation that her life would soon be changed forever. Gretchen, aged 29, was a single mother raising a young daughter. She lived near a small town on the Pacific Coast, so her route took her down US Highway 101. A few miles down the road her car was hit head on by an intoxicated man driving a 31-foot RV. Gretchen survived the crash, but a severe head injury paralyzed the left side of her body.

I met Gretchen in Cannon Beach, Oregon, when I spoke at a Disability Services Advisory Council (DSAC) meeting. Now 32, she told me about her experience as a survivor. In a recent letter she says:

I don't understand why friends of mine tell me so often "You're so strong!!" I do not feel like I am any superwoman because I'm paralyzed on one side and in a wheelchair.

I don't feel 'special' for merely accepting what is and coping....a 'survivor personality'?!! It does make a difference when one believes one has 'a voice' eventhough 'the body' is less than before 1992.

It is logical that we, who are able to survive, accept and get past tragic things, are the people who've experienced accidents, injuries, attacks, illnesses, but I've often questioned my own abiliy to do as such. I've always just figured, 'This is how I am....Live with it! ' Oh Y'know. Hoping, wishing, fantasizing things will be different does no good, I've realized.

I was undergoing my first physical therapy...I asked my therapist, "Will there ever be a day when I'll just jump right up, out of bed, and shock everyone by running down the hall?" He shook his head and replied, Not gonna happen, Gretchen... quit dreaming!!" So, I finally just began to accept 'the new me.' (That point was nearly one year after I'd injured my head.) I've learned that grief over such and feeling sorry for oneself because it seems SO terrible are two 'normal' feelings to experience, but I felt so guilty for feeling etiher way as some couldn't understand it.

My trying to 'fit in' with the non-disabled world kept me feeling this 'guilt'; and when I met Bonnie at a doctor's office and she invited me to a DSAC meeting that I attended, I felt like someone finally said "You're important/You have a voice!" I love being a part of a group working to educate the non-disabled world! It is like 'heaven' when somebody else has really listened to me talk about my experiences, also telling me, "You're OKay, Gretchen... You're 'normal!"

I feel like sticking out my toungue at those who did not take the time to understand my fears, my feelings..., and saying to them "NOW tell me I'm just feeling like having a pity party for myself because I've lost some things!! Ha! Ha! My levels of patience and pain-tolerance are much more increased than yours.....Nah, na, na, na, nahhh" (Good thing I'm not too vengeful, isn't it?!!)

Possibly this is the strength people see in me??

The most strength I've gained was because I had so many people behind me, supporting me, AND I had a 2 1/2 year old little girl to 'go on' for; thus; my not seriously considering suicide, plus....my faith!

My daughter, Justine, also is the one with 'the survivor personality.' this little nine-year-old child tells me, "I don't CARE if you can't run, braid my hair, and drive....and you're NOT fat, Mom!' (Gretchen has a 'hang-up' over the near 100-pounds she has put on since 1992!)

Justine helps me as much as she's able to. This little girl feels PROUD whenever she introduces me to her young friends! This amazes me as I remember how CRUEL children can be!

I consider Justine a REAL survivor because how many children so young nearly lose their mother so young, are separated from them for a year except for short visits, have troubles between her parents' families, and then just accepts her mother so changed, and supports this mommy SO emotionally, SO much? That's just the tip of the iceberg there! She lost her Nana who she literally idolized at age 3, her parents divorced when she was 4, and her daddy seemed more interested in his addictions to drugs and alcohol to worry too much about this little girl's needs. Yet, she perservered, and remains AS STRONG! I worry at how this will affect her later also.

My second speech therapist suggested I go to college to earn the degrees to become a psychologist; and it's also my goal to specialize as one for people who've been put in a wheelchair, use a walker, etc., due to accidents, as I longed for a psychologist who could really relate to the frustration I felt becoming disabled at 29! I've not attended a college yet as my daughter's so young and I don't have custody of her. (That, plus the fact that my cognitive-processes may have become a bit slower due to my head injury keep me from going!) Knowing that it will never be too late to earn a college degree, I'm hoping to go to college with her one day!

You may write Gretchen Remington at:
PO Box 428
Nehalem, OR 97131-0428

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