Adjusting to a spinal cord injury or disability is a life-long process.
When you are first injured, adjustment focuses on dealing with the loss and learning all about the injury.
As you accept, learn, and master the new skills, you can incorporate them into daily life. This typically happens after discharge from acute inpatient rehabilitation and in the context of the “real world.”
The goals are to care for yourself in a manner that is as independent as your disability allows, and to begin the process of building a life that is not just focused around the disability.
In the beginning, this may involve:
After this initial adjustment period, you may be:
Life-long adjustments may include:
As you regain independence and integrate yourself back into the community, you can move beyond the disability and assume other aspects of living a meaningful and purposeful life.
Depending on where you are in your life when the injury happens, you may need to adjust or drop life roles.
There typically is tension between your role and the roles that other individuals hold. You may view your role as a passive position where things are done to and for you.
You will need to develop ways to work, parent, and be an equal partner with your spouse or loved ones in a manner that is effective, productive, and meaningful. This can be difficult and require a great deal of re-working, especially when your spouse is also the person who will serve as your caregiver.
Changing roles may mean:
There may be specific mental health and cultural adjustment issues that you need to address. These can affect everyone involved in the recovery and adjustment process.
Disability may be a major part of your life, but it is not, and cannot be, the only part. Without other interests and activities, you can quickly become isolated.
You need to:
Emotional and behavioral problems may develop or worsen after a SCI.
Your spinal cord professional can help determine what management is needed for any symptoms of depression.
Reintegration and engaging in meaningful activity once discharged from the hospital is seen as the best way to prevent boredom, depression and suicide.
At times, depression may lead to suicidal thoughts. If at any time you have thoughts of hurting yourself, it is important to get immediate help.
You are encouraged to discuss any thoughts of suicide with your health care provider. Some patients are referred to SCI psychology on an outpatient basis.
If indicated, patients and families can become connected to a community based behavioral health agency.
Use of alcohol or drugs can have a negative impact on health and well-being after a spinal cord injury. Drug and Alcohol counseling may be an important step to becoming substance free.
Not only can alcohol and drug use increase risk of depression and suicide, but substance abuse can affect relationships. Use of drugs or alcohol may also worsen medical problems and may alter the affects of medications.
If you have both a spinal cord injury and a problem with either drugs or alcohol, you may benefit from behavioral health intervention. Your spinal cord professional can help direct you to a treatment program.
The spinal cord injury peer support group meets on the first and third Thursday of the month. The group meets at 4:30p.m. in the dining room of the UPMC Mercy Spinal Cord Injury Unit on the seventh floor of Building E.