They say everyone should experience what it's like to live alone at least once in their life. However, many people are too afraid to try it after sustaining a spinal cord injury (SCI). An SCI is, in many ways, a rebirth, which means living independently again — at least for a short while — is a good thing. Even for those with the highest level of injuries, the grand living alone experiment should be taken on at least once by SCI survivors. The bragging rights alone make it worth it.
If you're too afraid, too hesitant, or think you have bad luck, force yourself to give it a go. As the reasons below show, it can be one of the best ways to become the strongest version of yourself possible.
You Hone in on Everything You Can Do and Learn New Things
There are a lot of things you must learn again after a spinal cord injury. It can be difficult however perfecting some of them, such as transferring yourself or doing laundry. Maybe you tried in rehab, but it was too hard. When you live alone, however, adrenaline kicks in and enables you to do some of the things you weren’t able to do in rehab.
In addition, you also become better at all of your independent living tasks (chores, cooking, picking up things from the floor, etc) since you don't have someone there to help you with every little thing. This can help you become stronger as well. Free exercise!
Your Confidence Will Increase
As you become better at all of your independent living tasks and learn a few new tricks, you'll see your confidence levels rise. Especially in the first few years after an injury when you’re struggling, this is a very good thing. One of the first emotions people feel when thinking about living alone is fear. “What if something goes wrong and there's no one there to help?” With the proper planning and backup measures, you can live alone safely — and many do. Once you figure all this out, it's inevitable that your confidence will skyrocket.
You Can Be as Selfish as You Want
One of the coolest things about living alone is that you can be a selfish as you want about the little things — for example, the thermostat setting. People with spinal cord injuries are notorious for their fluctuating body temperatures and are usually too cold. Other times, their homes can feel like saunas. When you live alone, you don’t have to feel guilty about anything you need to do to feel in order comfortable in your own home. You can also paint your walls that crazy color you've been considering!
You See Your Strengths (and Areas of Improvement)
It's inevitable there will be moments where you'll find yourself in a pickle and will be forced to do something you haven't done before. Maybe it's something like trying to get food from a top shelf, sopping up a giant water spill, or learning how to feed your dogs independently. All of these can be a challenge when you're a quadriplegic, or a paraplegic in some instances. When there's no one around to help, you really see what you're capable of accomplishing.
On the flip-side, you also see what you’re not capable of and should not try again, e.g., thinking you can crawl on the floor if you fall out of your wheelchair. Sometimes you think you can do it when, in fact, you are just remembering what something was like before your injury. Thank God for cell phones and emergency button necklaces!
It's Peaceful Living Solo
It's also a very Zen-like experience living alone. When your space is your own, you have full control over the energy you put into it. This often is difficult to achieve when you’re living with anyone, especially roommates, but even a significant other or another family member. This is why living alone is also a very healing activity, which is especially good for people with new spinal cord injuries.
If you want to live alone but can’t find accessible housing, try contacting the United Spinal Association for your nearest Independent Living Center. They will be able to point you in the right direction for housing. If no accessible housing is available in your area, you always can find a long-term hotel rental with a kitchenette. Just a month of living alone can help in some immense ways.
Have you tried living alone after your SCI? How did it go?
Written by Tiffiny CarlsonSince 1998, Tiffiny Carlson has been a prolific commentator on all things SCI in a number of prominent magazines, blogs and websites. Hailing from Minnesota, she was the SCI Columnist for New Mobility Magazine for 13 years and she currently works as the Executive Director of SPINALpedia, one of the leading websites for people with SCI to share videos and stories. She has been a C5-6 quadriplegic since a diving accident 24 years ago. Tiffiny has also been a fierce advocate for SCI research. In 2016, the Morton Paralysis Fund honored her for her work. While all SCI topics interest her, dating, love and the business of relationships have always been where her passion lies the most.
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