When I sat down to answer this question, I thought about everything that changed after my injury. I lost everything I was in the blink of an eye at that moment. I will discuss what I learned, but first, I want to point out that many people have a moment like this multiple times at some point in their lives.
Here are some examples:
Starting a new job
Having a child
Children growing up and moving out
We all define ourselves by what we do, by our priorities in life. I had never given much thought to the question "Who am I?" Yet, when asked at the start of a new course, job, or other group function, I proudly stood up and defined myself based on whatever I was focused on at the time. For example, I stated, "The captain of my drill team" when attending school. At a work event, I was a "Hardworking employee who loved the company and had plans to enter management." When I got married, I was "a Wife" followed by "a mother."
Each life change held challenges, but any change that involved loss was emotional and stressful. For example, leaving friends at one school to go to a new school, changing jobs, and even having children had a strong sense of excitement of the unknown that quickly overshadowed most doubt I might have had. Changes like divorce or children moving out can be either anticipated and celebrated or profoundly devastating. Most people spend most of their working lives anticipating retirement and then are lost when it finally happens.
My injury forced me to stop identifying who I was by what I did and made me look at myself as a complete package, the sum of all those parts. In my life, I have experienced traumas that changed the course of my life and are still altering things today. The phrase "It doesn't get better, but you do get through it" best summarizes my beliefs on traumatic events. Enough about Life changes and back to how I discovered who I am.
My injury took everything away from me in an instant. Once a strong independent woman, I was reduced to needing help to dress, bathe, or anything required in basic life. While my body was betraying me, my mind wasn't far behind. I was a mother who couldn't care for my children and a wife who was not a wife by any definition. I had been a truck driver, a painter, a car repair person, a salesperson, a landscaper, housekeeper, seamstress, cook... I think you get the idea. But, the most brutal loss was my belief I wasn't a mother, a wife, … I was nothing.
I had spoken to a great counselor during my 2nd divorce and was open to trying it again. Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with "ADJUSTMENT DISORDER secondary to my injury," among a few other things. I now see that we all suffer from an ADJUSTMENT DISORDER SECONDARY TO LIFE".
I was always asked what I wanted to be when I grew up from a young age. Now that I'm grown up, I realize I want to be ME. I want to like myself and be the best version of myself. All those things I thought I had been, the things that were now lost to me, were still a part of me. No one can take away what you have done, what you have experienced, or how you dealt with it at the time. They are what makes you … well you.
If you don't get to know yourself, you will be lost when life throws a curve, including retirement. My children are all grown up (18+ YRS) and have lives of their own. I can't work anymore, but I am still married to my best friend. My husband always said that it was the independent thinking, decisive and opinionated woman that he fell in love with. I was his friend first, and now that we are facing a future that brings us all the time with no distractions, it is that same person I want to be again. So I don't think I lost her exactly. She just got dusty while I focused on other priorities the last few decades.
I have made some huge mistakes in my life, and I know my actions have hurt the people I love, and for that, I am sorry. However, I am not sorry I experienced the things I have because they made me who I am today, and "I like the person I have grown to be."
As you face changes in your life, ask yourself, "Who am I?". The answer should never change, you are YOU, and there will never be another You, making you something pretty special. So embrace yourself and focus on how much more you can fit into the definition of YOU and not what you fear you are losing.