Our lives revolve around self confidence. From how you present yourself physically, to your choice in careers, to how you interact with other people. Your level of self confidence will dictate how you dress, whether you’re a wall flower or a social butterfly and even what you do for work. Remember your last job interview where you tried to look professional and made sure you weren’t slumping while you answered questions designed to not only make you realize your greatest strengths, but also spill your greatest weaknesses? Or remember that shirt you tried on but you thought it made you look fat? Being in a relationship is no different. From those first dates when you would spend time trying to pick out the perfect outfit, to the first kiss, to the first time you spend the night together. Add a spinal cord injury to the mix and the “what if I get food stuck in my teeth” or “what if I snore” turns into “what if there are no accessible tables at the restaurant” and “what if I have a bowel accident in bed”.
This post stems from a number of messages and questions we have received about how to be supportive and help your loved one regain confidence not only in themselves, but in you and your relationship. We have struggled with answering this question because every relationship and person is so different and everyone adapts to life post SCI in different ways. We talked to our men, and we talked to our friends in chairs and have come up with a list of ways that you can help your loved one become more confident.
- Encourage independence. We know that it’s faster, or it’s easier, or it’s less of a struggle for them if you do things for them. We understand that it feels like you are supporting them and showing your love this way, but you have to allow them to do the things they CAN do. Struggle isn’t a bad thing. Let them try and let them struggle. If they find out that they can’t do it, they’ll ask for help. And if they find out they can, even better!
- Find the humour in awkward situations. Yes, it sucks when you $#*! the bed. For most people with SCI this is the single hardest thing to get over. In our experience, making light of the situation is the best thing we can do to help. So, there’s a little bit of poop. Laugh it off, give your loved one a kiss and then get up and change the sheets. Oh ya, don’t forget to shower.
- Create positive memories. Rule #1: Get out of the house! Do things, go places, meet people. Will they say no? Definitely; drag them out anyways. Chances are they will have a great time once you get where you’re going.
- Listen. This goes for any relationship, SCI or not. Sometimes things get hard and all someone needs is some time to vent. Sit with them, listen to what they have to say and just be there for them. Listening leads to learning which leads to understanding.
- Realize that you are not a care aide; you are a friend, a family member, a spouse. We know not everyone agrees with this, but we believe that you are a spouse first and foremost. This means that we believe it is extremely important to take time for yourself. If that means a couple hours at the beach alone, do it. If that means hiring a care giver to help out every now and then, do it. Draw a line between care giver and loved one; realize that they are two completely different relationships. With that being said, we are in no way saying that you shouldn’t do what you can to help your loved one out, but help them out as just that… their loved one.
Coming to terms with a spinal cord injury is extremely difficult. It is a complete lifestyle change for your loved one and for you. Although we understand all injuries and relationships are different, we can guarantee that at some point some kind of insecurity will pop up. Take the time to reassure your loved one; look them straight in the eye and have a very open, very real conversation about their fears, or yours. In the end, please know that you are not alone and there are people in this world that are going through the same things you are. Let us know some of the things that have helped you and your loved one and maybe you will end up helping someone else too.
Sam & Chelsea