Guest Blogger: Stephanie Atkins
Hi, I’m Stephanie. I initially met my husband Ryan when we were 8 years old in the same second-grade class but did not see him again until many years later when we were 21. I was in massage school at the time of Ryan’s car accident when he sustained a C3/C4 SCI. Hearing of his accident through a mutual friend, I pushed through my insecurities and reached out to offer him a massage on the heels of his four month hospital stay. It turned out to be the best decision of my life. We quickly developed a friendship and began dating several years later. In the summer of 2015, we got engaged and we were married in November 2016. (For more of our story, Ryan recently published his memoir! One Step Closer: How a Life-Altering Accident Led Me to Everything I Almost Missed by Ryan S. Atkins is available here on amazon.com and here on amazon.ca)
During our engagement, I was chatting with someone at work about how the wedding planning process was going. I excitedly recounted the details of a recent venue tour.
“Well, I hope you can find a place that is handicap accessible,” this person responded. I was impressed they were thoughtful enough to consider this detail and was about to assure them I hadn’t run into any issues with venue accessibility. But before I could open my mouth, this person let out a deep sigh.
I’m sure many of you can relate to receiving tactless comments about being in a romantic relationship with someone who has a SCI. The comment from the person above only scratches the surface for me. Ryan and I have gotten all the curious stares in public. Strangers assume I am Ryan’s sister, caregiver, or, on occasion, even daughter. The fact that I could possibly be his girlfriend/fiancée/wife doesn’t even seem to cross people’s minds.
Contrary to what my work friend seems to have assumed, I’m very content with my life. Of course, it would be disingenuous to say there aren’t challenges associated with what Ryan’s injury means for our marriage and daily life. All caregivers know this. But these circumstances, which I never imagined I would’ve chosen for myself (and certainly not for the person I love most in the world), also cultivate some advantages that I am incredibly grateful for. In the most difficult moments, I’ve found it helpful to intentionally focus on these things.
- “For better or for worse” actually holds some weight
I believe the way someone responds to adversity is one of the most authentic expressions of their true character. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to enter marriage with full confidence and evidence that when hardship inevitably hits, my spouse will take life in stride, demonstrate resilience, look for the best in every situation, and refuse to take on a victim mentality.
If ever there was anything that could ease apprehension about vowing the rest of my life to another person, it is the preview I’ve had of Ryan’s true character. There is a feeling of security that comes from knowing I get to weather all of life’s storms with someone who demonstrates such remarkable endurance.
- I have learned what really matters in a relationship—and what doesn’t
Ryan and I would love to be able to do a lot of things we are not able to do currently. There are many areas of our relationship and our lives that we wish looked different. We can focus on those things—or we can turn our attention elsewhere. Communication, shared values, friendship, and a desire to serve one another are all areas that are not hindered by our circumstances. When we make intentional decisions to build into these areas, we discover a richness of relationship that is far more gratifying than anything else could be, even if our circumstances were closer to what is typical.
- I have a greater appreciation for the little things
It might sound cliché, but hardship truly does make us appreciate the little things. Recently we were sitting outside on our deck in the sun when Ryan commented, “This is the life!” I couldn’t help but laugh—it’s pretty easy to come up with a more ideal circumstance than a few minutes outside counting down the minutes until Ryan has to transfer back into bed due to spasticity and pain. But the contrast of the daily grind gives us a true appreciation for things like sitting in the sun, eating a delicious meal, or enjoying a good conversation.
I would love to hear some of the things YOU have found to be surprise advantages of SCI life. Drop a comment or connect with me on Instagram at @stephanienatkins.