Victoria Cairns’ book: ‘Dealing with Disability’

Victoria Cairns worked as a statistician for large pharmaceutical companies, including working in the area of cardiovascular drug development. In 1998 she was bitten by a tick in her garden and caught Lyme disease. She remained ill for 5 years and had to stop working full-time. In 2001 she first started having an irregular heartbeat and these palpitations went on for many years until in January 2017 she decided to have a fairly routine keyhole operation to solve the atrial fibrillation. Unfortunately, she suffered a complication that occurs in 1% of cases, and the prolonged resuscitation led to a T8 incomplete spinal cord injury and some brain damage.

Her book is a well-researched and referenced account of her best advice for dealing with disability and gaining acceptance of what cannot be changed. It focuses on developing the right mental attitude towards handicap in order to maintain a good life. It discusses avoiding negative thoughts, developing perseverance and how to move on from trauma and let go of anger, blame and regret. The book offers a mix of psychological information and practical advice, and provides the scientific background for the information given and the sources of evidence.

I would suggest that this is tremendously useful for anyone with spinal or nerve damage, and indeed a good read for anyone injured and their relatives.  Her calm, stoic and hardworking approach to everything gives real perspective.

The problem with life is that it is often no fairytale

From a young age, we love stories. And when life seems especially incomprehensible and unfair, we often look for the classic storylines to help us to make sense of it. Injury and illness is a classic example.

Friends and family want to hear that you have been the hero who has taken on the injury or disease, won over it and come back stronger and wiser from your trials.

Or that the medical professionals have the magic potion or magic hands that heal you, against the toughest odds.

And as the person who is injured or ill, we also want those comforting storylines to be true as well.

But the reality is so much tougher

The reality of recovery and rehabilitation is that lacks the instantaneous nature of stories, and brutishly ignores the linear nature of a classical storyline, with better days & worse days, progress & slip-backs and hope & despair. Part of the agony as the person with the injury or illness, is that time expands – filling 24 hours when you cannot sleep and cannot do anything or concentrate on anything can feel like forever. And when others want to hear the fairy-tale storyline as much as you, the loneliness of the reality of your situation can be overwhelming.

We all need a friend who is prepared to listen to the reality

In today’s fast-moving world, we all want injury and illness to be something that we bounce through within a week or two. But serious injury and illness is not like this. And as the person going through it, you do need to find someone who can let you talk about and let out some of the pain and frustration, as otherwise it eats you up from inside.

It’s not easy. It takes a lot of searching. And many people have told me that it was a surprise to them as to who stepped into the gap and supported them in this way. A truly vital friend, at a time of need.

But if you cannot find this person, then you need to find another outlet for your anger, grief and sense of loss. Some keep a journal and pour out their heart into the pages, or an audio diary. Some charities and support groups have people who will step into this role.

And hang in there

Whilst it may seem unbelievably tough right now, who knows what lies ahead? Just look after yourself through this hour and this day. The future will unfold. And who knows? Maybe in the end, you will be able to overlay one of the fairytale narratives onto your experiences – but for sure you will be glossing over the depth and darkness of some of the hardest times. Only you (and maybe that vital friend) will really know the reality.