In the age of social media, it is seemingly impossible to avoid comparing ourselves with our peers. Every day, someone is posting about the all of the great things in their life. Although the rational parts of our brains know that what is shared on social media is not always an accurate representation of what a person’s life is actually like, it can be difficult to not compare ourselves with others and feel like we are missing out on something.
Living with a spinal cord injury can magnify these feelings. Many things that able-bodied people take for granted like getting a job, traveling, or getting married and having a family, can be quite challenging when living with paralysis. All of these things are certainly possible for paralyzed individuals, but unless someone lives with the injury it is impossible to know the full extent of the struggles involved.
I think that I have done well for myself considering the circumstances, but I can’t help but feel discouraged sometimes when I see or hear about what my friends are doing or have done. Throughout the course of my injury I have experienced this many times. During my college years, it was difficult to see pictures of my friends going out to the bars, parties, or traveling on spring break when I was still dealing with a new injury and having difficulties living my new life. Through my 20s, I watched as my friends were getting jobs while I was still trying to finish up school and figure out what to do. In recent years, many of my friends have gotten married and started families while I have dealt with the struggles of trying to date while disabled. As I said previously, none of these things are impossible, but it is not easy to see people doing so much easily, when we sometimes have to struggle to accomplish the basic things in life.
Comparing ourselves with others is not limited to our able-bodied peers. Whether on Facebook or Instagram, there are many people with spinal cord injuries who share stories of their activities in their daily lives. As we all know, no two spinal cord injuries are the same. However, it can be difficult to see someone with a similar injury doing something better than us. I see videos of people with C6 injuries transferring themselves without a problem, but if I tried, I would fall flat on my face. Even though I know that my muscle weakness and poor balance prevent me from transferring independently, it still makes me wonder if I could be doing something differently or better.
What we don’t always see in these videos are all of the invisible factors that can contribute to a person’s level of function. It isn’t always obvious who has an incomplete injury, or who doesn’t have debilitating pain or spasms to manage. There are so many things we as individuals have to overcome with our injuries, that we shouldn’t concern ourselves with what others are able to do.
Comparing oneself to others is not helpful to get what we want out of this life. It’s okay to view others as a source of inspiration or motivation to try something we haven’t, but when the comparisons highlight the negative it can become a cause of distress. The important thing to remember when we see our peers doing things that we can’t do, or aren’t able to yet, is that everyone is different, and we have all worked hard to get where we are at.
Written by Mike Franz
Mike is a C6 quad from Michigan who has been injured 16+ years.