Interview with quadriplegic Tracy Todd

by Nadine Visagie of suite101.com
 
On 20 March 2010, Nadine Visagie of suite101.com, an international networking portal for enquiring minds, conducted an interview with Tracy Todd. From this, two articles have been published at suite101.com, namely: Living life to the fullest as a quadriplegic; and Advice to people living with quadriplegia.
 
The full interview on which the above articles are based is given below.
 
Which aspects of your personality have changed due to the accident?
 
I don’t think it’s really possible for one to change one’s personality. I think I’m still very much the same person I always was. I am still Tracy Todd but far richer and stronger in character for having physically and emotionally survived a very tough period in my life.
 
In which ways did the accident force you to grow as a person?
 
I’ve learned to be more patient, more tolerant and more accepting of differences and thus discovered the joy of celebrating my uniqueness and using it as a gift to reach out and make a difference to the lives of others. And I’m still learning…. I learned that although I need a wheelchair to get around it is most certainly not what defines me as a woman. I was able to reclaim my femininity as I rediscovered my sensuality. Intimacy is a basic human need and it is something that should be celebrated, shared and enjoyed. Most people automatically assume – wrongly – that because I am paralyzed I am unable to have sex. That is because society has fallen into the classic – and all too common – trap of defining intimacy between two people who love one another deeply as “sex” which in my mind is “animal-like genital intercourse”. Many people simply take it for granted that I would not be able to fulfill any man’s sexual needs and therefore would not make a suitable life partner. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve heard of many marriages that fall apart because a fully functioning partner has the inability to connect physically with the other.  Thus my abilities – or seemingly lack of – hold no relevance.
 
Have you totally made peace with what happened and if so how did you manage to do it? If not, please elaborate.
 
If I were to be very honest, I would have to admit that I have not totally made peace with what happened. But, I choose to live a full, meaningful life. In order to get on with life, I have had to accept the fact that I am paralyzed from my neck down because there is absolutely nothing I can do to change it. But I will continue to live in hope that maybe one day, somehow, things will change. Besides, what is life without hope? In the meantime, life goes on.
 
You mentioned that being positive is a choice you have to make every day. How do you keep your mind focused on the positive when you are down?
 
Firstly, I allow myself to be down. I think it’s normal, natural and necessary. Everybody has a bad day from time to time. However, I’ve learned that once I’m in that deep black hole it’s very difficult to claw my way out of it again, so I am mindful of not allowing myself to wallow in misery for too long, or allowing the emotion to become too intense. I pray every day for courage and strength to face each challenge. When I feel too sorry for myself, I try to take the focus off me. I make an effort to reach out to a friend/stranger in need. Give a little – the gains are overwhelming. I focus on what I have got and what I can do, and not on what I have lost or what I cannot do. I remind myself to be grateful. Things could be worse. No matter how bad I am feeling, I get up each morning and dress to kill – if you look good, you feel good. I force a smile because eventually it penetrates my being as well. I also try to tap into my sense of humour. I’ve discovered the joy and benefit of laughing at myself and with others. I find that none of this comes naturally, but rather it is a conscious choice I make to be positive.
 
Besides losing your ability to move, what else did you lose as a result of the accident?
 
The most difficult thing I’ve had to come to terms with has been my total and utter loss of privacy and independence. Then, as a direct result of my injury, I also lost my husband (we were divorced a year later), my home, my career (I was a full-time teacher) and, most tragically, I was stripped of the privilege of being a full-time mom, as custody of my son was awarded to my ex-husband.
 
Do you feel that life is unfair, or do you think that there is a bigger purpose to everything, including tragic events?
 
Yes, life is most definitely unfair. But it’s unfair for all. There were so many days when I asked the question “why me?” But then I came to the realization that I needed to ask the question “why NOT me?” What makes me more/less special than anyone else? And the answer is simple – nothing. This is the path my life has taken. It was a completely random accident, so I may as well make the most of the journey to avoid missing out on life itself.
 
What motivated you to become an inspirational speaker?
 
I desperately needed to regain some sort of sense of self-worth. I needed to find more purpose and value to my life. I didn’t want to continue feeling like I was an oxygen thief or a useless piece of flesh, sitting in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I wanted to make a positive contribution to society. I needed to prove to the world that I am not disabled and incapable just because I am paralyzed from the neck down. I wanted to set an example to my son so that he could believe the words I was telling him that anything is possible if he sets his mind to it. I wanted to start working again. To be able to work and earn one’s own money is a joy and a privilege that most people take for granted.
 
What is the most rewarding part of being an inspirational speaker?
 
The rewards are many, but the most special part of it is when people (complete strangers) open up their hearts, bare their souls and share their own personal stories with me. It’s such a privilege to share a part of their lives – their personal joy and pain.
 
What inspires you?
 
Oh many things, my son; the beauty and magnificence of our planet; the incredible human spirit which has the ability to triumph over adversity; the kindness I receive from complete strangers … all of these things humble me.
 
What advice do you have for people going through similar situations?
 
Take one day at a time. Build a solid support structure of family, friends and committed care assistants whom you can rely on day or night. Take control of your life as soon as possible by making your own choices and decisions and, most importantly, take responsibility for your own well-being and care.
 
What is a typical day like for you?
 
Sitting, sitting and more sitting… And sometimes thinking. *laugh*
 
It takes me double the time (or more) that it would normally take you to carry out basic routines like showering, bladder and bowel movements, dressing and eating with the help of my care assistants. I run my home and take care of my son like any other stay-at-home mom (I see him everyday, alternate weekends and holidays). I strive to keep my mind as busy and active as possible by reading, writing and preparing for presentations.
 
What can able-bodied people do in everyday situations to assist people with physical challenges?
 
Give of their time and talents to help empower the person living with a disability to live as independently as possible. Everybody can do something to make a difference if they really want to.
 
What would you like to see changed in order to better accommodate for the needs of people dealing with physical disabilities?
 
I would like to see schools adopting a more inclusive and tolerant approach. In the ideal world, people should be encouraged to nurture tolerance, compassion and acceptance for all types of people. As an example to our children, it is imperative that our schools create an environment that is representative of these ideals by upholding each and everyone’s right to move about freely. I feel that if I had been given the privilege of being more exposed to differently-abled people from a young age, I would not have grown up knowing as much prejudice and ignorance.

The world we live in is primarily adapted to suit the needs of able-bodied people, but we all need to coexist in the same world. Thus it is exceptionally important to create awareness and to make changes in order to fulfill and accommodate the needs of all people where possible. 

What do you miss most about your former life, or do you try not think about that anymore?
 
The things I miss most in life are the small things, like reaching out to someone (especially my son) and giving them a hug. Being able to draw someone you love deeply into your own personal space and feel the love and warmth flow between you is a joy and basic human need that most people take for granted. I miss being able to dance to the sound of good music.  I miss being able to clap my hands as a human expression for something that brings me pleasure, such as a live show.  I miss being able to laugh out loud until my tummy aches. I miss being able to style my own hair in my own way and putting on my make up the way I like it.  I miss being able to wave to someone I recognise as a greeting from a distance. I miss being able to use my hands in an explanation or when giving someone directions. I miss being able to point my fingers in order to direct another person’s eyes to something I am looking at.  I miss being able to dig in the soil with my bare hands. I miss being able to walk barefoot on the grass or on the beach. I miss…  The list is endless!
 
Are you still teaching? If so, what do you enjoy most about teaching?
 
Although I am not teaching permanently in a formal classroom anymore, I believe that I was born to be a teacher. Teaching is my passion. Since my accident I have continued to teach in one way or another. I’ve given extra lessons, taught English literacy to adults, done some relief teaching and homeschooled children for periods of time. However I miss the spontaneity of the children in the classroom. For me, living with physical challenges always feels as if one has to constantly prove one’s abilities and competence to all – except for children. Children have the most remarkable natural tolerance and ability to accept differences.
 
Did you lose certain friendships after the accidents because people were intimidated by what happened to you or did your friendships just become stronger?
 
Yes some friends struggled to cope and chose to withdraw. The true friends have persevered along with me on the (often difficult) journey and for that I am grateful. I’ve also had the privilege of making many new friends with whom I have formed strong bonds. The beauty of these friendships is that they chose to come into my life despite the fact that I was no longer physically whole. They taught that there are many special people in the world who have the ability to look way beyond my wheelchair and recognize me for the person I am.
 
What advice do you have for family and relatives who want to give unconditional support to someone in a similar situation than yours?
 
Don’t become despondent, there is life after a spinal cord injury. I’m not denying that quadriplegia is extreme. It is harsh! It often has a ripple effect – forcing family, friends and the immediate community into a whole new way of life. Read, learn and educate yourself as much as possible with regards to the specific needs and care required. The situation has the potential to push the boundaries of normal family relationships beyond those that are normally acceptable. Be prepared to deal with depression and extreme emotions of anger, bitterness and resentment. It can take up to four years for an injured person to come to terms with their injury. Although unconditional love, care and support is needed and greatly appreciated, I would urge families to resist the temptation to step in and take over. Do not begin treating the injured person like a child. Respect their decisions or choices no matter how difficult it is to accept. If at all possible, avoid becoming the primary caregiver, as it tends to strain relationships, often beyond repair.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned from this experience?
 
I have learned so many lessons. The ones that stand out are – don’t ever take anything in life for granted. The mind is the most powerful tool one possesses and most people underestimate the power of the human spirit to fight for survival and existence, no matter what the circumstances.
 
What are your goals for the future?
 
To be the best possible mother to my son, Chad who is almost 13. To touch the lives of others and to make a positive difference to this world. To change mindsets, one at a time, and expose ignorant assumptions towards people living with disabilities. Finally, writing that book!
 
So are you planning to write a book about your experiences?
 
Yes, I have actually written a book, but I have never found the courage to have it published. I know that what I have written has the potential to make a difference to this world, and is too powerful to be left lying in a cupboard. Hopefully, now that I have been encouraged and inspired by a special friend to start writing a blog, I will gain more experience and confidence in my writing, and then be motivated to publish my story. You may read my blogs at  https://tracytodd.wordpress.com and http://blogs.women24.com/tracytodd
 
Were there times when you just wanted to give up? How did you manage to tap into the part of yourself that is strong and indestructible?

Yes there were many times when I just wanted to give up. I think many people have days like that from time to time. Perhaps my lows are a little more intense than those of others, but I cannot say for sure. I don’t see myself as uniquely strong and indestructible. There was a time in my life when I was arrogant enough to believe that I was invincible. Although those days were absolute bliss, I shudder to think of how irresponsible I was at the time. I think what kept me from ever giving up completely was the knowledge that if I did, I would be disappointing and hurting the very people I cared for most – my son, my parents, my family and my friends.

Acknowledgement

This interview by Nadine Visagie was first published at suite101.com, and is republished with permission.

About Tracy Todd

Although I need a wheelchair to get around, it is most certainly NOT what defines my essence as a woman. I am also a mother, teacher, wannabe writer and an inspirational speaker with a positive outlook on life.
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23 Responses to Interview with quadriplegic Tracy Todd

  1. eugenia says:

    Good day! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website before but after browsing through some of the post I realized it’s new to me. Nonetheless, I’m definitely delighted I found it and I’ll be bookmarking and checking back frequently!

  2. Hi! My name is Carla and I just had my four year anniversary as a quad! I have the most amazing husband that does almost everything for me. The issue that is weighing heavily on my mind right now, is my husband is missing touching and sex. Last weekend he picked up a girl, in a pub, and had sex with her. Tonight he is taking her out to dinner, then having sex with her. I am struggling greatly with my sexual inadiquacies, of course, who wouldn’t! I want to be that girl. I want my husband to want me in that way, but fear he has seen to much and helped me out in ways a husband shouldn’t have to help with. We have not really experimented in this black area. I guess that I just really need another female quad to talk too, as I know none. Would you be willing to correspond with me? Sincerely and hurting…

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Dear Carla
      Thank you for your heartfelt comment on my blog.
      It most certainly touched a raw nerve and brought back memories of when my own husband had an affair after our accident. We were eventually divorced just over a year after I was left a quadriplegic.
      You are welcome to correspond with me. All my contact details are below. You may ask me anything you like – nothing is too personal – and I’ll try my best to answer you as openly and honestly as possible.
      I’m so sorry for your pain. I feel you, Sister.
      Be brave. Stay strong.
      Take care of YOU.
      Tracy
      E-Mail todd@soft.co.za
      Connect with me on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/tracy.todd1
      Follow me on Twitter http://twitter.com/TracyTodd1

      • Verne says:

        I am not a quadriplegic and do not completely understand what you must be feeling. Marriage is a lifetime commitment and he promised to love you in sickness and in health. Breaking the marital vows is treachery and betrayal. I do understand that! I am an avid Bible student and have complete faith in what it says. Isaiah 33:24 says “Soon no resident will say I am sick.” It also promises that “The meek ones will inherit the earth and they will find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.” I am so sorry that this has happened to you. It is devastating and makes one feel extremely helpless. But take courage, this does not go unnoticed by our loving Creator.

    • Martie Jones says:

      Dear Carla, my heart cries for you after reading this message. I landed on this site because my son has to do a school project on the life of a quad or paraplegic. We live in South Africa. I can just pray for you !!!!! This really broke my heart now. I can’t always keep contact from the work computers, but you can email me on martiej@lourensford.co.za. Love you, MARTIE JONES

  3. Verne says:

    Hi Tracy! Reading your blog touched my heart in a way that only God can understand. I have a very dear friend who is a quadriplegic. Have known him for many years. I never see the wheelchair and recognize what a beautiful human being he is. I appreciate your being candid about “never becoming the primary caregiver.” You should publish your book. I would love to read it. You are a wonderful person. You are just sitting down.

  4. Tracy, each new fact I learn about you only makes me want to know more. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. Your strength, honesty, and resilience humble me.

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Kristen, thank you for supporting me on this journey. I need it. Sometimes it’s scary putting my life out there for everybody to read. There are days when I doubt whether I am doing the right thing. Yet, I know deep down inside that my message is too powerful to be kept silent! Thank you!

  5. Tracy – i love that you always share so honestly. That you haven’t quite come to terms with what happened. That you let yourself get down and that is natural. That you can laugh – what do you do all day? I sit and sit and sit some more. I love your turn of phrase – I don’t want to be an oxygen thief. What a great phrase, and something we should all aspire to avoid. Thank you a thousand times.

    Phil

  6. Your honesty is stunning in the best way possible. Thank you for sharing your voice and expanding the minds and hearts of those of us who hear it.

  7. Absolutely wonderful. I worked at a special needs school for a year. The first day of class, the teacher pulled me aside and told me I was trying to do too much for the kids. A teenage girl had asked me to comb her hair and I did it, when of course she could have done it herself. But she said she wasn’t able to.

    “Josh,” said the teacher, “some of the most inspiring people you’ll ever meet are in this building. Also some of the laziest. Someone in a wheelchair might be just like you or better–they’re just sitting down”

    I’ve never forgotten that. Thank you for being you. You’re so good for us in so many ways.

  8. Mynie says:

    You are the “mouth piece” for so many of us Tracy!
    I beg you to publish your book. Since my accident I have developed a “fear of the front door” and the world out there in general… Your blog is so amazing and your book is going to be such a blessing to every human being on this planet! You lift my spirit – thanks and God bless

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Mynie, it makes my heart so sad to hear of your fears of going out into public. But, I can so relate to those fears. I fight with them and struggle them every day of my life. I hate being the center of attention but where ever I go, people stare. I know that they don’t mean to. I know that they are simply curious. I’ve actually written my feelings down about all the “staring eyes”. I’ll definitely publish it on my blog sometime.
      But in the meantime, I want to remind you of what a beautiful person you are inside and outside. Don’t let your fears and insecurities prevent you from living a full life that you so deserve.
      Hang in there my friend. We are there to support one another.
      God bless you

  9. (pardon the overuse of Apostrophus, the punctuator)

  10. *bonk*…oyyyyyy!

    That’ was my forehead hitting the keyboard when I read that you wrote the book and didn’t publish it, followed with (I guess) possession by the spirit of an old Jewish sage in verbal reaction.

    There’s a tradition of what’s called “wounded healers” derived from the Greeks (Asclepius, Chiron) that you fit in. Ther’e’s mythic and archetypal resonance to your tale.

    People are encouraged by examples of heroic struggles to face their own trials. You KNOW this from your appearances.

    You can still get an editor if you want to polish the work, but I agree with Ronna and all your other angels who will be winging in to read this. I also agree with your questions to self and would only add “What are you waiting for?” The more you allow it to be deeply personal, the more it becomes universally felt, understood and useful to others.

    You’ve got big, big things ahead, mariposa.

  11. Ronna says:

    Tracy: So many places I could go with this. So much I want to ask. So much I want to say. And…I feel so strongly about being able to just sit in the same room with you, see your smile, and talk.

    You, my friend, enable and provoke that experience (if not the desire) through your writing, your story…you. Your voice evokes conversation and relationship (both of which I’m ALL about). Hugely significant!

    Much to digest, experience, ponder, and consider, but here’s where my eye stopped – and stayed:

    “Yes, I have actually written a book, but I have never found the courage to have it published. I know that what I have written has the potential to make a difference to this world, and is too powerful to be left lying in a cupboard.”

    Come out of the closet. OK, cupboard! I say to myself: “Write the damn book, already, Ronna!” and you? It’s already written? Publish the damn book, already, Tracy! (I’m sending you an email about an idea…)

    You are too powerful to be kept silent. Too strong to remain seated. Your voice stands, moves, walks, and dances.

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Ronna, I have no words. But, the joy in my heart is so overwhelming. Your last sentence of this comment brings tears to my eyes – which I cannot even wipe away. For so long now, I have allowed my immobility to suppress my heart, mind and soul. Writing this blog has finally eased my fear of expressing myself publicly. What was I fearing? Rejection? Pity? Ridicule? Truth? I don’t know! But, I’m beginning to realize that what you say is so true… my “voice stands, moves, walks and dances. And… THAT voice is ME!

  12. Corneil says:

    Notice the url to the women24 blog is

    http://blogs.women24.co.za/tracytodd gives error 404.

    but I did find it at:

    http://blogs.women24.com/tracytodd

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Thanks for pointing out the error Corneil. Hopefully it is all sorted out now. Now you know why technology has the potential to intimidate me sometimes! *laugh*

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