How I learned to Walk and Live Again

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Dinesh Dorai Raj

At 20, Dinesh got into a deadly car accident just as he was about to enter his senior year of college. In this story of true grit, Dinesh talks about how he got back on his feet.

Nearly 5 years ago, I was another typical student at the age of 20 with plenty of dreams. I was supposed to leave for the United Kingdom to complete my final year of studies. This new phase of life had me exhilarated. I didn’t know that in a second, my life would change.

That specific day back in June 2010, I was driving back home when I got involved in a wretched car crash. Surviving despite the extent of the injuries was an amazing miracle to begin with. I suffered a brain concussion, fractured ribs that led to punctured lungs on both sides, a ruptured and dislocated spine that resulted in an injured spinal cord, leaving me unconscious in the ICU for some time.

Somehow, I survived the tragedy and when I gained consciousness a week later, I went through long hours of invasive surgeries. Unfortunately, I was left paralyzed.

I believed at the time that I was very strong mentally, emotionally and physically, but medical practitioners were very certain that I would remain permanently paralyzed for the rest of my life. My future looked pitch black. I could only see my world crashing down in front of my eyes.

The question that was at the back of my head in my utmost pain and sadness was “Why should I continue living? Is this just a nightmare? What is going to happen?” At this point, hopelessness, loneliness and depression struck me. I floated aimlessly.

At this juncture of my life, I held on to grit to start working my way to defy medical odds, every perception and belief. The best explanation of grit is given by Angela Lee Duckworth in The Key to Success, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

I knew that in order to walk again, I had to work hard every day and recollect and rebuild myself, for years. Years and years and years.

I cultivated myself in optimism and self-confidence. My faith in these words forced me to believe in myself no matter the odds, the difficulties and adversities.

There is no magic in attaining these skills – it’s purely repetition. I knew in order to walk again, I had to repeat my physical training and activities day in and day out, and be willing to push myself in a situation where there is so much pressure. After all, pressure builds diamonds.

I forced myself into situations where I would say, “Damn, I have done this 1000 times, yet I have not seen the results. It doesn’t matter, I am going to try it another time, and I am going to keep trying until I attain it.” I never settled for the options ‘No’ and ‘cannot.’

As I pressed on with persistence and perseverance, different levels of achievements kicked in over several milestones with consistent effort despite the mental, emotional and physical challenges over the years.

I rose from being bedridden to getting wheelchair-bound, from wheelchair-bound to standing with the support of parallel bars, from standing to walking with the parallel bars, and progressively to walking independently using walking aids.

This surprised the medical practitioners, and I am currently still pushing myself hard to be able to walk without any aids over time.

“Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years… Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

– Angela Lee Duckworth

Despite these challenges and being forced to defer my studies for a year and half, I resumed my studies and completed my Bachelor in Chemical Engineering and Environmental Engineering and later managed to pull myself through post-graduate studies and obtained a Master of Science in Chemical Engineering.

I remember my professor telling me these words after my graduation: “I was very doubtful if you would be able to get done with your studies in midst of all the challenges you are in, but you have totally shifted my mindset, and I am proud of you.”

Then, I joined a Talent and Management Consulting organization that I have been with for a year now, and I brought in these qualities that have been embedded in me into the career world.

I held the position of a Development Specialist for 6 months before I was transitioned as a Talent Partner in the Organizational Diagnostics and Growth unit. Again, I pushed myself out of the comfort zone and 3 months later, I was given the ownership and accountability to lead a team within the Business Development, besides making a mark of undertaking several important executions across the organization.

My boss whom I report to currently, whom I would prefer calling a leader, mentioned to me, “This was not given, you earned it.” Simple words, earning the trust – it required hard work and dedication, didn’t it?

This same hard work and dedication paid off, didn’t it?

People do ask, how do you juggle between these challenges and sustain yourself through them? My frequent answer will be, “Hard work never fails. It may take a little longer, it may require a lot persistence through pain, but be sure enough to not give up.”

I remember the frequent words from our CEO, “Change is painful and if we push through the pain, we would develop ourselves and as we persist till we attain the result, it brings us closer to the goals we strive to achieve.” This again reflects that there is no shortcut to success. Sacrifice will appear to be one of the most common needs as we step in this phase.

One thing we should constantly remind ourselves is that amidst the pain, we do get some joy as things improve. Yet, we should always be prepared to be slapped hard, experience more pain, be pushed down unexpectedly.

Recently, I had to undergo another spine surgery again. It was a decision to be made if I wanted it or not. The surgery that I went through was something not too common or recommended by most surgeons, but I was assured if successful, it would allow me to have a better space for recovery.

After the surgery, I felt great amount of physical pain and instantly I asked, “Did I make the wrong decision to undergo this surgery? Why am I feeling this intense pain again?” After a couple of days, as the pain subsided, I came to the conclusion that in order to take two leaps forward, there is sometimes no harm in taking a step back.

After all, the pain is only showing me that I am further developing myself. That pain simply is to remind us, no time to rest until we achieve what we have set our minds to.

Surrounding myself with the right people is definitely one of the most important aspects of my recovery, as I always would say that a journey can never be completed alone. In my case it has always been my parents and siblings, a small number of relatives and friends as well as the colleagues I work with.

 

Though my journey is not yet complete, be it either in my recovery or my career – I truly believe the continuous hard work that I have been continuously exerting, the grit, persistence and optimism would lead me to attaining those ‘crazy’ goals and even allow me to do things I never thought I could do.

There’s this line I always stress to people, “Words may not explain enough the challenges I go through and the battles I go through to keep myself going. Hence if I could rise up to these challenges, all of you out there can do the same too, whether it be personal, health, or work-related, and many more.”

Dinesh went through a major change in life in June 2010 after a wretched car crash. Since then, he has proven, been proving and been wanting to prove himself more in various aspects that includes his recovery, studies, career and other aspects of life. He truly believes that everything is possible in this world through limitless grit, optimism, confidence and perseverance. He hopes that he will be able to influence people around the world to continue chasing their dreams despite all adversity that they may face.