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Before and After....

Here are two photos; both having just had a flying lesson. Yet they are so totally different- mainly because of my health. That's my mental health I am talking about. One photo was taken before I had let go of the past and one was taken many years after I had let go.

When we face difficult times in life it is very normal for our mental health to be impacted, and I can tell you from experience, when you are struggling mentally you feel far more disabled than many physical disabilities. It can be hard to find enjoyment in anything, you lose your drive and at times, it is impossible to see a way forward.

The photo on the left was taken just a few months after my accident. I was lucky to have a friend pay for it, in hope he would find something for me to enjoy again and have a new mission.

There was a big problem. I was still struggling to accept some huge life changes- the loss of my sport, career and relationship. The loss of my identity.

The thought of being a pilot definitely appealed to me. It could be just what I needed and I hoped I would love it.

Sadly I didn't. It wasn't for me.

You may think I don't have any sparkle on that photo despite smiling, let me tell you, I felt a million times worse than I looked.

The other photo was taken 15 years later, not long before becoming a qualified pilot. So all those years later I ended up training and gaining my private pilot licence, flying an adapted microlight.

So what changed?

There were a few factors that influenced me but the biggest change between the two experiences was my state of mind.

Back in 2007, I was trying to find something new to do- something to enjoy again. I was desperate to lift myself free from the dark place I was in, yet all I could think about was my old life and what I longed to have.

Whilst my mind was thinking backwards it was hard to move forwards. However, that is totally normal when dealing with loss and we should all know it can take time to come to terms with life changes- so don't give up and keep trying.

As months went by, I started to slowly rebuild my life and as a result, the more I did, the more I wanted to do, and consequently my confidence and self esteem returned. I became happier. I became ambitious, and most importantly I became me. I had lost myself for a while and I was worried that I would never return.

My second attempt at learning to fly started with a totally different attitude. I had a growth mindset and I was looking to the future rather than dwelling on the past.

When you have a shift in your mindset you are suddenly free and able to do more. The weight that is holding you back is removed and success is more likely.

How do you get to the point of letting go?

I think I wasn't ready for a big challenge like learning to fly in those first few months post spinal cord injury. It is a big commitment and I'd have days when I felt utterly rubbish.

To begin with it was simple things like going out for lunch with friends even on the days I didn't feel like it, as well as taking my first job since being paralysed. These small steps combined with time to accept my situation, really helped me move forwards.

Eventually I found the weight dragging me down was getting lighter each time I pushed myself to do a bit more.

Then one day, you look back and realise you have booted it right out the way!

When I let go of what I was, I became who I am.

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The left is definitely where I am at the moment. I'm hoping to get to the point on the right, it seems a long way off at the moment but stories such as yours just about keep me going.

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