AQA

Discovering who I am

30.08.21 03:40 PM By Dan

In our Soul Food for Dark Days series, writers share responses to loss and reveal where they've found help when they needed it. Katherine Reed illuminates her path to self-discovery. 

Helping young goats get comfortable gives Katherine a lift.
Story by Katherine Reed

At 19 I was working towards an apprenticeship as a jockey, in a job I loved, when I had a fall that left me with T4-5 complete paraplegia. For the first few weeks after my injury, I thought I was going to walk out of there. It wasn’t until I was shown my x-rays, and had it explained to me how the spinal cord worked, that I realised that wasn’t going to happen. 

By then I’d seen enough progress that I knew I would get better, but now I also knew there was a limit to better. This was about maximising what I had, and not holding onto what was gone. The little gains gave me enough hope to keep moving forward, until I could make bigger plans. 

After a few years of playing wheelchair basketball and travelling, I came back to Tasmania and bought the farm where I now live with my husband, Tim, and our two boys, Will (5) and Harry (2). We farm Angus beef cattle and have a herd of Australian Miniature goats. 

Hands-on role

I’ve never particularly missed the big things like walking; it’s more the little moments. I still find it frustrating how much of my life I spend stuck on the toilet. The one area where I do resent my spinal-cord injury is in the balance it has forced within our home. I was raised to do the so-called boy jobs and the girl jobs; now I’m back to playing the domestic wife. I want to be outside more, but either I cannot do the jobs or it takes me ten times as long and all my energy. 

That said, the mini goats have allowed me more of a hands-on role: I’ve taught myself to trim their feet. The cuddles with the baby goats over summer, getting them used to being handled, have also been an important part of my mental health care. 

I know I’m not the only one who has struggled lately. I had shown signs of depression on and off since I was about 12, but the past year has been a real kicker for me. I have functional depression, so I can hide it well, even from myself. I was going downhill for months, and was at my worst ever before I even realised there was anything wrong. 

Working out who I am

For the first time, I have started on medication, which has allowed me to get well enough to make other changes to my life. I don’t know how long I’ll be on it, but it’s helping for now. I also have an excellent psychologist, who is helping me work on strategies to prevent me from relapsing. 

I have had many conversations with my mother about which came first, the depression or the wheelchair. I honestly don’t think my depression is caused by my SCI - I have both personal and family history. However, the extra difficulties I face due to society’s attitudes towards disability, and the lack of support provided for those of us with disabilities, is depressing. 

I do know that one thing dragging me down of late has been lack of purpose and direction. This may seem ridiculous, given that I’m a full-time carer to two busy kids. However, I never got around to working out who I was as a person before I became a paraplegic, and then became a wife and a mum. Of course I love my kids, and I’m glad I had them, but this lack of identity outside parenting has become something I can’t ignore. 

Katherine the jockey never came to be, and nor have I fully developed my new self. As my kids get bigger, I am taking time to study, to do things that interest me, and to strengthen that sense of self. 
Author note: Katherine Reed has been living with a complete t4-5 spinal cord injury since 2008.

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