Joy of Diving
Before the accident I was one of the white sheep. I loved being one of the white sheep. I fit into the crowd. I was popular and I was accepted by the group that was my my naval buddies. There was a sense of companionship and also a feeling of safety in numbers, like a pack of wolves. I went to work, I had parties with my friends and I was happily married. Just as we all dream that our lives will unfold as the white sheep with expectations being met. Like other white sheep couples, we wanted to have children but we were unable to at that time in our life. I was never aware that my inner psychological landscape was the society norm that is seen as an expectation for us to live up to if we are to see that we have a fulfilling life by the end. Now as I look back, I see something so much broader that encompasses a mental freedom that we could only dream to be able to see. I never thought one day that I would end up in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic. I would see quadriplegic people on the T.V. or in the public street and think nothing about them other than maybe you unfortunate individual or
Gee, I am glad my life is what it is and not like that.
Isn’t it humorous that the majority of people never give this subject matter much thought.
The person in a wheelchair might have had a high-quality lifestyle before the accident yet in many cases are regarded as second class citizens after an accident. God forbid if they can’t speak. Being unable to communicate only makes a bad situation worse because if you can’t speak you are assumed by many to be severely mentally handicapped as well. This attitude is enough to make anybody desperately depressed after a major accident and as you can imagine, this line of thinking can lead anyone to thoughts of suicide. It did for me. I was not immune from that experience either.
Now I understand and it is during the process of becoming a quadriplegic that I have torn down the false mental shackles of how we should or must live in this world in order to be happy. Now I fully understand that happiness is beyond the domain of the physical. Happiness is a state in which we choose to be. And because it is a choice, that means we can flick the switch and change our minds instantly, as we choose. For instance, as I write this today, Queensland (where I live) is suffering the effects of extensive devastating flooding the size of New South Wales. I have been watching this unfold from the television set in my lounge room. Clearly, I can see that despite the gravity of this natural disaster and the displacement and trauma that it has caused so many Queenslanders, that so many of these individuals have instantly taken ownership of their lives and their happiness just as I was explaining. In watching them on TV, I can see the happiness and gratitude these people show for having something so simple but precious as their lives. This is what I mean by flicking the switch and making a choice. Some of these people were probably quite miserable and unhappy with their comfortable but “ordinary” lives with the ordinary challenges that they faced before the flooding. Now, due to these disastrous circumstances, the puzzle pieces of their lives have been so unsettled, disfigured and rearranged that it forces them to look at things in completely different ways.
This is what my experience feels like. The instant nature of the transformation on these people’s lives is somewhat parallel with the experience I went through at the time of my accident. I feel though that in watching some of these people that they got where I needed to be in only hours/days in contrast to what took me years. This is the essence of this wisdom of happiness being a switch that we can instantly change. I didn’t understand this back then but I hope that this writing may assist many others in not taking the numerous years that it took me to learn this wisdom. I do know, however, how challenging this is for most people to contemplate. It is not until you are placed directly in the path of the test itself that you truly meet yourself and your capabilities. It does help, however, to have some cheat cards stored under the table. Cheat cards of deeper understanding and insight that you may have learned early on from someone else’s story so that you can draw on those experiences, their practices that worked and their knowledge at that time when the challenges arise. I hope one day that parts of my writings may accomplish this for someone else.
It is in becoming a quadriplegic that has shown me that the conventional and average means of living are not the only choices or opportunities that we have in how to live our lives. It has been the non-conventional life I have lived that has opened my mind to the possibilities that are available to me and others in so many ways.
Don’t misunderstand or think I was aware of any of this as it was unfolding. From the onset of the accident through the recovery and rehabilitation process, I was clueless. It has only been through looking back that I have seen these changes and patterns occurring. I would have never believed for a minute I would finish up as a quadriplegic myself. This meant after my accident re-learning about life and trying to do my best to the greatest of my ability and that meant starting all over again.
After the accident it took many years of exercises and therapies and never losing hope in the rehabilitation program I had commenced. It’s taken 15 years to get as I far as I have in my recovery and I am well aware I will never resume my old life style. That took me years to come to terms with fully. It was hard to accept that the old me was gone until I die. This new (although very different) me is a much better person. I believe this newer model, although damaged, is better in the way I look at things and I am more tolerant and more understanding than the other me was.
I had a terrific life before the accident which left me paralysed. I was married and very happy living in the different countries where I was sent via my job. My wife and I experienced several different cultures and many different styles of living. This was so foreign to the Australian way of life. My time in these places was so rewarding for me personally which proved immensely beneficial to me as I look back now and reflect on those more happier times in my life.
Funny though… in a complete paradox, it has been the experience of this traumatic turn of events and the dropping down or diving down to these depths in my life that have changed me the most.
It is only now that I am able to draw on the comparisons of my post injury experiences with memories from my past. This in particular brings back memories from when I was serving the Navy while in the Solomon Islands. I had an extremely enjoyable time while I was there. I will never forget the experience of it all. It was amazing. In particular I can remember the wonderment I felt in the underwater diving. How amusing to me, now, after how this dive has changed my life.
Before the accident occurred, I was fanatic about scuba diving and it wouldn’t take much convincing to be talked into going diving – especially in the Solomon Islands. It was a fantastic place for sport diving. There were dangers associated with it but I guess that was half the fun of diving – having that adrenalin rush while underwater in a totally foreign environment.
Firstly, it was important for us to have spent time in the preparation of the diving equipment, making sure everything was in good and safe working order before the dive. Then secondly, we needed to organise the group so that everybody knew who they were diving with and that they all had a diving buddy for safety. Safety was the top priority in such a risky sport when so many things could go wrong because we were so isolated from medical aid. For instance, there are many reports of people getting the bends. This would be life threatening in our isolated circumstance. Once everything was in order for the dive the excitement grew in expectation of things to come. There was much to see in the corals of that underwater world. This phenomenal sight was so close to the shore line and a relatively easy journey from the beach. The corals were colourful in their technicolour splendour and there were so many different varieties of fish species. Not only was there an overwhelming supply of fish but an ongoing opportunity to make good friends.
One of my most vivid experiences was the day that I got to come eye to eye with a sunken vessel from World War II. It was lying at the bottom of the ocean in the deeper waters. As I approached this sleeping giant I was in awe of the stillness of the ocean floor that this vessel inhabited. Now as I journey my mind back in time I can see a parallel in my life today and this sleeping giant. I can now see that I had become this beautiful war ship frozen in time. My body is the stony temple that had held my soul in prison and in isolation from the hustle and bustle of the outside world. This stony temple however was the visiting point of worship for the diver to come to find peace and reverence in a world of stress and responsibility. I can also see myself as the divers come down to visit this vessel one at a time, each developing a friendship for life. This is like the people who enter my home. They visit, they spend time with me, (which is so appreciated), and then they leave and go on with their own lives. There is also the diving crew – a clear reflection of my care team. The people who know where to go to look after me and how to care for me so I stay in pristine order so I am still here to be visited and admired in years to come. What a funny observation. It feels almost like me in the past as the young athletic diver meeting myself in the future in a perfect moment of time. I didn’t realise at this time in the past that I was making a friendship for life in an amazing movement of an experience.
There is something special about being underwater. It’s incredibly peaceful and all your troubles seem to disappear. You see things differently from the time you enter the water. You are weightless in the water and all your cares seem to float away. You are below the waves. I would lie on the bottom of the ocean, put my hands behind my head and watch my air bubbles rise to the surface. As they did I was fascinated in the change of shape as they rose to the surface. On their way they would increase in size before breaking through the surface of the water.
I did a lot of stupid things back then. I felt impenetrable in so many things I did. I would dive amongst the many sunken ships and would be transported back in time with each dive. They had the power to hypnotise as you journeyed through the dark rusting hulls of those once active war machines now sitting in silence being a quiet home for the fish and other marine life. Amongst the rubble of the ships lying on the ocean floor was live ammunition a few inches below the sand. If you waved your hand from side to side a small amount of distance above the sandy bottom it would create a current of water dispersing the sand away into the surrounding water leaving a hole in the sand and revealing what was buried beneath. Plenty of ammunition lay in their clips, ready for use in a machine gun; it was so easy to find them. It made me wonder if the people who’d loaded those guns were still alive. If so, where were they now and what were they doing with their lives? The mind goes wild with thoughts of what those who had inhabited these ships did then or might be doing now. There were so many questions left unanswered for me. Until your air was nearly empty in your air tank and it was time to return to the surface and back to the here and now.
Written by Peter Blundy in collaboration with Katrine Elliott