This is the story of how Bean coped, changed her mindset, became inspired, and found her passion and purpose through paralysis.
Finding my passion and purpose through paralysis
Finding my passion and purpose through paralysis
Bean Gill in photo by Gurneet Chahal, CBC News Edmonton
Before the day when my life changed forever, I led a healthy lifestyle. I was in excellent shape, doing yoga, kick boxing and weight training. Fitness has always been a big part of my life as I have always struggled with weight management and body image issues. I worked as an X-ray Technologist and enjoyed spending time with my family who have been supportive in everything I have faced. Like others, I faced adversity and stress in life, including a very difficult divorce.

But in July 2012, an event occurred that drastically changed and challenged my life forever while on vacation in Las Vegas for my friend’s bachelorette party. I was newly single and looking forward to 5 days of relaxation, shopping, eating, partying and tanning. Little did I know what fate had in store for me. 

On Friday the 13th, I woke up and was planning to go to the pool with my friends, but it was raining (when does it ever rain in Vegas in July?). As I laid back in bed, I suddenly had the most excruciating pain in my low back. I didn’t know what was happening, but after a couple of minutes the pain subsided and I couldn’t move my right leg. I lay there moving my left leg, bending my knee, flexing my ankle and wiggling my toes. A few minutes later my left leg went prickly from my hip to my toes and within 10 minutes I was left paralyzed from the waist down. Being in the medical field and using my critical thinking skills I stayed calm, called my insurance company and 911, and was taken to the hospital, where I stayed for 12 days.

Initially, I was (mis)diagnosed with Conversion Disorder. Conversion Disorder is when you’re so stressed out that your brain tells your body to shut down. Doctors told me the symptoms were psychological and that most people regained full mobility in two weeks. That never happened. Later I found out that a virus called transverse myelitis had attacked my system and paralyzed me from the waist down. I went from being able bodied and ignorant to being paralyzed and humbled.

Managing my new “normal”
So, what did I do to cope with my new reality and move forward? Some of the main tools that have helped me manage my journey are:

  • Hiring a psychologist to assist me and my family
  • Relying on my family to support and encourage me emotionally and physically
  • Focusing on my health and fitness and working out
  • Switching to a mindset of gratitude and positivity to help me live a meaningful happy life
  • Using a motto I’ve used for years; “Fake it until I make it”
  • Connecting with others in the community who share my challenges
  • Finding an amazing trainer to work with and assist in founding a new non-profit to help others like myself

“Faking it” until I made it
One of the best moves I made was hiring an awesome psychologist. She objectively listened to what I had to say and helped me face and move past each issue. Not only did she help me deal with my paralysis, she also helped my family members adjust to their “new normal” which put them in a much better position to not only cope themselves, but also support me as I continued my journey.

Most people I have met that have been through a traumatic experience and come out the other side said they dedicated their lives to their recovery and switched to a mindset of gratitude and positivity which are important for anyone wanting to live a meaningful happy life. Bad days happen; negative thoughts and emotions arise from time to time and that’s completely normal. You have to let yourself feel those emotions, figure out why you’re feeling the way you are and then let them go. I know it’s a lot easier said than done, but it’s necessary for a happy, healthy mind, body and soul. After all I think the majority of us on this Earth are here to live a fulfilling life filled with love, acceptance, and fun. 

I wasn’t always secure with myself, there have been many instances where I was forced to “fake it til I make it.” This has been a motto of mine for years; even before I was paralyzed. Having confidence (or faking it) allowed me to go to the gym regularly and workout with men and women who at one time would have intimidated me. Turns out after talking to them months later that they were intimidated by me! 

Getting physical
In March 2013, working out become my full-time job. Although health and fitness had always been a big part of my life, I didn’t think about how it could help my recovery. I implemented my knowledge of working out and with the help of, I found a pre-set workout and then adapted it to my needs and diligently worked out. 

As I was working out, I was also doing Yin Yoga four times a week to keep my connective tissue moving. Yoga isn’t just for those who are able-bodied; Yin Yoga is great for anyone with limited movement or a disability as it is all done on the floor and each position is held for 3-5 minutes so you have enough time to get into the position and hold it before moving onto the next pose. Many people with SCIs deal with spasticity and tone, especially in our hip flexors, back, and psoas muscle, so using yoga as a part of your workout routine helps with keeping you limber. 

All this working out and doing yoga has helped me regain function and mobility below my level of injury. Having a strong upper body and loose, limber lower body makes being paralyzed a lot easier to deal with. I have found that transferring gets easier, I don’t flop around while turning, and I’m able to lift/move heavy objects without the fear of hurting myself. Working out also helps keep your shoulders in tip top condition which is very important when your shoulders are your main source of mobility. 

A lot of people have said they get bored with their workout routine so I recommend changing it up. Try a new gym, or a different way of working out such as CrossFit, boxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, yoga, hand cycling, wheelchair fencing or Barre (which was invented by a ballerina who suffered a c-spine injury). There are many different activities that can be adapted. You just need a little creativity and an open mind. 

Discovering my passion and purpose
During my journey, I had an amazing trainer, Nancy, who has helped me and many others regain function below their level of injury. While working out together, we often talked about opening a spinal cord recovery centre in Edmonton. I’m proud to say that we have officially opened a non-profit organization called ReYu Paralysis Recovery Centre in April 2017. It has been an incredible journey with a very steep learning curve. I can’t describe how incredibly rewarding it is to see my clients reach their goals and do things they didn’t think they could do. I certainly didn’t think my life would go in this direction but now that it has I am deeply satisfied and eternally grateful. Adversity happens to the best of us; it’s how we react and deal with it that keeps us going. 

Guest blogger: Bean Gill is an entrepreneur who wants to help others find a new path to recovery from spinal cord injuries. As a Rick Hansen Foundation Ambassador, one of her main goals has been to change the stigma around people with disabilities and what they can accomplish.

Reach out to Bean and ReYu Paralysis Recovery Centre on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter or Instagram.

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