The Strength 2 Strength program for carers is specifically designed for family members of people with spinal cord injury:
I remember in May 2012 I was invited to this relatives meeting at Royal Rehab, Ryde where we were asked to; relax, share our story and discuss resilience, discuss being actively in charge and discuss the source of our strength. I admit that my heartfelt reaction was to; take a double shot espresso, bottle of vino, pack of fags (I don’t smoke) and wail throughout the two-hour session. A friend gave me sound advice when I told her of my plan – “Absolutely all of the above”
Being the compliant person I am I turned up for the Strength 2 Strength session to find that the group initially was ME! The Social Worker would have probably cancelled if she had any prior knowledge of my ability to analysis and talk! We established that a group can officially be any number over one, so we were official.
The Social Worker asked if I would like to follow the program which incorporated a relaxation tape for twenty mins and an assessment and discussion of my strengths. I felt terrible as I could have saved her the bother of struggling with the 1970 cassette recorder. The ‘Mission Impossible‘ tape whirled into action in an asthmatic fashion and the gentleman’s soft voice asked the assembled group (me) to deep breath and relax. Within a nano second I was peacefully oblivious to the relaxation instructions as I was fast asleep. I only had to be asked to sit down to accomplish total relaxation let alone the superfluous instruction to close my eyes. Spinal cord injury rehabilitation as a carer is exhausting.
After rudely waking me from my relaxed state I was set the task of picking my strengths from a pack of cards so that we could discuss. I shuffled the large stack and focused on each word. I looked at the first card ‘sensitive’ I paused to consider and decided “yes” I probably am. Then I picked up the next card ‘caring‘ and thought “yes” I’ll pick that as well. Again and again I picked up the cards; co-operative, resourceful, creative, loving, supportive, independent, forgiving, open, honest, organized, thoughtful, communicative, very communicative! Within a short space of time I’d collected nearly every card into a large pile of glowing, strong attributes while the social worker looked at me, thinking “just as well no one else had come along to share the pack of word cards.”
The Social Worker looked at the array of cards now in front of me as my identified strengths and with just the slightest tilt of her head and merest hint of an eyebrow raise she said “It is very positive to see how many strengths you see in yourself!!”
She asked why I had discarded the words in the smaller pile of cards. The discarded cards included the words happy, positive and peaceful. These words evaded me, I had to explain that through honesty with myself and others I can communicate and achieve practical outcomes, I can fill in forms, get quotes for house modifications, care, love and support Emily but peace? I strive to find peace in our current situation. I need to accept Emily’s disability fully, to accept her functional loss, I have to release the guilt I have if I am not continually present at her side, I have to reset multi level life buttons so that I can be at peace while Emily develops independently. I am aware of my personality traits and I see my goals but understanding the path does not ease the exhausting journey. I am dragging my heavy heart; my heart is not as accomplished as my head in addressing this new post February 2012 world that we find ourselves in. My heart still bleeds whatever my head thinks or comprehends.
The Strength 2 Strength program for carers
The Strength 2 Strength program was five weekly sessions. My group did increase and incorporated a variety of carers, we shared and listened to each other. Far from being burdened with other peoples grief I regained a sense of perspective. Everyone was struggling to cope and care within individually traumatic events. I realised that I needn’t be stoic, my peers had strategies and experiences that empowered the group. So a contemporary support network developed, nurtured by a professional Social Worker within is structured program.
By session three our group confidentially revealed our new-born strengths; anything good or positive that had come out through our experiences. I realised I still had Emily, she was alive, I could cope and I was managing, it was also easier as a group to problem solve issues than individually. Talking was therapeutic, we encouraged each-other; re-emphasized the importance of being ourselves, taking time for ourselves, recharging our batteries as our family members were dependent on us being healthy and fit; mentally and physically.
The Strength 2 Strength program for carers set out:
- To provide information on ways of managing the range of feelings, changes and challenges after a family member sustains a spinal cord injury.
- To provide information on services and supports that you can access now and in the future.
- To provide an opportunity to meet with others who are in a similar situation and share your story and experiences.
- To assist you to build upon your exciting strengths and resilience.
At our final meeting it was obvious the group had forged a bond, a bond that continues and unites us still and into our futures.
As for Emily’s psychological healing – while at Royal Rehab, Ryde there was a resident psychologist scheduled into her weekly routine, Spinal Cord Injuries Australia (SCIA) have a sympathetic peer support group that visits. It can’t be overemphasized that psychological support is imperative.
We have been home now for just over two years I hope my strength and resilience shower Emily with energy that facilitate her independence outside the four walls of the house and back into life. Strength 2 Strength was a great foundation program for our growth towards our new normal, our new future.