Suzanna Hext’s road to recovery blog: if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you

  • A few weeks ago I put a post on Facebook asking for suggestions or anything you’d be interested in knowing about in my blog. One of the many suggestions was how I managed mentally after my accident and also how I cope and adapt with ongoing change, which couldn’t be an area that is more apt at the moment given my recent change in para classification.

    Throughout life change is inevitable. However large or small, it can have an impact on us both emotionally and mentally. Overcoming any life challenge, whatever it may be is tough.

    Throughout my life, like the majority of us, I’ve been through many setbacks and life challenges. I’d be telling a lie if I said it was easy to keep going through the numerous hard setbacks. However, I now find that looking at the overall bigger picture and having a sense of perspective enables me to be able to process any challenges with a clearer head. I tend to like to look at some challenges as though I’m looking down on it from above, then I ask myself, will I remember this in a week, month or year?

    ‘Sometimes the things we can’t change end up changing us’

    Drive, dedication, and determination (and yes, of course, damn right stubbornness) are four attributes that, along with a huge amount of help and support, have got me back to the place I am at today.

    Turning my life back around involved adapting to a very different life than I had previously planned. I found that not only surrounding myself with the people I loved, but also allowing myself time to process everything was an essential.

    When I had my accident, I felt like I’d lost my identity, how I felt about myself and the way people perceived me. However, this wasn’t the case — I was still the same person and it didn’t define me. I have always been a physically active person — any form of sport and I’m happy. This didn’t change, I just had to focus it into another direction and actually being me has helped allow me to achieve my goals.

    Para dressage is equally as competitive and just as demanding as all the sports I used to participate in, especially as to be at the top of your game, the hard yards have to be put in during training sessions, the gym (strength and conditioning), physio, your diet and sport psychology in order to produce performance bests and marginal gains in the arena.

    There are a couple of coping strategies that I found helped. Firstly, I wrote a diary during my recovery. Almost every evening I would write down how I felt; the good, bad and ugly. I found comfort in putting pen to paper and almost found it helped me to offload. I still find it a useful technique now, especially if I am finding that something is particularly bothering me. I find it helps me process the matter and put it back into perspective.

    Every now and then I have a little look through my diaries. I find it’s a great way to appreciate how far I’ve come and look forward to the future.

    The other approach I used to help me cope was to take advantage of a counselling service we had in Cornwall called ‘BeMe’. I landed on my feet with the lady that helped me — they couldn’t have matched us any better. She was into horses and had such a fun and positive outlook on life. I found it was a great opportunity to open up and be honest about how I was actually feeling. This enabled me to clear my thoughts and move forward. I still find there’s an unnecessary stigma surrounding counselling — there is nothing to be embarrassed about and I know lots of people that have had help. It’s a way of talking openly to someone that isn’t emotionally attached to the situation and is trained to help give you tools to process things, something not to be underestimated.

    During my rehab, goal setting was a huge factor in helping me to progress. Doing this helped me to focus my mind on something other than the challenges I faced in daily life. Without even knowing it I was moving forward day by day.

    I remember my incredible physio (Gemma) in Cornwall and me discussing bringing my saddle in and having that as my next aim. I would sit in my wheelchair and have my saddle on my lap being wheeled into hospital for my appointments. I would just grin from ear to ear, an achievement that really gave me a boost. I was finally feeling like me again.

    I found I was lifted and inspired by others, either from people who have been through similar experiences in their life or who have always had a very positive attitude and outlook. Clare Lomas was one of the people who inspired me to never give up, along with some of the people I met in hospital.

    People still ask me how I cope not being able to sleep very well and how I keep going. I am generally a positive person and this has helped me. However, the honest answer is I am only human, it’s hard at times, I get frustrated, upset, fed up and often wish I had my old body back.

    Life’s never completely pain sailing, there’s always going to be highs and lows. This couldn’t be more true recently for me.

    I went out to Holland a couple of weeks ago for my para review classification, something I certainly wasn’t looking forward to. The outcome was a shock and to be downgraded to a Grade 2 from a 3 was a bit of a knock to me mentally, as I hadn’t been honest with myself about elements of my disability slightly deteriorating.

    When I’m in the saddle it’s the place I feel at home and the most ‘able’. I forget about any frustrations and it’s just me and the horse.

    I didn’t feel I was struggling with the Grade 3 tests and I liked the extra challenge. I’ve now had the time to reflect and process it. My take on it now is that I can still do the sport that I love, with some incredible horses that I am truly grateful to ride. Five and a half years ago my whole world was turned upside down, but to be able to ride and compete now makes me feel extremely lucky — things could have been so different.

    Battling through life’s hurdles has made me put things into perspective and cherish the little moments and how truly incredible my family, friends and core values of life actually are.

    Continued below…

    I’ve been amazed by the generosity of others. I couldn’t have got to the stage that I am at now both physically and mentally without the support I’ve have had. This hasn’t just been from people that I necessarily know, but from people who support and follow me on social media and various generous people that have helped me out when I’ve needed a helping hand in public areas, such as carrying my bags out of Tesco, my neighbours digging my car out when it snowed and other gestures of kindness. It certainly restores your faith in humanity

    ‘If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you’


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