Finding Fortitude Through Her Battles
“Don’t ever dream about being able to walk again”. Imagine being a 23-year-old with a bright future ahead of you, very content with where you are mentally, emotionally and physically but in a blink of an eye, hearing those 9 words being thrown at you; those were the very words that crushed every ounce of hope she had.
Fast forward three years later, Jeslinda Paul, 26, had just finished her undergraduate studies, looking to pursue her professional paper and eventually a masters in forensic accounting. Aside from that, she is a model with DON Management, the first Malaysian talent and modelling agency that works with and casts differently-abled and unique models. She is the epitome of positivity, inspiring many around her with her amazing story and constant flooding of posts on self-love on her social media. Be that as it may, life wasn’t always a bed of roses for Jeslinda.
The fateful day that changed Jeslinda’s life forever
22nd February 2015 – a date forever etched in Jeslinda’s memory. It was just like any other day, Jeslinda was on her way to work when an unexpected turn of events occurred. Due to a horrific car crash, she succumbed to a condition called L3 Incomplete paraplegic also known in simpler terms as a spinal cord injury that left her with a broken back, completely paralyzing her from the waist down, causing her bladder and bowel to be incontinent. She underwent major surgeries where rods and screws were used to replace broken bones and re-align her spine. Unfortunately, the severity of her injuries caused permanent damage to her nerves. “According to the doctors, the surgery was done not for me to walk, but just to be able to sit,” says Jeslinda.
Numbness was something she found solace in, which is wholly out of character for Jeslinda, who is naturally a witty and optimistic person. The new-found emotional paralysis was in full function when her surgeon walked into the room, breaking the news to Jeslinda and her family. “He looked me, straight in the eyes and said, “You are not going to walk again. You will be wheelchair bound for life.” She recollected the sombre atmosphere in the room after he uttered those words. “I remember seeing my mother cry but I didn’t even shed one tear. I just looked at him and smiled.”
Coping with physiotherapy
She was then transferred to a rehabilitation centre to undergo physiotherapy to relearn basic living skills from putting on clothes to putting on sandals, and all the skills we pick up as a growing child. Regaining her natural optimism, Jeslinda was hopeful that she would be able to walk again. “I made sure to look at the bright side of things. I just got a second chance in life,” she shares.
She was motivated to start her recovery. However, all hopefulness came crashing down when her physiotherapist examined her and told her that he was only going to focus on helping her regain her upper body strength. “I asked him why,” she says. “Upon hearing my question, he told me off, saying, ‘don’t ever dream about being able to walk again.’” Feelings of anger and devastation replaced the hopefulness she had. “I was so motivated to start on my journey, but when he told me that, it crushed all my hopes of ever being able to walk again.” The numbness of emotions she felt faded as she finally reached her breaking point. That was the first time she cried after the accident.
On the road to recovery
Rather than being lost in that hopelessness at the enormity of the challenge, Jeslinda sees it as a form of liberation. However, she realised that in order to build herself up physically, she had to build her mental strength to be able to overcome her tough situation. There were days where she had breakdowns, thinking about the body she took for granted or days when she was able to do simple things like wiggle her toes. All she could do was cry, yet she made sure she got back up stronger.
“I believe it’s always mind over matter. Your body only gives up when your mind gives up. So, I pushed myself during the tough days, constantly instilling the reminder to never give up,” she says. Being able to walk again required a lot of hard work. She admits that willpower was something she had to work hard on.
“I learnt that when things are tough, that’s when you have to keep going. Nothing comes easy in life. You got to work hard for it.” says Jeslinda who is now able to walk confidently with crutches, proving all the doctors wrong. Her car was also modified to fit her needs so she can drive!
Before her success though, the road to recovery was far from easy for Jeslinda. Every movement that takes zero to no effort for an abled person, she had to put her hundred and one percent, having to plan ahead all movements she made even the simple act of taking something from her bedside table.
A new perspective on life
She feared for her future, admitting that thinking about it scared her to bits. “Fear is a scary thing, it cripples your mind. Never let fear win. When you fear something, that’s when you have to go all out.” Getting rid of the fear she had, she started living in the moment. She tried new things and fell in love with the arts. “I love anything artsy. Makeup, experimenting and improvising new looks,” she says, also adding how she used to watch makeup tutorials on YouTube during her recovery – “I had to find ways to start loving my broken body.” She also enjoys cooking, baking and reading in her spare time.
Jeslinda also gained a new-found gratefulness towards life, just by simply observing her surroundings. She remembered coming across people who were in worst conditions than she was but they were still happy with life. “I asked myself, if they can be happy, why can’t you?” She finds inspiration in those whom, even in the toughest of times, don’t give up on life. “Anyone can be an inspiration. Each of our lives tell different stories. When you can change lives through your story, that’s inspiring,” says Jeslinda who one day aspires to be a motivational speaker to act on her purpose in life by encouraging people to see the good in their struggles.
Jeslinda’s mission in life
Strongly against the societal opinions on disabled people, Jeslinda took the liberty to courageously travel alone, exploring new places. She wanted to be independent, so she pushed herself out of her comfort zone. “I find the stigma-that all people in a wheelchair are dependent-absolutely intolerable. I want to show that even if you are in a wheelchair, you can be independent! Your disability should never dictate what you can or cannot do in life,” she expresses.
Jeslinda hopes, that through her story, she is able to bring awareness towards the disabled in Malaysia. “I am doing everything I can to make a little difference in this world we live in.” Despite her struggles and disability, Jeslinda proved to be a remarkable woman with the resilience and fortitude of a warrior and the natural beauty of a wild sunflower. She is truly a force of strength, grit and influence and is an amazing example of a fighter.
Embrace fortitude. Show gratitude. It will ultimately change our attitude!