October 20, 2020

Preethi Sreenivasan ‘the inspiration’ speaking on her life and her parents

We bring you a story that speaks in volumes on determination and positive attitude in life. Preethi Sreenivasan spoke on her social media page of how her dad and mum have stood with her like the second breath in her life.

The story was too compelling for us not to know more. And here she shares with Mums and stories her awesomely inspiring journey. Preethi runs a NGO called Soul free. She is someone who in her late teenage years became quadriplegic soon after an accident, but that didn’t deter her in achieving what she wanted in life. She has been the captain of under 19 Tamilnadu women’s cricket team and has been an ace swimmer too.

Preethi met with the accident in 1988 when she and her classmates after a college trip decided to visit a beach on the way back from Pondicherry, She shares, “It was a pristine looking stretch of private beach, and we played a bit of tennis ball cricket and had good fun. A little later, the boys began getting into the water and some of them were quite deep inside, swimming and playing. I was with the girls, just jumping with the waves in about 2 feet of water (thigh deep).

A receding wave churned up the sand from under my feet, tripping me up, and causing me to stumble. Having been a swimmer since the age of three, you would think I would have an instinctive knowledge of how to fall into water. However, as fate would have it, the moment my face went underwater I felt a shock like sensation travel through my body. That’s it – no impact (I did not hit any rock or the ocean floor, or anything hard at all), not a drop of blood, just a split-second of misfortune.

I didn’t feel pain or lose consciousness, and there was absolutely nothing dramatic. As soon as I felt the shock travel through my body, I couldn’t move. I tried to get back out of the water, and nothing happened, so I held my breath until my friends pulled me out.

In less than a minute, life as I knew it was over. I was taken to the hospital, but they just put a spondylitis collar around my neck, and told my teachers and friends to take me to Chennai as it was an “accident” case. Therefore, I was robbed of immediate medical care for nearly 4 hours after the accident.

Soon after the accident, I was unable to move my limbs. However, had expert and precise medical care being provided to me within the first hour of the accident, would I have regained more movement? Would there have been better regeneration in my body, given that I was in the peak fitness? Perhaps there has not been a concrete answer to these questions.

Prior to my accident, not even a shadow of failure had touched my life. I was looked up to, admired and approved of by youngsters and elders alike. However, after the accident, it felt like I became invisible, because people would either look at me with pity or they would studiously avoid looking at me altogether. The feeling was completely unbearable for me. I became very depressed and did not leave our apartment for nearly two years after the accident. I tried to escape my reality, distract myself with books, television and study material, but at some point, one must face the truth.

After the accident, my whole sense of identity was shattered. Previously, I had based my identity upon my physical appearance, my achievements in sports and academics, and the roles I successfully played in society. Suddenly, in a split second, it seems that I had lost everything, all at once.

At that point, when I was completely broken and lost, it was the unconditional love of my parents, that gave me hope. My father, who has been my guide, friend and guru gave me inspiration by saying, “everybody’s body is transient and fallible, it’s just a matter of time. So, why don’t you take this as a special opportunity given to you? Having all distractions and temptations removed, you can now concentrate on going within and finding your true self.” In the beginning, I wasn’t willing to accept his advice; I would get furious, but later, it turned out to be the spark that fuelled my spiritual journey and allowed me to find a sense of equipoise within myself.

In losing everything, I finally learned that I had only lost my illusions, and in the process, I found that it can’t be taken away from me through any external circumstance – true peace of mind, contentment and happiness in the present moment.

On June 12, 2007, my father, who was just 57 and our connection with the outside world, suddenly suffered a silent heart attack and passed away the next morning. Four days after that, my mother also had a heart attack and subsequently required bypass surgery.

Having had my accident 18, I had led a completely isolated and insulated life, and suddenly I didn’t understand how I would survive without my parents’ support. Added to the emotional turmoil were practical questions like, “how much money did they have in the bank? Who would take care of me if there came a time when my family is unable to?”

This question prompted me to start researching into long-term rehabilitation centres within India that would be equipped to take care of a quadriplegic like me. I then found out that all over India, there is not even a single such long-term rehabilitation centre, where a woman in my condition can go and live with dignity. We are one fifth of the world’s population, more than 1 billion strong and 43% of them are women, but at the moment, should a woman like me find herself without the care of her family, then she has only two options, “she can either commit suicide or she can be abandoned on to the streets.”

Despite this being a hopeless situation, I rejected my mother’s inspiration that I be the change. I told her, “I don’t know anything about the accounting, it is not a joke to start and run an organisation.”

Then, after my mother’s bypass surgery, we returned to Tiruvannamalai, our permanent residence. I tried to forget the nagging question that was eating me up inside. However, within a three-month span of time, two girls I personally knew, who lived within Tiruvannamalai district, were forced to commit suicide by their own families. They were told, “you are a shame and a burden on us. You do not deserve to live. It is because of your presence that everybody is unwilling to associate with the family and no one is coming forward to marry your brother.” A bottle of poison was left next to them and they drank it and died.

In that moment, I decided that I must do something. I said to myself, “if after all this, I’m just going to stay quiet and not take any positive action, just because of the fear of failure, I would be part of the problem, not part of the solution.” It was in that moment that Soulfree was born, but the trust was officially registered on August 23, 2013.

 My mother is my goddess. Without her I wouldn’t survive even for 24 hours, quite literally. My parents have unquestioningly, unconditionally sacrificed their lives, so that I may live with dignity. Immediately after my accident, they never once blamed me or gave me the vibe as though I have destroyed my life or theirs. In fact, many other parents might contemplate putting the child in a long-term rehabilitation centre or some other care facility, but, the thought never occurred to my parents. My father gave up his job, we moved to a spiritual town and started leading an ascetic lifestyle, accepting a new path in life.

It is purely because of the strong spiritual roots and immense sense of self-worth and self-esteem, that my parents have nourished me with from the moment I was born, that I’m able to be who I am today.

I don’t really miss my father at all, because I feel that he is within me all the time. He’s in everything I say and every moment that I’m able to do something bigger than myself, I feel that I am making him proud, and that’s the real reason for my efforts.

(An earlier picture of Preethi with her parents)

We live in the house that he built for me. I call it his “Taj Mahal” for me. It is completely wheelchair accessible and every brick in the house speaks of his unlimited and unconditional love for me. My parents have been and will always remain the greatest blessings in my life. Without them, I would not be even a shadow of who I am today, that’s for sure.

It is extremely difficult to face a life altering condition, especially at a young age. It is only natural for such individuals to feel depressed, angry and hurt. As it was in my case, I feel that the role of the parents is absolutely vital in ensuring that individual is given enough confidence, inspiration and encouragement to rise above adversity and transcend it altogether.”

Preethi shares her opinion on her advice to individuals who are faced with an extreme health condition or adversity, “Forget about the world. The world will always be full of people who criticize, humiliate and put down your ability. However, there will be true friends and family, who will stand behind us like a rock. We must take inspiration from them, delve deep within ourselves, where there is an unlimited source of strength, and defeat circumstance. It is not easy, every day there will be challenges, but it is possible. Have faith, and trust in the knowledge that we are never given anything that we are incapable of handling. Whatever difficulties we go through today, are ultimately opportunities for growth that will help us and lift us towards becoming more evolved human beings.

My advice to the parent is -when the child is broken and lost, all she/he needs is the knowledge that you will be there, no matter what. The main requirement is unconditional love, hope, inspiration and patience. There may be times, when the child is angry at their own circumstance, unable to bear the pain of their suffering, and they may even lash out at you. However, as a parent, your duty is to accept, empathize and understand the immensity of the suffering that is causing the outburst and respond to it with love and compassion, not react with retorts. The child may be wrong, but he/she is your child, please do not defeat him/her by pointing out the helplessness – they need you, more than anything else in the world, they need your love, approval and affection.

Perhaps important thing is to understand that we’re all in it together, and whatever the struggle may be, as long as we’re together, we will come through it successfully. Also, other factors that we have found very useful is the use of humour, and artistic pursuits like poetry and music to sublimate difficult emotions.”

We thank Preethi for sharing this inspiring story with Mums and stories


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