Salaam Lina! Firstly, thank you so much for agreeing to speak with me. I really wanted the chance to talk to you a bit about your story, as you have so much to offer as far as setting a prime example for resilience and strength. The discussion with you I actually want to center around the importance of trusting yourself, even if the odds are against you. While your experiences are what many would consider ‘unique’, the way that you have responded to them are something I feel everyone can learn from.
KB: Could you give us a brief summary of your journey for those who aren’t familiar?
Lina: Firstly, thank you so much for the question, I really like the fact that it’s surrounded around the topic of trusting yourself, especially when everything feels like its tumbling down. The self-belief that you can overcome it along with the trust in God, is something that is a big part of my journey. My name is Lina and in 2014 just before my 17th birthday, I travelled to mecca to perform Umrah with my family and on the way there we were hit by a reckless speeding driver who caused our car to flip multiple times, and through that car accident I had a spinal cord injury which paralyzed me from the upper chest down. So ever since I have been on a journey to learn to walk again, and it’s also been a journey of self-discovery, experiencing life as a wheelchair user, and also just meeting so many incredible people. Going through many trials that have taught me so much and helped me transform into an individual that I don’t think I would’ve been if I didn’t have this trial.
“I remember being on the bed and looking at my chair thinking - damn. This is real. The world kind of stopped, because the hospital was my comfort bubble for a year, always activity and noise. And then here I was on a bed while everyone was at school, and I was just like wow this is it”
KB: What was the transition like from feelings of hopelessness to feeling like you had control and could do something about the situation? And with that did you face any kinds of opposition and how did you combat that and persevere?
Lina: I don’t remember a particular instant per se, I the beginning my dad told me that the doctor in the early stages let me know that there's a huge chance I won’t be able to walk again or gain fully body movement. That was in the first week, but the thing is, I don’t remember the first week. My dad said that I responded with something like “it’s okay even if that is the case, I believe God has a plan, London is a very accessible city”, but I don't remember that whole week, which I think is a blessing really. I was kind of in an “I don’t know what’s going on” state for a few weeks, then a few months. So, I was just kind of thinking oh my spinal cord will heal within x amount of time, but I just kept thinking the recovery process will take a bit longer then a bit longer.
I was surrounded by a lot of support in terms of even the nurses making it really fun, no one ever mentioned anything to do with my prognosis, so I just kind of went with the flow. I remember my hospital experiences being fun, and I think that’s largely to do with being in denial, but also expecting to heal, even though it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. 6 months later when I was flown to London from the hospital in Saudi, I kind of realised that there isn’t a 100% chance of recovery. I remember a moment in Saudi when I asked the physio would I be able to walk again? And she said “I don’t know”, which is when I realised that it wasn’t 100% certain I would, but I still kept showing like I wasn’t phased, even though that was a complete shock to me.
"And that’s where it started to kick in and I had real emotion. So, my optimism was there in the beginning but kind of died down after I left the hospital. It was such a period of sadness because I just felt clueless while trying to pick up these pieces and didn’t know how to put them back together. I didn’t leave the house, I didn’t see myself in the mirror for many years"
When I came to the UK, one thing that kept me going was seeing all the other patients fully depressed and down, and I would say 'oh my god I don’t want that to be me', so I did everything not to become that. In my head I was like I cannot be like that. My mum was also injured, so I think that was a huge part of me staying optimistic and not focusing so much on myself or complaining, and I knew that if I showed a semblance of sadness then my family will become sad. And you could tell that they were trying so hard to stay optimistic for me, and I knew if I didn’t show it as well, they would break and that would break me. So, it was either the injury that’s gonna break me or my family’s sadness.
So, there wasn’t a real transition. Then leaving the hospital I was left in this new home because my old one wasn’t accessible. I remember being on the bed and looking at my chair thinking - damn. This is real. The world kind of stopped, because the hospital was my comfort bubble for a year, always activity and noise. And then here I was on a bed while everyone was at school, and I was just like wow this is it.
And that’s where it started to kick in and I had real emotion. So, my optimism was there in the beginning but kind of died down after I left the hospital. It was such a period of sadness because I just felt clueless while trying to pick up these pieces and didn’t know how to put them back together. I didn’t leave the house, I didn’t see myself in the mirror for many years. It’s weird because I’ve never actually thought about this before, so you asking this question is making me look back because I never really have. I’m now realising that I never allowed myself to feel sad in front of others, that’s why the moment when I was finally alone, I allowed myself to feel sad, slept in for crazy hours every day, didn’t want to do anything, my happiness was quite fake. This slow coming out of denial.
“Ever since I have been on a journey to learn to walk again, and it’s also been a journey of self-discovery, experiencing life as a wheelchair user, and also just meeting so many incredible people. Going through many trials that have taught me so much and helped me transform into an individual that I don’t think I would’ve been if I didn’t have this trial”
There are a few factors to the second question - what motivates me and gave me resilience, and the courage and drive to really overcome this prognosis and negative vibes that were projected onto me. I’ve always been someone who’s optimistic - sometimes even deemed unrealistic, but for me if I can just have these extreme goals and highly optimistic views, then at least some of it will manifest. So, for me it was ‘oh I believe the body has the ability to heal itself’, and saying that without any scientific background, I just had these ‘anything is possible’ type thoughts which helped deflect any negative view on my circumstances.
Having that foundation as a perspective really helped me, because then I decided to selectively choose books that aligned with that way of thinking. So, from my days in hospital I would start reading loads, and one that really stuck with me was called Mind Over Medicine. It basically consolidated everything that I thought, and it confirmed how the body can heal itself. She spoke of this concept called neuroplasticity, that the mind and nerves have the ability to regenerate and create new neural pathways. So that was the scientific terms that I needed to back up my highly optimistic view. I would even search or ask my dad to print me all these articles with these key words in them. I was very selective in what I consumed. Secondly, I have a very resilient mother, and she is going through a similar injury at the same time as I am, so we are in it together. If she’s not giving up, I’m not giving up. And even if she was, I wouldn’t because I need to support her. While it sounds crazy, I think there was beauty in us both dealing with similar injuries.
Now looking back years later, I say to myself ‘wow Allah I think I understand why you put my mother and I in this together’ - whether that's the case or not. I see a lot of things that came out of it that helped both of us.
Lastly, I have siblings, family and friends who supported me from the get go and I can’t let them down. And my belief in God - I don’t have an excuse, of course we are human and we can collapse and fluctuate, but I also remind myself that I could have been dead or had brain damage. If I’m not grateful for what I already have, it feels like a slap to God. He’s allowed me to still breathe, speak, eat, and those are all the things I couldn’t do in the first month. So, I know how those things feel. I feel bad for complaining long term if that makes sense. Small hiccups are okay, but I really try to be cognizant and pick myself up.
My relationship with Allah is very instrumental in that. Additionally, with the feelings of loneliness, I knew God was always there and really felt He was there at times. Seeing other patients around me being the opposite really pushed me too - it was like a dystopia. Just before my accident actually in English we were learning about dystopian fiction and creating a dystopian novel, and I felt like I was in one when in the hospital, and didn’t want to succumb to that.
“That is the core of the message I try to share, which is to know your true ability. Cliché sounding, sometimes I feel like it’s easier to lean towards what we can’t do or what we think we can’t, and reminding ourselves that the other side of the scale does exist. Simply with this change in perspective, you can guide your next steps”
KB: Such an incredible story and you are such an incredible human! Where would you say that you’re at now in your journey as far as what you’ve achieved and your future goals?
Lina: I would say that I’m in a place where my purpose is ‘clear’ to me, which is, A. to serve God through both my ups and downs. I really have come to grasp the fact that real life is in jannah, where there will be no tests, hardships or struggle, and that really does keep me going and make me excited for it. Although I do enjoy living, it is testing and knowing that there will be another life after this which isn’t makes me really excited. Especially when we’re out here painting a pseudo version of a perfect life, like it doesn’t exist here and that’s why we all have hardships.
It would be to help others transform their lives, and I think I can start doing that by setting an example, just by leading I hope I can help others. Physically, I’ve come from not having a twitch of a movement from my upper chest down, to constantly training my body ever since, so today I’ve regained a lot of upper body strength and movement all the way down to my hips, and some very tiny activation of my legs which is incredible progress, and was really not seen as possible by the medical team in the hospital. I have big goals and small goals; my ultimate goal is to walk again.
It may seem super ambitious, its long, its costly, but for me if I set a goal like that that may be classed as far-fetched, it still allows for a direction to be created. If I set a goal of wanting to be a billionaire, even if I don’t reach that billion, at least if I can get like 30 million, then I’m happy. But had I not put that initial goal, I wouldn’t have any direction. So, if my ultimate goal is to recover all the movement that I’ve lost, even if I recover anything, I’m still happy. It can also allow me to train and maintain my body if in case a cure does come about, I’ll be ready.
My daily small goals are just to lift my legs out of bed and make use of what I have. Mentally, I am proud of myself for getting to a point where I can see beyond my physical limitations and set the focus on the millions of things that I can do and work towards. That is the core of the message I try to share, which is to know your true ability. Cliché sounding, sometimes I feel like it’s easier to lean towards what we can’t do or what we think we can’t, and reminding ourselves that the other side of the scale does exist. Simply with this change in perspective, you can guide your next steps. I want to continue to strengthen my mindset, it’s not really a goal you reach, but one that you keep reaching.
I’d say I’m quite an ambitious individual, which I think has kept me going because I’m just like there’s so much I want to do and try so there’s no time to waste. I usually keep my goals to myself, but I’m working on things like giving talks to audiences, where I can share what I’ve learnt or continue to learn. I’m just here to tell my story really. It wasn’t initially a goal of mine, but just due to the feedback I’ve received I told myself my dislike of being the point of attention is worth being sacrificed for a bigger purpose. Aside from that, I’m studying the human body and mind at university level, I want to travel, scuba dive, and work on myself, strengthen myself, my relationship with God and others, and leave my imprint on this earth.
Lina can be found on Instagram @linathedreamer or emailed at email@example.com