A broken and lost 21-year-old girl lying in a hospital bed with nothing in her hand except a grim future and empty white walls. She wasn’t always so hopeless, she laughed, and her heart was full of dreams…

It all started when I fell pregnant shortly after getting married. For most people pregnancy is a very exciting stage – I used to say the only happy place in a hospital is a maternity ward! But my reality was very different. To cut the story short, I developed a rare pregnancy related complication resulting in serious heart failure. Due to my fast-deteriorating condition, I had to deliver my baby premature. Unfortunately he didn’t live longer than 5 days.

The trauma didn’t end there, I guess this was just the beginning. One night I suffered from a cardiac arrest in hospital, and after many complications and surgeries, doctors said my life was no short of a miracle and that I didn’t have much time left in this world. When I woke up from my induced coma my legs didn’t move, my spinal cord having been injured due to a lack of blood supply, leaving me in a wheelchair with no hope of walking again.

Wheelchair empty wait to use at hospital hallway

I was living in hope of the words the doctor had told me, “not much time to live.” I didn’t want to live. At this stage of my life, I should have been figuring out what career to choose. Instead, I was figuring out how to put my clothes on. I hated looking at people walking. I had nothing to fight for and I missed my baby, spending my boring hospital days looking at his picture, his palm in mine, that touch still fresh.

Fast forward 13 years later, I am still here. The only change today is that I am not the same girl who felt she had no way out. After having absorbed and processed what happened to me, my new reality is now one in which I have decided I need to take leadership of my life.

In a recent study, animals were given small electric shocks to see how they react to stress and trauma. 2/3 of the dogs gave up – they simply didn’t try to get up and fight. But 1/3 did, and I have decided to be that percentage, to get up and fight back. No matter what our limitations are, there is always something we can do. My body wasn’t cooperating with me, but my character and attitude was still in my power. I decided to do small things like smile, help an old lady put her fruit in her bag. You get to control the controllable.

Rediscovering who I was, my body and its boundaries, I realised my situation did not control me if I didn’t let it. I learnt that no one could help you if you don’t want to help yourself, and importantly, that no other person knows what’s right for me. It was me who had to decide all these things and act upon them. I won’t say it’s been easy. It’s been anything but easy, filled with heart ache, screams, cries, rejection and failures, but I have decided to pick myself up and make what I can of my life.

When COVID came along, I found this leadership I had relied upon made it a bit easier to manage; I was used to adapting to what I had in front of me. In my time, I’ve realised humans are survivors. We can adapt, as long as our mind is in sync.

Due to my complex medical issues, I didn’t have someone I could ask for help or advice in regard to what I was going through emotionally and physically, so I had to be my own leader and figure it out as much and as best as I could. For me leadership is not somebody who is on a magazine cover or running big companies. A true leader is someone you can trust and feel at ease with, someone who you know has the right intentions. It’s not about leading a big group or team – you could be working with 2 people or becoming a leader for yourself like I did! The goal shouldn’t be about making magic happen, but to create small ripples.

A woman with a long black dress walking on the beach
A photo of a woman wearing a long black dress walking along a beach.

Along my journey, I have worked with many people who were struggling with various newly diagnosed disabilities. I have become a strong advocate, looking beyond a person’s disability and the limitations society imposes on us. I feel often people make an opinion about people and treat them accordingly. One thing I want to encourage people to do is hold on to the light, even when you feel most vulnerable and helpless. This is how we keep our souls strong.

Don’t let your heart harden, and cherish the love you have in your life, whether that may be in the form of a family member or a friend, or even a carer – there is and always will be something we can find to be grateful for. Though our lives are bound to our fates that we cannot change nor control, what we can control is our state of mind & heart. It is important as leaders, for both ourselves and the people around us, that we hold on to this knowledge, in hope of causing small ripples and changing attitudes.

Sadaf Pasha is a 32-year-old born Pakistani who moved to Australia when she was 12.

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The blog posts do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Women with Disabilities Australia (WWDA), and blog posts are contributions made by women, girls or non-binary persons with disability about what leadership means to them. All possible care has been taken in the preparation of the information contained in this document. WWDA disclaims any liability for the accuracy and sufficiency of the information and under no circumstances shall be liable in negligence or otherwise in or arising out of the preparation or supply of any of the information aforesaid.