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Shuswap author hopes to open conversations around grief, depression

Randy Wagner’s book details his life and struggles as a C5-C6 quadriplegic
Blind Bay author Randy Wagner and the cover of his new book, 4 1/2 Steps. (Contributed)

Since suffering life-altering injuries 32 years ago, local author Randy Wagner has moved through almost all five steps of the trauma recovery process and is ready to share his story.

Wagner’s new book 4 1/2 Steps details his life since his 1990 car accident that left him in a wheelchair. Wagner is now a C5-C6 quadriplegic, which means those labelled vertebrae in his spine are seriously damaged and he has limited mobility in his core and neck.

Born in Maple Ridge, Wagner graduated from the University of Victoria and, creative writing degree under his belt, traveled a lot and explored food service jobs for many years. He was set to take over a Boston Pizza franchise when the accident happened.

Now a resident of Blind Bay, Wagner, in his book, documents his recovery time in Calgary General Hospital and the first two years of adjusting to his new life.

The five steps outlined in the universal trauma recovery process, explained to Wagner during his recovery, are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. The process is shared with anyone who has experienced grief, physical or mental impairment, substance abuse, PTSD, and many other ailments.

The title of Wagner’s book acknowledges the fifth step, acceptance, which signals you’re overcoming your battle, doesn’t work for everyone.

Wagner moved through denial easily, had periods of anger, and handled the bargaining phase beginning every sentence with “What if…” The depression step is what really slowed him down, and he hasn’t hit the acceptance milestone yet – and doesn’t plan to.

“Acceptance is like surrender, like this is as good as it gets,” said Wagner. “It’s like saying it won’t ever get better, but I still think it will.”

During Wagner’s treatment in hospital, he would hear that it was a “perfect time to get a spinal cord injury” with all of the new research being conducted at the time. That was 32 years ago, and Wagner noted that treatments are at about the same place as they were then. There are newer neuron therapies and medications, and although Wagner has stopped looking at updates, he still has hope.

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Wagner was caught in depression for a long time after his accident. He struggled with feeling like he was in a bottomless pit with no way to reach up and grab at acceptance, and that’s why he’s at step 4 1/2.

Wagner said he was suicidal, and years ago mental health wasn’t as openly talked about as it is today. He didn’t have people he could go to and talk about how he was feeling and he was stuck. Talking about his experience in this book, Wagner hopes to encourage people to have more open conversations about mental-health struggles.

“When life takes that drastic left turn, it’s going to be thought of,” Wagner said of thoughts of ending his own life. “What would the world look like without me; yes, I thought of my own funeral.”

Wagner hopes that people will consider this aspect of mental health, even now that it’s a more common topic. He strives to make people more comfortable with these discussions, as well as talking to and about people living with disabilities and in wheelchairs, or dealing with any kind of mental illness. When dealing with the stages of grief, whether you lose a part of yourself physically, mentally, or in the form of another person, people need an outlet. With an injury to the mind or body, said Wagner, depression can start and just keep building, but that need not be the case.

Writing this book was cathartic for Wagner.

“I never did do anything with my creative writing degree, so this felt like something I had to do. When you write a book, you empty the jar. This is me, take it or leave it.”

Next, Wagner wants to write another book, this time about his past 30 years living in a wheelchair.

Wagner said he is not depressed anymore, and he has been able to have great experiences and travel to amazing places. He is comfortable in his own limitations at step 4 1/2, and loves sharing his story with anyone who might be interested.

4 1/2 Steps is published by Friesen Press and is available on its website, as well as on Amazon Kindle through Ingram Publishing. You can buy physical paper copies or ebook formats.

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Rebecca Willson

About the Author: Rebecca Willson

I took my first step into the journalism industry in November 2022 when I moved to Salmon Arm to work for the Observer and Eagle Valley News. I graduated with a journalism degree in December 2021 from MacEwan University in Edmonton.
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