Guest Post: Struggling with Serendipity

My three kids were teenagers when I changed the course of our lives with one mistake. I fell asleep at the wheel and caused a car accident that my daughter Beth could not walk away from. The spinal cord in her neck was cut by broken bones, leaving her with quadriplegia. In that pivotal moment, my family started on a new path to a new normal.

My new memoir, Struggling with Serendipity, launched April 9 with a small press (not self-publishing). It starts with the accident and aftermath: a heartsick mom battling depression and guilt while a shy but determined teenager fights the harsh limits of quadriplegia. Beth, fourteen years old, believes everything will be okay. I feel sure that nothing will ever be okay again.

Unexpected adventures carry us from our small town in Ohio to Seattle, Harvard, Capitol Hill, and around the world. Together, we find serendipity in unlikely moments, including Beth’s invitation to join the Harvard Women’s Swimming and Diving team, the first with a visible disability.

Along the way, I learn to stop denying my depression and to seek professional help. Beth also taught me that everything really is okay.

Today, Beth is a health policy lawyer. Her clients and pro bono work include companies and nonprofits in the disability community. She shares my passion for volunteering and giving back.

A lifelong disability advocate—even before Beth’s injury—I ran a nonprofit, managed group homes, and worked at an institution. I actively volunteer for disability and mental health nonprofits. I’m passionate about sharing the power of hope and connection.

I never would have believed it the night of Beths’ accident, but I’m happy to share that 19 years later, we are truly grateful for where we are today. I learned that it really is possible to manage depression and find ways to thrive.


An excerpt from Struggling with Serendipity follows:

A sludge of sad emotions filled my aching head. I acquired the diagnosis of depression at 23 as a new mom, but my Ohio doctor didn’t tell me. He wrote it down instead. When I read the diagnosis later, I thought it labeled me weak and ungrateful. The doctor had to be wrong.

Over the years that followed, I realized he was right. Extended times of melancholy brought more than just sadness. I lost interest in reading, sewing, walks, and other things I usually enjoyed. Most episodes began with no apparent reason. Others had a trigger, like when my favorite grandma died. My headache also flared, a band of pressure around my head and aching across and behind my eyes. I drove to Columbus to my first pain clinic.

A doctor at the pain clinic diagnosed me with a mental illness, again. Still, I rationalized it away. My excuse for depression? The headache. And vice versa. I felt like I needed an excuse since the diagnosis created a conflict in my mind. How could I be depressed when I cherished my family and felt loved? I also had a meaningful job and many other reasons to be thankful. 

Part of me understood the connection between body chemistry and depression. I ignored that part and clung to the belief that I’d be fine—as soon as all my ducks lined up in a row. Better sleep, better food, better exercising, better relaxing, better thinking, etc., etc. Healthier, tougher, wiser. Or something. 


Image result for cindy kolbe

More information about Cindy’s book, blog, and coast-t0-coast book tour may be found on her Find her on Twitter @cindy_kolbe and her Facebook page is Struggling with Serendipity.

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