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The Resilience Project, Patrick Bronte launched documentary website while grappling with disability

When the sun rose on December 27, 1996, it woke the high-spirited 16-year-old Patrick Bronte at his family home near Waipukurau.

By the time the sunset behind the Ruahine ranges he was tetraplegic. Bronte, now 40, broke his neck while he and friends were diving into the Waipawa river, on a stinking hot Hawke’s Bay afternoon.

“You're lying there thinking 'right, I'm young but my life is over,” he says from his wheelchair, in a column of sunlight in his Palmerston North home.

“You hear what the doctors are saying with your conscious mind, but your subconscious mind is wanting to fight that. When they say you can't walk you're thinking 'oh yeah, with a bit of rehab I'll get there'.

“I was very immature, going through an adolescent 'little shit stage' and then this happens. You definitely go through the five stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining – please god let me walk again – and depression then acceptance.

"But you never fully accept it. If someone came with a magic wand and asked if I wanted to walk again, I'd be 'hell yes, sign me up'. If I accepted it I wouldn't want to change. I'd say I came to terms with it as opposed to accepting it.”

Bronte has overcome an opiate dependency, he has stopped breathing and been brought back to life, he's dealt with demons and ‘black dogs’ and he regularly bears an intense kind of nerve pain.

He’s not sure how he’d have coped without the love and support of his mum Jenny and dad Roger (who died in 2009), sister Sarah, and wife Julie.

Patrick Bronte talks about the Tukituki River plunge that left him a tetraplegic at age 16.

There are still dark times.

"In the early days, I would fixate on depressing things, like 'how am I going to make a go of this life like this?".

He’s learned to separate the pragmatic side of life, basics like personal hygiene and nourishment, paying the bills and running a household, from his disability.

“Focus on those things you can do something about, and not what you can't.”

He gets stuck into work when he’s feeling down –he began researching and interviewing war veterans for his website ngatoa, an ever-growing archive of the stories of more than 300 veterans, which he launched in 2019.

"Harnessing your positive energy is easier than being pulled down by your negative thoughts. It takes too much energy to be depressed,” he says.

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