I get asked this question more often than you would think. Honest answer: Not really in my humble opinion – at least the physical challenges accompanying being paralyzed.
I have learned to adjust to my circumstances the best way I know how through creating a team around me, exercising, staying busy, finding meaningful and authentic work, and helping others. When I help others, it keeps my personal demons away and there are so many of them constantly trying to claw their way back into my psyche. Let me explain…
Being reliant on another human being is terrifying. You really never get over that, but you learn to turn the fear into productivity or creativeness or something more positive — until you’re stopped in your tracks and someone is not there to help you physically or emotionally. Someone may love you and say they will be there forever, but that may not always be the case. You are essentially trapped in a body that will just not cooperate. It’s a fear you can keep at bay, but one that remains in the background no matter what you do. That is not to say you let it rule your life, but just as life ebbs and flows, so does the fear.
Then there’s the pain. I’m not even going to dive into the secondary medical complications, but merely the 24/7 burning pins and needles that shock my entire body at intermittent intervals throughout each day. I have learned to cope through multiple self-care and wellness techniques, but chronic pain is intense. Always. You can’t see it, so many doctors dismiss it, and you have to dig deeper than you sometimes think is possible to find the right coping techniques.
I have a visible disability, so I cannot hide mine. 80% of disabilities are unseen, but we each battle some of the most seemingly insurmountable challenges that people call us inspirations for on a daily basis. I get that we “seem” inspirational to others, but to many of us we are just trying to cope, thrive the best way we know how, contribute back to society or our networks in order to live a life we find meaningful.
Most people I know with disabilities are really some of the strongest individuals, but that does not mean they are without their hardships. Often times we get a pat on the “proverbial” back, but merely having one day in our shoes — I’m fairly confident so many in the world would be changing their tune with respect to what disability inclusion in healthcare, employment, society, technological, etc. would really look like.
Look at me. See me. Ask me questions. I am not shy, but do not make any assumptions about what you see from the outside. It’s through honest, open, and sometimes raw authentic conversations that we are going to change the narrative on debunking disability stereotypes.