I believe life presents our lessons when we are ready and only God decides when the student is ready. Seven years ago I became physically disabled at age 24. Disability is a topic that hadn’t entered my awareness before it happened to me. I previously thought that disability was something unfortunate that happened to other people. Finding myself disabled has made me examine my self-worth, life value, and at times question whether or not I should go on living.
I believe we only given as much as we can handle.
I have adjusted to the limitations that disability has imposed on my body. Persistent pain has led me to believe in a God. My faith gives me the strength to live with chronic pain. Following a back injury and two failed operations I spent 3 1/2 years in bed. I believe the professor arrives when the student is ready. Pain must be one of my teachers. During the years I spent in bed, my despair was overbearing and unforgiving. I would have jumped off a bridge if only someone would have brought one to me.
Getting a wheelchair was my turning point.
My case manager suggested I get a wheelchair. I was horrified by her suggestion that I, who could walk would get a wheelchair. She said it would be a means to getting me out of bed. Thinking about the prospect of the world outside my bedroom, I agreed to try the wheelchair. She went with me to the doctor, and helped me fill out the paperwork. A month later the wheelchair was delivered to my house. The mere sight of the wheelchair was traumatizing for my mother and me. I covered the wheelchair and put it in the garage. But as the weeks passed, stuck in my bedroom restlessness tugged at my willingness. Gradually I started using the wheelchair for trips around the neighborhood. The first time I got the courage to take the wheelchair out in public was to the farmers’ market. My own mother did not want to be seen with me. I did not want to be seen with me. I was humiliated to be seen using a wheelchair. People’s staring is one of the aspects of using a wheelchair that can feel the most defeating. People rarely make eye contact or say hello. After several outings with my mother I got the hang of using the wheelchair and felt more comfortable taking it out on my own. The wheelchair is a means to my freedom and has essentially given me the ability to participate in my life again.
But this is not about the wheelchair. Coming to terms with having a disability has been a long process. Stigma exists in the world and within myself. It is impossible to change something so large and pervasive. Once I accepted my own disability it matters less what other people think of me. Once I got past the horror of using a wheelchair, I was able to start living my life again. I realize I am not alone. Everyone who has a disability must come to terms with his or her reality. I believe that challenge is opportunity.
My life’s work has led me to helping others with disabilities. This gives me strength and joy, knowing that I’m making a little difference in the world, one person at a time, knowing that I may help someone else gives me a reason to get out of bed.
The bridge is always there, but today I choose not to jump.