Twelve years ago, I was involved in a horse back riding accident that left me paralyzed from the waist down. I was twenty one years old at the time. I knew very little about life. I especially didn't have a clue about handling drastic changes to my life. I woke up one day walking and went to bed that evening paralyzed. The years that followed that fateful day have been long and filled with many obstacles and each day still brings new challenges.
After I was newly paralyzed I began living as did before, or at least trying to live that way. Much to my dismay, I quickly learned that everything and everyone was different. I couldn't go to the same places, I couldn't wear the same clothes, and I couldn't even eat the same foods. I was suddenly faced with a new lifestyle and had to cope or give up. Giving up is always an option that floats around in my mind, but I never give into it. I have days where I would like to and it just seems easier, but then the thoughts quickly change to gratitude. Gratitude for what I do have and what I can do. I learned to live with my paralysis instead of in spite of it.
When I was newly paralyzed I didn't want anyone to know I was really paralyzed. I was incredibly embarrassed by my wheelchair. I did everything possible not to have to be in it or to be in it as little as possible. I would visit with people and insist I had to be in bed so I wouldn't have to sit in the wheelchair. One of the first parties I went to was at a friend's parents' house. It was a Christmas party. I was injured in July so it seemed like a reasonable amount of time to be ready to attend a party and feel comfortable in my chair. However, exactly the opposite feeling came over me and it began days before the party. My mom rushed out to find clothes I could wear. Sitting down all of the time requires an entirely new wardrobe by the way. I am the first to admit I have a special fondness for clothing, but seriously, sitting down all of the time makes clothes fit completely differently. Try it, sit down and watch how different your clothes fit. Pockets stick out, pants shorten, shirts bunch and when you are already feeling insecure bulging pockets really don't help the situation. So, my sweet mom did the best she could and we came up with an outfit that fit and would cover up everything I was trying to hide. I remember it exactly because it was so silly. The party was a fun, lively, young Christmas party and I wore velvet pants and a huge purple sweater. I didn't want anyone to see how skinny my legs were and I didn't want anyone to see my back brace. All of the muscles in my legs atrophied due to the paralysis so they are skinny and shapeless. This may seem like such a vain thing to worry about after surviving such a huge accident and many injuries, but I was twenty one and vain.
My dear friend carried me into the party and I had him place me in an arm chair. I sat in the chair the entire evening. I didn't want anyone to ask about my wheelchair. In fact, I think my friend took it upstairs. I wanted it out of sight. I remember one person commenting that I should move around and mingle more and not just sit in the same chair all night. I just laughed and didn't tell him why I parked myself in that chair. I couldn't even utter the words. Later, we all went out to a bar. Everyone was gathering on the second level of the bar. Again, my friend carried me up the stairs, but this time I sat in my wheelchair. Restaurant chairs aren't very sturdy and I felt safer in my wheelchair. This was the first time I was in a bar while in my wheelchair. The entire night I looked around thinking about my old self and what I would be doing. I saw a girl sitting on a guy friend's lap and realized I could never do that again...just walk up and sit on someone's lap. I saw girls and guys my age milling about, moving from one group to the other, heading to the bar and ordering drinks and carrying them back to other friends. I would never be able to do this, I thought. I can't see much other than the stools at a bar, so the thought of ordering my own drink was ridiculous. I sat wondering what my life would be like, how I would have friends, how I would go places, it all just seemed too overwhelming to handle. I felt myself begin to shut down in that moment. I started to realize this winning attitude I had in the hospital just days after my accident, was going to be difficult to sustain. I felt I had no idea who I was or what I was going to do with myself.
While I was sitting thinking all of these thoughts, a friend of a friend turned to me and asked, "aren't you the Irish Dancer?". I didn't even know how to respond. I didn't want to tell him I couldn't walk anymore, much less dance. I WAS an Irish Dancer. I loved dancing. I loved being defined as an Irish Dancer and now I was not. I have no idea how I answered.
Later, I confided in a friend. This was the same friend who carried me up the stairs both times. I told him I had no idea who I was or what I was going to do. His reply was so simple. I didn't understand it at the time and it took me twelve years to finally understand it. He said, "You are just Sarah sitting down." As much as I didn't want to be sitting down, I was. I wasn't different, my circumstances were just different. It seems so simple now, but the years that followed this were some of the most difficult and traumatic years of my life. And although this life change has been extremely rough it has also been extremely rewarding. Sitting down for so long has finally made me stand tall.
I hope to use this blog to share my stories of this experience of discovery and living with challenges. I love my life now. I love my wheelchair and all of my experiences because of it. My injury and disability are just part of who I am. I live life well now and have obtained more skills than I could ever have imagined. I have learned to be more forgiving, more accepting, more loving, more gentle, and to say fewer negative things. But mostly, I finally discovered how to be Sarah, while sitting down.