On one of my regular walks with my dog, Belle, we always pass a small section of local shops. One is a pilates studio, one a clothing studio, and one a stationary store. I occasionally look up to see the window displays, but very quickly put my head down. I need to pay attention to the uneven sidewalks, debris, and any cracks in the pavement. The slightest bump can suddenly halt my chair and jolt by body forward, sometimes causing my chair to tip and even better, cause me to fall out of my chair. But, the other day I noticed another reason why I put my head down so immediately. The pilates studio has very clear and plain windows that are almost mirror like. I actually don't look in mirrors very often. Very soon after my accident, I realized it upset me in a way that made me very uncomfortable. It forces me to see myself as a paraplegic or disabled person. I constantly shift around in my chair trying to make the refection better, even pushing myself up to see what I look like standing again. I notice all of the results of my injury, the skinny legs, swollen ankles and feet, the protruding hips, and only want to look away and change the thoughts rapidly running through my head.
On my walk, I can see myself everyday in the reflection of the pilates studio window. See, I even call our outing a "walk." In my head, I am not paralyzed. I simply don't picture myself this way. I feel as whole as the morning before my accident. My brain knows I am paralyzed. I know the physical differences blaring in my life, but somehow my spirit, the core of who I am, has not received this message. I dash out of the basement door in the morning and feel the warm blood pumping through my arms with every push of my wheels, much like feet hitting the pavement. It is fluid and normal to me. I pause to let Belle sniff, check for bags in my pockets, and really don't think about my body in the wheelchair. Yes, I accommodate a new way of life and have new ways of doing things, but I still feel like myself most of the time. And then we pass the pilates studio and I see it. I see the reflection. I can see my shriveled legs locked in my wheelchair and my upper body doing all of the work. I see my giant wheels and the chair itself. For some reason, it is always catches me off guard. It makes me think, "oh yeah, you are paralyzed, Sarah." I know this seems funny to write because I spend so much time caring for my body and all of the issues that accompany such a lifestyle, but the visual of it is far more alarming than I am ever prepared to see. I don't think about all of the extra equipment attached to my body until I bump into a door or have to squeeze onto an elevator. After I saw my reflection in that window, I started shedding tears behind my sunglasses. I really wasn't sure why and I tried to hold them back for a block or so, but then I just let go and let them flow. Over the years, I have learned that crying is courageous. It is an admission of sadness and pain and it takes bravery to allow myself to admit these feelings. So I cried the entire walk and all the way back home. Upon our return home, I wheeled back to my room, where the only mirror I can see myself in is located, and stared at myself. And while I know the physical does not matter, I still tried to force acceptance. And then I discovered something. This is just my body. This reflection is the vessel I reside in and not who I am. And yes, it is broken and mangled and difficult to accept, but it is not who I am. I care for my physical form, respect, and honor it because I need it, but it does not limit me. Who I am inside, the person in my head, my spirit, these things are not scarred and bruised and swollen and shattered. In fact, they are for more complete and strong and brave than long ago when the outside wasn't so ravaged. I decided it is okay to be shocked by the outside because it proves how healed and whole my inside truly is and continues to be everyday. I manage to live with my injury, but it does not have to define my spirit and my will. My legs may not work, but my wings are fully intact and I will continue to fly.