Let me just come right out with it: Life happens to everyone.
Not just me. (Not just you.)
Literally every single person in the world knows that unexpected, unfortunate crap happens. It just does. Trauma, change, and disturbance are not exclusive. Whether you are rich or poor, black or white, old, young or from planet Mars… sh*t is going to happen. People are injured when they’re on the verge of achievement; people get cancer (fuck cancer); people are abused as kids or lose parents and life-long friends; men and women go to war and then must return to their every lives after experiencing the unthinkable. The list goes on and on.
I don’t mean to imply that the world is shitty and depressing, because it’s not — it’s beautiful. I only want you to consider the fact that at one point or another, something difficult happens to everyone, and usually it happens more than once. I always say that life is constantly throwing curveballs, we just need to learn how to hit them.
Life with a spinal cord injury is funny. I use a wheelchair every day, it’s who I am and what I do. It’s not a tragedy and it does not mean that I’m living in a constant trauma. My wheelchair is a tool that allows me to be free in the world, despite of my limitations. However, when people see me for the first time, I am repeatedly approached to satisfy curiosity, far too often combined with pity or something similar. (On the contrary, sometimes I’m seen as an inspiration; another topic coming soon.) What I find most interesting though is when people’s feelings towards me and my disability are based moreso around their disbelief. I’m talking about the “I don’t know how you do it” comment, or the “you’re so much stronger than I would be” and the “I don’t know what I would do if that happened to me”.
Words like this are full of so much more than you may realize. People don’t consider when they say these things that I never really had a choice. Life happened, as it does, and I decide to make the best of it — just like so many other people do when life throws them a curveball.
Sure, standing up would make a lot of things easier, but I learned to adapt and get things done. I have a ton of friends I can ask to come hang curtains for me and I’m not afraid to get a piggy back ride up a flight of stairs when needed (or I learned to climb them by myself when there are no cute boys around). I have done many things that plenty of people without disabilities would never attempt to do; I’ve flown a plane with hand controls, swam in the Colorado River, and crawled to the edge of mountain cliffs just to get a better view. My disability does not dictate what I can or cannot do.
Still, people often look at me and assume that I was handed the short end of the stick. My life is pretty awesome, but my resume is not the point. The thing is, I’m not the only one who’s been hit by an unexpected change of course.
When I was injured in 2010, I was the only one hurt in the car accident, but the other two went to jail for DUI related charges. Mind you, I had been drinking too and one of the drivers was my boyfriend. People say that “the grass is always greener on the other side”, but let me tell you, I’d choose my spinal cord injury over a year in prison any day. So in a way, I lucked out. The problem is that we don’t get to choose our shit, and that’s the reason why it can be pretty hard.
In my conversations with others, I often find myself trying to level the playing field. I don’t do this to minimize the burden that one person feels or to amplify the stress of someone else’s situation. In reality, the choice is up to all of us how much resilience we exude. My argument, simply, is this: Yes I use a wheelchair, but there are so many uncertainties, traumas, experiences and adversities that I have never had to experience. I have never lost a parent, nor was I abandoned and I’ve never been homeless (well technically* I was for a while but couch surfing doesn’t count). I have never been involved in gun violence, watched my house burn down or witness a loved one lose a battle to addiction. I’ve never been divorced, I’ve never lost an arm, I’ve never gone through gender change or moved homes when I was growing up. There’s a lot of situations that suck, and there are a lot of ways to rise above them to live an awesome life.
I’ve noticed that people often don’t see it this way. A physical or visible handicap is often viewed as “worse” than a problem that’s invisible. Maybe it’s because we do not look for the things that are unseen. Men and women with mental illness struggle daily and people who have experienced trauma or abuse, those battling PTSD or the ones masking difficulty with unhealthy coping strategies may live their entire life without recognition of their struggle. People SEE physical differences, so they’re easy to identify and perhaps more straightforward to address, but it doesn’t mean they’re worse.
So people can see my disability; I was paralyzed in a car accident and I use a wheelchair because of it. That’s the battle life gave me. Luckily, I discovered how to fight it without coming out too hurt. I found support and resources and unlimited opportunities — blessings that arose out of adversity. But that’s just my story. We all have one. Why spend our time comparing our struggle to others’? Instead, let’s use what we have learned through our experiences to help others as they encounter their own.
There are a lot of amazing people who find ways to make diamonds out of dust. Life happens to everyone. That’s not an option. The only option we have is what comes next.