Wedding Planning with a Disability

Winter is my least favorite season. Though I love snow, cold weather is really hard on me as someone with CP. I’m naturally very stiff as it is because of my disability, and cold weather makes it 5,000 times worse as my muscles tense up the moment cold weather arrives. Even when I put a ton of layers on, it still seems to happen. The coldest of air cuts straight through to my muscles I guess.

Despite hating cold weather, I’m excited for this month this year. This month will mark 4 years since my now-fiance and I have been together. The 8th of this month will mark 8 months until we get married. And during the last weekend of the month, I’ll be heading to Chicago with my mom to go wedding dress shopping with my best friend. It may seem strange that I’m going all the way to Chicago to shop for a wedding dress, but not to me. I knew within of year of being friends with my best friend that it’d be a friendship to last a lifetime. I was the maid of honor in her wedding. She’ll be the matron of honor in my wedding. And the thought of trying on wedding dresses without my best friend by my side is unimaginable.

Strangely enough, I’m a bit nervous about going shopping for a wedding dress, though I’m definitely excited too. I’ve never been a fan of dresses, but I’m determined to find a wedding dress I love. The hard part will be finding something that not only works with my body but is something I can easily move in and feel comfortable in. Because of my CP, I have quite a sway in my back that I’m really self-conscious about, so that has me leaning towards a “ball gown” type look because I don’t want something that will accentuate the curvature of my back. At the same time, I don’t want something super heavy because walking in normal clothes is difficult enough. Adding in tons of fabric and lots of length for the pretty look may be against me. I doubt it’ll be easy to find a “ball gown” type dress that is lightweight, but we’ll see. As much as I want to find a dress I love, realistically I need to find something I can easily move in and that I’ll be the least likely to trip in. I fall very easily and often without warning, and just the thought of falling in my wedding dress on my big day is incredibly anxiety-producing. I know it’s not something I should worry about, but because of my disability, I can’t help it. I have to look at dresses realistically. Can I move in this? Is it too heavy? Am I going to fall over it over and over again. Though the natural thought would be…”oh, why don’t you just hem it so you won’t fall?” And yes, that’s as no-brainer. But here’s the thing, I fall even if there isn’t anything to fall over. And doing that in front of all the family and friends I love would seriously suck.

Wedding planning has been interesting as someone with a disability. For venue options, I had to take into consideration accessibility and whether I’d be able to easily get around. I ended up choosing a venue with a lot of flat, open space (despite it being in the NC mountains)! As I’ve stated above, I’ll have to consider it when finding a wedding dress. I’ll also need to be particular about the shoes I choose. I can’t walk in heels. However, I can walk in cowboy boots, and since my wedding will be on a ranch / farm, it’s pretty much a done deal. 🙂 Thankfully, I have a great pair of cowboy boots I bought with my mom when we went to Nashville a few years ago. I’ll just have to find a dress that ALSO works with my boots (and all the other requirements). Easy, right?

It may seem strange to realize just how much I’ve had to take into account while planning my wedding as a result of my CP. Sometimes, it gets me down. However, it’s my life. I’ve had to adapt ever since I was a child. It’s nothing new. Best of all, my fiancĂ© and my bridesmaids and matron of honor are super supportive when it comes to all that. I’m sure they’ll be a big help with logistics on the big day. Plus, at the end of the day, I get to plan a wedding for exactly what I need, and no one else can say a thing. I don’t pull the disability card often, but if it means the difference between getting something I need vs. not having it, I’m going to pull out all the stops I can. It’s my wedding day, after all. 🙂

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What Blogging Means to Me as Someone with a Disability

Writing has always been a comfortable outlet for me. Maybe because I feel more true to myself when I write than when I try to vocalize my emotions or connect with people in-person. As a child, books and words meant safety. As a got older and experienced numerous surgeries related to my Cerebral Palsy, writing was once again the outlet I immediately went to because I felt like no one would understand the stream of consciousness going through my anxious, but inquisitive mind. I didn’t have my first surgery until I was 11, but I have this clear image in my mind of sitting on the brown couch in the den of my childhood home after my first surgery with a yellow legal pad on my lap and a pen in hand. I may have had both of my legs in bright blue casts with a yellow bar in the middle, making it difficult to move, but I didn’t let that stop me from doing the one activity that has always set my soul on fire.

Even then, I wrote stories about myself. The story of waking up in the ICU after surgery. The story of experiencing Christmas from inside the four walls of a hospital. The story of weekly visits from therapy dogs. The story of how bi-weekly arts and crafts were the only time where I forgot, if even for a minute, that I was in the hospital and about to undergo a surgery that eventually lead to nightmares, panic attacks, and sent my imagination into overdrive. But those stories weren’t just stories. They were my life. They were a chance to process through the fear, anxiety, and pain I was feeling without having to figure out how to speak my feelings out loud. They allowed me to revisit the experiences, while also being able to act as a spectator within my own life.

I think that’s why blogging has been so helpful for me over the years. It’s been an escape, while also being the place where I found my voice, became part of a community, connected with other people and families with disabilities, and found a place I belonged.

I’ve spoken about belonging before in the sense of being someone with a disability. To put it bluntly, it’s hard. The world is not made with disabled people in mind. Besides the topic of physical access, there are also areas of education, housing, employment, and access to healthcare. Each of those areas are much, much different experiences for someone with a disability than they are for an able-bodied person. In regards to education, I had to be sure the schools, colleges, and graduate schools I attended were accessible to me. For me, that meant small schools (since walking long distances was hard), limited walking distances between classes, and in the case of college, finding a school with a substantial disabled student population (so I could be sure they had resources I might need). For housing, it meant finding an apartment complex willing to install grab bars in the bathroom so I can easily get in and out of the shower. Employment-wise, it might finding a company to work for that was comfortable with and supportive of my disability.

Often times I feel like I spend so much energy figuring out to live in a world not made with me in mind that there’s no energy left to reflect on the positive things my disability has given me. For instance, I don’t know if I would have become a writer were it not for my disability. Growing up, I wanted to find something to do that I could enjoy that my disability wouldn’t hold me back from. For me, the answer was writing. Short stories, fiction, poetry, song lyrics….and eventually blogging about my life. It’s a place I’ve always known I’ve belonged…the writing community, that is. The blogging community. Right here, with all of you.

So, thank you. Thank you for giving me a home in this crazy, frustrating, but beautiful world we live in. Thank you for encouraging me to come back to blogging. Thank you for the comfort, support, and love. But most of all, thank you for reading. My number one goal as a writer has always been to relate to just one person or have one person’s perspective changed as a result of my words. That, to me, is the ultimate dream. And you wonderful readers have given that to me time and time again. It’s because of you that I keep writing. And because for me, writing is and always will be my oxygen, my passion, and the one place I feel at home.

Disability and Love: It’s Not Impossible

Though I’ve touched on this before, it bothers me that there’s a stigma of disabilities and love within society. Maybe not a stigma…but hesitation. It’s there. I’ve experienced it first hand, and I’ve observed many depictions in the media where a disabled person finds love and it become a news story….or my personal favorite…the article about two people with disabilities getting married. Hear me out, though. There is nothing wrong with two people with disabilities being together in an intimate relationship. If you find the one you love, and they have a disability too, but they also love you right back, then that’s wonderful. However, please don’t settle for a mediocre relationship just because you want to be with someone. And don’t think that just because you have a disability you won’t find love. I’m living proof that’s not the case. However, that also doesn’t mean that a disabled person in a relationship is newsworthy. It’s not. It’s every day life. Unless you’re a celebrity, are you going to have an article in the paper about your date to prom? No.

Was I overwhelmed by the dating process? Yes. Was I worried that someone might not want to be with me because of my disability? Also yes. But you know what? You don’t want to be with someone like that anyway. If someone’s put off by your disability, they aren’t right for you. Simple as that.

I by no means am a relationship expert in any capacity. I just have my own experience as a disabled person trying to find a companion for life. My fiancĂ© does not have Cerebral Palsy like me. Truthfully, I had concerns about being with someone who also had CP simply because I knew the amount of help I’d need physically as I got older, and I wouldn’t want to put someone in a position where they didn’t feel comfortable doing that. Would I have considered it if the person I fell in love with also had CP? Maybe. I’ll never know.

What I do know is this: Find someone who cares. Find someone who loves you AND your disability, not just you (i.e. they don’t have to necessarily be thrilled about your disability, but if they have doubts about your ability to love or be in a relationship because of your disability, you deserve better). Find someone who you can talk to openly about disability logistics (and that right there is the cornerstone to my relationship). If my fiancĂ© and I couldn’t talk openly about how my disability impacts our relationship, we wouldn’t work. Getting to that level of openness with a partner could take some time, but if you haven’t had a conversation about your disability and how it would work in the context of a relationship after a few months, maybe there’s a reason. It’s also possible that you may have no idea how your disability will impact / affect a relationship. That’s okay too. When I first started dating my fiancĂ©, everything was uncharted territory regarding relationships. But we got through it together. We learned side by side. Sometimes we had no idea how to handle certain things. When we went on our first date, he didn’t know whether to help me or whether I’d take offense to that. *Hint, hint*: He asked me what he needed to do / how I wanted him to help me, and I told him. Sometimes I needed an arm to steady myself; sometimes I didn’t. Either way, I communicated my needs to him. Because news flash: someone doesn’t know you need help until you ask. And it’s okay to ask. If you ask, and they say no, run. That person’s a jerk. You’re better off without them.

Love is possible as a disabled person. The smartest love advice I was ever given was: “Stop looking. Love will find you when you’re doing the things you love.” However, I’ll amend that advice to say this: It’s highly likely you’ll find love when you stop relentlessly searching. However, don’t expect love to fall in your lap, either. I had to do my fair share of work in meeting my fiancĂ©. For instance, I initiated conversation first. I approached him first. I knew enough to know I’d likely have to do that, which some may be frustrated by. And it’s certainly not required. I just knew I needed to be proactive, and I knew I didn’t want love to pass me by.

I was lucky. I have found a person to spend my life with who doesn’t view me as a burden. It’s possible for others with disabilities too. Trust me, I’m living proof.

The Mobility Chronicles: CP Edition.

I was driving home from work tonight trying to determine what topic to touch on in today’s post. So much has happened since I was last blogging regularly that it is hard to even know where to begin. At the same time, I know exactly where to start: smack dab in the middle. Because that’s life. It’s not linear. It just happens, and how we handle situations can all be seen in how we respond to them.

To put it bluntly, my mobility has been decreasing over the past few months. But first, let me paint the whole picture. As a child, I utilized canes and walkers and braces on my feet to help me walk. However, for the majority of my life, I have walked unassisted…until now. A few months ago, I noticed I was having some trouble walking, or put more plainly, I was “freezing up.” Here’s the thing. I can walk, but I have fallen so frequently as a result of my CP that it is almost as if my mind keeps that thought at the forefront every time I take a step. You know what they say….don’t think about pink elephants, but what do you do? You think about a pink elephant anyway. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I feel like every time I go to take a step, I’m telling myself “don’t fall, don’t fall,” but as soon as that thought process starts, guess what happens? I’m typically on the ground within a few minutes. Therefore, that thought process in itself has made it hard to put one foot in front of the other without some kind of assistance. Even in moments where I think I’m okay, my mind reminds me again, and I can’t get it out of my head. It shouldn’t be a big deal. I fall all the time as a result of my CP. I should be used to it by now, but alas, it’s not really something you get used to, no matter how much it happens.

Coming to the conclusion that I needed something to help me be more mobile and independent was really hard. I fought it for a long time. I’m still fighting it now to be completely honest. But I reached a point where I realized: if I am going to safely get from place to place independently, I need some help (side-note: I hate, HATE asking for help. I need to get better on that). Anyway, a few months ago, I started using a walker (named Hugo because that’s a way better term). It sucks, and I still hate it, but Hugo helps me get from place to place without having to wait for someone to come along and help me get from the side of a building to my car, which was less than 10 feet away. Yes, that scenario really happened. Once I waited as long as an hour for someone to exit a building before I finally just gave in and crawled on my hands and knees to my car. It was insanely humiliating, but I didn’t really have a choice at that point. The longer I stand still, the stiffer I get, and the more difficult it is to move. And you know what? That scenario I mentioned…it didn’t just happen once. It happened at least 5 to 10 times before I realized I needed to figure something out. In case you haven’t guessed, I’m stubborn…and I value my independence more than anything. There’s something you must understand, though. For my entire childhood, the number one goal was walking independently, and I got there. I did it! So now…having to use something to help me get around makes me really mad. I feel like I’m moving backwards, even though I know that’s not the case. I’m 25. I shouldn’t need a freaking walker. And yet, here we are.

While I know Hugo helps me get from place to place, already being at a point where I have to use him sucks. See, I thought I had more time. I didn’t know this was going to hit by the time I was 25. And truthfully, the hardest part is thinking about what other people think. Even though in my mind I know others don’t care, I’m judging myself for it. I’m caring about what I think about the entire situation. And in case you didn’t already catch on to this, I’m really hard on myself. Internally, I keep tearing myself down for having to use Hugo. I feel guilty I think. Guilty I couldn’t have done more to prevent it. And just angry at the image of it. Walking with a walker was not something I ever imagined for myself. I thought I skipped that part. However, I know from experience that ruminating on “What if’s” gets you nowhere. Still…stopping that train of thought is way easier said than done. I’m trying, but I know it’s going to take time.

As of right now, I’m making a conscious decision to allow people to help me more and to actually ask for help when I need it. It’s probably once of the hardest things I’ve had to do. It’s not easy to change thought patterns at the drop of a hat, but I know one thing. I have to start somewhere, and I know my body will thank me someday for giving it the rest it needs. When I’ll start that? Who knows. I’ll let you know when I get there. At this point, I’m just taking it one day a time. That’s all any of us can do.

Dating With a Disability [Part 2]

The initial dating with a disability post I wrote back in March was such a hit that I wanted to do a follow-up. I think sometimes society has a hard time understanding that people with disabilities want the same things everyone else does: love, success, lifelong friendships. And those things are attainable for the disability population. However, it may just mean there are more logistics to figure out.

In the case of dating, for me that meant thousands of questions were going through my head: 1). When should I tell him about my disability? 2). How will he respond? 3). Will he care? 4). If we get serious, will he resent me for what I can’t do? 5). If we get serious, will he feel like my caretaker?

Even now, after my boyfriend and I have been dating for 3 and a half years, some of those questions still surface. However, we’ve dealt with them just like we’ve traversed the rest of our relationship: with openness, frequent communication, and love.

When should I tell him: Honestly, it was answered on its own. Because my disability is visible, it’s not something I could hide. No, I didn’t have a “I have CP” tattoo on my forehead, and I have never introduced myself to someone by saying, “Hi, my name’s Amelia, and I have CP.” However, I’ve always prided myself on being open with people. The reality of my disability came out pretty early on…and even though I fretted over how the conversation would go, it went as smooth as though I had said, “My day was good, how was yours.”

How will he respond: My Cerebral Palsy mattered to him, but it didn’t all at the same time. It didn’t prevent him from wanting to date me. However, it mattered in the sense that he wanted to understand it enough to know how to help me when he could, which I was grateful for. More than anything, he wanted to know how living with a disability shaped the way I viewed the world. And in that moment, I knew I wanted to spend my days helping him to understand the world I lived in: the world of oppression, marginalization, discrimination…but also the world of a culture that has its own language, values, history, and perspective.

Will he care: He did. But he cared in the sense of, “It hurts me to see you in pain,” as opposed to, “I don’t want a girlfriend who has a disability.” Yes, it’s part of our relationship, but it’s not the only piece. It means we have to do certain things certain a little differently, but it doesn’t prevent us from loving each other. However, I will say it does take a special person to care in this way. You want someone to care enough about your disability that they see it as part of you, but not so much that it is the only thing they see when they look at you. I’m happy to say that’s what I’ve found. And honestly, each day it amazes me. Sometimes it still takes my breath away that I’ve found someone who cares enough about my disability that he has taken up the disability fight out of sheer love for me. For example, the first time my boyfriend became enraged when he saw a car parked in a handicapped space without an appropriate license or placard…I felt heard, I felt seen, and finally, I felt like I didn’t have to face the injustices of the world alone.

If we get serious, will he resent me for what I can’t do: Honestly, I still worry about this one. Since we are serious, it’s a thought that bounces around in my head pretty regularly. And since we are so open with each other, it’s also conversation we have often. Do I think he resents me now? No. Do I think there are things he wishes we could do together that my disability prevents? Sometimes, yes. The majority of those things have been centered around activities that require extended walking. However, about a year ago, when I invested in a mobility scooter, a new world opened for us. With my scooter, I was able to get out and be more active and not be as easily exhausted like I’d get if I was walking everywhere. Therefore, we’ve been able to enjoy things like going to the mall or walking around downtown, whereas previously I’d avoid those things because more walking meant pain…and pain meant both of us being unhappy. However, in another sense, sometimes I worry how my disability will impact me as I age. What if in two years I can’t do what I’m doing now? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t worry about it. But if I know one thing, it’s this: I’ll figure out a way to handle those obstacles as they come my way. I always do. It’s who I am.

If we get serious, will he feel like my caretaker: I still worry about this one too. It’s a conversation we have very openly, as neither of us wants to reach a point where we have a caretaker/patient relationship. Honestly, what’s made the difference is understanding and perspective. Are there things he has to help me with? Absolutely. But do I help him with aspects of himself that are weak because those are my strong areas? Yes. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. The give and take. In my case, many of the ways my boyfriend supports me are physical in nature, but he’s also incredibly kind, loving, and caring too. When I look at a caretaker/patient relationship, I see it as very one-sided. And that’s not what our relationship is. It’s two people supporting and strengthening each other to be the best versions of themselves.

At the end of the day, dating with a disability is just the same as typical dating, but with a double scoop of openness, communication, understanding…and a dash of humor (because if we’re not laughing through life, what’s even the point).

Why My Disability is Not Your Feel Good Story

Throughout my life, I have been called inspirational, brave, and courageous because I live life with a disability. Many people have expressed how much they admire me. I used to just accept it. However, over the last few years, those kind of comments have really started to frustrate me, and here’s why.

Admiring me because I live with a disability and have scars and wake up each morning with chronic pain to simply live my life…it’s pity in disguise. This kind of admiration says to me: “Wow. If I had experiences like yours or lived with some kind of impairment, I don’t know if I could face that.” And what, I’m some kind of construct to measure against so you can say to yourself, “Thank goodness I don’t live like that.” Within the disability community, this concept is known as inspiration porn. As was stated in the hit-show Speechless, “It’s a portrayal of people with disabilities as one-dimensional saints who only exist to warm the hearts and open the minds of able-bodied people.”

Other examples of inspiration porn include stories such as the star athlete at a local school taking a girl with Down Syndrome to prom or images of athletes competing in the Paralympics with the caption, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” Seriously? Give me a freaking break.

I’ve had my fair share of these kind of experiences as well. When I was in middle school, every year there was a beauty pageant, and each grade was allowed 3 or 4 contestants. The contestants were chosen based on nominations and votes made by each grade, and when I was in 4th grade, I nominated myself but then changed my mind and stated, “Nevermind, no one is going to vote for me anyway.” Even now, I don’t know why I said it. Maybe it was rooted in my strong desire to be liked and have friends, but as you might imagine, my entire class heard the statement. And lo and behold, I was chosen to take part in the beauty pageant that year. While at the time I enjoyed the experience, now it simply fills me with disgust, and I wonder, “Did my classmates or school ever realize that by providing me with this experience, they were simply using it so they could feel good about themselves for doing a ‘good deed’?”

Years later, when I was in college, my dad and I were walking around downtown Asheville and trying to kill time before going to a concert at The Orange Peel, and an older gentleman came up beside me and started clapping and stated, “God bless you, sweetheart. Way to go.” I was floored. I stared at the man in disbelief and didn’t even respond. Looking back on it now, I wish I had said, “Honestly, saying something like that is incredibly demeaning. I don’t exist to provide you with warm and fuzzy feelings, and I am not here for your pity.”

Don’t admire me for simply living, for doing every day things you can accomplish without even batting an eye. Because to be honest, I haven’t done anything extraordinary. I have a college degree, I recently got my master’s degree, I have a full-time job, I drive a car, and I pay all my bills. But so have thousands of other people in the world. But are you going to walk up to them with a huge smile on your face a say, “Wow, you inspire me so much. I really admire you?” I highly doubt it. Just because I have accomplished those things while also having a disability does not make me admirable or courageous or brave. I am not your charity case or your feel good story. I don’t exist so you can put your life and obstacles into perspective. I am not here so you can pat yourself on the back and check off “do a good deed” on your list of life goals. I am simply doing the exact same thing every single other person in this world is doing: existing.

What My Life With Chronic Pain Looks Like

Imagine waking up one morning, but before your feet even touch the floor, you can feel pain radiating from your hips and into your lower and mid back. You didn’t do anything differently the day before. You didn’t lift something too heavy or strain a muscle while exercising. This is just your normal. No amount of Advil, Extra Strength Tylenol, or deep breathing can ease the dull, yet persistent ache you feel throughout your entire body. As you surrender to the realization that today will be a difficult day pain wise, you get up, knowing that you can’t stay in bed all day, even though you’d prefer that over living in the hell that is chronic pain. You stand up, and while that feels like a feat in itself, the true test will be attempting to move.

You move your hand along the mattress and then transition to trailing your hand along the wall in order to make it to the bathroom, shuffling your feet slowly and cautiously. You do this because of how uneasy you feel. However, you know in the pit of your stomach that simply placing your hand against the wall won’t prevent you from falling due to your already unsteady balance. Right when you make it to the bathroom door, there is a millisecond when you know what’s coming. You see it play out as it has so many times before, but there is nothing you can do to stop it.

Your breath catches in your throat. As you fall, your arms shoot out in front you, trying to grasp onto a chair, a door handle, anything to prevent you from going all the way down. But your hands come up empty. You hit the floor, falling back-first into the door jamb. The breath is knocked out of you, there is a shooting pain coming from your hip joint, and you want to cry out. You open your mouth. Just as the darkness of early morning envelopes you, so does your own silence.

With shaky hands, legs that feel like jelly, and tears streaming down your face, you turn onto your hands and knees and push up with as much strength as you can muster, using the stability of the wall near you to stand back up. You’re standing again. You feel steady. But you know, in the back of your mind, it’s only a matter of time until it happens again. Until your body decides to let you down and you fall, again.

And yet, that moment, that moment of falling again and experiencing a pain that radiates like fire through your bones, that moment has not yet arrived. There is relief in the continuous shallow breaths you take as your world comes into view again. Your world is one of never-ending pain, but it is also one of gratefulness. Gratefulness towards the boyfriend who offers you his arm for support. Gratefulness towards the best friend for consciously slowing down her pace so you don’t feel left in the dust. Gratefulness towards the body that, no matter how painful, is still moving…still allowing you to stand back up, just one more time.