Getting Married as Someone with a Disability

Today marks two weeks since I married the love of my life. I’m still catching myself saying my maiden name as opposed to my new last name, I still haven’t written thank-you notes, and there are wedding gifts still in their original packaging. But as I sit and reflect on my wedding day, I feel nothing but love and gratitude for the friends and family who helped to make it the best day of my life.

Like many girls, I spent my life thinking about what my perfect wedding day would be like. However, unlike most girls, my focus wasn’t on the details like the color scheme, flowers, table decorations, or the seating chart. I cared about one thing: the man who’d be standing opposite me as we promised to spend forever together.

As someone with a disability, I spent years wondering if I’d ever get married or even have a boyfriend. I didn’t know if I’d ever find someone who wouldn’t feel burdened by my disability. I couldn’t picture someone wanting to spend their life with someone who did not know what the future would hold for them physically and the level of help they’d need. I couldn’t picture someone not being frustrated by the intricacies of being intimate with me. I couldn’t imagine someone CHOOSING that kind of life and future for themselves.

Then I met my husband, and my whole world shifted. Together we learned how to navigate a relationship where one partner is able-bodied and the other is not. However, don’t get me wrong, that wasn’t necessarily a walk in the park. It took time, understanding, communication, and trust, and most of all, patience. But tackling those challenges early on meant we built our relationship on honest, open communication. And our relationship only grew stronger from there.

If you asked me as a child to picture the man standing opposite me on my wedding day, I wouldn’t have pictured my husband, but here’s why. I honestly didn’t think someone like him existed. I didn’t believe I’d find someone to love me AND my disability, while also being willing to take on the responsibilities that only a relationship like ours requires. But then the universe proved me wrong. And here we are, enjoying the early days of married life and brimming with excitement for what our future together holds.

So, to all the people out there with disabilities wondering whether they’ll get married one day, please know, it’s possible. I’m living proof. We are worthy of love, acceptance, and romantic relationships, so don’t let anyone say we’re not. Honestly, I think relationships with one disabled partner are even stronger than relationships where both partners are able-bodied. Because not only do we have to navigate the typical ups and downs of a relationship, we have to come to terms with the physical aspects too, and that makes our partnership even stronger.

In that sense, I am so grateful to have found a man who encourages my independence but also helps me when I need it. And that help isn’t tinged with feelings of resentment or being a burden; it’s filled with love. I know this because I know my husband, and the love we have for one another is visible. I saw it plain as day on our wedding day. I saw it in the look in his eyes when we promised forever to each other surrounded by our friends and family. I heard it in the words of the hand-written vows he wrote. And I felt it in the way he held me during our first dance. And I see it today, just in the way we navigate our day-to-day lives, allowing each other to grow as individuals and together as a couple. And in the conscious decision we make to choose to love each other, every day, over and over, from now until forever.

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Healthcare Access & Disability

Access to good quality, disability-inclusive healthcare is a hot topic these days in the disability community, and for good reason. It’s hard to find. A lot harder than you think. Why? Well, a multitude of reasons, honestly. In my opinion, it boils down to a lack of adequate disability awareness training in medical school, a lack of medical professionals WITH a disability to represent the community (I have seen a FEW, which is awesome, but still not enough), and a lack of formal training on the “culture” of living with a disability (such as pointing out barriers people with disabilities face when trying to find adequate healthcare, education, employment, housing, and transportation).

Personally, I think the two biggest reasons disability-inclusive healthcare is so hard to find is due to the lack of disability awareness training in medical school and the lack of understanding of disability as a “culture” and “community.” For me, “disability culture” is simply my perspective of living with a disability. While these perspectives can vary widely depending on the type of disability and your comfort level with identifying yourself as a member of the disability community, the way you express yourself within the context of disability culture is just that: an expression of your own unique experiences. However, with that said, there are some commonalities as well, such as the history of disability, the social aspects living with a disability, and the tendency to view disability just in terms of access.

When I say disability access in terms of healthcare, I don’t just mean physical access. While physical access is indeed important, the societal barrier of accessing quality, disability-inclusive healthcare holds even more weight in my opinion. For instance, when I was a junior in college, I started going to a physiatrist  to have someone monitor my Cerebral Palsy as an adult. Physiatry is a branch of medicine that aims to enhance and restore functional ability and quality of life to those with disabilities. You would think a doctor in this specialty of medicine would be incredibly in tune with the needs of the disability population and would have a deep understanding of disability culture. You would be wrong (in this instance, at least).

The physiatrist I saw understood disability in terms of the medical model. The medical model of disability says people are disabled by their impairments or differences. Under the medical model, these impairments or differences should be ‘fixed’ or changed by medical and other treatments, even when the impairment or difference does not cause pain or illness. How should have this physiatrist altered their perspective of disability, you ask? He should have attempted to view and understand disability from a medical AND social context.

The social model of disability says that disability is caused by the way society is organized, rather than by a person’s impairment or difference. It looks at ways of removing barriers that restrict life choices for disabled people. When barriers are removed, disabled people can be independent and equal in society, with choice and control over their own lives. In short, the social model of disability focuses on empowerment and inclusion.

To be honest, I fall somewhere in the middle of those two models. For instance, I believe that societal perceptions of disability and disability stigma and stereotypes are the biggest barriers people with disabilities face. That being said, I very much understand the biology behind Cerebral Palsy and know that my CP wasn’t “caused” by societal perceptions. It was caused by the fact that I was born three months premature and didn’t receive enough oxygen to my brain when I was born. However, I do feel that societal perceptions of disability have further exacerbated the difficulties people with disabilities face. They definitely haven’t made them any easier, that’s for sure.

I think so much of the time when people think of barriers for people with disabilities, the first thought is physical access. I hope that as the disability community grows and as I continue to speak out on issues that greatly impact my life, others will see that it’s SO much deeper than just the fact that I was born with a disability. Yes, that’s true. But the reason it can feel almost impossible to live with a disability some days is not because of the disability itself. It’s stereotypes. It’s stigma. It’s a lack of understanding.

I know bringing up disability is “uncomfortable” for a lot of people because they don’t want to potentially offend someone. However, please know, your inability to bring disability into normal every day conversation is a major part of the problem. Talk about it. Ask me about it. I won’t be offended. I’ll gladly paint a picture of what it’s like to live my life. And I’ll be honored that you cared enough to ask.

Why Asking For Help As A Disabled Person Was The Best Gift I Ever Gave Myself

As much as I put on a “brave face” and strive to have a positive attitude on days when my CP has me doubled over in pain, there is a lot of internal frustration that comes with living with a disability. Typically, my blog has been a place to vent those frustrations. But I’d be wrong if those difficult days were the only memorable ones. Does my disability frustrate me? Absolutely. Are there days where I wish I wasn’t in constant pain? You bet. But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade my disability for anything. I really wouldn’t. It’s given me a perspective on life and allowed me to cross paths with some of the most special people I’ve ever known, and without my disability, I don’t know if my life would have unfolded in the same way. A blessing in disguise, I guess.

Typically, “good” days aren’t memorable. They are simply a small break, even if only for a few minutes, of the physical and emotional pain I feel as a result of being a member of the largest minority in the world. However, a few weeks ago, I had a “good day,” in a sense, and it’s one I’ll never forget.

I was going to Subway to get lunch and looking forward to having an entire hour to myself (yay introversion!). I took my walker inside, as it is my preferred method of mobility these days when I’m by myself because it prevents falls. However, when I got to the door, I realized my conundrum. I couldn’t get the door open and maintain my balance at the same time. However, thankfully, as I was attempting to open the door, someone inside saw my struggle and came to assist (thank you, kind human). I said thank you profusely, and when the gentleman just smiled broadly and nodded, I realized just how much people long to help others. Typically, it’s difficult for me to accept help as I feel like a burden, but I have to realize that typically people don’t offer to help unless they are genuine and truly do want to assist you in some way. That realization really came to fruition once I was done with my lunch, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I stood in line to put in my lunch order, which for the first time wasn’t a big deal because my walker has an attached seat so I can sit whenever I need (best invention ever!). Anyway, I enjoyed my solo lunch, counting myself lucky to have received so much positive support from others during this difficult transition regarding my mobility. I then got up to leave, pondering in my head how I was going to exit Subway without possibly falling over or calling even more attention to myself. It was in this moment that I knew the best course of action was asking for help, so when I eyed a group of EMTs eating lunch, I asked for assistance. One guy was so excited to help he practically bounced out of his seat mid-bite to assist me, replying “Of course!” with the most genuine smile I’ve ever seen. I thought I was going to fall over (ha!) from happiness.

I thanked him over and over for his generosity, happy to know there were still kind people in the world, but that wasn’t even the best part. A few minutes later, I got to my car, opened the truck, and went to place my walker in the back like I’ve done hundreds of times without incident. However, this time I lost my balance, and because my hand was still on my walker as I was falling, my walker fell on top of me. Don’t worry, I’m fine. But it sucked. I felt embarrassed (as usual) and just aggravated at my body for not cooperating.

After a sigh of relief and a reminder to myself that the choice is to either remain on the ground or get back up, I rose to my feet. Once I was standing and started to close the truck of my car, I looked up to see the EMT from before sprinting out of the Subway. In my head, it felt like watching Baywatch, standing in awe as an attractive, shirtless man ran towards you to save the day (but he was only shirtless in my head, haha). He came up to me and said, “From the way you got up, I can tell this happens often, but is there anything I could do to help?” As much as I wanted to say no, the kindness in his eyes made me want to hug him. I didn’t hug him (which was the wrong choice because he was attractive, muscular, and looked like he could throw me over his shoulder with just a finger). However, I did take him up on his offer to help. I said, “You know what would be really great? If you could walk me to the front door of my car and help me get in safely.” The “of course” couldn’t come out of his mouth fast enough. Once seated safely, I looked up at him and said “To be totally honest, it is really hard for me to ask for help, but I’m so glad I did today.” He nodded, double-checked to make sure I was okay, and softly closed my car door.

I waited until he was back inside to cry the happy tears I couldn’t hold back anymore.

The Mobility Chronicles: CP Edition [Part 2]

Back in January, I wrote a blog post and opened the door of my current mobility struggles, while simultaneously opening the floodgates of all the emotions associated with my declining mobility. In some ways, it feels like the level of those emotions has increased, but honestly, I think they are fears and concerns I’ve had my whole life, so now that they’ve come to light, it feels like I can’t even breathe some days because of my level of panic, anxiety, and unrelenting anger.

In between the time I wrote the initial post on this subject, I’ve gone back to physical therapy, which was a huge step for me. Past physical therapy experiences have resulted in a form of PTSD, so the fact that I was even able to walk in the building when I had my first appointment was a really big deal. I’ve only had two appointments with my new physical therapist, but so far, so good. During my initial appointment when I was evaluated, I spent 90% of the appointment discussing my past PT experiences, the panic and anxiety I now feel as a result of my past and the pain I experienced, as well as the experience I had when I returned to physical therapy 3 or 4 years ago for the first time since I was 16. To put it bluntly, returning to PT that time around didn’t go well. I had no idea I was going to have panic attacks, but I did, and they scared the crap out of me. Therefore, when I returned to physical therapy this time around, I knew what to expect in a sense. I was utterly terrified and it took a lot for me to even think about going, but I had a better idea of what my response would be.

Therefore, about a month before my initial evaluation appointment, I talked with my psychiatrist about my concerns, in the hopes that she could prescribe me with something that could at least take the edge off so I could walk in the door of the physical therapy clinic without having a panic attack. The fact that I even had to ask for a medication to help me made me feel weak. However, I have battled my depression and anxiety and been in mental health therapy long enough to know that sometimes talk therapy itself can’t 100% fix a problem, especially when it’s literally a chemical imbalance in your brain. Don’t get me wrong though. I’m not one of those people who thinks the entire country should be medicated. However, all I know is that for me, the combination of talk therapy and medication has allowed me to be a functioning member of society without feeling completely debilitated by my anxiety and depression.

Anyway, upon returning to physical therapy, knowing I had something that could help me from totally going into a panic attack and not being able to get through the appointment was a relief. It was like knowing I had a safety net if I needed it. I will say, though, another huge part of returning was getting myself mentally prepared that physical therapy this time around would not be the same as physical therapy when I was 11 or 12 that required intense physical therapy post-surgery. For me, that meant creating mantras in my head, like “You are in control,” “If it hurts, you can’t tell them to stop,” and “If you have to get up and walk out, that’s okay.” In short, the mantras help, but so far it has meant repeating them in my head over and over for the entire hour of my appointment.

In short, each PT appointment forces me to face internal demons that I’ve been battling since childhood, and that shit is hard. I remember the day a few weeks ago when I went to my first appointment. I got through it, but for the rest of the day, I was in a very thick mental fog. I had built the appointment up in my head, expecting a continuous panic attack. Since that didn’t happen, my mind had to adjust to the fact that what I was preparing myself for for over a month wasn’t as intense as I was expecting. Despite that, facing these fears head on on a daily basis is exhausting. I’m sure that over time it’ll get easier, but for now, it just sucks. It doesn’t feel fair. I shouldn’t have to have such an intense internal battle with myself on a daily basis, and yet, here we are.

Recently, I discussed my anger surrounding my declining mobility and having to use a walker with my mental therapist. In short, I’m infuriated with myself and my body constantly. I hate that my mobility has reached this point. I’m pissed that I didn’t do more to hold off this moment for as long as I could. It literally makes me want to scream and cry, simultaneously, on a daily basis. It’s not fair. I shouldn’t have to deal with this now. I thought I had 10 more good years of independent mobility without having to depend on the assistance of a mobility aid. But the universe had other plans.

To be honest, facing my declining mobility as a result of my disability feels like the hardest thing I have ever had to do. The simple fact of feeling like I am being continuously “mentally tested” on a daily basis is enough for even the most mentally strong individuals to take pause. So, today, I’m taking pause. I’ll pick up the fight again tomorrow.

The Words of My Childhood

A few weeks ago, my mom brought by two boxes of childhood memories that I knew I couldn’t part with, though initially I didn’t even remember what was in the boxes. As I took a nostalgic trip down memory lane one evening, I found diaries starting from when I was really young, stuffed animals I could never part with, and best of all, stories and poems penned by yours truly. Interestingly enough, as I poured through everything I had written (at least those of which I kept), I noticed some distinctions within the words.

Within writing, there is the concept of “finding one’s voice” as a writer. I used to believe I was still searching for mine, not knowing when it would be fully developed or when I’d know I had one worth remembering. However, the authenticity of my “voice” as a writer, especially once I was high school, brought tears to my eyes. For instance, I was looking through Academe, a literary publication my all-girls’ school published during my junior year of high school. I was mindlessly flipping through the pages, stopping at prose or poetry that caught my eye or pulled at my heart. I read a poem called “The Barn,” devouring it, literally hanging on every word, and wondering the whole time who had written the poem. It wasn’t until I reached the bottom of the page…that I realized the author was me.

“The Barn”

I am a lost soul

On the search of self discovery

Looking in every nook

Every cozy log cabin

Finally stumbling upon

An old abandoned barn

 

Its windows are shattered

Showing the whole inside

Much like a heart

Left for the world to tear apart

It is overflowing with hay bales

Resembling each happiness

Each piece of simplicity in life

But leaving gaps

Just big enough for grey skies to surface

 

There are camping lamps in each corner

Shining light upon this life

And guiding the way

But sometimes burning out

To force me to find my way

In complete darkness

Dead silence

And hazy fog.

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As you can likely deduce from this poem, I’m definitely an “old soul.” I wrote “The Barn” 9 years ago, at the age of 16. By that point, due to all the physical and metaphorical obstacles I had to traverse as a result of my disability, I felt like I had enough life experience to last decades. What I didn’t realize until I read this poem as a 25-year old adult is that I have always had a “voice” as a writer. Over the years, I have refined it, strengthened it, and molded it into the essence of who I am today. Even as a child, the foundation of my voice was there, sitting in the dark, patiently waiting on my words to bring it to life. Maybe I never had to “find” it after all. Maybe it was there all along, waiting for me to be ready to come looking for the piece of myself that would allow all the others to fall into place.