As I’ve mentioned before, I was 14 when I had my diving accident. While it’s never fun to get injured at any age, I’m pretty sure the cusp of teenagedom is be one of worst ages to get injured at.
At 14, you care way too much what people think, you’re already trying to figure out who you are, and you’re terribly likely to have a brain full of cockamamie ideas regarding being disabled. I know I did.
So when I was told my paralysis was permanent, I thought that spelled the end to ever having a happy or fulfilling life again. After all, how can someone who can’t walk be happy?
Thankfully, my “whoa is me” negativity train was eventually derailed, but it wasn’t until a few years after my accident. Karen Casper helped me see the light. She was a paraplegic woman who worked at a rehab center I was at in 1997, and was the epitome of fabulousness – worked full-time, beautiful, married, with children, and she even drove a sexy sedan. A song should be written about her. Karen had everything I thought would elude me as a quadriplegic. Was I thrilled to make her acquaintance? You better believe it.
It was meeting her that helped me realize the importance of having someone in my life who truly understands my unique life experience; not only going from able-bodied to disabled, but a female who understands all of the things SCI affects regarding being a woman.
I don’t want to put down my family and friends because they’ve helped me immensely, but they can’t do what Karen did for me, or what my friendship with the dozens of other women in wheelchairs I’ve befriended through the years have. These special ladies are my war buddies; only they know the shit that I’ve seen. From dating discrimination to losing a heel in public, they know exactly how hard this life can really be.
The sad part is that many of my disabled female friends live far away. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had a few local women with SCI to call friends. There was Steff, my best friend, a paraplegic from a truck accident (don’t sit in truck beds!), who was my partner in crime, my shopping buddy, my friend who showed me how to stop caring what people thought of me.
And there was Darcy Pohland, a quad and one of the few television news reporters in the country to use a wheelchair, who was the most amazing mentor anyone could ever ask for. She worked in the media industry just like me, and was madly successful, a local Minneapolis celebrity even. She took me under her wing and showed me how to be professionally successful. For that I’ll be forever grateful.
Both have tragically passed and it pretty much kills me to even talk about it. Steff died at age 25 from kidney failure and Darcy passed away in her sleep just a couple weeks ago, at age 48. Love your friends. You never know when they’ll be gone.
If you don’t have a friend in your life who knows what you’re going through, reach out and find one. There are dozens of places online to meet people with disabilities just like yours. Having a friend who can truthfully say, “Yeah I know…super lame!” when you rant about the injustice of inaccessibility to PCA’s not showing up on time, can not only have immense healing powers on the soul, it will remind you that you’re not alone; you’re never alone, and that unto itself is some of the best medicine around.