After living 30 years as an able-bodied/ independent person, my life turned upside down when I got a cervical spinal cord injury. Paralyzed below my shoulders, my new physical state is called quadriplegia.
You can read about the finer details of living with quadriplegia in my previous blog.
I labeled myself helpless; because I was unable to carry out my daily living activities such as taking a bath or dressing up by myself. I am dependent on my helper for such activities.
I labeled myself as a burden on my parents; because money was being drained on my health expenses and instead of me taking care of them in their old age it was the other way around.
I labeled myself selfish; because I would call upon my cousins to travel with me whenever my work required. They would put their life on hold for those few days and tag along to support me.
I labeled myself as a bad employee; when something went wrong at work.
In some situations, there is literally no end to the depth of self-pity that one can indulge in. After becoming a quadriplegic I felt really bad for myself.
Labeling myself as disabled, my mindset and the actions that followed became an obstacle in many things I wanted to do and be a part of.
A physical disability is not something that I can forget to focus on the task at hand. I live with it every single moment.
I am not able to lift a cup of coffee or a glass of drink when socializing with colleagues. I’m also bad at accepting impromptu dinner plans because my body is dead tired by being in the same sitting position all day. Prevention of pressure sores and giving my body rest is a priority. So I would rather skip the meeting if it was not critical.
I cringe at the possibility of working in an inaccessible location that involves being lifted along with my heavy-motorised-wheelchair to reach the destination. There is always some chaos because people helping to lift want to do it their way. And sometimes the steps are so many that I have to give it a miss.
Hate it when people gather around and stare at me shifting from the car to the wheelchair and when I am fixing my outfit as a result of this movement. This happens especially in public places; when I’m going to a restaurant, shopping or a theater. I get it that people are curious.
Of course, now I have a work around for each of the above situations: I use assistive devices and an air-cushion to keep shifting weight so that the body is comfortable and I can sit for longer durations. I demand accessibility and if it is not available then I adapt and use my manual wheelchair which is much lighter to carry. Staring back at people staring you or asking them to get on with their lives has not worked for me in public places. I prefer parking and getting down at a distance so that I can do my stuff in peace and privacy. If that’s not possible, to hell with them 😀
But in the initial days, these were my challenges and I wanted to work on this situation with my Dimaag Ka Doctor, Zoya. She gave me the assignment to list all the positive and negative qualities about me. You can imagine which list was longer 😉
Then she made a circle and divided it into three parts. One part had all my good qualities. The second part had all the bad qualities that I had identified. And the third part had qualities which were an inherent part of me/ the qualities I was born with like the colour of my eyes, my skin color and so on.
Then Zoya made the big revelation: “If you are so many things, then how can you define yourself by just one of these qualities!!!”
That’s when we arrived at:
“I’m not disabled. I’m a person with a disability. And, my disability does not completely define me.”
“Label the situation, not yourself.”
This made me look at myself differently. I was able to stop labeling myself and look at situations for what they were at face value. My actions now gravitate from reacting to responding. And this change like everything else in life is a process. I am evolving.
On that note…
“Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, someday”
There comes a time in our life when we feel beaten down. Be it on the professional or personal front, the toughest challenge arises when you are least prepared, leaving you disheartened and let down by the universe. But there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
Keep walking. And if you happen to have a spinal cord injury like me or a disability related to movement – keep wheeling 🙂