How I Adapted To My Life Changing In A Split Second
My good friend Dani Izzie shares her incredible story about being a wheelchair user. It’s a must read!:
I used to tell myself that I wanted to experience all that the world had to offer. At 18, I left the U.S. to start a life of discovery and adventure abroad. Four years later, I returned to the States, slipped, fell on a dirty bathroom floor, and shattered my neck vertebrae badly enough to injure a very precious spinal cord. The loss was immediate and devastating: paralysis from my fingertips down to my toes and all the physical, social and emotional upheaval that came with it. For a long while, the struggle was real.
I know what most readers will want to hear: the grisly details, the trauma, the triumph, and the answer to how I can possibly deal with this terrible outcome on a daily basis. But here’s the thing: the outcome of my spinal cord injury is no longer terrible. I didn’t overcome, I adapted. The story of that “fateful” fall is something I choose not to focus on or re-live. And after 10 years of living with paralysis, I feel privileged. My journey has been stunningly transformative. The world is still my oyster and I have already lived as an able-bodied person, and now as a disabled person, increasing my personal repertoire of what it means to be human. From the looks of pity I get on a daily basis being seen in a wheelchair (my THRONE, by the way,) I know that many may never understand that their reaction is misplaced.
You know what is worse than not walking? I live in a world where there is a deeply entrenched social stigma where bodies that don’t fit a cultural “norm” are marginalized. They need to be fixed, cured, or eradicated. It is often a society where disability is a dirty word and a wheelchair is a symbol of confinement, not freedom. And as I consider motherhood, believe it or not, it’s a world where being a quadriplegic will cause others to question your worth. I have seen disabled mothers shunned as “selfish” for having children, or rejected when applying for adoption.
In the face of these challenges that have nothing to do with being disabled, and everything to do with social and environmental barriers, what has strengthened my perspective has been the consideration of other people’s lives, particularly those who were born with a disability and who are also at ease and in harmony with their body and identity. Those who wear their wheelchairs, white canes, prosthetic limbs, and any kind of visible or invisible scars, with acceptance and pride despite all the outside factors that tell them to be ashamed. Those who know that their personhood and value is never in question, despite having to fight for their health, equality, inclusion, and access.
Sage House is dedicated to eradicating toxicity and I am so proud of its founder and my friend, Lauren, for using her personal health challenges as a catalyst to seek wellness for everybody. Toxicity comes in products, environments, and relationships. It also comes in our ways of thinking. Toxic thinking about illness or disability is unfortunately a knee-jerk social phenomenon. People clam up at thoughts of disability - sustaining an injury or illness, giving birth to a disabled child, taking care of a disabled parent, making love to a person with a disability. Cleansing ourselves of the fear of disability will prepare us for the many inevitable seasons of life, allowing us to find beauty in unexpected places.
On a personal level, this cleansing can be achieved by taking a Zen approach towards the concepts of pain and suffering. Pain and suffering are two different things. Pain is the body’s signal that something is wrong with the body and needs medical attention. Suffering is a psychological response to pain eliciting unproductive responses to pain such as: “Why me?” “I can’t do this,” or “I hate being disabled.” Judgement is the cause of this suffering and by transforming judgement into loving acceptance, we can honor and nurture our gorgeous, changing human bodies in all their states of being. It takes practice.
Accepting that everything changes helps us appreciate in every moment the fragile beauty and value of all things. Buddhist psychotherapist Mark Epstein, author of Thoughts without a Thinker, recalls Buddhist teacher Ajahn Chah describing the joys of accepting change:
“You see glass? For me, this it is already broken. I enjoy it. I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. But when the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it shatters, I say 'Of course.' When I understand that this glass was already broken, every moment with it is precious.”
Here’s a little nugget of truth from a hemiplegic writer and scholar I have encountered, Richard L. Bruno: When we accept that everything is "already broken," then disability loses its abnormality. Actually, anything that is not broken is really abnormal. So, welcome to the club, my friend. At any point in time, you are broken, I am broken. It can be undoubtedly difficult, but by cleansing our minds of judgement, fear, and stigma, we can experience the wholeness and rich abundance the world has to offer even in unconventional, or alternatively functioning bodies. It doesn’t take a day, or reading an article to get to this place of healing, but by embracing the impermanent nature of our bodies, we find the privilege of being alive.
Because of this transformative shift in thinking and “detoxing,” I can genuinely say that words used to describe my body now like quadriplegic, disabled, and paralyzed no longer make me shudder. I have re-claimed them, in effect. I can say that my lived experience with disability and successful adaptation has opened up new worlds to me and broken negative stereotypes. I am enriched by the disability community, I am motivated to try new and daring things in this defiant body, I embrace the fringes, I feel prepared for an array of challenges because I have the toolkit to deal with my fears, and I have learned the undeniable power of resilience.
x - Dani