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A Vertical View

When I got injured my entire life flipped upside down. Everything changed. The way I did everything changed. The way I viewed life changed. The way I went to the bathroom, got dressed, drove my car…. They all changed.

The hardest one to process and deal with was that the way I saw myself, my worth, and my value all changed too. The reason it was so hard to wrap my head around was because of the beliefs I had about what it meant to be disabled, handicapped, paralyzed, or in a wheelchair. These were never ways I thought I would be describing myself and the worst part was that those words did not hold very empowering meanings.

I had never experienced or seen anyone who had a disability and who was also any of the ways I would have described myself before my injury. I would have used words like fit, pretty, healthy, successful, driven, happy, lots of energy, fun, a life of the party, popular, financially independent, and a bubbly personality.

As for the ways I would have described someone with a disability, I would have said things like unhealthy, boring, unattractive, unsuccessful, sick, a burden, dependent, poor, sad, depressed, no energy, lame…

Now I was suddenly caught in between two worlds that literally were polar opposites from one another. How was I supposed to be me and also have a disability? I would look in full-length mirrors and have this internal war. From the boobs up I recognized myself. It made sense, I knew who that woman was. From the waist down I saw a body that was now destined to be all of those ugly adjectives. It wrecked me, it beat me down internally. I hated my new body and the life I was now supposed to have.

I later learned why this became such a battle for me. We all have both personal and global beliefs about things, people, and places. We develop beliefs about ourselves based on how we are raised, our experiences, our likes, and dislikes, etc. However our global beliefs are based on how we are raised, personal experiences with things, as well as bigger stereotypes and stigmas that we see through the media, movies, advertisements, large groups, etc. Think about things like lawyers, teachers, police officers, as well as places like Hawaii, Russia, schools, hospitals, and then things like wheelchairs, vegetables, types of cars, etc. We may have similar ways we describe them unless we have personal relationships with some that don’t fit the mold.

These global beliefs began to mess with my head. There is a quote that I absolutely love which is “You can’t be what you can’t see” by Marian Wright Edelman. It was almost impossible for me to be anything other than the global beliefs I had about disability because I had never seen it and I didn’t understand I had the power to challenge it. I had never seen someone with a disability who was also fit, pretty, successful, driven, happy, lots of energy, fun, a life of the party, popular, financially independent with a bubbly personality - and because of that, it felt wrong to think I could.

Think about your own life. Are there things about your life that feel like they don’t add up because of your global beliefs? Perhaps you are a woman who feels driven to climb the corporate ladder, yet growing up you were told women were supposed to be at home. Perhaps you are going through a divorce and your experience of divorce leaves you feeling like you are supposed to be bitter, struggling financially, and always fighting with your ex. Perhaps you are going through cancer and losing your hair and are struggling with also feeling strong and sexy.

There are so many different ways we can have these internal conflicts which leave us feeling defeated and struggling to gain positive traction. Life will continue to throw us different circumstances and having the knowledge to journey through them without losing ourselves - and even better, using them to elevate our lives - is the ultimate goal. After all, it is not what happens to us that matters, it is who we become through it that makes all the difference.

Once I not only realized this but also understood the psychology of how to make that shift, I began to leave both the old Sarah and the global beliefs about disability behind. I created completely new beliefs about myself, my life, and my circumstances which empowered me and others around me. I took control of my focus, the meaning I gave my circumstances, and who I would become through it all. I used everything that happened to me and I made it work FOR me.

I changed the way I viewed everything in my life and have been able to use the same process as I went through a massive bone infection, a divorce, a change in careers, and more! Once you understand it, your entire life opens up in the most vertical ways!

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