One thing that has driven me crazy since my accident, is when a restroom is completely handicap accessible - I’m talking perfect toilet height, safety rails, ample space in the stall, even having automatic door openers - and then I go to wash my hands and I can’t see myself in the mirror! It’s like the business has put so much thought into bringing the restroom up to code but failed to see the people it would be servicing.
With that said, I am beginning the hashtag #SeeMe and I really hope to make this a movement. See my strengths, see my needs, see my worth. See me.
I’ve spoken before about the old mantra I used to tell myself on a regular basis. Each time I would look in a mirror I would say “there is no such thing as sexy in a wheelchair”. I believed this lie for years and it messed with my ability to see myself for who I was and the potential I had. I was stuck on this one thought and it was a major block towards my acceptance of my circumstance.
Truth is, there are still so many incredibly false stigmas and stereotypes around what it means to have a disability. The worst part, is those affected by a disability begin to believe these stigmas and can subconsciously become the stereotypes, thus making it more and more difficult to change societal views.
However, I feel there is a shift happening right now in regards to inclusion and redefining what it means to have a disability. The language is moving away from using labels such as handicapped and disabled and replacing them with something the person has, rather than who they are. For example, I have a disability, but I am not disabled. The words we use have a direct effect on our lives. Our beliefs define our thoughts and our thoughts create our reality.
Something as simple as our reflection in a mirror is extremely powerful, but imagine how crappy and frustrated a person feels when they can’t even see themselves in the mirror. Do you think they feel seen? Do you think they feel significant? Valuable? Beautiful? It’s bad enough the negative things we see and tell ourselves when we look in the mirror, but how much that is magnified when we can’t even see the mirror in the first place.
When I got injured, the feeling of helplessness and being a burden was deafening. I was constantly trying to make myself smaller - to not burden those around me, not ask for too much, refuse help when it was offered, and so on. The guilt of how much money, time, and energy I was costing my friends and family broke my heart and I wanted to get out of their way as much as possible. I hated that everyone’s lives had to revolve around me, even though I wouldn’t think twice if the roles were reversed.
I looked in the mirror and I saw a broken body. I saw a cold piece of metal and I saw a burden. I saw everything I couldn’t do. I saw lifeless legs and crippled feet. I saw my disability first and me last. If our beliefs define our thoughts and our thoughts create our reality, then I was creating everything I didn’t want. I was manifesting myself disabled.
It wasn’t until I got out of my comfort zone, that I was able to move to acceptance and then embrace my circumstances. This process did not happen overnight and it required me to get extremely uncomfortable as I journeyed through grieving the loss of what I expected my life to look like. I didn’t do this on my own, and by paying a therapist, I didn’t have to battle feeling like a burden on top of it. I chose to get vulnerable. I chose to overcome my struggles and elevate my life. This process is far from over. I still have a lot of work to do, and it seems the deeper I go, the more old stuff is brought up. It isn’t always fun, but I also can’t tell you of a time I felt more alive. I feel incredibly connected with myself, and I am redefining my core beliefs. So if you’ve been paying attention, this means I’m also redefining my thoughts and my reality.
I made the choice to #SeeMe. We cannot expect the world to see us if we do not make the choice to really see ourselves first.
Every time we look in the mirror, we make an impression and a judgment. Scientists say we make judgments based on impressions in about 1/10 of a second. Yes, you read that correctly. This tells me a couple of things. First, it is crucial in how we present ourselves as to how we will be received, and we have quite a bit of control in that. We can put effort into ourselves. We can dress the part. We can make healthy choices. We can value ourselves and reflect that in what we put out to the world. People can tell the difference between someone who respects and loves themselves and those who don’t.
And second, which may even be more important than the first, is the impression we are giving ourselves. This is not to trick ourselves, but to build confidence in our self-perception. Each time we pass a mirror, we make a judgment. More often than not, it is typically focused on what we see as negative in ourselves. Do we look tired, overweight, wrinkled, depressed, the list goes on. I think, especially in women, we are taught that If we speak highly of ourselves, then we are conceited or full of ourselves. And heaven forbid we accept a compliment without downplaying it!
I recently gave a talk to a group of women and girls about this topic. Afterward, I handed out handheld mirrors and asked them take some time, noticing the things going through their minds. Then I told them to begin focusing on a few things they loved about themselves. And finally, we ended by going around the circle and telling ourselves out loud a new mantra. We phrased it as “You are” statements. “You are brave” “You are magnificent” “You are a good mom” “You are beautiful” “You are good”. Putting it in the form of telling versus stating is a great way also practice accepting a compliment. Our minds have a tendency to follow a compliment with “yeah, but…” I wish I would have been raised knowing it was perfectly ok to accept a compliment with a heartfelt thank you.
Above all else, see yourself. See your worth and all the strength you have gained by overcoming a life with a disability. You have a lot to be proud of, you are incredible and I SEE YOU.