“There’s no such thing as being sexy in a wheelchair”.
I can’t tell you how many times over the course of four years I told myself these ten fateful words. I would stare at myself in the mirror, focusing so intently on the big piece of cold metal I was sitting on, failing to see past it every time. I would focus on the way my feet rested, my toes curling off the edge of the foot plate. I used to love my feet and the way they arched gracefully from the years of wearing high heels, but now they just seemed floppy like an infant. To make myself feel better, I would put on high heels, squeezing and smashing my poor feet into place. Most of the time they were too swollen to get the shoe to fit, zip or buckle. If I did manage to get both shoes on, I would get so frustrated as my knees flopped out, making me look anything but ladylike. I've come to rely on a velcro strap which I place around my thighs and under my skirt to keep my knees together.
For the longest time I would hit my legs, trying desperately to get them to wake up and obey me. I would slap them and tell them how stupid and ugly they were with tears running down my face. I hated them so much. I couldn’t understand why I could see them, touch them, feel them, but they wouldn’t respond. They were just there, serving no purpose, not doing their part, and I hated them for it.
At one point, I received a massage and energy work from my very intuitive aunt. Without any insight, she got to my legs and said, “Your legs want you to know it’s not their fault and they are sorry. They want you to be kinder to them”. Talk about being put in your place by your own body! I was amazed, embarrassed and disgusted I could be so cruel to them, yet it still took me a couple more years until I finally stopped with the abuse.
As I got ready for work each morning, I seemed to face the same internal debate, and often had to talk myself into dressing up. The majority of the time I really just wanted to disappear. I hated being looked at, yet the person I was on the inside loved attention. I always had prided myself with looking polished and presentable, yet with the wheelchair it felt silly to get dolled up. I still had so much work to do to break through the stereotypes I had regarding those with disabilities. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I didn’t see those with disabilities being in successful positions, I didn’t see them as offering much to society and I sure didn’t see them as sexy. I felt like society expected me to fit in that same mold, and I felt out of place to remain true to myself. Only now do I see how incredibly ignorant and sad my thoughts were. I think it is extremely important to show how my mind worked. I still had stereotypes even after I had a disability myself, and denial played a major role. I had become my disability, rather than it just playing a part in my life.
That was until 4 years, 5 months and 5 days later. I had a breakthrough. One ordinary day, I looked in the mirror and simply had no more cruel words to say. It completely took me by surprise when I looked in the mirror, and for the first time, didn’t see the wheelchair. I saw a strong body, I saw vitality, I saw a secure woman. I saw me.
And then the magic really happened. All the new people that came into my life also saw me. Slowly, one by one, they didn’t ask about the wheelchair, they simply wanted to get to know me. Over and over, I found myself anticipating to tell my story, explain myself as I always had, but they didn’t ask. I took their lead and left that part out until the time was right - or in some cases, altogether. It is not the chair that defines me, but me that defines me. It’s amazing it took so long to discover something so simple, yet I believe this is how stereotypes will shift. Once the change happens within, then the change will happen all around. If you love yourself, and see yourself beyond your perceived limitations, then it’s only natural for others to see the same.