I have learned a great deal about myself and the world around me since I became disabled three years ago. On September 20, 2012, I was involved in a serious motor vehicle accident that ultimately left me as a triple amputee. It was a life-changing experience, but also a positive one. I hope these three lessons will help you better understand yourself and those with whom you interact.
1. Every end marks a new beginning.
At the moment of impact, my car burst into flames, and I instantly became a member of the disability community. I haven’t looked back.
This is cliche, but you can’t change the past. There is no choice but to move on. I often asked myself, “Why did this happen?” In the year I spent in and out of the hospital and operating room, an answer was hard to find. But, as we all know, not every question can be answered immediately. Many require research or experimentation.
As soon as I was able, I began taking trips to explore the world. I checked items off my bucket list, in the hopes that somewhere, I might find the answer to why.
Perhaps the purpose for my accident and disability was to create this blog. Perhaps the purpose of it all was to inspire and help others. Perhaps it is all of that and more. I haven’t finished my research.
What made it all possible was recognizing that life is meant to be lived. I closed the book on my life of walking, and rolled forward, into my new beginning.
2. We all have disabilities, and they’re not always physical.
Many people, in societies around the world, stigmatize disability. Even those close to you may be doing this. Ironically, we all have disabilities.
My disability is physical. There are many things I can’t do physically. Walking, driving, crawling and sitting for extended periods are just a few examples. My limitations, however disabling, don’t represent the entire spectrum of physical disability. Read these articles by some of WheelchairTravel.org’s guest bloggers to see how they overcome theirs:
- How I climbed a Spanish Mountain in a wheelchair, Erin Clark
- Why airlines must adopt this aisle chair replacement, Kim Jago
- Traveling to Warsaw, Poland with a power wheelchair, Tonje L.
- Exploring Cambodia with a disabled child, Bron Smith
- Tips for exercising your 2nd Amendment rights in a wheelchair, Bear Laird
Invisible disabilities affect us all. These include, but are certainly not limited to, ADD/ADHD, addiction, anxiety, chronic pain, depression, eating disorders, OCD, personality disorders, PTSD and stress.
Every person we encounter is fighting their own battle. I don’t ever assume that my physical challenges present a greater struggle than the invisible disabilities of others. I deal with some of them myself.
Don’t allow yourself to be brought down by those who judge you based on your appearance or disability. The people who look away from and try to avoid me are suffering from their own disability. They don’t understand that people with physical disabilities are some of the strongest people they’ll ever meet. We face our battles head on. Two men I met while traveling, Chen Zhou in Shanghai, and Livio in Paris, prove this point well.
3. It is OK to ask for help.
Dealing with a disability is never easy. Going it alone is not healthy. Oftentimes, as with my own case, it just isn’t possible. It is okay to need help. But that help isn’t limited to everyday things like going to the bathroom, eating/cooking, and transfers.
We need family and friends to offer us love and support. It can help thrust us back out into the world, where we can regain our dignity, value and sense of purpose.
My long-awaited transition from the hospital bed to a restaurant or movie theater changed my perspective from “No, I can’t” to “Yes, I can!” It helped me to feel normal again.
My first post-accident trip was to Los Angeles, California. My sister traveled with me, assisting me throughout the journey. That trip paved the way for so many more travels, this blog and happiness.
I haven’t done it by myself. Even when I travel alone, I still ask for help – like the time my wheelchair battery died in Beijing and a stranger pushed me to my hotel. Many friends, old and new, have joined me along the way. Whether our meeting is at a bar, a restaurant or on an airplane crossing an ocean, they help me to forget that a wheelchair has replaced my legs. This is possible because they treat me as an equal, a friend, and as the same annoying idiot I have always been. Hold your loved ones close.