I believe in equality of all types. What we watch on the news, hear on the radios, read in history books proves that although we have come a long way from physically wearing the scarlet A on our chest, being cast in stone for practicing sexual freedom, being sold at birth to your future unknown husband’s family and not benefiting from the same rights as our male counterparts, such as voting, protesting, working and holding political offices, we still are a long way from reaching and breaking the glass ceiling that silently weighs over our heads every single day. Being a woman in a wheelchair makes it even twice as difficult to prove our worth because we are still being judged on our looks, discarded by the first signs of imperfections that are visible to the outside world. So, how do we challenge that?
The third week after I woke up from my induced coma, still battling the effects of long term intubation, a sacral decubitus ulcer that was getting bigger by the minute, weakened lungs and complete stiffness from the long “sleeping-beauty” like sleep (all this aside from still feeling the shock and denial of my T4 spinal cord injury), the in-patient physical therapist assigned to my case introduced herself to me right before giving me a long list of the things I would no longer be able to do as a paraplegic. These are some of the things she said:
- You can no longer wear skirts
- No more tight clothing
- If you do not catheterize on time, you can die from autonomic dysreflexia
- You can no longer wear sandals because you need to beware of your toes
- You can no longer go into a jacuzzi
- You can no longer spend long periods in the sun
- You are going to need to wear diapers for the rest of your life
- Be careful when getting manicures and pedicures
- You can’t afford to get a wound anywhere you don’t feel
As she continued babbling away, all I heard was spinal cord injury = end of femininity. Sad, wasn’t it?
Before the accident that left me paralyzed, I was obsessed with my physical look. I ran 8-12 miles daily and grimaced at the sight of any unwelcome cellulite, extra belly skin roll, zit, or anything that strayed me away from looking like a Photoshopped magazine cover model. So much time, so much effort, so much work. And then, in the blink of an eye, I was almost two hundred pounds, bald, face full of zits and I sported a really fashionable tracheotomy tube that kept me from speaking and breathing like a normal person – through the nose. I felt like an alien on Earth.
So, this is where all these points tie in together. The accident sucked; the first two years of recovery were the worst; survival preceded vanity. There was a big lesson for me in paying attention that I was and am much, much more than just what the depth of my skin shows me and the outside world that I am. I had never paid attention to the brilliant mind that lay dormant for a long time while I was compulsively preoccupied with the flaws and non-flaws of my physical body. I lacked confidence to keep reinventing myself according to what life had gifted to me (yes, even the hardships were gifts). That lack of confidence allowed me to believe a young, inexperienced physical-therapist who made me feel that along with my spinal cord injury, I had also lost my sense of self. I locked myself inside the four walls of her predictions and stayed there until my free-spirited nature hit bottom in order to force me to break free from those chains of illusion.
Here I am today. Paraplegic. Mother. Almost 40. Writer. Daughter. Sister. Friend. Writing my first novel. Student of quantum physics, metaphysics. Spiritual. Believer in equality. Lover of life. Confident in my abilities. And last but certainly not least, grateful to be where I am today. Hindsight is always twenty-twenty and if I knew then what I know now, the journey would have been much smoother to say the least.
I am writing this today so that at least one woman on wheels out there who still feels out of place with her own body and new life believes that it will pass. Do not focus on the things you can no longer do. In fact that is the biggest fallacy of all. We can do everything able bodies can do, we just have to figure out how to do it in a way that suits us. We are still beautiful, sexy and strong – and those qualities go way beyond the depth of our skin. They are the essence of our hearts and souls. Our bodies will change in a chair. Depending on your level of injury, your belly will protrude, your legs will atrophy, your shoulders will curve inwards and you may even lose the ability to straighten out your fingers. It doesn’t matter. What we were left with is much more powerful than what I described above. We can still think and we can still love. The fact that we ended up in a wheelchair is an opportunity for us to discover what else is special about us. It is a kick in our behinds to stop living in the comfort zone. We mobile-women are destined for greatness. A greatness so big that it drowns out the magical effects of any Photoshopped magazine cover beauty. Remember this: When an egg is broken from the outside, a life is lost. When the egg is broken from the inside a life is born. Break free from your self-imposed limitations and beliefs and birth a new life for you that shows the world your innate bright light. I believe in you!
Camile is a 37 year old mother and writer. She sustained a spinal cord injury while performing her police officer duties for The Miami Dade Police Department in 2006. After two years of fighting to stay alive, she rediscovered her passion for writing and has been doing it ever since. She has been published in five different countries as a contributor for Extraordinary You: The Art of Living a Lusciously Spirited and Vibrant Life. She is a regular columnist for PN Magazine (Just For Women column) and is working on her first novel and memoir.