By: Jenn Vicious
Jenn Vicious is the radical community’s Agony Aunt, providing life coaching and social etiquette answers for radical cultures. Need poly, kinky, or queer dating advice, need to to know what to wear to court or a family function (you know, one you have to look “respectable” at), want to understand what to and not to say in some contexts, ask Jenn Vicious.
YEARS AGO I HAD AN ACCIDENT THAT LEFT ME PARALYZED FROM THE WAIST DOWN. SINCE THEN I’VE FELT LIKE HALF A PERSON. NOBODY WANTS TO DATE ME, I AM INCAPABLE OF HAVING SEX, AMONG OTHER EMBARRASSING BODY ISSUES AND I AM CONSTANTLY LOOKED UPON WITH PITY, FEAR AND EVEN DISGUST. I AM LONELY AND WANT COMPANIONSHIP BUT I CAN’T KID MYSELF AND IMAGINE ANYBODY WOULD WANT TO DATE SOMEONE IN MY SITUATION. BEFORE I BECAME CRIPPLED, I WOULDN’T HAVE. I FEEL PATHETIC AND HELPLESS ALL THE TIME. WHAT SHOULD I DO? – ANONYMOUS
I’ve been thinking about you a lot this week, Anon. I don’t know what it’s like to be you, and I don’t know how I would react in your situation. But I do know this: you’ve survived something incredibly difficult and traumatizing. Now you have to find a way to live. I am not an expert on living in a wheelchair, so this post is heavily indebted to Gary Karp and the Live Better Podcastseries hosted by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, which is the most extensive website resources for people living in wheelchair that I have ever seen. I highly recommend exploring it.
First of all, you are going to have to forget everything you’ve ever thought about what it would be like to be paralyzed. Forget all of your assumptions, and everything that you think people are thinking about you now. All that stuff is a distraction to being present in your actual life right now. You need to be learning what your life is actually like now: the things you can’t do, sure, but all the things you can do as well. All those old assumptions are only going to hold you back from living your life to the fullest. You also can’t waste your time worrying about what other people think when they see you. They don’t know anything about you at all.
You are worried that when people look at you they feel pity, fear, and disgust. But it seems like that is how you see yourself, and that is the bigger problem. If you don’t want others to see you as an object of pity, you have to stop seeing yourself that way. Yes, you need a wheelchair, yes, you need assistance, but that doesn’t mean your life has stopped. Start living.
Life is about adapting to your circumstances. Your circumstances have changed dramatically, but that just means you have a different set of circumstances to adapt to. Maybe there are things that you used to be able to do that you can’t anymore, but there are probably a lot more things that you used to be able to do that you can still do with some adapting. If your old interests don’t work for you anymore, get new ones. Find something you enjoy doing, and learn how to do it well from a wheelchair. Maybe take up sports, or volunteer at a children’s hospital, or write, or draw. But do something that is challenging but makes you feel good.
There are new skills you might need to develop in order to adapt to your life now. Make a list of skills that you could learn that would help you live the kind of life you want to live, and then learn them. Find out what kind of resources exist in your area for people in wheelchairs. If the answer is not much, expand you search to other nearby areas. Learn to love and appreciate the technologies that make adapting easier. Do whatever you can do to get a wheelchair that you really like, and see your wheelchair as a useful tool rather than something you’re stuck with. I know it is going to take a lot of energy and focus to do these things, and right now it might just seem to hard, but you have to push yourself and find the motivation to make your life happen.
All that other stuff you are worried about—dating, being alone, companionship—aren’t going to be resolved while you are stuck in the mindset of being a creature worthy of only pity and disgust. When you live a life that you enjoy living, regardless of your circumstances, other people will want to be around you. I’m not guaranteeing hot dates or anything, but being an indomitable person who lives the best life they can will make people want to be around you.
I know what is being asked of you seems insurmountable. We all have different coping mechanisms for dealing with huge changes in our lives, and I’m not going to tell you that you need to stay positive all the time, mostly because I suck at being positive all the time (but I’m really trying). But I was really inspired by something I heard Gary Karp say on the Live Strong podcast. No one thinks they can do this until they find out they can. He was talking about living life from a wheelchair, but those words are true about so many things. We never know how we are going to deal with drastic upheavals in our lives until we just do it.