I took an hour walk today on Sehome hill, a beautiful arboretum behind Western Washington University. I used to take lots of walks there when I first started college, right after my accident.
I was so grateful for Sehome hill, a lush, luscious, vibrantly green forest that was, with effort, accessible to me. Walking was very painful and arduous those first few years after the accident. I kept walking in spite of that because intrinsically I knew that I had to. I didn’t want life to pass me by. I wanted to live as much as I could.
As I was walking today, I pondered what makes me disabled. I questioned whether I’m even truly disabled. When I was a young eighteen year old, I couldn’t think of myself as disabled. I flat out refused. I spent energy learning to stretch, expand, reach and find my limits, of which there were few. I wasn’t interested in being disabled so I wasn’t. I prided myself on being able to just keep up with the friends who slowed down enough for me to do so. I had a can-do attitude. In my twenties, anything was possible, almost.
When I had kids, all my energy went into them, not pushing my physical limits. I found there were new limits to explore: how much sleep I could go without; how long I could comfort a crying baby; how patient I could be playing dinosaurs for hours; how much I could love when my child was sad. Pushing those boundaries had nothing to do with my leg and never will.
Being physical went by the wayside. I allowed that to happen. But I’m realizing that the slow decline, the imperceptible descent into inactivity shaped my attitude about my body and my abilities. So much so that gradually I started to think of myself as disabled. Then I started to call myself disabled. What I thought was simply calling a spade a spade was in fact a shift in attitude.
Walking the same paths today I walked over thirty years ago put me in touch with the young woman who refused to be disabled. It reminded me that, in fact, I have a choice in the matter. How attached am I to identifying myself as a disabled person? What I realized on my walk today is that I get to choose my attitude toward my body and, in turn, make a choice about whether or not I’m disabled.
Despite the static limitations of my body – I’ll never grow my leg back – life can be heaven or it can be hell. It’s all in what I make it. It doesn’t even really matter what the issue is. Lack of money, ill health, strained relationships. My relationship to those situations will determine how happy I am.
I’m turning fifty in about six weeks, but there’s a big part of me that’s still an eighteen year who wants to live as much as I can. Now I understand that it’s my choice. Disabled or not.