The View From Here (24-05)

black and white headshot of justine smiling at the camera

By: Justine Chichester

On some days, my disability whispers. On other days, it roars.

This September will mark ten years since I fell in front of my house and became paralyzed. Since that rainy September evening, I have been told I would most likely never walk again, became a wheelchair-user, learned to drive with hand controls and generally navigate my “new normal” as a person who used a wheelchair full-time. I never gave up, however, in my fight to walk again, to stand again, to live life like I once knew it…again.

Some would say I’ve succeeded. I’ve defied the odds. I am actually walking again. Using a walker full-time, I’ve left the wheelchair behind, now I’m moving on to using a cane. And I recognize how fortunate I am to be doing the things “they” told me I never would again. On some days, though, just when I think I’m getting back to that person I was before my injury, my disability goes from a mere whisper in my life, to a roar that is so loud, I can’t even hear anything else.

In physical therapy, we use a metronome to help with my cadence, guiding my steps along the way. The goal is to step each time the beat hits, and we speed up the beats each time I get better and better at the walk. I’ve been working on this for years now, using my cane, walking to the metronome, increasing the beats as I walk. We walk back and forth in the PT clinic, playing the metronome and I work on hitting that beat, as it goes faster and faster. I’ve gotten pretty good at it and the last session I had, we increased the time, and I was able to hit every beat. I feel the struggle still, and I still use some mobility device to walk, but it is getting easier and I’m actually proud of myself. I am feeling just a sense of my disability, but the overwhelming pride I have in walking and hitting those beats, is louder than any small voice in my head reminding me that I am disabled. There is the whisper.

Then, I get out into the “real world.” I go to the drug store or to a restaurant. When someone walks past me in the grocery store or at the mall, I realize how slow and how labored my walking actually is. When I walk into the nice restaurant, using my walker or my cane, struggling to get to the table, all eyes on me, I just feel like my impairments are screaming, “Look at me! Look at how difficult I have it!” Visiting my Dad recently in the hospital, having to walk from the parking garage, so far to his room on the seventh floor, I struggled each time just to get there. The roar of my disability gets louder. Trying to get up and get to a meeting, or an appointment and not being able to move well, having to give myself hours to get ready, when I could easily get ready and hop in the car within minutes, before September 2014. This is when the roar is the loudest.

It’s during these moments, I realize that I will never be that person I was before I fell and became paralyzed. No matter how hard I try, no matter how many positive goals or odds I defy along the way. It changed me. It has changed who I am. And maybe that’s the point.

While sometimes a whisper can give you a loud and clear message, maybe it’s in those moments where the message actually roars, that wakes you up to listen just a little bit more. I’m beginning to see it’s those times that my disability is teaching me something. Sometimes it takes a loud cry from someone, something, or some event in our lives, to wake us up to the changes that are happening, or should be happening, right in front of us. While you may not see them as a positive at the time, there may be a lesson there, in the roar. A lesson in acceptance and leaning into that change.

I’m still learning my lesson. But at least, now…I’m listening.