A year from yesterday, I had my first lumbar sympathetic nerve block. I was terrified but hopeful that it would help. Today, I am going in for my disability impairment rating where they will evaluate my functional and mental disabilities related to my leg injury. This is hard for me to cope with, but I am trying my best. Since I have yet to really write about my disability publicly, I would like to share this piece of writing with you. I wrote this memoir for my Writing Studies class. It was a difficult piece to write as I had to internally reflect on my experiences with my disability. This involves acknowledging that I am handicap. I don’t like it, but it’s true. Each quote in the piece was stated to either myself or my sister. Each memory depicted was an encounter I personally experienced. Read this with an open, understanding mind. Often, disability is not what you would think and those with disabilities face more than you would ever realize. -KD
My New Normal
“You’re too young to be disabled.”
. . .
I love young children. They are so honest and straightforward with their thoughts. They don’t hesitate to tell you what’s on their mind, or to ask you whatever they want to know. And despite this bluntness, they are some of the most compassionate people I’ve ever encountered. It is only after they are around adults for a long period time that they are conditioned to judge and hate based on unfamiliarities.
“What’s wrong with her leg, mommy?” The three year old at the grocery store asked, tugging on her mother’s arm and pointing at me.
I had only come into the grocery store to grab a prescription from the pharmacy, so it made more sense to use my cane instead of an electric cart. Still, I was unstable on my leg and my knee brace was not helping much, so I was wobbly as I walked down the aisle. The girl probably saw me wince as pain shot up my thigh. She probably hadn’t been exposed to disabled people, or she simply didn’t understand the concept of disabilities yet. Regardless of the reasoning, her question didn’t bother me at all. I’d rather someone ask than just stare at me like I’m a freak. That was sadly a common occurrence nowadays.
I smiled at the little, blonde child and waved. I wanted her to know that there wasn’t anything to be afraid of. I wanted her to know that disabled people were just like anybody else and that we were friendly people too.
Her mother pivoted and looked me up and down. She stared at my cane and knee brace for a moment, looking as if she just tasted something sour. Then, she met my eyes and scowled.
“Honey, nothing is wrong with her. She’s probably just trying to get attention,” she said pulling the girl so her back was facing me.
I watched the girl’s hair swish back and forth as she ran to keep up with her hastening mother. The girl glanced back at me one last time, sadness dripping down her face, and then she turned the corner.
. . .
“It’s just hard to be around you since your injury.”
. . .
Following my leg injury, I was stuck on crutches for a good year and a half. Whenever I would try to walk without them, the pain was unbearable and my leg would buckle out from underneath me. I was put on restrictions as to how long I could stand, walk, sit. I wasn’t allowed to walk more than 200 feet. So, needless to say I was severely limited in what I was capable of doing, and since I was a very physically active person, I had to figure out new ways to spend my time. This took quite a while to adjust to. I don’t think anyone could blame me considering my whole life had been flipped upside down. But, with the patience of my family and boyfriend, eventually I got the hang of it. I figured out my abilities and where my hard limits were.
The adjustment during the year and a half only made it easier for me once I transitioned from using crutches to using a cane. My leg was more stable. I was on medications which better regulated my pain levels. I felt as if I was starting to get my life back.
A couple months ago, after the death of my grandfather, I was in a very bad place. I not only was struggling in the midst of appointments for my disability, but I was grieving the death of someone very close to me. Well, my sister was invited out by coworkers for a going away at the Grizzly Rose. She knew I was having a difficult time and thought that it might help to get out of the house. She invited me to come along.
The thing about the Grizzly Rose is that it’s a honky tonk bar with a huge dance floor for line dancing. Considering I had been trained in dance for years before my injury, it was difficult for me to watch other people dancing anymore. Still, I decided that I would go with my cane and knee brace and give it a shot. There was no doubt that I needed to get out and socialize with people.
We got to the bar and found a small table. Country music sung by the live band blared out of the speakers on the sides of the stage. The six of us sat in a circle and talked as we watched the people on the dance floor. None of us wanted to be the first one to put ourselves out there because none of us were comfortable with people watching us dance. Eventually, more people shuffled onto the dance floor.
I got up and lingered over to the side, watching the people from the wooden fence on the edge. Other people next to me were cheering their friends on and some were clapping to the music.
“Are you going to go up there?” A guy in a plaid shirt and jeans asked me.
“I was thinking about it,” I said, turning towards him.
“You probably should just go sit down. You’ll just hurt yourself trying,” he said and he walked away
I stared at the feet shuffling back and forth. Some of the moves would be difficult for me to do since I couldn’t hop or stand on one foot. My jaw tightened as I felt tears well up in my eyes.
Then, the band started up the song “I Want Crazy” by Hunter Hayes and everyone started a simple line dance. I felt a surge of confidence. Nobody would tell me what I could or couldn’t do. I stepped up onto the wooden floor and started to dance with my cane. My heart pumped in exhilaration. It didn’t matter what anyone else thought. I was still me.
. . .
“You’re really pretty for a cripple.”
. . .
I see the stares as I walk by them with my cane or ride by them on my electric cart. They look at me like I make them uncomfortable. Maybe it’s just because I’m different. Maybe they just can’t understand someone so young having such a major disability. The first thing they ever look at is my leg. They don’t bother to look me in the eye anymore. They don’t bother to recognize my presence. To them, I am just my disability and am reasonably ignored because I make them anxious. I have been stripped of my humanity and personality and sexuality all because I am different.
“Your boyfriend must be a saint for staying with you,” a stranger said to me after nosily probing me with questions about my leg.
I had already felt annoyed by his pestering. It was none of his business what was wrong with me or why I walked with a cane or what happened to cause my injury. It’s not his right to ask me about my treatment and whether my disability was permanent. Yet, I was too kind to tell him to fuck off. Now, I was seething at what he said.
“My boyfriend is a saint? What the hell is that supposed to mean? What is so hard about being with me?” I thought.
I must’ve shown my disdain on my face because he proceeded to try and explain his comment.
“I just mean–Well, won’t your disability cause an issue with your sexual relationship? Plus, it’s just hard to handle that much baggage in a relationship. You can’t function right. You aren’t a normal person. He just must really love you to stay with you, that’s all.”
I could taste bile in the back of my throat as my cheeks burned red. I ground my teeth and took in a deep breath. My grip tightened on my cane. There were so many things in my mind that I wanted to say. So many responses to his ignorant statements. A wave of numbness passed over my body and in that moment I knew it wasn’t worth the argument. I turned on my feet and walked away.
. . .
“I don’t see anything wrong with you.”
“You’re not really disabled.”
“Are you on those crutches just for fun?”
“Come on gimp. Walk faster.”
“Just pray and your disability will go away.”
“They let you work like that?”
“People have it worse off than you.”
“You should just suck it up.”
“Does poor baby have a boo-boo?”
“You’re such an inspiration to able-bodied people.”
“It’s in your head; keep a positive attitude and you’ll be fine.”
“So, is there something wrong with you or are you just sitting there for fun?”
. . .
Many people are fully convinced there is something wrong with me. They make it clear with their actions and their words. Maybe there is something physically different about me. Maybe I have to do things in my own way. Maybe my normal is different than theirs. But, if they truly believe that I am something lesser just because of my disability, they are the ones who have something wrong with them. Not me.