In 2010, I was playfully pushed into a pool by my best friend on what should have been one of the most fun nights of my life. I remember everything including the moment I received my diagnosis: Permanent paralysis from a spinal cord injury. My neck had broken at the moment of impact and I was going to have to face the fact that I was now paralyzed from the chest down and that I'd need to use a wheelchair for the rest of my life.
My story hit the media by storm. Important updates are still broadcasted, but to the world, the bad part happened one night four years ago. It's in the past.
Unfortunately this injury is not my past, but rather a recurring nightmare I have to face every day. But while I sit here waiting and fighting for a cure, I must live my life as it is. I can't change my current situation, so I move forward.
This injury sucks, but I realized early on that I could focus on what was possible for me and not what had been taken from me. My biggest hurdle was overcoming a huge blow to my self confidence. I had been an athlete who led fitness classes for senior citizens and lifeguarded part time at a local pool. I was an independent woman who loved dancing and enjoyed the fact that guys thought that I was attractive. Then shortly after my accident my hair started to fall out from the medication, my stomach looked rounded from lack of working ab muscles, my legs atrophied and I lost my glow.
When stories were written about me, I couldn't help but read the comments.
A lot of people were supportive but some comments made me feel like crap about myself. People would say how Chris should just leave me now that I was in a wheelchair. I couldn't offer him what a man needs so he should jump ship and find a better woman. And then there were the people who'd congratulate Chris for staying with me as if he were doing me a favor.
I seriously don't get it.
My man is amazing but when the world thinks my husband has his morals in line based on him being with me, it implies he isn't in it because it's what he wants. In fact, he stayed with me for what could be looked at as selfish reasons. He didn't stay for me, for our family or for the world. He stayed because HE needs me as much as I need him. It's called loving someone unconditionally.
I decided I wanted to do something drastic that would break some stereotypes while inspiring anyone who ever felt like they weren't good enough to say "F#?k you" to all the nay sayers. I wanted to do something that would show the world that you aren't ugly, undeserving, incapable, asexual, useless or worthless just because you aren't what society thinks you should be.
So I partnered up with a site called PhotoAbility that organizes photoshoots with people who have mobility-related disabilities with the hope that these photos will be purchased for advertisements. I'm sure when you hear "quadriplegic," you don't exactly think "model." But with these photos, that's exactly what I am.
Just the fact that I'm modeling at all breaks some stereotypes but I took it a step further with a racy photo that I knew would get some attention.
Throwing caution to the wind, I pushed aside my insecurities and stripped down.
I remember rolling out of the dressing room (well in my case the undressing room) onto the set, and thinking, "What am I doing?" Are people going to think I'm hideous?" But then a part of me said, "Screw it! Let's do this."
I sat in my chair as I was wrapped in duct tape, and we started to come up with words that I felt told a story about what really makes me "wheelchair bound." Those words were: uninsured, bad mom, stupid, incapable, undesired, asexual, ugly, no parking, cure me, help.
Those are the societal barriers, stereotypes and misconceptions that I felt could "bind" me.
But I have to take a step back and realize: I am beautiful, capable, smart and a good partner. I often witness the lack of knowledge when it comes to the sex life of a quadriplegic, and I'm sure many of you are wondering if it's possible.
Drum roll please....?
YES we can still have sex. Think about the female anatomy. Not a lot required for intercourse on my end. But hey, we know how to keep things interesting.
Which leads me to another part of my "sexual" identity.
My husband Chris and I are having a baby!
Paralysis doesn't prevent someone from conceiving and carrying naturally, but I have some side effects that stuck around that require medication. Luckily a friend from college contacted me and offered to be my surrogate.
It makes me sad to tell you though that I've been called "selfish" by total strangers online for having a child because apparently people think I'm not capable of much.
Do people forget that Chris is completely able bodied and would be able to do this alone if he had to? Well luckily he's not alone, and I'll be able to dress, feed, change diapers, and of course love the little bundle of joy like crazy.
Though I'm capable of more than many people think, this injury still sucks.
With it comes some very difficult things and there are days where I'm totally over it. I try not to compare my issues to others, but every now and then, it's pretty difficult.
In an attempt to relate to my situation, people feel the need to tell me their personal stories. I'm talking about complete strangers coming up to me while I'm out eating lunch. I try really hard to smile and be sensitive, but every now and then I roll away thinking, "If that were the only problem I had, I would be SO happy!"
But when people drown themselves in self-pitying misery it's frustrating to say the least. Own whatever makes you different and stop hiding behind your insecurities. You deserve love. Not the jealous, possessive, drama-filled high school crap kind of love. But a love where you feel free to be yourself.
I will never say "everything happens for a reason" or that "God doesn't give you anything you can't handle." Sometimes bad stuff just happens, and you don't have to be OK with it. What you can do is choose not to define yourself by flaws or bad memories. There will always be negative people out there, and I know it's difficult to tune out. But to be happy, you kind of have to.
To all those people who thought Chris would leave, to all the people who said I couldn't be sexy, and to all of those people who think I can't be a good mom?