My Heart On My Sleeve: The 10 Year Anniversary

My Heart On My Sleeve: The 10 Year Anniversary 

Polaroids I took three months before the accident

Polaroids I took three months before the accident

In seventeen days, I’ll have been in a wheelchair half of my life. I knew it was coming when I turned twenty a couple months ago, but now it’s slowly starting to sink in. I think I was sixteen when I first realized that in a few short years I would clock in more time rolling than walking, and just the very idea really scared me. In reality, it’s just a number. What does it matter if I’m running or pushing, as long as I’m moving forward? But it does matter to me, because the piece of me that used to be able bodied and “normal” seems to be drifting further and further away with each passing year. This post is going to be pretty hard for me to write, but I recently attended a workshop where an author dared us to write down whatever we feel we absolutely cannot say, so that is what I’ll try to do here.

People often ask me if I remember what it was like to walk, to not have a disability. To be completely honest I don’t think I do. It’s one of those ‘you never truly appreciate something until it’s gone” kind of moments. I remember loving to play basketball at the Y with my friends. I remember going to the beach and my biggest worry being, “what if someone knocks our sandcastle down!” instead of worrying about being abandon by friends and stuck in the sand. I don’t remember what it was like to run up a flight of stairs, or put one front in front of the other and simply walk, but I do remember the joy I felt jumping up and down on my first “big kid” bed, and how happy I was to stand on a swing and feel like I was flying to the moon.

I don’t remember much about my time in the hospital either. I remember an abundance of gifts and friends and family always there, something I was so blessed to have. I remember keeping the tradition with friends from preschool and decorating Christmas cookies in the lobby of the in-patient unit. I remember painting my favorite animal (a manatee) on a ceiling tile with my best friend, and learning to push myself in a hospital chair while it beamed down over me. I remember sneaking out of rehab with my mom and some friends, riding a roller-coaster at some carnival in Miami, and for the first time in weeks feeling as if something was possible. What it was I had no idea, but I knew things were going to get better, and get better they did.

Our manatee ceiling tile

Our manatee ceiling tile

Decorating cookies with friends at the hospital

Decorating cookies with friends at the hospital

I rolled back into my fourth grade classroom forty-four days after I was paralyzed. I wanted to wear my favorite oh-so stylish Hawaiian shirt my first day back, but within the first ten minutes, I sprinted to my mom’s classroom and promptly threw up all my fears down my shirt and into the accessible toilet. I cleaned up and went home, but was ready to try again the next morning. I’m very lucky to have had so many awesome friends who saw me in the same light both before and after the accident. From then on the transition was so smooth. All my P.E and dance teachers were completely inclusive, and with the help of some very special people, the following spring I was able to walk across stage (wearing leg braces) and receive my fifth grade diploma. Life was definitely different, I absolutely hated the shots I had to take every morning (not the fun college kind), it took me twice as long to shower and go to the bathroom than it used to, transferring in and out of cars was a bitch, and most days during recess I preferred playing chess inside rather than watching everyone else champion the monkey bars, something that used to be one of my proudest attributes. But life was still really good. I went on field trips, had sleepovers, took the special “fifth graders only” pottery class, when to states with my Odyssey of the Mind team, I was one busy and very satisfied kid.

First basketball team!

First basketball team!

On the monkey bars in third grade

On the monkey bars in third grade

After that I had a blast in middle school, and an even greater time in high school, but that’s not to say I didn’t have my bad days. One morning senior year the only elevator at school was broken again for the third or fourth time that week. I had no way to get to my class on the second floor, and I was tired of asking my friends to carry me up (which they did many times because they’re such awesome people). The smart thing to do would have been to go to the front office and explain the situation, but I felt so helpless and insignificant in that moment, that I got in my truck and cried the whole way home. It’s the little things like that that put my whole world into perspective; where I jump to those horrible ‘what if’ questions that just lead to a spiral of more sadness. I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Damn girl, it was just an elevator! Why get so worked up about something so small?”  But I guess the elevator isn’t just a machine to take me from one floor to another. When broken it’s a reminder that I can’t be independent and go wherever I want whenever I want. It’s a reminder that sometimes it feels like I’m shackled to this chair and the only way to freedom is a pair of legs that actually work.

Something that has helped me cope quite a bit recently is a psych class I was required to take for my social justice job that I will be starting in the spring. I enjoyed psychology in high school, but never had any plans to pursue it further in college; the word “therapist” has always scared me, just ask my mom! But this class has opened my eyes to the other minority groups, not just us “crips”, and it helps me keep my privilege in check and always remain grateful for so many of the amazing things I have in my life. I’m blessed with the opportunity to go to an incredible institution and receive a college education, I’m blessed with the most loving and supportive family a girl could ask for, I’m blessed with the best group of friends, ones I can laugh with, ones I can cry with, and ones I know will always have my back. I’m blessed to be training with arguably the best wheelchair racing coach in the world, and travel the states with an equally amazing team of professional athletes. I’m blessed to have two homes, Florida and Illinois (shout out to becoming the 15th state to have marriage equality what what!) full of memories I love. And I’m blessed to be living in a country that is making strides every day towards equality whether it’s LGBT rights, increasing locations with ADA accessibility, equal pay for the sexes, ethnic diversity in the workplace, protection of religious freedoms, or any other act that aims to make our country a better place, not just for the majority, but for the minorities as well.

So this Thanksgiving when I fly home (twelve more days!) I will sit at the table and choose to remember all of the good that I have received in my brief twenty years on this Earth, AND look forward to how much good is still to come. I have so many hopes and dreams for this planet, the only way they’ll ever come to fruition is if I just. keep. pushing.

Christmas the year before the accident (2002)

Christmas the year before the accident (2002)

Christmas after the accident (2003)

Christmas after the accident (2003)

 

Last Christmas (2012)

Last Christmas (2012)

For a bit of a back story and another perspective, you can read my mom’s awesome post about the anniversary here!…. http://kdrausin.com/blog/2013/11/10/remembering-accident-changed-lives/

 

Top Ten Things To Do in California Part II!

Top Ten Things To Do in California Part II!

 

#5. Dottie’s True Blue Café –San Francisco

If you like breakfast food (definitely my favorite meal of the day), then you absolutely NEED to go here! Definitely the best egg scramble I have ever tasted, and that’s saying something if you’ve ever had my dad’s cooking! The coffee was incredible, there was a mason jar of homemade raspberry jam on every table, and the chocolate chip French toast my brother ordered was probably the sweetest toast I’ve ever consumed. The line for a table was pretty long, about 30 minutes, but while we waited we discovered that this awesome joint had been featured on Diners, Drive-in, and Dives!

Notably, although the food is beyond amazing, it’s not typical of the “clean eating” lifestyle I try and abide by. Definitely worth a cheat day though. Definitely, definitely, definitely! And there are healthier options like wheat toast instead of white, and my scramble was full of avocado (healthy fat), and black beans (protein), and spinach… buried under a bed of cheese and salsa though (whoops!).
But hands down the best breakfast I’ve ever had, make sure to check it out next time you’re on the west coast!

Hot chocolate in a mason jar + little brother, it doesn't get much cuter than this folks

Hot chocolate in a mason jar + little brother, it doesn’t get much cuter than this folks

So much food, so much deliciousness

So much food, so much deliciousness

#4.  See a Groundlings show- Los Angeles

This was definitely a spur of the moment kind of thing, my family and I bought our tickets the night before not really sure what to expect, but oh my gosh was it fantastic! The Groundlings are an improvisational comedy group (picture SNL but better) and these were probably some of the funniest people I have ever seen. Stars like Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, and Melissa McCarthy (all cast in Bridesmaids) are all Groundling alumni, along with SNL’s Taran Killam, Will Forte, Ana Gasteyer, Will Farrell, and Kathy Griffin, and and and the list literally goes on and on. Anyway, the sketches were more than side splitting funny. They sing, dance, and act their asses off, one of my favorite skits was a mash-up of the TV shows So You Think You Can Dance, and a CSI style drama. Sounds super weird and it was super weird but one of the funniest things I’ve ever witnessed. They also had some awesome audience interaction bits (I never made eye contact for fear I would be picked!), but those were hysterical too. The twenty dollar tickets were completely worth the incredible experience we had, and I’m definitely stopping by again for another show next time I’m in town.

#3. Warner’s Brothers Studio Tour

The next top three activities were very hard to choose between, but this tour was by far the most informational. If you have any interest in movies at all I highly suggest this tour! You get to see tons of real life sets that are used for hundreds of movies and currently 10-15 hit TV shows, like one of my personal favorites The Mentalist! We had a fantastic guide, he knew the history of the studio dating back to the thirties, and was able to answer every question we threw at him. He showed us the original set of Central Perk (from the show Friends), and for me that was a really cool experience having grown up loving the show.
We buzzed through the lot on an extended golf cart that was completely accessible so I used a ramp to get on, and never had to leave my chair (two thumbs up Warner Bros!). On top of the sets and sound stages, there was a mini museum that contained many props from major motion pictures, like the various Batmobiles, and the sorting hat from Harry Potter! Of course I was placed in Gryffindor, only the best house at Hogwarts. Unfortunately we were not able to spot any celebrities along our way, but the tour re-sparked my love for cinema, so much so that I begged my parents to go look around USC’s film school (which was absolutely incredible) and am now thinking about applying there for my Masters.  Need to start working on my first indie, film ideas anyone?!

 

List of movies filmed on this sound stage

List of movies filmed on this sound stage

Pretty badass

Pretty badass

I know what I'm getting for my next car...

I know what I’m getting for my next car…

Fam at Central Perk!

Fam at Central Perk!

Favorite movie was displayed inside USC...it's a sign

Favorite movie was displayed inside USC…it’s a sign

Douglas Fairbanks at USC

Douglas Fairbanks  statue at USC

 

#2. Bike around the San Francisco Bay

This is mainly my number two because it was my first time being on the road in a hand cycle!! And the views were incredible! I never biked much as a kid, but handcycles are cool as hell, not to mention speedy, and I would love to get more into the sport someday. My family had a difficult time finding any bike tours of the city that had a handcycle available for rent, but somehow my dad stumbled across BORP’s (Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program) Adaptive Cycling program! After a disheartening half hour of searching for the building (we had the wrong address) we finally found the small shop located along a loopy bike trail just under a high way. I was a little skeptical, but after about a mile we were riding right along the bay, and it was gorgeous! We couldn’t have picked a more perfect day to ride, cool air and sun shone on our faces, exercising together as a family, I couldn’t have asked for more.

JulyAug vacation 2013 197

JulyAug vacation 2013 200

 

My sweet ride!

My sweet ride!

#1. Kayak in Monterey with the sea lions!

I don’t even want to write about this experience because it might spoil the awe I felt for the ocean, and planet, and these amazing animals I got to witness from just a few feet away. Here’s some fantastic pictures courtesy of my lovely mother, thanks mom!! :)

 

Safety first!

Safety first!

Family vacation July Aug 2013 155

 

Family vacation July Aug 2013 141

 

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Family vacation July Aug 2013 061

 

Family vacation July Aug 2013 052

 

Family vacation July Aug 2013 043

Dance Dance Revolution

Dance Dance Revolution

ddr

I’ve always been a pretty high energy person. While I do occasionally love veggin’ out on the couch to 5 episodes of Lost or Girls, I most of the time want to be moving. We can be shopping, kayaking, running, walking the dogs, swimming, relaxing at the beach, it doesn’t matter, I just need to move! So when my friends want to go out for a night of dancing, you would think I would be totally down right? Well… not so much. It’s not that I don’t love the music, or the people, or the vibe, or anything, it’s just that I don’t always love the reactions. Reactions? Yes, reactions to a girl in a wheelchair being at a club.

After waiting on the hot streets of Ybor for almost three hours, me and two of my closest girlfriends got into this club named The Ritz.  Most people would hate standing in line for three hours, and I’ll admit I did almost fall asleep at one point, but the people-watching there was insane!! There were folks of every size, color, and gender, all dressed up in heels and high waisted shorts or even a few with tails and cat ears, all gathered on this one single street waiting to get into the party of the summer! Well… probably the party of the night, but it was still very exciting!

“Throw the party of the month? Nah, the party of the year!”

 

As we were approaching the front of the line, a bouncer saw me and my friends and bumped us straight to the front (totally awesome) where we flashed our IDs and rushed in. It was so packed, I definitely ran over a fair share of toes that night, but it was the perfect amount of people to fill the dance floors and keep the party moving.

From past clubbing experiences, I knew people were going to stare if I danced with a boy, but I was ready for that. What I was not ready for was the overwhelming responses I got from so many people, not just one or two!

Now to be completely fair, seeing someone in a wheelchair dancing with someone who isn’t is not something you typically see every day. Especially when it’s a short, awkward white girl in a chair and that other person is a sexy black guy with moves that could kill.  BUT that being said, once you see it and acknowledge it’s happening, there is no need to point and stare. And I mean literally pointing and staring. If I had a beer for every time I saw a finger darting in my direction, well I would have a lot of beer. Common courtesy people, let’s be real! It got to the point where so many people were staring at us just simply having a good time, that this dude leaned down and whispered, “Damn! All these people are gonna think I put you in this wheelchair!” I was so shocked by his comment at first I was speechless! I didn’t know whether to laugh or be offended, but all I could think was that he was completely right!

I often get upset over things that happen at the club because, honestly, I have to deal with a lot of weird shit. For pete’s sake its 2013, and seeing a person with a disability ANYWHERE, should not be a big deal. But still I have drunk sorority girls come up and tell me “I’m awesome for coming out tonight”, random dudes ask if they can hug me, I get beer spilled on my head, I have an endless supply of unwanted lap dances, people of all kinds ask if they can buy me a drink because, “I’m so brave to come out”, and other ceaseless gestures like that (minus the buying drinks part… that I’m not complaining about 😉 ).

 

They're mocktinis I swear!

They’re mocktinis I swear!

But after venting about all of these people to my mom later on, I realized that although I deal with a fairly unique bias on a pretty regular basis in terms of clubbing, I am definitely not the only one there dealing with some sort of bias or bigotry stacked against them. Whether it’s people eyeing this guy dancing with me just because the color of his skin, or the dude standing against the wall all by himself because he’s already started balding, or the bigger girl just shaking what her momma gave her, they all get stared at just like I do, simply because they are out of the norm, simply because they are different. Even though it blows that some people can be so ignorant, and even though their innocent comments sometimes feel like daggers, I’m not the only one by any means getting judged for what I look like. Hundreds of guys are pushed away by girls who are only interested in a specific “type”, and vice versa, so many girls will get pushed under the rug by that boy who is just looking for someone to take home tonight.

So I guess the point I’m trying to get at in this post is that everyone has their own individual “baggage” no matter how they appear. I think I sometimes forget that when the little disability activist in me gets offended or worked up about an elevator being broken or whatever, but it’s true. It doesn’t matter how we perceive someone, assumptions and perceptions based on appearance alone are always wrong. There is so much more to a girl than how short her skirt is, and there is so much more to a boy than how bro-y his tank top is, and I know that can be hard to believe when the media shoves stereotypes down our throats, but you need to realize it’s true.

So although I love people, music, and dancing, what I dislike about the whole clubbing experience is the endless supply of judgments being thrown around, like free condoms on a college campus. I think everyone would have a better time going out on a Saturday night if we focused a little less on appearances, and little more on the actual humanity and disposition of a person. Maybe try and see that girl whose twerking as more than a ‘piece of ass’, or that guy that you’re grinding on as more than a ‘hunk of meat’, because despite your apprehensions, they really are.  I’m not saying you’re going to necessarily like them, or find one million great qualities about them and discover your future spouse, but please… don’t degrade yourself to objectifying them.

 

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So, yes I’m still going to go out on Saturday nights, I’m not going to live in a hobbit hole and spend the rest of my life with cats. But next time you’re looking for a dance partner try not to rule out somebody out solely based on appearance, for all you know they could have rockin’ moves and a killer personality! Try it!

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