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Amazing Things

Every Thanksgiving I take time to reflect. Partially because it’s the day I was forever changed by a paralyzing car accident, but also because it’s the day our nation takes to remind us to be thankful for all that we have. Let it be noted that the history this holiday was built upon is deeply ignorant, and on top of that, the concept of Black Friday is pretty perverse… but I won’t go into those.

Instead, today I am acknowledging this as the first year that I am ok.

Before 2014, if anyone asked me if I wanted to walk again, my instant answer would have been, “yes”.
Not just a quiet “yes”, but a “yes” backed by my heart and soul. A “yes” I would sell my left kidney for. A “yes” that I would sacrifice years in therapy for if the prospect of a cure was available.

But I recently realized that now I’m not so sure.

So many amazing things have come out of being in a wheelchair.
So many amazing things have come out of not being able to walk.
Before this year, the ‘amazing things’ did not add up to be greater than the amazing freedom that being able-bodied brings.
But then this year happened-

 

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I Love When I’m Forgotten

The title of this post seems really masochistic, but I promise it’s not that. Everyone knows the feeling of a close friend not remembering your birthday, or a loved one not recalling an anniversary, but that is not the feeling I am talking about. That feeling sucks—I absolutely do not love that.

The feeling that I’m talking about is when people see me not as somebody in a wheelchair, but just as a somebody.

One of my favorite examples of this is when friends leave me in the car. Whenever I go somewhere with people and we don’t take my truck, I usually transfer into a seat and then whoever I’m with proceeds to dismantle my wheelchair and stash it in the trunk. Occasionally when I’m with a close friend, we’ll arrive at our destination and my friend will get out of the car and start walking away, completely forgetting to get my chair out of the trunk. A few times they’ll even turn to me and say, “Come on Arielle, let’s go! What are you waiting for?” I usually just smile and wait for it to hit them….”Oh shit! Your chair!” they laugh as they race back towards the car and grab my other half out of the trunk.

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These are the moments when I know my friends truly see me. I often feel guilty when people have to go out of their way to help me, whether it’s taking apart my wheelchair, pushing me through the snow, or carrying me up a flight of stairs to get into a friend’s apartment. I know being in a chair isn’t my fault, but I also know that it can be a big inconvenience to people besides myself. I’ve been incredibly fortunate throughout my life to have such an awesome group of friends, both in Florida and Illinois. They’re always willing to help and literally never complain about it.

A time that will always stand out in my mind was during an eighth grade field trip to a local waterpark. I knew going into it that this theme park would not be accessible, but I also knew I loved my friends and loved rides, so I was going to make it work. With everyone soon parting ways for high school, I was determined not to miss out on this experience.

When we got to the waterpark I instantly realized that the only thing I would be able to do there was swim in the lazy river. For a thrill seeking thirteen year old, that sounded like the dullest day at a theme park ever, but all the water slides had a minimum of 2 flights of stairs.  There was absolutely no way I was going to spend an hour bumping up stairs on my bum for a 30 second adrenaline rush. Then after about ten rotations around the ever so lazy river, two of my friends proposed carrying me. I immediately knew it was not a smart idea; wet, slippery stairs and two 13 year olds carrying me under my arms and legs was definitely going to be dangerous, but with their persistence and my own longing to feel on top of the world for the first time since the accident, I agreed. We didn’t pick a small slide of course, the effort wouldn’t be worth the ride. No, instead we picked the biggest slide at the park, the Power Surge, a whopping 457ft tall, or 5 stories. I have no idea how they did it, or how we didn’t get stopped by a lifeguard, but somehow we made it.

The Power Surge

The Power Surge

The view of my home town from the top of the slide was unbelievably stunning, and in that moment, I felt invincible.

And just because my friends are that incredible, they didn’t carry me up once or even twice, I rode down that damn slide three times.

It’s moments like those, and amazing people like that who turn my life from challenging to breath-taking, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

The friends that carried me <3

The friends that carried me <3

8th grade

8th grade

Let's take a moment to thank the gene pool gods that I no longer look like a 13 year old

Let’s take a moment to thank the gene pool gods that I no longer look like a 13 year old

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/