15 Years of Lessons Part 1

Posted by Kristin Beale in Life After Paralysis on September 23, 2020 # Lifestyle

It’s weird to think that, after my anniversary this past August, I’ve been paralyzed for more years than not. I’m not lamenting that fact, but it makes me pause. In the years since my accident, I’ve appreciated a new perspective, learned a ton about myself, and grown into my disability. Every struggle and heartbreak since a Jet Ski hit me in 2005 is a building block for the woman I am today: unapologetically different. I’ve learned lessons over these years, and I’d like to share my top 15 with you, one for every year paralyzed.Kristin Beale selfie

1.You can’t do it on your own. This is the most important lesson for any kind of hardship: life is so much trickier when you’re alone. You just can’t do it. My wheelchair comes with a slew of unconventional challenges most of my friends can’t relate to, but it’s helpful to have someone to listen to and problem-solve with you.

2.Uniqueness is your best quality. This fact goes hand-in-hand with building your confidence. It took me a bit to realize and appreciate my uniqueness as being an asset, but it absolutely is. My appearance is fairly ordinary: white skin, brown hair, brown eyes. My wheelchair sets me apart from everyone else, and often means people remember me: by my name, or “the woman in the wheelchair.” From there, it’s up to me to polish the memory to “Kristin, the woman in the wheelchair who made me smile” or “the attractive woman in the wheelchair with good skin and a great attitude.” Don’t let me get carried away here.

3.You are not a burden. This is a big one. I’m not saying “never say ‘sorry’” even if you hurt someone’s feelings, but I’m talking about apologizing for inconvenience that results from your disability. We all have things that make life a little bit harder and can be seen as a “burden,” but that’s the thing: we all have something. Instead of tiptoeing around your handicap, own it. The people that can handle you will stick around and, that people who can’t, won’t. The theme of my time in a wheelchair, as it relates to friends, has been quality over quantity. I’m okay with that.

4.Show some grace. Likely, the people around you don’t have a ton of experience with your disability, so they need a learning curve. Just like it took you a minute to figure out what works best for you, give people a chance to figure out how to best work with you.

5.Be patient with yourself. In the beginning, I got so caught up in being “normal” and what I “should be” doing at that stage in my life. I based my milestones on my peers who weren’t paralyzed, didn’t have the same struggle in their lives and, as result, were probably only half as mature as I was. I didn’t care, though – I wanted to fit in, and I was frustrated for having to work so hard for it. At my breaking point, I realized that I’ll never have a life that looks as easy and carefree as them, nor do I want it. Everyone is at a different stage in life. Be patient.

6.Fake it until you make it. Excuse the cliché, but this one has a lot of truth. In my years-long hike toward self-confidence, faking it was a big theme in my life. My greatest example comes from the many, many times I’ve fallen out of my wheelchair in public. Thank you, inaccessible sidewalks in the city. Instead of staying splayed on the ground hoping no one saw me, I’ve taken to laughing at myself, transferring back into my chair if it makes sense, or asking for someone’s help. Even if you don’t feel confident, faking it is the first step, albeit tiny, toward it.

I’ve always thought of the anniversary of my accident as a happy time, instead of a sad one; in my case, every year marks another year that I wasn’t supposed to survive. For that reason, I try to do something special on that day: one year I got fitted for leg braces, one year I spent it with a boy I really liked who turned out to be a creep, and last year I spent its majority at my fencing gym. This year, I get to plan for my upcoming wedding, go to my favorite tea café, and spend time with Achilles and Chris, my fiancé. Fifteen years is a big one, and I’m thankful for every obstacle and every gallon of tears that brought me to the happy and healthy place I’m in today: Kristin, the attractive woman in the wheelchair with good skin and a great attitude.

Look out for part 2, and the second half of lessons I’ve learned from my paralysis.

Kristin Beale is a native of Richmond, Virginia. She is the author of two books, Greater Things and A Million Suns, and a comic book, Date Me. Check them out and read an excerpt at https://kristinbeale.com/