The Crime of Comparison

Posted by Kristin Beale in Life After Paralysis on June 30, 2020

My freshman year of high school was a year of change. I had a large group of friends, both new and old; I was a member of 2 school sports teams, and I had confidence like a celebrity when I walked through the hallways. I won’t speak to whether anyone else saw me as celebrity status, but the confidence was there. I was on top of the world.Beale Family

In the summer following that year of feeling like a celebrity, my life was flipped on its head. I was hit by a jet ski, I had my first encounter with death in the loss of my friend, and during my initial recovery I was humbled down to the height of a wheelchair. My hospitalization was intense, as it lasted for months and through the first semester of my sophomore year, I just barely made it out. When I finally was discharged, I was thrown headfirst into an inaccessible world that had not, in fact, waited for me.

By the time I was able to join my friends at school, I was already significantly behind everyone else. While they were buying a dress for the homecoming dance, I was relearning the basics in the lens of my newly paralyzed body, more specifically, my weak, post-hospitalization body. These days, more than 10 years later and with assurance that my appearance has improved, my school yearbook picture from that year is the brunt of many jokes in my family. Rightly so.

In many ways, my accident and paralysis interrupted a catalog of milestones in my life. Alongside my peers, I still wanted to have a high school boyfriend, be invited to and attend my senior prom, get my learners permit and drive to Friday night football games, walk across the stage at graduation, and a list that I’m challenged to find a high school girl without. My accident didn’t necessarily take those dreams away from me, but it did make them a little less accessible – in every sense of the word.

I went through a season of frustration, a season of lament, and even a [very] short season of defeat before I landed on acceptance. It took a while to get to that point but now, that acceptance is a building block for my confidence. In the seasons of frustration, lament, and defeat, I was my own biggest obstacle. I had so little patience for myself relearning how to be independent and function in a wheelchair, while my ambulatory friends were learning how to drive a car and going on dates with boys.

The aforementioned season of acceptance that came years later is thanks either to my maturity with age, or just the passing of time. Theodore Roosevelt is quoted as saying that “comparison is the thief of joy,” and I’m quoted as saying “he’s right.” The energy that I spent comparing myself to my able-bodied friends took away from patience and love that I could have shown myself during that stage in my disability. More, it took away from me reaching my goal of independence. While I was lying around moaning about having to wake up a bit earlier to accommodate the extra time it takes to get ready, I was taking time away from my learning to pull up my pants without transferring to the bed to do it.

Don’t let me fool you: I still fall victim to comparison. It happens less often than when I was in high school, yes, but that’s as result of a lot of hard work. Flash forward to freshman year in college, I regressed a little bit in terms of my confidence and my blending in. At my college, most of the buildings were deemed “historical” and exempt from wheelchair accessibility. I was immersed into a whole new group of people that I had to convince to get to know me before judging my wheelchair, and, I just didn’t feel ready to move away from home. That year is filed in a folder called “Heavy Tears and Heavy Reflection.”

During that time spent reflecting, I worked hard on loving myself and being patient with my disability. As hard and as glum as that year was, it has proven valuable because it set me up to be the woman I am today: confident in both my shortcomings, and my disability.

We all have stuff – good stuff, hard stuff, and heavy stuff. With my hard stuff, I learned that I need to love myself, and with the heavy, I learned I need to be patient. Even though we all have some baggage, that doesn’t mean it can be compared. With hope that you won’t learn the hard way like I had to, believe me that comparison is a never-ending pursuit that rarely ends with your satisfaction. Especially when we throw disability in the mix. The best way you can show yourself love is to stand alone and be proud to stand alone in your experience. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take other people’s counsel, just that it shouldn’t be compared. Your situation is unique from everyone else’s, and you have the right to go at your own speed.

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/. Her comics can be found on Instagram @Greater.Things.Comics.