‘I felt and said in my moments of utter despair that life was a bitch and kept wishing I had died instead of living in as a “cripple” – completely dependent on others and without any movement except a feeble one in the biceps of my arms, neck and head. However my friends kept assuring me that my mind was sharp and urged me to refrain from expressing such dark thoughts and to think ahead of the future. A part of me accepted this – knowing that my mind had remained razor sharp, despite my “mangled” body, and it was slightly comforting to think that I’d be able to continue to move around in [my] mind – despite the intense frustration of being confined in body.
Strangely, whenever I have dreamt since my accident, it has always been of myself as a “normal” person, running or walking or standing. It is only recently, in the ninth year after I became paralysed, that my dreams have started registering me as wheelchair bound! I have only now started dreaming of myself in a wheelchair – often trying to get up and walk, stumblingly and clumsily. Also, it is just recently that I have begun feeling more “comfortable” with my own body, paralysed chest down and permanently in my wheelchair. Very often earlier, at numerous moments of the day, I’d feel awkward and almost apologetic both at home [and] in public, about my condition. Fortunately I am blessed with abundant self-confidence which has seen me through these inner flashes of awkwardness!’
Shanoor Forbes, 67, quadriplegic
An Ingenious Way To Live
‘I have an acquired disability; I became disabled over the course of a number of years… Prior to becoming disabled, I felt the usual pressures about my relationship to the ideal female body: I worried about my weight, my thighs, my butt, etc… I know I rather liked my wicked, winning sexual self. For the most part, however, I barely noticed — tried not to notice — my physical body. I worked in a world that professed admiration for the mind while pretending to ignore the body.
When, in this world, I started to use a wheelchair, I, for the most part, tried to ignore it. I was still the same person, after all. I was just experiencing pain and other physical symptoms. Materially, even substantially, I would have argued, I hadn’t changed. I was just using a wheelchair (or whatever it was that day).
Becoming disabled is/was not an easy process. It’s not just a matter of impairment; that can happen overnight. Disability is, as Neil Marcus puts it, “an art. It’s an ingenious way to live.” Becoming disabled was, for me, more than a way of figuring out how to use a wheelchair or how to live around pain or how to live with the various other issues surrounding my physicality. And, as I became disabled, I became reacquainted with my body.
It’s weird. I still worry about my weight, my hair, my thighs… all the things I worried about when I was walking around in the TAB [Temporarily Able Bodied] world. BUT, strangely enough, I don’t hate them in the same way, with the same intensity. Disability has brought acceptance.’
Gliding Through Life
Though some disabled people strive for able-bodiedness through the search for a cure…many of us embrace our queer bodies and feel better in our skin by doing so. This is true for me; as I decided at the age of fifteen to begin to use a wheelchair despite my mother’s decry that I “would never live a normal life” if I did not walk.I stopped talking because I went through a cycle of several fractures stemming from having brittle bones and a femur and double tibia rodding surgery that kept me bed-ridden for about six months. It exhausted my mental health and I decided walking was not worth the psychological cost…Despite the exhausting nature of being a spectacle, I find using a wheelchair to be freeing; I can now glide through life as fast as I want without the pain and struggle related to walking. And in making the decision to wheel, I have allowed myself to live my ‘normal’ life – ie: the way my body feels most comfortable.’