22 October 2011

How has my self-image changed?

As a relatively recent amputee, and because of progress in my gait training, this has been on my mind lately. My self-image has changed since the day I woke up in the hospital and learned I was an amputee. I'd like to hear from others about the transitions they have experienced -- How do you identify yourself? Do you label yourself "disabled?" -- is "amputee" part of your self-image? I've created a brief survey asking the question "Since you became an amputee, how has your self-image changed?," and invite all amputees to take it. After completing it you will be able to view the results to date; I will post results in two weeks. Click here to take the survey.
Over time, my self-image has changed from freak to (relatively) normal, and for me "amputee" has become integral to my self-identity. Coming out of the hospital, I felt like a lump, a mutilated freak. I still had bandaged wounds and was too weak and uncoordinated to dress myself in anything but loose clothing with an elastic waist. (I'm sure many of you can relate.) My hair had been shorn and I weighed 89 lbs. My self-image was as an invalid, dependent upon others. Full rehabilitation seemed so distant that I couldn't image a future where I would be independent.
Gradually I became more mobile, my hair grew back, I returned to my regular weight, and eventually began to walk with a prosthesis. Anxious to look as normal as possible, I bought jeans as soon as I could. My self-image began to shift: now I was a disabled person in rehabilitation, I was making progress, I was able to think about the future.
Now that I am as physically "normal" looking as I am going to get, I am taking charge. I still walk kind of funny; my gait is slow and awkward and I use a cane. To make myself feel better, I try to look as good as possible physically -- I style my hair, wear makeup, make sure my outfits are put together. (I'm also trying to fit into the professional business world.) Sometimes I'll flaunt my prosthesis -- I don't feel that I have to cover it up -- but I confess that I dream of the day when no one will be able to tell I'm wearing it.
But it's not just about appearances. I enjoy being an advocate for amputees and the disabled. When asked questions about my prosthesis, for example, I happily answer. I use my disability to bring obstacles to the attention of business owners. I want to build awareness not just about disability, but also about ability. It's as if I'm saying, "Look at me, I'm disabled and I'm walking -- but if you take down these obstacles, you'll see me run!"


15 October 2011

Sunday Mornings

Sunday mornings I choose the blue mug. There's only one, it doesn't match the others, and it's smaller in size than the white mugs that are part of my regular set of dishes. I choose it on Sundays because I love the muted turquoise color and the shape -- it's not ordinary like my weekday mugs. 
On Sunday mornings I like to sit out back on my small porch, with my coffee and raisin bread toast and the Sunday New York Times. Maybe this was also one of my favorite things pre-accident, but now I savor it, as often as New England weather allows. 
Post-accident, my life has in some ways slowed down. I'm not racing down mountainsides on my bicycle, I'm not darting about the house doing 17 things at once: carrying fresh laundry upstairs and chasing the dog down stairs; in this way I've been forced to slow down post-accident. So I've chosen to not only enjoy the slower pace but savor it. Sunday morning coffee is one thing I love, along with crispy raisin bread toast. Sitting on the porch and watching fall sunlight glow behind colored leaves, or lying in bed awakened by a full moon's light shining through the tree branches. Rather than cursing my mid-night awakening, I welcome the beauty of the moonlight and the quietness of night. 
Maybe it's less of a slowing down and more of a conscious acknowledgment of my change from a life constantly in motion to one of stillness. And also accepting that change with grace. Every day I acknowledge moments that give me joy, and I pause to smile and enjoy: sharing warm hugs with close friends, snuggling with my dog, laughing out loud, getting lost in the pages of a thrilling novel.
The turquoise of my blue mug reminds me of different colors on different days. Some mornings it's the color of the summer sky, other times it's a perfect robins-egg blue, and today it reminds me of the sparkling Caribbean Sea. This morning the sun is shining through brilliantly colored Fall leaves, a crisp breeze blows through the trees, my dog is asleep beside me and wisps of steam curl upward from the blue mug of hot coffee in my hands.