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!"


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