With my shaking legs on the verge of giving out, I knew I had to let go. I collapsed to the ground, struggling to hold my head steady to avoid smashing into the wall behind me, and let myself lay between my wheelchair and the shelf, feeling furious and defeated. A day I thought couldn’t be any more awful had just gotten worse. I caught my foot in my wheel while rushing across the house to help my mother, who was facing a health issue. My badge of honor for helping her took the form of massive bruises and a twisted knee. Plus, in an effort to hold on to what was left of my pride and keep my mom from calling the fire department to pick me up from the floor, I got a bit of rug burn as a result of crawling into my living room to hoist myself up onto my couch. My mom and I were in just about every level of pain after that event.
These days, pain is a topic that’s front and center in my household. Between me and my parents, there’s not single part of our bodies that seems to escape various levels of discomfort. My mom and I deal with chronic pain because of our disabilities, and my dad experiences pain from various injuries and from the physical task of helping both of us for well over two decades.
Lately, my mom has been dealing with pain so severe that she struggles even just to sit up for extended periods of time. It’s been tough on all of us. My mom’s current encounters with frighteningly high pain levels bring me back to a time I’d like to forget – my own moments of laying nearly incapacitated in pain night after night for half a year while recovering from spinal fusion surgery.
Sometimes I lay awake, trying to ignore whatever the ache of the day might be, thinking about how fickle and complex our bodies can be. Then I remember I made a promise to myself that this would be the year of focusing on self-love and self-acceptance. It hasn’t exactly proved easy to be brimming with appreciation for my body when the chronic pain of disability can leave me wanting to find my way out of my own skin. And I don’t just mean physical chronic pain. In fact, I have just as many days, if not more, where feelings of emotional pain end up outweighing the physical stuff.
The worst days of all are the ones where physical and emotional pain decide to gang up on me and smack me in the face like they did the day I fell. I wasn’t just hurting; I was angry. Angry that my mother wasn’t well. Angry that my fall contributed to her distress. Angry that I couldn’t just jump up off the floor. Angry that our disabilities once again caused our bodies to rebel against us.
As much as I’m passionate about advocating for embracing yourself exactly as you are, it’s evident that I’ve got quite a lot of work to do to follow my own advice. Most days, I couldn’t be more proud of who I am as a disabled person. Even so, I wouldn’t mind a little vacation from the body in pain that comes with it. But on the very same nights that I’m up trying to reconcile all the uncomfortable aspects of life with feelings of self-love, I admit to myself that I’ll never love the pain. But I can (and I will) work on accepting that every experience becomes a part of me, and I can learn to love who I am because of them.