My self-esteem as a woman, however, took a big hit.
Intellectually, I know it shouldn’t, but the cultural messaging of revulsion and burdensomeness around disability that I was taught as a child and my inability to meet conventional definitions of womanly beauty, make me feel unattractive.
Heck, some people won’t even talk to me because of the wheelchair, much less date me.
No way was I going to allow myself to be shut away from life.
I wanted an education, a career, adventure, love, and sex.
But in the climate that prevailed at the time, people were shocked that I dared to hope for romance and physical intimacy. I was taught all of societies’ biases: that people with disabilities are different, sub-human, to be avoided (which is why we segregated them).
It was as if, somehow, my disability made me less human to them. And yet, when I became one of “them,” I was, still me.
Recently a friend asked me how my love life was going and I drew a blank. In 1976, at the age of 18, I dropped out of college after three semesters and went hitchhiking alone in Europe—to find myself.
It’s not just that I’m 57: I also live with a disability.
The injury was devastating, but the societal condemnation that came on top of it was worse. In the United States, we were still sterilizing people with disabilities against their will.
The kindly advice from my doctor was to check myself into a nursing home for the rest of my life to avoid being a burden on my family.
And I’m still able in so very many ways: I’m a lawyer, conflict resolver, leadership development expert, writer, professional storyteller, improviser, world traveler and kick ass spades player.
I have a social life, opinions, ideas and feelings just like everybody else.