Being disabled is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to accept. Some days, I often wonder if I’ve fully accepted it yet. Obviously, logically I know that I am disabled because a. The VA says I am. b. Countless doctors have told me I am, c. I have the scars to remind me and d. I had a horse fall on me, which is kind of hard to forget.
Some days it’s easier to live with than others, as one could imagine. The harder days are when I really feel the depth of my inability to do some things that I otherwise could have done. Working out tends to be a big problem, despite the fact that I cognizantly know the after effects of working out too hard for too long (pain, nausea, throwing up, passing out, etc). The military mentality of needing to exert myself to my fullest lest I be thought weak or worthless is a prevailing theme as I run on a treadmill.
For a long time, I thought I could somehow trick my body to do what I wanted it to do. That if I worked hard enough, I could overcome my injuries and impediments. This “can-do” spirit has gotten me through a lot of hard times and helped me heal faster but, at a certain point, you need to accept your limitations and move on with your life. They say that the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again, expecting things to be different. I guess you can say I was insane with the physical activity for awhile. Every time I would try a new regimen, I’d convince myself and try to convince others that “this time was different” because I “know what I’m doing”. HA! This isn’t to say that I can’t do physical activity for the most part, but I have learned after much trial and error, to listen to my body better. Some days are, as I said, better than others.
One of my main problems is hydration since 2/3rds of my colon was removed due to the accident. It was too badly damaged to stay in my body. The colon, if you didn’t know, is responsible for 90% of the body’s liquid absorption. Being in the hospital for any amount of time kind of forces you to get better acquainted with your anatomy and healthcare in general as a means of education and survival. Also, it was just really interesting and I’m naturally curious so I would ask boatloads of questions and research what no one could answer. I did, however, research too much once and thought I had a rare disease mainly contracted by monkeys and mosquitos in Africa and South America (yellow fever); it was then that my doctor threatened to throw my computer out the window of the 4th floor.
Sometimes, if not properly hydrated, my scar site and the muscles around it, spasm and contract, which is extremely painful. It takes awhile to rehydrate but I know how to handle it for the most part. This isn’t to say that I’m sterling at it – I could always stand to drink more water – but I do try. Being a mother and being in constant pain aren’t fun together. There are some pain control methods that help like hydration, as I mentioned, and breathing through it. Narcotics aren’t good for long-term due to addiction potential alone but also due to the fact that it rips my stomach to shreds as I have a really high (no pun intended) sensitivity to drugs. Marijuana is legal here in Alaska but I can’t rely upon it since it makes me loopy and sleepy, which isn’t conducive to watching a six year old; I know some parents who partake or are able to while watching children so this isn’t an indictment – I’m just not one of those people so I haven’t attempted it. Plus, I really just don’t like the feeling of being uninhibited. Advil and Tylenol only really does so much. This isn’t complaining, by the way, but it is more just stating things as they are. This is life for me and I’m just trying to clarify.
I am blessed with a great support system of friends and family who help me when I am unable to do something, as much as it hurts me to burden people (despite the fact they tell me I’m not a burden, which makes me feel like more of one). When I’m by myself or it’s just me and Abby, however, I have to just suck it up and make it through. This is where that aforementioned tenacity helps a great deal.
Today, I felt a little more disabled than most days. I hadn’t even worked out but I had a great deal of pain in my scar site and in my abdomen in general, which was probably a hydration issue. I had a lot of stuff to get done and one of those errands took me to Cabela’s. I had made a promise to Sam to grab him something from out of town and, though I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded if I hadn’t gotten to the errand but I drank a lot of water and decided to try to power through. When I got to Cabela’s, I felt a sharp pain near my scar site and it gave me pause. I saw an electronic cart for disabled persons off to the side and, as much as I hate to use it and get stared at, I hopped on and rode it about the store.
I’m used to the stares because I’ve had to use wheelchairs and motor carts before. I get that it looks a little strange to see an otherwise able-bodied looking woman in a motorized cart, rolling around a store. Trust me when I say that they’re not fun to ride as they might look. They’re large, loud, can’t turn for shit, and more often than not, I’m usually running them into things when I’m trying to make turns.
A lot of times, people are sympathetic and help me out when I can’t move around too much or if I knock something over. No one has really ever said anything to me and if they wanted to, they’d kept to themselves. I cannot control their thoughts and nor do I want to – that’s on them. All I can do is just roll on and do me as best as I can for me and mine. While I logically know this, it still sucks sometimes…but I try to ignore it as best I can.
However, today, while stopped and looking at a few items, a store associate came up to me. He was about mid forties or so, I suppose. The first words out of his mouth besides “hi” were, “I saw you walk in here – you didn’t need that thing before,” as he gestured to the cart I was sitting in. I had to stop for a moment to process it. Sure, I’d had looks before and I always thought if someone confronted me about it, I’d let them have a piece of my mind but, in this case, it was someone who worked in the store so I was kind of shocked to silence for a moment. I found my words but could only say, “I’m disabled and sometimes I have difficulties with pain. It comes and goes.”
He then asked if my friends had found what they were looking for, which made me think that he thought I was someone else because I hadn’t come in with anyone. I explained that and we parted ways awkwardly. I wheeled about the store, feeling more and more useless. I kept telling myself that I was allowing this man to make me feel this way and I was in control of that, not him. He was wrong, I had said my piece, and it was over. But it kept nagging at me.
I found a manager named Alie and gave her the quick rundown of everything. Her first reaction was abject horror and embarrassment as she apologized profusely (which I assured her she didn’t have to do) and asked who it was. Honestly, I really didn’t look at his name tag because I guess I was just so shocked that someone would say that shit to anyone who was using a cart and not horsing around on it (as I’ve seen some teenagers do). If I did have his name, I probably still wouldn’t have given it and I didn’t feel like wheeling around the store to track him down because I just wanted to go home. She explained that that was not the common practice at Cabela’s and she would make sure it never happened again. I believe her – she seemed like a pretty damn competent person. Situation resolved and all was well; I’ll still actively shop at Cabela’s, which is great that I don’t have to boycott it because I really love that damn store a lot (it wasn’t unwelcome news that Sam needed me to go there). It always smells good in there and everyone is always so friendly…well, except that one guy. One guy out of hundreds of helpful employees? I’ll take those damn odds any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
I went to my car after parking the cart, chugged some more water, and laid back in my seat to rest a bit before heading home. And then, it hit me and I started to cry. I bawled my eyes out in the Cabela’s parking lot. I needed to, I suppose. As much as I’m “at peace” with my disabilities as a realty, I’m still human and I’m not jazzed about it. Being disabled has held me back from a lot of things I’ve wanted to do with my life as much as it’s taught me things and given me insight. Sunrise, sunset. Ebb, flow. C’est la vie. Moving on.
But, as my granddad always said, it’s not what happens to you but how you deal with it that makes you who you are. I indulged in a quick cry, processed my feelings, called my momma and Sam and vented a bit, and finally calmed down. I felt bad to vent to Sam and Momma but the former was sympathetic, loving, and indignant I hadn’t gotten that idiot fired (didn’t feel right to do it – I just don’t want him to do it again to someone else). The latter, Momma, has severe asthma that ensures she has to use wheelchair services sometimes, especially in airports and the like, so she understood exactly where I was coming from. All in all, I needed to talk to someone and they were there for me, as I would be for them.
I put it on Twitter mainly just to raise awareness of how some disabilities aren’t visible, that Cabela’s handled it well as a company from a managerial standpoint, and the like. The company tweeted me back and apologized, which wasn’t necessary but I appreciated it. I made sure to mention Alie as being a manager that handled it very well and took my concerns seriously and was very professional and kind. I think it’s important that people bring to light the good things people do at their jobs because people who go above and beyond or do something well deserve recognition. Praise in public and punish in private is my personal ethos for businesses. Sometimes I call businesses if I have a particularly good interaction because I’m sure they have about 50 calls a day telling them what they’re doing wrong. Regardless of the adage, the customer isn’t always right – sometimes the customer is just a dick on a power trip.
Regardless, next time you see someone that looks able bodied in a wheelchair or on a store cart, even if you saw them walk in, keep it to yourself (unless they’re some jackass taking it for a joy ride – then hem them up twice…once for me). They probably already feel pretty shit for having to use it in the first place and I’m sure they’d probably much rather not be disabled and not need the damn cart in the first place. If they ain’t troubling you, don’t trouble them. Simple.