By Joy Weeber
For most of my life I didn’t think of myself as a disabled person. After all, I could do whatever I wanted to, galumphing along on my crutches. Being able to walk let me pass as nondisabled–a fantasy reinforced by never looking in store windows as I walked by, and by nondisabled people who told me they didn’t think of me as handicapped. Living in denial kept me ignorant of what my walking actually cost me physically, emotionally and spiritually. I never showed my fatigue-induced depression. Those around me saw only the up-beat crip “truckin’ on!”
This changed when I was 30, the year the kitchen cabinets fell on me. I responded to that accident just as I responded to my polio–pushing through pain and fatigue, never giving in. But my survival strategy didn’t work this time. Only later would I realize why I adopted such a survival strategy in the first place. I also learned later from a child psychologist friend that this is a typical survival strategy of abused children–escape to the mind to get away from what is being done to you. And above all else, keep on going.
I finally found a physical therapist who not only could deal with my non-normal muscles and back pain, but also understood the polio rehab brainwashing that sets many of us up to be type-A personalities, always pushing ourselves, never acknowledging limitations, hooked on accomplishment. Mostly, though, this physical therapist respected my body, unlike the orthopedic doctors who saw me as a collection of defective body parts.
Like a Zen master, he taught me to listen to my body’s signals of pain and fatigue, to be gentle with my body and accept the fact that I had limits. He never discussed why we were doing what we were doing because he wanted me to stay out of my head and focus on my body. Working with him helped integrate my mind, body and spirit.
I experienced Taoist and Buddhist spiritual lessons doing my exercises. I learned to live in the present and not work for some future goal–just doing the exercises was good enough, the future would take care of itself. I learned to not act with desire–the thought of being out of pain was too far in the future to be a viable motivation. He also taught me there are medical personnel who could honor my whole self–I did not have to live in fear of the other kind.
After two-and-a-half years I was healed enough to go to an orthopedic doctor’s office without an Uzi. I knew I found the right doctor when I was given a 13-page questionnaire on my emotional and psychological state of being. Having a fifth and sixth back fusion was hard as hell to face, but at least I was working wi