My first kiss was in an elavator. When I read that statement I know I sound like a stereotypical disabled woman. I am twenty-years-old and I have never held someone’s hand; it is difficult to hold hands when I am walking with my loft-strand crutch or driving my wheelchair. I feel a tinge of jealousy every time I see couples holding hands on campus. I always joke that holding hands is gross, but I can’t help but feel like trivial matters like that hinder relationships, like somehow that lessens my value. My life from the outside appears to be assistive devices, bandages, and personal care attendants; at large, it is, but there is also more to me than my disability.
I tend to write pieces about relationships and disability once a year, usually in the fall. I figured I would continue the tradition, and share my most recent thoughts. I have been thinking recently about why I write all of these blogs about relationships in fall right at the beginning of fall semester. Fall semester not only promises a new schedule, but also new living arrangements. This means becoming closer to different people and having different experiences. In short, fall semester is a clean slate. This is kind of like adolescence and young adulthood–our lives are clean slates. While the possibilities for our future are not infinite, there are more possibilities for us since we have not gotten too set in patterns yet.
Unfortunately, many of those opportunities are not accessible to disabled people. Sometimes I feel like I am much older than twenty–I tire easily, I struggle with muscle tension, I cannot drink a lot, and my body cannot function on less than seven hours of sleep (which is quite a task to get that much sleep in college). As a result, I cannot participate in all of the activities other people my age can. Everyday I budget my energy the way most college students decide how many times a month they can go to brunch; except my question is not whether I should order avocado toast and mimosas, but instead, how much I can do each day (i.e. go to club meetings, socialize, walk around campus, do laundry, go somewhere off-campus, blog).
This, as one might imagine, does not exactly make me a catch to my able-bodied peers. Teenagers and twenty-somethings prefer low maintenance people and relationships, which my disability disqualifies me from. Twenty-somethings like to have fun and be care-free, partying and “living while they’re young.” I will never be able to do this; I cannot even wake up at whatever time I choose on the weekends. My life lacks the spontaneity of the typical college experience. I cannot just decide to spend a weekend in another city because I need aides to help me prepare for the day. Instead, I plan everyday meticulously, making sure I have time to walk to class, study, email my professors, and see my friends.
All of this probably paints my life as bland. Of course, I grow tired of patterns and routines, but I enjoy my life. Living with a disability is the only life I know. It has even motivated me to get involved on my campus and provide a place for disabled students to discuss their disabilities. It has shaped me as the woman I am today with all of my strengths, weaknesses, and flaws. I may not be every guy’s “dream girl,” but I am valuable; not despite my disability, but with my disability.