It is in Giving You Shall Receive

Today is my 6 years accident anniversary. 6 years ago on 4/25/2014 about 7:30 pm I was on my way home biking up from Hyde Park to downtown Chicago where I lived. I decided the safest route home would be to take the lake shore trail because I didn’t want to get hit by car and I didn’t know the streets very well. This night little did I know my life would change forever and that I wouldn’t be making my planned 600 mile bike ride from southern IL up to Wisconsin that coming summer. Little did I know that I wasn’t walking into my high school chemistry class for the rest of the year to implement labs and activities which I thought would help shape the future of my students. I know that my purpose in life is to change the world somehow through education. It’s the only thing I knew for sure I wanted to do with my life, but now I wasn’t sure how. 

Then God gave me this gift. He gave me the gift to see what the world is like with a disability and what it takes to live everyday taking care of basic needs. He gave me the opportunity to appreciate the little things in life that I’d been taking for granted for 34 years. So now with my new found situation of survival I get to learn first-hand the resilience it takes to survive in a world that is not accommodated for you. 

The thing that has depressed me the most over the past 6 years was the feeling that I can’t help other people because I’m barely surviving myself. I could hardly make it through my day so I felt like I couldn’t get close to my students because I wouldn’t be there when they needed me. I felt like I couldn’t get close to people because I had nothing to offer them – I was just this broken person rebuilding a shattered life. What do I have that I can possibly offer them that would be of any use? I’ve always measured my self-worth by who I can help – my self-worth scuppered. I’ve always been a giver and now I’ve become the ultimate taker and user.  I was desperate to be a giver again and that meant becoming independent and able to take care of myself without anyone’s help. So this is what I’ve spent the last 6 years doing.

This has been my drive that has brought me to a place where I’ve found my way that I can be a giver again. I’m independent and self-sufficient. While in the process to becoming independent I learned how real relationships exist- it was the power of AND within a relationship: give AND take. I realized that when people helped me and I shared my story with them they felt inspired and we both looked forward to our next interaction. The more I shared about my trials and survival the more I could truly connect with people. As a disabled person your first instinct is to hide everything that isn’t normal from people. Hide the nerve pain, bowel program, lack of bladder control, leg spasms, broken wheelchairs, diapers….etc. I’ve learned to celebrate these things in a way that makes them feel maybe not normal, but human for me and others. For example when I would take the train to work, the CTA workers with the ramp would wait with me for the train. While we waited we learned about each others’ lives. They would ask me about my recovery and I would ask them about their kids. I was able to connect with people in this way because they were essential to my life in a way that I never understood before my accident. I wasn’t a taker – I was a person with needs that has a ton a gratitude for the people that are able to support me along this journey. 

Now my husband (Ash) and I have begun my biggest way to give back with what God has given me. We have created Project Awaken where we can share all my stories and connect people with disabilities to inspire and motivate other people with disabilities to get active in life. It’s taken 6 years from my accident to understand what it means to give in this condition but it has only just begun.