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On January 14th I woke up to a lazy Sunday morning. With wild woman hair and smudged mascara from the day before, I emerged from our bedroom like a bear coming out of hibernation. Fashionably wearing last year's Christmas house coat, I poured myself a fresh cup of coffee.
"Good morning, beautiful," James cooed from across the room. I could've kicked him and kissed him all at the same time (did I mention I'm not a morning person?). I curled up into my favorite part of our couch, got comfortable, and took a sip of my coffee.
"Did you know today is our four-year anniversary?" James asked.
I gave him a blank stare. Typical man, I mumbled to myself, doesn't even know our correct anniversary date. "It's in February," I explained...slowly, so he would get it.
"Pretty sure it's today," he smiled, unaware that I was ready to kill him. We bickered back and forth and did some research. Then I found out I'm a horrible person and it was in fact our anniversary. Apologies to James (and all men) were made.
Now, I usually like to have events such as this one planned out, so I was having a bit of a moment. I have no confetti, no presents, and no earth-shattering surprises. I sat there for a bit and decided to give James what he appreciates the most: (get your head out of the gutter!) the gift of quality time.
The day was simple. We took the time to really enjoy one another and reflect on our accomplishments as a couple. This blog post is based on that reflection. I'd like to share the four most important things I have learned over the past four years about dating someone who uses a wheelchair.
LOVE IS LOVE. JUST SAY YES.
It's definitely a little scary to fall in love with someone who doesn't fit the social "norm." If you have a connection with someone that is hard to ignore...just go for it! Black, white, gay, straight, disabled, whatever, love does not discriminate. I am sad to think about all the love stories that simply did not happen because someone was "different." Most times I can guarantee that being different is a hell of a lot more interesting than being "normal" (can you tell I hate the word "normal" yet?).
I can't lie when I say that I had my reservations about dating a man in a wheelchair. Initially it did scare me. What would life be like? What would my family think? Am I allowed to break up with him if it doesn't work? A lot of questions flooded my overthinking brain until I finally told myself to shut up. I gave myself permission to say yes because the connection we had overpowered my fear and I am so happy I did!
THE CHAIR DISAPPEARS
It takes a while, but the wheelchair does disappear. In the beginning you wonder if it would, and after a couple years the chair just becomes a part of daily living. A hidden language is developed between you and your loved one and the chair never really comes up. A small yet practical example is when we are cooking, I'll bring down a plate that is higher up and not even think twice about it. You adapt and once the chair disappears you are just two people living life like everyone else. Of course there are reminders now and then, like stairs. Who invented stairs anyway?!
PEOPLE DON'T KNOW WHAT THEY DON'T KNOW
Sometimes you are totally blindsided on an idle Tuesday by someone saying something so utterly outrageous you have to physically shake your head or shake it off (thanks, T Swift!). I have to remind myself that people just simply don't know what they don't know. Before meeting James I had my own stereotypes on spinal cord injury. For instance, I thought everyone who was paralyzed was paralyzed from the waist down...I was quickly informed that wasn't true! So when someone now says something to me like I am an angel for dating James, or he just needs to try harder and he'll be walking in no time (I love that one), I no longer get as upset as I used to.
The general public isn't going out of their way to be rude, they are just uninformed; they aren't surrounded by it. They only see an SCI for what it is on the street or how disability is portrayed in media. Sometimes I end up having really fascinating conversations with these people and they do become more informed. The best tactic is to not react instinctively, take a breath, and instead change someone's perspective that day!
THE PIVOTAL ROLE OF PEER SUPPORT
Sam and I talk about peer support all the time, but we cannot stress enough the impact it has on our lives and our men. Everyone has a story and challenges they face in life, and finding an individual or group of individuals who truly get what you're going through because they have gone through it themselves is life changing. It's like being in love with airplanes in a world that only talks about cars; when you find someone else who loves airplanes, you bond. The truth of the matter is, even if you don't realize it, at some point or another you may need to find a person or a group of people to support you, someone who just gets it. My advice to anyone who has an SCI, or is a spouse to someone with an SCI, is to find a community and if you can't find one, create one. It will be the best thing you ever do.
There you have it! Four things I have learned in four years. They haven't been the only things I have learned and I know they won't be the last. A relationship is always changing, wheelchair or not. I look forward to many more years with this hunk as we continue to evolve together.
What are some of the most important things you have learned in your relationship?