What I’m thinking about as I bike…

Writing about the physical aspects of recovery has been fun and forces me to list, admire, and appreciate all my happy moments. I struggle more with writing down the mental acrobatics I’ve been participating in, recently. When a simple update on biking led me towards thinking and rethinking definitions, I decided to open another text box and try to hash this out.

Though I have much to celebrate recently, I still struggle to appreciate what I have and what I can accomplish. Pushing my physical limits isn’t hard for me — but being happy is. From what I can tell, this involves striking the right balance between striving and succeeding. I want so much. This injury has taken away many options for me and I spend a lot of time wanting them back. This motivates me to try and to improve myself. I don’t know, but I suspect that without all my activity I would not be as independent and as functional as I am now. So, wanting is good. But. But it leaves me miserable any time there is a gap — a difference — between what I want and what I can get. Ultimately, I want to stop being dependent on the use of a wheelchair. And so I’m unhappy sitting in it. But without a measure of acceptance, I can’t enjoy the present. I also spend a lot of time disliking myself.

I’ve been thinking about how my own perception of my physical limitations are shaped by society and how, in turn, I’m shaping ideas on disability. The hugely diverse disability community has to fight a battle against stereotypes that dehumanize and isolate. I’ve felt their force. I’ve fallen under their influence. The message I hear, over and over, is: “You are so inspirational. You are so amazing. I am so motivated by you.” And this is in response to me doing the most simple things. Living. Challenging myself physically. Being outside. Going to work. And I catch myself falling into this role, fulfilling this expectation. As a disabled person you have to be uniformly positive, extraordinary, and a feel-good narrative. You can’t be funny (in a self-deprecating way), shy (desiring of your privacy and not willing to talk to strangers about your life), or cynical.

As a recently injured person who can’t help but compare before and after, I am also a reluctant member of the disability community and one that wants to pass — to be regarded as able-bodied and not as disabled. It must be difficult to be born into a community other members want to leave. I worry I am adding to the negative stigma associated with being a wheelchair user. I worry about contributing to the overwhelming message of ‘ableism.’  So, with all these forces pulling in different directions, how do I find balance?

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