On October 28th, 2017, after nearly 2 months of living in the same building, I rolled out of the hospital doors for the last time. Parked right in front, ready to take me home was my boyfriend’s truck. My ride home was a vehicle I had jumped into with ease many times, and now, I had to be lifted in. He put my wheelchair into the bed of the truck for the first of many times and we drove the couple hours home.
We stopped by our favorite restaurant on the way, somewhere we had eaten thousands of times, only this time, people stared. I had a group of guys ask me if I had been in a bull riding accident, mocking my back brace resembling a leather vest and I wanted to crawl out of my skin. The curb and asphalt to cross the street from where we had parked by the restaurant was cracked and bumpy bad enough that I had my boyfriend push my chair as I held on for dear life.
This was something I had never noticed walking. He teased me, “Didn’t you just spend a month learning how to get through stuff like this?” I wanted to cry. He was right, but it was all just a bit overwhelming for me to take in. Plus, my wheelie skills still needed some tweaking.
We drove down my dirt road to my dad’s ranch, something I had done millions of times, and yet it felt I had never been there before. Never had I ever spent this long away from home. I was still Ellie and this was still my home, yet I didn’t feel like myself anymore.
As we pulled up to the house, I could see there was a ramp that came down the length of about half the house and landed on a freshly poured cement pad where my garden used to be. Brady unloaded my wheelchair and lifted me out of the truck, while my dad snapped a picture of us sitting there. He was so happy for me to be home. I could easily say the feeling wasn’t mutual, but at the time I couldn’t understand why.
To my dismay, I couldn’t get up the ramp by myself. Anger swelled up inside me at my Dad for not understanding how difficult my situation was. How could he think I’d be able to get up this? I thought that this ache I had felt in my chest since that day a month and a half ago would have magically disappeared when I got home but it was still there. I knew deep down that things wouldn’t be the same when I got home but the naive 17 year old girl I was then had a hope that things would go back to normal.
I really needed a moment to take it all in, so I went to open the front door I had walked through trillions of times and found that I couldn’t even get over the threshold. At this point, “fed-up” doesn’t even hit the tip of the iceberg on how I was feeling. Once helped inside, I made my way down the hall to my room, somewhere that had offered me sanctuary in countless bad moments of my younger years. My room had been completely rearranged and gone through to the point where it was unrecognizable. I’d say that was the breaking point for me and I sat there and let all the emotions I had felt that day out in a face swelling moment of tears.
In the next couple months following I avoided posting pictures, I avoided going out in public, and I sure as heck didn’t go back to my life prior to the accident. I had it stuck in my brain that I wasn’t normal anymore; I wasn’t me anymore. It took over a year for me to come to terms with the fact that I am still Ellie. I actually was watching one of my favorite movies, Tombstone. In the movie, while Doc Holiday is on his death bed, he asks his good friend Wyatt Earp what he wants in life. Wyatt replies, “Just to live a normal life.”
To this Doc responds, “There is no normal life, there’s just life.” I had seen this movie more times than I could count but for some reason when I watched it this time, those words hit me. “There’s just life.” This got me thinking even more: what is “normal?” What defines “normal.” Our ritualistic and modern minds picture the lives we see portrayed on TV and the lives that we are taught to live as “normal.” The reality of it is that my life isn’t any less normal than your life.
We all face struggles in our lives. We are all going through something. We all have something in our lives that is debilitating, mine just so happens to be visual and that’s why I struggled with the normality. As unbelievable as it is, I am thankful for my paralysis because of the good it has brought me. Now I will say that some days I let this injury “disable” me more than other days. Some days I can’t even find the mental or physical strength to get in my car and go grocery shopping for the simple fact that I don’t want people to stare.
It’s days like this that I have to gently remind myself that this injury doesn’t make me weird. It does make me different, but we’re all different in our own ways. Spinal cord injuries can be difficult and frustrating but so is cancer, so is PTSD, so is growing up in a place where there is no freedom, or living homeless. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not down playing SCIs, but what I am saying is that living with one doesn’t make you any less normal. “There is no normal life; there’s just life.”
I’m happy to say that now when I go visit my dad, I can make it up that ramp on my own. I also can get over the threshold in his house. Oh, and that bumpy sidewalk that leads to my favorite restaurant? I can wheelie all the way in the door! Giving yourself time to adapt to changes in your life will help you get through them.