Being crippled in high school wasn’t really my plan, but ug, accidents sure do happen. In an instant, my dreams of having the “Sweet Valley High” esque experience went out the window, and instead I was in store for 4 years of feeling like an alien, which is kinda inevitable when you‘re the only quadriplegic among a sea of homogenous 600+ white kids.
I was hurt just before my freshmen year and was back in class after 3 months. I really shouldn’t have been back in school that soon in retrospect, but my mom and everyone else insisted, so there I was mid-November, trying to find myself again, trying to be a “regular” high school kid, and failing miserably.
One of the hardest things about having a spinal cord injury is not knowing who you are anymore because there are so many things, hobbies you had, interests you had, that you can’t do anymore. For me it was dancing, playing my clarinet, cheering, swimming and goofing off in the woods. All those things were very much “me.“ After my injury, I couldn’t do any of that anymore. So when I went back to high school I had no idea how to represent myself, where I fit in or which “group” I belonged to. Who I was stripped away.
And the first year back was definitely the worst. Everyone was a freshmen trying to fit in. No one was interested in being the “new wheelchair girl’s” friend, and so thus began my thick-skin building (I think I have a callus the size of an iron first now). I do want to say that people were never out rightly mean; they did say hi if they saw me in the hall, they didn’t tease me. But I never felt like I connected….with anyone. It was all niceties and overtures (so many people in wheelchairs can relate to this).
Above all, one of the hardest things was never being accepted as a peer. Never being invited to parties, never going to any dances, never making any bff‘s (or a bf). My wheelchair just made everyone ridiculously scared of me. I had to learn how to be a happy loner, even ate lunch alone in a teacher’s office everyday. It was tough when all you wanted to was ‘hang,’ but could sense your very presence made most of the people at your school uncomfortable.
Those 4 years were the first 4 years “of life after” my diving accident, and out of my 19 years of being paralyzed, they years stand as some the hardest. I know I’m not the only one though. So many of us have high school experiences from hell from so many messed up scenarios (being gay, a different ethnicity, being fat, poor).
It’s all about getting through it though. I have refused all these years to ever be bitter about it. I was lucky to even be in high school, considering how I almost died my injury occured. Nothing is a given in life, every day is a gift (even if it isn’t exactly what we envisioned) and it’s all about not letting how people treat you influence your core being, and after getting out of high school from hell, moving on to a purpose-driven life of your own choosing. You’ll love it.
What was your high school experience like? Were you lucky enough to be accepted by your peers?