The way the human brain copes with guilt from disability never ceases to amaze me. They feel bad for us; they walk and we can’t. Yes, it’s a crappy injustice, but you don’t see us bawling over it.
Yet for once able-bodied people have gotten it right when it comes to helping out people with disabilities — they think we should have a mentor with a disability similar to ours. They rightly believe that giving us a new “wheelchair” friend or a disabled friend will help us in figuring out our new lives. But after we’ve been mentored, at what point are we ready to become a mentor ourselves?
To answer that question, I have no idea. I think some people — no matter how much time passes — will never be good mentors. To be one requires coming to peace with living with your disability, and we all know we have a few bitter brethren out there who may never get to that point. I can’t blame them; some days I feel I’ve barely made peace with my disability. You definitely have the good days and bad.
But despite my doubts, I’ve been a mentor for awhile now, a few times intentionally, but most of the time unintentionally. People read about me, see my website, and my story helps them. And then even cooler, once in awhile, like the other day, a newly injured woman called me to ask for advice. It always feels good helping out the newbies.
But when mentoring, I always wrestle with how honest I should be. Should I tell them it only gets easier, when in reality, physically, after so many years in a chair, it does not? Should I tell them they will always miss walking? I don’t want to be too harsh, but I don’t want to sugarcoat everything. If I were in their situation again, I would appreciate my honesty.
I will tell them that one thing does get easier however — your ability to manage your life and all the crazy stuff you now have to do. Staffing PCAs, figuring out transportation, all of that will eventually come second nature. And you’ll also get stronger, but still make sure to be aware of aging. Joint preservation is key.
My biggest fear though is just not being good enough. The last thing I want is to be an angry mentor in a wheelchair. I don’t want to be a female Ms. Potter, if you catch my drift. Being a mentor is a huge responsibility. I’ve learned how to balance my voice of reason however, and I think I’ve been a pretty good mentor overall. The main things I always like to stress are that you can always be fabulous, desired and happy despite being paralyzed.
Overall? I hope to never have to be a mentor again. It always breaks my heart seeing someone new going through the first couple years of living with a spinal cord injury or an acquired disability. Those are some dark years. But if I can be there to help them so they never feel alone in the fight, I will.
Have you been a mentor to other people with your disability?