For many years after my injury I would forget I was in a wheelchair, only to be reminded of it by my reflection in a storefront window or my shadow next to that of my sister’s. My heart would tighten and my eyes would hold back the tears.
I had this image of what I looked like and how I presented myself to the world. It was disheartening to realize that what people saw was different. I wore oversized clothing to hide my body, though the fashion designer in me screamed I could do better. I avoided dance floors when the music was making everything inside me want to move. I felt I had lost beauty and grace.
Over time, I noticed women in wheelchairs dressing well and I began to make an effort. Eventually I bought a short skirt and was willing to show my atrophied legs. At a wedding, after enough drinks to make me forget my apprehension, I actually danced all night. I didn’t love the way I looked, but it mattered more that I had fun. The experience was liberating.
My shadow was like a ghost that haunted me, humbling me, making me self-conscious of my disability. But over time, moments like buying a mini-skirt, dancing, taking a yoga class or even going to the movies alone became pivotal in letting me love myself.
The haunting shadow visits less frequently now, and in its place the darkness that follows me is surrounded by light, reminding me that I am still all of the things I was, but felt I had lost. My quad hands may not cast recognizable shadow puppets, but the way my fingers curl and how my wrist falls makes for a unique image that casts a beautifully abstract companion. One that moves alongside me, not walking, not rolling, just there — reminding me I am still me.