It’s gratifying that Richard G. Tedeschi and Lawrence G. Calhoun, researchers in psychology at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, recognize what most people do not. In their 2004 study on posttraumatic growth, they write: “Where people are more limited in what choices they have in life, such as becoming reliant on a wheelchair for mobility, there may be a willingness to explore opportunities never before considered. … At a time when one is vulnerable as never before, there is a sense of strength. Out of spiritual doubt there can emerge a deeper faith.”
Of course, positive growth doesn’t happen automatically. Paradoxically, the most significant growth often arises from the most formidable struggle. For some of us, it’s as if we must go through hell in order to emerge into light.
The theory of posttraumatic growth, like many psychological models, has broadened since its inception. Its widening net now includes people who have experienced life-shaking traumatic events that have left no physical mark. But many of us must deal with our physical disabilities every day of our lives, visible or not. In other words, the remaking of our lives never ends.
And how can we ever forget our beginnings? My first day back in college following my plane crash, wheeling across campus for the first time, I saw a pretty sorority girl I had met and dated several months before — during my nondisabled days. As she approached, I tried to make eye contact, but she refused to look at me. It was a slight I would have to get used to, and it hurt deeply. There was no room for wheelchair users in her little black book.