About a month after my accident, I was sitting in the gym of my in-patient rehab in Mount Sinai when an older man next to me in a wheel chair asked what happened. After I told him “I fell off a cliff,” his jaw nearly dropped to the ground.
As I began taking trips outside the hospital, the questions about my condition were becoming more and more inevitable. At the time, I didn’t mind telling people. I wanted the pity and grief of others while going through something so life-changing and traumatic.
I always got the “How” after giving that same I fell off a cliff response. I wanted to be raw and real, so I gave brutally honest answers: “A man was chasing after me” or “A man was trying to rape me…”
I started noticing all the awkwardness stirring up in conversations. People had no idea how to react, and I wasn’t getting the empathy I wanted. It felt more painful for them to process the facts than for me to tell them.
I was getting thousands of endearing messages on Facebook, meanwhile, this was a conversation nearly everyone wanted to avoid in person. While I appreciated reading all the thoughtful messages and prayers online, I personally think we are lacking in our verbal interactions due to the rise of social media and iPhone use.
So I began lying about my experience, pretending it was a car accident or that I fell while hiking. But it was uncomfortable for me to talk about scenarios that never existed.
I asked my psychologist of the hospital what she thought I should do in those situations. She said that telling people I fell off a cliff would stimulate their curiosity and increase their likelihood of asking follow-up questions, like “How? Were you hiking?” (I would always say “Umm…yeah sortof”). She said saying “I had a fall” is a lot more modest and safe.
It’s almost been a year since my accident, and I’m still being asked the same question every day as if I broke my back yesterday. A lot of people ask what happened to my legs without considering that I injured my spine. Some people assume I was born this way.
Every time someone brings it up, it’s like they’re asking me to relive the entire event all over again, while I’m making it my best interest to deviate from it. I don’t know why so many strangers and Uber drivers feel so entitled to know what happened. Sometimes I just give them all the gory details as revenge for even asking. My thoughts: *You really want to know? Well you got your answer.*
Other times, I tell people to just Google it. Or read my blog. If I feel very close and connected with someone, I’ll give them a brief summary of what happened, but it has to be the right time and place. For example, if I’m at a bar laughing with people I just met, I’m not going to tell them that I almost got murdered in Thailand.
I do think it’s important for people I see on an ongoing basis to hear my story and acknowledge what happened. Last week, I graduated from a 10-week teacher training at Yoga to the People with 33 other TT’s. I have flashbacks today of all the looks and stares back in Weekend 1 as I climbed up 4 flights of stairs. “You know there’s an elevator, right?” “Can we get you a chair to sit down?”
No one knew what to make of a physically disabled person training to become a yoga teacher. While the facade of my disability completely overshadowed my personality for the first couple of weeks, it slowly started to disintegrate as the other TT’s and teachers began getting to know my body and me as a person.
During Weekend 4, we all sat in a circle with one person at a time in the middle beginning the sentence with “One thing most people don’t know about me is…”
After hearing so many traumatic stories of others, it gave me the perspective that I’m not the only person experiencing a kind of suffering. It was the perfect opportunity for me to tell my story to the people I’m sharing my yoga journey with. I no longer had to give any explanation for the remaining 7 weeks. I felt so much more connected with those around me throughout the rest of the program.
Sometimes I tell people I fell off a cliff with a huge smile on my face and a little giggle. This always invites a little confused giggle back. Because sometimes you have to look at the shittiest situations with a little humor. How else are you going to get on with it?
I’ve come to accept that my injury has taken over my identity for a long period of time. If this is the way the world sees me, then I proudly take ownership of what happened and firmly grip my wooden sticks like a f**king survivor.