I am writing this on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. Wow, I cannot believe that 35 years ago today my life changed in the blink of an eye.
One minute I was on the front yard swing, toeing the ground and the next minute I was on the ground. An hour later, as I tried to get out of the bathtub, I found I couldn’t.
At first my parents thought I was playing around, as children are wont to do but I wasn’t playing. My dad lifted me out of the tub and placed me on the bathmat. I crumpled to my knees like a ragdoll. “Sarah, stop playing,” I remember Dad saying. I assured him that I wasn’t playing games and he could see the effort I was putting forth, trying to stand. He wrapped me in a towel and carried me into my room where my mom was waiting. He placed me on my feet again and again, my knees buckled, and I went down to the floor. Dad put me on the bed where Mom helped me into my pajamas and then he went to start the car.
I was seven-and-a-half years old.
Thus, started my three-decade adventure through the ups and downs of living with a spinal cord injury.
Most of my friends have freaked out over the years when they’ve hit certain age milestones: 25, 30, and 40 seem to have rocked most of their worlds the hardest. Age has never bothered me. For me, the hardest milestones have been years in my chair: 1, 5, 10, 21, 25.
It’s hard to explain to people how March 10th affects me. Most people tell me to just “move on” and that “it’s just another day”. The problem with that, though, is that it isn’t just another day. It’s the day that my “normal” childhood disappeared and my “new normal” life of hospital visits, inaccessible places and flat tires began. I am not saying that growing up with a disability was an awful experience; quite the opposite. I loved trying to find a million different ways to play tag and hide-and-seek with my friends. Instead of bicycle races, my sister and cousins would use one of my old wheelchairs and we’d race up and down the driveway. I am grateful that I didn’t have the additional tasks of trying to re-learn how to do “adult” things such as laundry and dating and cooking.
March 10th used to find me very melancholy and isolated at times, lost in my thoughts of “what if?”. Most of the time now, it sees me feeling more reflective and mostly positive. Sure, there are times when I still think about that moment when things changed, and I wonder if there was anything I could have done differently. But then, I think about everything positive that has happened since that fateful day: meeting Princess Anne and Rick Hansen, serving as Chairperson of the Simcoe County District School Board’s Accessibility Advisory Committee, volunteering at and now working for Spinal Cord Injury Ontario. I realize that I have touched many lives and take quiet pleasure in knowing that I have opened people’s eyes and minds about what life is like with a disability. I look at how things have changed in terms of accessibility and attitudes and, while I know there is still a lot of work to be done, I am pleased to see what has been accomplished.
For me, March 10th will never be “just another day”. For me, it’s like the anniversary of a loved one’s passing: the loss of that person is still felt on that day no matter how long they’ve been gone, the pain just eases, and the memories remain.
On March 10th, I mourn the child that I was: the one who went to dance class every Saturday morning and had just learned to skip double Dutch and ride her bike.
On March 10th, I also celebrate the strong woman that I have become and continuing my life to be the very best me that I can be.