Be Open to Love through Confidence In Yourself
By Alyson Roth
Former Shepherd Center Patient
I think everyone longs for love, and relationships tend to fill a long-term desire of feeling wanted, cared for and loved. Yet after a person sustains a disability, it’s easy to think you are not as desirable as you once were.
I was there mentally after sustaining my spinal cord injury in 2000. I found it very hard to understand why someone would want me – let alone love me – when I did not even like myself. I find that once you are able to love yourself, the confidence in who you are exudes to those around you.
Relationships are possible, and you do have a choice about whom you date. It can be extremely fulfilling, rewarding, fun and full of adventure if you’re open to learning about yourself through someone else’s eyes. Some things will be different than what you’re used to or have idealized about being, but with an open mind, it can be just as gratifying – if not moreso!
I have found in my dating life that I have usually had to teach the man I’m with a bit about what to do that is “normal,” yet adaptive. For instance, I hold hands with my partner when strolling through stores or down sidewalks. On a level surface, it’s fairly easy minus the occasional crack in the pavement. When going up or down a slight hill, the able-bodied person has to pull or resist, depending on the direction you’re going, while you control part of the speed with your other hand on the wheel. It may not “feel” normal, but eventually it will. Dancing is possible, too! Because we are on wheels, we make for easy spins on the dance floor!
Love is a choice, not a feeling. Once you’re able to separate the two, the possibilities are endless. There are many days I have to be patient with my significant other while he learns about me, what I need help with and the independence I need. But the evenings snuggling on the couch while his feet are propped up in my wheelchair are some of the best times. It shows me he’s comfortable with me and I with him.
Love is possible. Relationships are possible. But try not to limit yourself to only thinking it has to be within a certain demographic, age group or socio-economic status. And “gasp,” I have even gone out on a date with someone in a wheelchair! I never though that would happen!
I have been loved by many in all walks of life, and I have learned a lot about myself by seeing things through the eyes of someone else. And if for some reason you are rejected, take it as an opportunity to learn about other people and what you do or do not want in a future relationship. Remember, it could just be because you have brown hair instead of blonde hair – not because you’re in a wheelchair!
Be open to love and embrace it! It’s worth going out on a limb for, even if you start slowly. That first date can be very scary, but wasn’t it before you were injured? Try not to let your disability be the first thing you think about, but rather think about all the amazing, wonderful qualities you possess and have to offer another person!
That is love. After all, you’re assessing them just as much as they are you, right? Let your love and confidence shine through you, and you’ll be surprised at how many people gravitate toward you. Embrace yourself so others may embrace you.
ALYSON ROTH, who has a T-8 spinal cord injury, was a patient at Shepherd Center in 2000. She has worked as an educator and advocate for wheelchair users and enjoys playing violin in her local symphony. Alyson was also crowned Ms. Wheelchair California 2009. To read more about Alyson and connect with her online, visit her website at www.alysonroth.com.
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 935 inpatients, 541 day program patients and more than 7,300 outpatients each year.