Today was the day I was to be discharged from hospital. I lay on my bed at 6:00 am and stared blankly at the only window in our ward. The nurses had just finished giving me a bath; it had now been a month of being bathed and fed. I had been involved in a grisly road accident that had left me paralyzed from my armpits down. Within seconds, I went from being a normal 20-year-old university student, to being a highly dependent quadriplegic. I would quickly learn that that meant I have no control or feeling in my legs, and limited control in my hands.
As I lay there motionless, I wondered about the kind of life that was waiting for me beyond the hospital walls. I cringed at the thought of living the rest of my life as a disabled person. I didn't know much about life in a wheelchair; I just knew that it was not the life I wanted. Would I ever finish school? Would I ever get a girlfriend?
A year after being discharged, I was in a relationship with a wonderful girl whom I had known for many years prior to the accident. Paralysis had hit me hard psychologically, and she was the one who was always present and ready to help. I was bedridden at the time. My self-esteem was low. I didn't have any kind of love for myself, so I couldn't conceptualize what she was doing with me.
I hate to confirm this stereotype but sometimes, disabled people struggle to find even one good thing about themselves. The depression that follows after losing independence, mobility, and ability can be as crippling mentally as it is physically. The tragedy of it all is that the pain we feel inside is often projected to the ones closest to us, the ones who want to love us but we, on the other hand, refuse to let them.
'Am I the boyfriend you want? Am I the boyfriend you need? I won't blame you if you move on,' I would often text her in the depth of night and height of insomnia. I had preconceived ideas about how disabled people were viewed. I presumed that I knew what was in her heart and mind. I believed she only stuck around because of pity or obligation. I was deeply insecure about being in that relationship. But the thought of being left kept me up at night. I don't remember having a moment of peace. Every minute was spent overthinking and preparing for the worst. I was in a twisted frame of mind, convinced that soon, she would realise that this wasn't what she had signed up for. Then she would up and leave.
What happens when you genuinely give yourself to a person and they repeatedly shoot you down because they are incapable of believing that you won't hurt them? Well, first you try and understand their trauma and within your own capacity, attempt to show them otherwise. The further you get into the relationship, however, the more paranoid and restless they become. They now intentionally push you away, it starts to hurt, real bad. But they are relentless with their insecurities and start to ask whether you are seeing other people, and go further to accuse you of things that you never did. In the end, you give up.
That was five years ago. I was a wounded shell of myself. I couldn't love and I wouldn't be loved. If I could turn back time I would have kept her as a friend and dealt with my issues without hurting her. It might be a cliché, but you cannot love somebody else if you can't love yourself. It took me a minute to understand that and to be awakened to the pain I was causing.
Today I am an evolved man. I have been in a steady relationship for two years now and I haven't been happier. It is possible to date a disabled person and have a fulfilling, meaningful relationship. The question is, which version will you be getting involved with?