I have never been one to venture very far out of my comfort zone. I’ve always preferred to blend into the crowd and let other people attract the attention. From high-school to dance, I was always a back of the class kind of girl. Since being in a wheelchair, I don’t necessarily have the luxury of going unnoticed (and if stairs are involved I also don’t have the luxury of going to the back of the room). In the beginning, it caused me a lot of stress to know that people saw me and that I could no longer feel completely anonymous within a group of people. I was constantly self-conscious every time I went out in public but, somewhere along the way, I stopped noticing the stares.
On our recent trip to Whistler, I decided to pay attention to my surroundings a little bit more and, lo and behold, I realized that people still look at us (a lot). I’ve clearly learned a tactic that helps me completely block it out. What I realized though was that I don’t really care anymore. If someone needs to look at me and my family in an effort to decipher and understand that we are just another family attempting to get through the day with as few meltdowns as possible then so be it. I will survive. And maybe they are just looking at us because we look like we totally have our shit together. Only joking. We never look like we have our shit together. With that theory out of the way, my initial opinion still stands – I will survive. It only stands of course if I feel like I’m doing something simple and normal, not when I feel like I am taking a risk.
Risks have never been my thing. I’m not talking about physical risks (although I would never attempt those either). I was never going to be the one to bungee jump off a bridge or skydive out of a plane. But I’m talking about the type of risks where failure would result in embarrassment and a bruised ego. To be completely honest, I have always struggled to put myself out there in any way, shape or form if I wasn’t completely confident in my ability to do it well. The thought of failing at something while in the viewing range of other people seemed like a most terrifying and unnecessary endeavour. Then I broke my back and things shifted.
All of a sudden, even an attempt at the simplest of tasks had the potential to result in failure. I could choose to do nothing, or I could choose to risk embarrassment and learn how to move on with my life. I decided that if something was necessary for me to do in order to function, I would attempt it and risk being mortified if I made a spectacle of myself. However, if I had to put myself out on display for a leisure activity or something that wasn’t necessary for my daily living, I would still opt out if the chance of my humiliation was too high. But I realized pretty quickly that I was missing out on a lot of fun! I certainly don’t enjoy being piggy-backed, in a bathing suit, into a pool by my husband while other families play nearby. When we went kayaking and I completely botched my transfers both in and out and required a stranger to help lift me back into my chair, I wasn’t exactly feeling like I was conquering the world. And being carried to the beach in my wheelchair by the husband halves of our friend circle is far less glamorous than Cleopatra makes it look. I definitely still opt out of activities when I can’t get out of my own way, but when I do participate I realize that the embarrassment aspect is usually short-lived and the activity itself is often worth it.
The thing about taking risks is that it usually sounds like a really great idea until the time comes to actually follow through! Somehow, my friend Kim convinced me to try a hip hop class. This is just a legit, able-bodied, no adaptations, adult hip hop class. I used to be a dancer I suppose – although it feels like another lifetime ago. If someone had wanted to take a dance class with me before my accident I wouldn’t have hesitated for minute! But when Kim mentioned it to me last week, I laughed at her and quickly turned her down because the thought of showing up to a hip hop class in a wheelchair seemed like a great way to embarrass myself and gain some unwanted attention. Don’t get me wrong, there are people in chairs who are great dancers (check out @chelsiehill on Instagram). However, for me, the thought of going into a studio with other people who could do all of the choreography and probably had never danced with someone in a wheelchair (or even seen someone dancing in a wheelchair) before brought up a crazy amount of self-doubt and anxiety. So, naturally, my friend convinced me to try it anyway.
As the class drew closer I most definitely tried to back out (more than once). Not only had I left my dance life behind over a decade ago, I was also going to the same dance studio I danced in as a teenager, with an instructor I remember competing against as a child. I felt like I was going to throw up the entire way there. With mine and Kim’s friendship being only about a year old, I warned her that the long friendship I had high hopes for with her may be in jeopardy after this class. As per usual, the anticipation is always the worst part. There were a few other friends that decided to come as well and, honestly, seemed even more nervous about it than I did! I’m really great at encouraging others to step outside their comfort zone and then turn around in serious hypocritical fashion and convince myself that it’s okay to stay safely inside of mine. But once we got in the class I just gave into the fact that I have missed dancing for a really long time and I was going to do what I could and see if I could still enjoy it – even in the chair.
In the end, I had a lot of fun. It was different, but everything is different. There were a few things I had to change to make work for me but, for the most part, the choreography worked fine. I’m not saying I did it at all well, but I wasn’t completely lost so that was something. And besides, who doesn’t love learning a combination to Time Warp? The instructor mentioned that if I chose to stay he would choreograph everything with me in mind and how it would translate. I will definitely go back and try it again and drag Kim along with me because I know that I enjoyed it but I also know I would never do it if I didn’t have someone there doing it with me. I’m even high-maintenance when it comes to taking risks.
As I write this, the saying ‘no risk, no reward’ keeps flying through my head like a banner attached behind an airplane. As cliché as it sounds, it rings pretty true. Before my accident I didn’t often find it necessary to push myself into situations where I felt vulnerable because I was happy and fulfilled without taking those risks and the fear it would evoke in me was very much not worth it. However, since my injury I have had to face fears not only to get enjoyment out of my life but really just to live my life again.
When I saw the shirt that I’m wearing in the above photo, it felt like it was made for me. Almost everything I’ve done since my accident has been a case of mind over matter. I’m the only one who can put myself out there or hold myself back. And of all the things I have done since my spinal cord injury that have made me feel obvious and uncomfortable, I can’t say that I regret any of them. Taking risks are totally worth it if the end result will make your life better in some way. Even in saying that, I know that when the next opportunity arises for me I will worry about failure, embarrassment and unwanted attention. I will try to back out. I still need encouragement because I get in my own way all of the time. It’s a good thing I have amazing family and friends who help encourage me to try and venture out of my comfort zone because risk taking is not something I could do on my own. Have you stepped out of your comfort zone recently? What is something you accomplished after getting out of your own way?