Aaron and I just got back from our honeymoon the other week where we drove several hours from Raleigh, North Carolina to Asheville, North Carolina. I had been wanting to see Asheville for the past 15 years and Aaron had attended University in that neck of the woods. People fly all over the world to visit this lush and scenic city, and I can’t believe I had lived in Raleigh for the last several years and not made a trip over there. We decided to forgo an international honeymoon to save on plane tickets in order to have a five-star honeymoon in Asheville.
We embarked on so many adventures, stayed in extravagant resort hotels, explored several of the hundreds of breweries, went on a waterfall adventure, partook in some hand glassblowing, joined in on the Friday night drum circles in the heart of downtown Ashville, and so much more. At the end of this blog you’ll see a myriad of fun photos from our adventures.
While we were having a lazy morning in bed one day a topic of conversation arose with respect to all of the circumstances in life that had to play out accordingly in order for us to be where we are today. There are folks in life where the puzzle pieces just seem to fall where they may and life works out smoothly. For most of us, this is not really the case. We have to work hard, throw in some blood sweat and tears, push through challenging hardships, and go through our personal journeys in order to achieve where we are in life today.
This is no exception for the two of us. I cannot speak for Aaron, but as for myself, there are so many factors being paralyzed I had to overcome to have that lazy morning with my husband on the most romantic honeymoon.
Fast forwarding through all of my medical challenges for the first six years of my injury and speaking directly to my dating life in a wheelchair, things were hard and I’m not quite sure I would’ve been able to overcome them without the emotional and financial support of my immediate inner circle of family and friends.
You see, when I first started my dating adventures I was facing a surgery for a pressure sore on my bum that was, best case scenario going to leave me in bed for the next six months, and worst-case scenario another two years. I felt as though I didn’t have any time to waste, which is why I went on my “dating spree,” as so many of you know. What I don’t usually divulge is the Herculean effort it took to even date, not only in a wheelchair from a confidence perspective, but the physical logistics of making it happen.
Dating is hard enough without having to wear your disability on the outside because, let’s face it, not everyone is equipped to handle what comes along with dating a person in a wheelchair. Many of us wear our disability on the inside and much of that does not come out until months or years after dating a person, which, often times ends in a divorce or the end of a relationship. I don’t get to wear my disability on the inside and while it’s a beautiful fantasy to think a person should love you for you, I don’t personally believe that’s the reality when you begin dating anybody.
When you first start dating someone there has to be a physical attraction there. If there’s an attraction then two people usually go through a honeymoon phase of their relationship involving eating, drinking, lots of sex, exploring each other’s character, etc. With respect to a physical disability one has to add on multiple layers of complexity to a new relationship. If you divulge too much you might scare off your partner, and if you don’t show them enough; down the road you may run into issues when they realize they may have gotten themselves in over their head. It’s a very tricky balance. I’m sure many of my other wheelchair friends can attest to this. Of course there are exceptions, but I’m talking about a majority of us.
For me personally, I wanted to make sure that Aaron and I had the ability to explore each other sexually, intellectually, and not have too much of the caregiving aspect of my life intrude upon our relationship. However, I believe I was in a unique situation where I was able to do this, but so many folks are not.
Let me explain. I had the resources to have live-in caregivers and have a beyond overly supportive mom who helped me along the way. When I would invite a gentleman caller up to my bedroom I would, with the help of my caregivers and mom, be laid out in beautiful lingerie with my catheter taped my leg so as not to intimidate them with a bag flailing about on my leg, I would be out of my wheelchair so the guys wouldn’t have to see the “not so pretty” process I go through with getting in bed, taking off my pants, my catheter, my socks, etc.
I was afforded the opportunity to allow a man to get to know me first and slowly introduce them to the ins and outs of the “ugly,” for lack of a better word, of spinal cord injury. I am a naturally curious and outgoing person, and most people who meet me are always seemingly amazed at how confident and determined I am. What they don’t realize is I spent five years completely shut in from the idea of romance, overweight, had no self-confidence in my appearance anymore as I used to get any guy wanted before the accident, and I’ve given up on even trying. I’m not quite sure what changed five years later to push me to say “screw it!”
Over time, and I mean very slowly over time, I introduced him to the catheter, the bowel program, dressing me, etc. Honestly, he didn’t think it was a big deal because he learned to love me for me and realized that it was just part of my life he was going to have to deal with if he wanted to be with me. I was mortified and embarrassed because I didn’t want a man that I was intimate with help me go to the bathroom, roll me in bed, make sure I didn’t have pressure sores on my butt, etc. As I’ve written about before, our romance transformed over time, but a lot of things at the fall in the place before this could happen.
I brought this point up to Aaron and he agreed that he felt very comfortable in the beginning because he had the opportunity to understand my mind and that my body was just something we had to deal with later on. However, the conversation “got real” when I asked him what he thought it might be like if I had to introduce him to all of my care early on. He very honestly admitted he didn’t know. I mean none of us can really know the past, but we realistically talked about how it might have been too much for him if I had not had the caregivers and my mom to “hide” the full extent of my care from him. I was not trying to deceive him, but we are all human and physical disabilities are the exception compared to the billions of able-bodied people in the world.
Most folks who start a new relationship don’t have to deal with what folks in wheelchairs have to. That’s just a fact. If Aaron and I would have been dating and I did not have the help for my care and he would’ve told me it was too much for him, I honestly would’ve understood. I would not have faulted him. I dated a few men before him who told me the wheelchair was just too much for them. I don’t think that makes a person a bad human being, but it just makes you realize that it takes an extra bit of character in a person to date another in a wheelchair.
I know that sounds horrible, but in my opinion, it’s the truth. There are some men and women who don’t want to date people who are 600 pounds, too tall, too skinny, etc. Different strokes for different folks as they say. However, it’s called discrimination if you say these candid things out loud, but you can’t judge who a person is attracted to and how they feel about certain situations. It’s just a fact of life.
If you are different in any way shape or form compared to the societal norm, things are naturally going to be more challenging for you. This is not to say you can’t overcome any challenge in your way or that anything is impossible, but you do have to work harder and put more effort into achieving what you want. Of course this is unfair. Life’s not fair. Life has never been fair for thousands of years, but somehow we muddle through as human beings and overcome the obstacles presented in front of us regardless of our situations. There will always be the “complainers” in life who prefer to just voice their frustrations as human beings rather than take action. That’s okay too, but I doubt they’ll find joy in much of their life.
I have friends in wheelchairs who I help with dating and many of them are often discouraged when the first guy or second guy they go on a date with tell them it’s just too much for them, and they can’t handle the wheelchair. It doesn’t make that person a bad person, just not the right one.
I honestly can’t imagine if I did not have the help in the beginning of our dating career where I would be today. It was certainly a hard conversation for me to have knowing that the man I now call my husband might’ve thought everything I go through too much to deal with if he had to take it all on in the beginning. However, it’s a reality I’ve had to deal with. I love the idea that Aaron would’ve loved me for me right off the bat, but that may not have been the case. Fortunately, I didn’t have to find out 🙂
This blog is not meant to deter anyone who has any kind of disability or upward struggle in life away from dating or anything else they are trying in life, but I merely want to point out that whatever your struggle is you might have to work harder than your neighbor, your friend, or family member to get what you want. We live in a modern-day society in the United States that is supposed to be based on equality, and while I think it is important for each and every one of us to fight for this, it’s also important to realize that life is usually not equal for people whether that be your race, gender, disability, body type, etc. Knowing this, those of us who are “different” in any way are likely going to have to be more determined than the rest to get what we want.
For example, last winter there was a lady that parked in the white stripes of the handicap spot and I waited outside in the freezing cold for over an hour with Aaron until the police came to write her a ticket. Being in a wheelchair those white stripe lines are very important for us so our ramp can come down, and we can get out of our cars safely. However, if I was not disabled I probably wouldn’t have had to stand out in the cold and freeze my butt off to make a point. This is just a small example of having to take that extra step when your situation in life is fraught with more obstacles than most.
I do find those who have had to struggle more than others in life to also be extremely grateful for all the small things that many of us take for granted. One of the happiest places in the world for me is swimming. When I post pictures on Facebook of me swimming many always comment how amazing it is that I am in the water. However, what most folks don’t realize is that it takes quite a great deal of effort to get my suit on, put me in my wheelchair, carry me in the water, get me out of the water, shower me, wash my hair etc., which can take several hours after swimming alone. Swimming usually takes up my entire day.
It doesn’t matter to me though because when I am there that simple feeling of the weightlessness of the water is one I never forget even when I lay in bed at night time. It’s also important to note that if I didn’t have a support system of a fabulous mother, great husband, awesome sister, and caregivers … I probably would not be able to swim regularly.
I’d be remiss not to mention that I fought for months in my early years of my accident to learn how to swim with a fabulous swim instructor. I nearly drowned several times, cried, and resented those who could just walk into the pool and take a casual swim, but I didn’t give up. I kept at it and eventually I learned how to swim. Swimming, for most, is a seamless act of throwing on a suit and walking into the water, but for me, even with what it takes to get me in the water, is a place of pure ecstasy and happiness 🙂
Life is all about perspective. We all have our own perceptions of reality, which cause our own internal struggles on a daily basis, but I think it’s pertinent to take a moment here and there to figure out in an unforgiving world what brings us moments of joy.
Now, onto some of the fun honeymoon photos!
Grove Park Inn
This gorgeous mountain like Château in the mountains of Asheville where we wined and dined, splashed around in these underground spa pools, and enjoyed the magnificent scenery.
We participated in Friday night drum circles, explored the coolest breweries with private tours, poked around in booksztores, had a private glassblowing session, pranced around rooftop bars, and poked around the coolest and artsy city I’ve been to in a long time
This estate built in the 1800s… A tourist attraction for sure. However, we found quiet little nooks to explore. Also, a very cool winery with underground tunnels we got to explore.
I spent hours researching handicap accessible waterfalls and found a great website, so I thought, that said I could roll behind the waterfall. What the gentleman who created this website neglected to inform us of was that there were hundreds of winding steps to get down 🙂 We met a lovely (strong) pastor and his son, and with Aaron, they carried me down the entire way! There are some great humans left in the world!