Disability and the Transformation of Memory

My disability was sudden, violent and happened two weeks into my 23rd year. After a car accident on an Atlanta freeway in September 2012, I was forced to embrace a new life — less three limbs and dependent on a wheelchair.

The memories from my 23 years without disability were quite precious. They involved girlfriends and love, selfies before the selfie stick, adventure, sport, confidence and a sense of possibility that I never expected to return. My memories of that time long gone brought new meaning to the phrase “the good ol’ days.” I clung to them. They were remnants of the identity I hoped to save.

About a year into my disability, I began to travel, forcing myself out into a world that had become less friendly (to me). I wanted to create new experiences to be proud of, and forge a new path to happiness. From my travels came a wheelchair travel blog, wherein I share tips on overcoming barriers to access, all around the world.

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany — June 2015.

In spite of all the progress I have made, I flip through the scrapbook of memory from my past life often. I’m still struggling to fully discover my new identity, and thinking back to the times when I was most happy offers comfort.

That scrapbook of my own memory has been altered, though. It is full of eraser marks and fresh doodles. It has been transformed by my disability. Let me explain.

The mind is a powerful tool, constantly searching for new ways to adapt and overcome the challenges of life. Now, when recalling past events, I struggle to remember myself walking. My mind has reimagined my past to include a wheelchair, plotting how I might have lived that life with a disability. Memories of football and baseball games, bar happy hours, parties, late-night food runs, dinner dates, walks through the park — I remember all of these from the perspective of being seated in a wheelchair.

Busch Stadium, St. Louis, Missouri — May 2015.

As I have been working to show others that life (and travel!) is still possible with disabilities, my mind has done that same work for me. And, even though all those experiences I had at university weren’t achieved in a wheelchair, I’m starting to accept that they could have been. Instead of looking to the past for comfort, I now look to the future with hope.

This transformation of memory has helped me to realize that the dreams I thought were lost are now within reach, just across the horizon. That is the greatest comfort of all.

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