The Secret to Standing Still

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Don’t wander too far trying to find yourself. You might get lost in the thrill.

- Said by me at 22

Feet are funny things.  At any given moment, they’re either moving or standing still. There’s no in between. Either is beneficial, but both can be detrimental in the event that the movement or the stillness isn’t happening at the right time.  What I learned this summer, while sitting in my cube working a job that I absolutely hate, is that standing still to take time and figure things out is normal and human, but standing still out of fear of the unknown or unaccepted is crippling to your emotional and personal growth.

Ever since I was a little girl, I was conditioned to be twice as talented, twice as smart, and twice as tough, just so that I can be viewed as a worthy and equal contender to full limbed people.  In my life experiences, I have very rarely been in a situation where I haven’t had to prove my humanity.  Whether it’s a game of softball or intellectual competition, the public sees a person facing a physical challenge and automatically assumes that we are fragile, weak. And, I, was determined to dispel those thoughts about me before they could find solid footing in the minds of anyone I encountered.

When you’re living with any physical difference it feels like proving your full humanity is a full-time job with no days off and very little time to process in between such constant interactions.  Since I was young, people have always told me how strong I was; how resilient I was.  While I know that I am strong and resilient, for me, those things were actually grounded in my fear of accepting my own vulnerability. I was afraid and, to be clear, vulnerability isn’t what scared me.  It’s the association of vulnerability with weakness. I was terrified to really let myself fall apart, to really feel, to ask for help.  Even in my growth as an amputee, I am still afraid to be dependent on anybody or anything because I don’t want to be characterized as weak or lacking in any way.  In fact, I’ve spent so much of my life trying to prove to the world that I’m strong, invincible even, that I had never truly learned how to allow time for myself to process my emotions honestly.

After taking time for myself, I realized real strength lies in three basic practices:

  • First: Acknowledging the pain of our experiences.

 

  • Second: Finding the trigger for that pain; the past action, memory (however vivid or distant), or recurring negative thought.

 

  • Third: Recognizing that any emotional distress you feel stems from you believing something about yourself that is rooted in misunderstanding and, consequently, is completely untrue.

Being strong is about being willing to search for the answers to your emotional struggles within yourself.  Being resilient is allowing yourself to be engulfed in the dark depths of your pain so you can gather the true nitty-gritty details of your emotional discomfort, because you can only honestly solve your grievances if you know the true extent of the problems you’re facing.

In my time away, I’ve also learned that you can’t allow the people around you to make your reality for you. You’ll never be happy.

When I graduated from college this past May, I was determined to pursue I AMputee fulltime. But, as time passed I began to worry about the way the world would interpret what I was doing.  I started to doubt my aspirations and my ideas. I was scared that by pursuing my project, I wasn’t going to be able to make money to support myself. Then I realized that these weren’t even my fears!  These were the thoughts of people around me.  I never cared about any of that stuff. I just wanted to write and to create something that inspired a conversation a movement for self acceptance for amputees and allies. But, by listening to everything except my own voice, I lost sight of that.

Most of the time, we count ourselves out not because of the extent of our capabilities, but because of insecurities that were carelessly planted in our lives by the closed minds of those that we encounter.  Where I come from, people don’t pursue their dreams. Unless, of course, they’ve always dreamed of using Instagram to sell bundles of virgin hair weave or they’re pursuing music because it seems like just about EVERYONE from my community is selling hair, in the studio, or both.  But when it comes to pursuing more significantly challenging projects, it seems like these dream chasers are harder to find than ever.

Last week, my mama told me that people don’t like their careers. She said when you graduate college, you get an office or teaching job that pays, then you can be stable and happy.  It was the saddest thing I’ve ever been told.  Don’t get me wrong, my mama always tells me pursue my dreams, and is one of my biggest supporters, but her motto has always been: “Don’t let your emotions drive your actions.”  I love my Mama dearly and respect her experiences, but I don’t believe any of it.  That doesn’t make any sense to me.  If you don’t let your emotions drive you, how are you truly alive? Why are you truly alive? You work hard in school to get good grades, to go to a good school, only to work a job that you don’t even like? In making these decisions without consulting your inner spirit, you are sacrificing the opportunity to make yourself truly happy.  Now, I’m not here to tell anyone to up and quit their jobs today, but instead my goal is to help you begin to live your life in the most fulfilling way possible.

So, ask yourself, “What are the things that drive me? What is that one thing that I’d love to do, but think is too crazy, too impossible to try?”

As long as your goals are grounded in good intentions, you should at least attempt them. Do it. Do it today. Do a little at a time if you have to, but start making steps today, because you have a right to be happy and fulfilled.

When I started writing this blog last year, I was inspired, but I needed to take time for myself. I needed to rebuild my spirit.  During my time away from the blog, I went through counseling that saved my spirit, graduated from college, watched my mentor (and second mom) beat Cancer, moved to DC with my big sister, and tried to work a job that I knew wasn’t meant for me. I was stuck standing still. But, once my feet started hurting from stunted opportunities for growth, my heart aching to do the things that I love, and my stomach hungry for significant change, I knew that it was time. I realized I needed to take action. Now, I am back. And, I am ready.

Invisible Scars Part 2: Past Pain Recognized

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A friend told me,

“We hate when other people limit us, but we always limit ourselves.”

The danger is not in what people say, it’s when it invades our spirits and we begin to believe them.  I know I’m not a failure. I know it’s not true, but the emotional implications of my past experiences sometimes sneak their way out of my subconscious and present themselves as my conscious doubts, fears, and feelings of inadequacy.

I’ve searched my extensive vocabulary and still can’t find any other terms that could more accurately encompass what exactly I was dealing with. All these years I had been carrying around all this heavy ass shit! All these words, simple sentences spoken to me throughout my adolescence made any little challenge that I faced an internal struggle with my sense of self worth. All in all, my past was spoiling my present.

This heavy-ass, heartbreaking, soul wrenching, demeaning shit that I thought I’d left in the past has been hiding in the cracks and corners of my life. These thoughts creep into my bedroom at times when my friends, my family, anyone who could intervene on my behalf are out of reach. In the wee hours of the morning, as I deal with the stress of a paper or building my project, they sneak into my room.  Well orchestrated thieves, they wait until I am alone and vulnerable. These thoughts come to rob me of my positive sense of self. And I, like a childhood reflex, cup the hands of my heart around the ears of my soul in an effort to protect my inner most self. Unfortunately, memories of past pain unrealized seem to sift through. I am transformed into my fourteen year old self and everything runs together.

Stupid Girl.You were probably somewhere being fast with some boys, huh? Frisky. Stripper. Prostitute. Fast-Tailed. Whore. Bitch. Nobody wants you anyway. Not your mother or your father. Nobody, remember that. Get your ass out my house and never bring your ass back! Why are you studying all the time? You aren’t going anywhere. Straighten your hair, be a good representation of the race. Always telling the truth. Always got so much to say? Your husband’s gonna beat the shit out of you when he finds out how many men you slept with. I prayed you wouldn’t get into that school. You’re only good enough to be a mother in the projects. Always crying, don’t be so sensitive! You think you know everything. Are you sad because you have one arm? Are you depressed because you don’t have any friends because you have one arm? You would be pretty if…smart if….perfect if….But you have one arm so you can’t, you shouldn’t, you won’t!”

The people that I love the most almost ruined me. While the moments of love that we share are sweet, the moments of rejection are so much more alienating. These were the same individuals that told me to hold my head up high, be proud of who I was and where I come from. And I was, but I was also so conflicted. I come from a family of people who love hard, but hurt even harder.  I come from a long line of beautiful, smart, loving, and painfully complicated people.  I love my family, but their refusal to take responsibility for the role they play in wounding the spirits of the ones that they love is the hardest thing I’ve had to cope with.

I’ve moved past my anger, so I don’t expect apologies.  I only hope for personal growth.  I long for the Sorry, Not Sorry‘s’ to be done away with. For the, I apologize if you took it that way’ to finally be put to rest.  The It happened, but not like that’ to be silenced.   And the infamous.  I’m sorry for some things I may have said, but honestly it’s your fault too because…’

Stop it!  Just stop. Wrong is wrong.  Momentary anger and frustration do not serve as justification to say spiritually damaging things. We must stop blaming the ones we hurt for our own wrong doings.  Hurt people, hurt people.  If we search within ourselves for the reasons behind why we lash out toward others, why we sometimes tear people down, then we can really address the root of our own personal suffering and progress.

No one of us is perfect; no one of us is wholly and completely innocent. My goal in writing this is not to assign blame, but instead to acknowledge the fact that there is power in acknowledging the pain of your past. As I look back on my experiences in high school, I realize that at any given moment I could’ve strayed from my path, retreated into myself, and become everything I was told that I was. But I didn’t.  I had people around me who believed in me when I couldn’t myself.  I had people who fought for me, who held my hand and held my secrets. And, I had myself.

The people that I love the most almost ruined me. They almost ruined me because I loved them, respected them, and trusted them with my happiness.  But, happiness is homemade, and once I realized that I had all the ingredients, I was one step further to becoming the amazing woman I want to be.

Bathophobia: n. a fear of falling from a high place.

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Last week, I attended an AMputee support group at Spaulding Rehab in Boston.  During  the meeting, the group’s facilitator described how a previous member, who was a lower limb amputee, would do an exercise with new members in which he would physically fall down onto  the floor to show the group different techniques to get back up to a secure position.  She went on to explain that participating in these guided falling exercises, helped restore a sense of resiliency, confidence, and independence to new Amputees who were encountering challenges in readjusting to their lives outside of the hospital.

Though I have my lower limbs, something inside me shifted as I listened to this discussion of the fear of falling.  As days passed, I found myself thinking of the times in which I’ve fallen, the trouble I faced trying to get back on my feet, and my struggle in finding meaning in each journey.

Fall- Noun. failure, insufficiency; inability to reach

I started college a confident, bright eyed young woman eager to be immersed in all my university had to offer, but soon I realized my experiences would not be exactly what I’d hoped.      At home in Atlanta, I was a Homecoming Queen, Valedictorian, an artist, a counselor, a daughter, a sister…a human being.  As I entered a place where being politically correct supersedes normal human interactions, I became generically labeled by a term that I had always worked to reject: disabled. At Wesleyan, I was transformed into a woman with a handicapped identity. No amount of “PC” could limit the awkward glances at my arm or the discomfort some had when speaking to me.  After a while, I grew tired of the awkwardness and developed a system:

1.Explain what happened.

2.Make a joke to clear the air.

3. Chuckle.

4. Exchange awkward goodbyes.

5. Repeat with someone new.

For the first time in my life, I actually felt disabled. I grew tired of people acknowledging my amputation before they asked my name. I was over the shuffling, the stares, and especially that one girl that screamed at the sight of my arm.   I had always considered myself a strong woman, but after a year’s worth of awkward conversations and no true progress I was tired and vulnerable. I was immersed into an environment that failed to satisfy my needs as an individual facing a physical challenge, and I found myself losing touch with my sense of self. I found myself starting to actually believe that I was disabled.

Fall- noun. brief moments of uncertainty

When I was 14 years old, I met a young man named Kentavius .  Over the years that our friendship blossomed, Tae taught me life lessons in love and resilience.  Time after time, I watched him face adversity, and to this very day, I’ve never seen someone get knocked down so much, and still manage to get up each time with a smile greater than the last.  At Wesleyan, I was completely lost in trying to maintain this image of a capable, collected young woman for the sake of family and friends, but, Tae kept me grounded. Fortunately, I’d found a confidant who loved and accepted me for the entirety of who I was. I was lucky to have a gatekeeper of my secret sorrows that used the tools of unconditional love and acceptance to help me remedy my wounded spirit. He provided me with needed reassurance that I was unequivocally, unmistakably, beautifully, imperfectly human. He made falling not only easy, but also essential in embracing the beauty of the peaks and valleys of my self-acceptance.   Tae celebrated everything about me, at a time I when couldn’t even accept everything about myself. He truly loved me simply for the sake of love and I loved him. When he died, I fell again-except this time I didn’t know how to get back up.

Fall- verb. to drop or descend under the force of gravity, as to a lower place through loss or lack of support.

When someone realizes they’ve fallen, one of their first reactions is to look up in an attempt to see if the distance of their descent is as great as they feel it is.   If others are present as witnesses they may discredit their pain, say that they were overreacting, and rush them onto their feet.    They may say things like:

“You have to be strong.”

“Don’t be so sensitive!”

“It could always be worse.”

I can’t even begin to describe how  debilitating statements like these are. When we say these things (I say we, because I am also guilty) , we rob people of their self advocacy. We make it increasingly harder for them to assume a position of power in initiating their own personal healing. We also cause people to negatively view the time it takes for them to overcome challenges..In doing so, we have some beautiful heart being subjected to a botched, rushed healing process that is infected with negative self talk and criticism.  As a result, you end up with a someone who is incredibly self critical, astonishingly guarded, and unceasingly hesitant in trusting others with their emotions.

After two years at Wesleyan and burying my best friend, that someone was me.  Over and over again, I’d lost myself; again and again I was told that I had to be strong.  And I was…until I got tired and lonely.  Most importantly, I got tired of hiding my emotions.  I got sick of letting my body and my experiences be subjected to the criticism of society. Over time, I began to open up to my loved ones about what exactly I was feeling as a one-armed woman grieving the loss of my identity and my dear friend.

I’ve learned a few important things through my “falls”. First, I hate when people tell you that you should hide your emotions stay guarded. For a long time, I was down, and because I was down for so long, I began to view my vulnerability with contempt.  However as time progressed, I realized that was only because I mistook my vulnerability for weakness.  It is essential to experiencing the most beautiful things in life.  Unlike weakness, human vulnerability is the result of a conscious decision to be open enough to receive life’s gifts despite the risk of being hurt .  In embracing our vulnerability, we not only make ourselves available to learn life’s most essential lessons, but we also allow room for ourselves to truly learn the intricacies of the power we posses in coming into entirety of our capabilities.

By giving in to the depth of our falls, we are able to not only conquer them, but also assume new heights and acquire new triumphs.

In loving memory of Kentavius Thomas Allison.

My Deepest Insecurity as an AMputee

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Let me begin by saying that I have never shared the contents of this post with anyone. Like no one. Ever. My intention in writing this post isn’t to seek any pity, so no need to be sad-faced reading this. I wrote this post with the intention of opening myself enough to connect with anyone, AMputee or ally, who identifies with these feelings. If you are reading and this resonates with you, know that you are not alone. <3

Last week a close friend of mine asked me what my insecurities were as an amputee. Without hesitation I responded,

“That, I will never be enough.”

He asked me what I meant by my statement, but in that moment, I honestly didn’t even know. In an effort to find some much-needed answers, I decided to take time to really explore my feelings.

After a couple of days of deep thought, I realized the extent of what I actually meant. My greatest insecurity is that I will never be whole enough; that I will never be perceived as physically, mentally, and emotionally whole enough to be accepted for the entirety of my humanity. I sometimes fear that I will never be pretty enough, accomplished enough, intellectual enough, or sweet enough to be considered equally as completely human as my full-limbed counterparts. Don’t get me wrong, I love myself and my body, but I don’t love how my body warrants treatment that is distinctly different from that of people with all of their limbs.

“That I won’t experience enough of life.”

Growing up, I learned quickly that my life experiences would be extremely different from others. While most of the time I am completely fine with that, sometimes I’m just…not. I often think about the future, and the little things in life that I’ll never experience. Like how when I get married I’ll have to explain why I’ll have to wear my wedding ring unconventionally. I also sometimes I think of how I’d just like to sit and hold both hands together with only the finger tips touching, to clasp both of my hands palm to palm, to interlock the fingers of both my hands to pray, or just twiddle my thumbs!  Other times, I think about how I’d like to be able to wrap both my arms around the ones that I love for a full embrace. On rare occasions, I wonder if my relationships will be able be enough for me to fulfill my needs, or if I’ll have to settle for less than I deserve simply because I am an AMputee.

“That one day I won’t be strong enough to handle explaining why.”

Before anyone even asks my name they usually ask for an explanation of why I was born an AMputee. In at least 90% of my interactions, I’m approached by strangers who want to know when, how, and why this happened to me of all people. I’ve seriously had people ask me every question from ‘Did your mother used drugs while she carried you?’ (She most certainly did not -_- ) to ‘Why won’t God heal you?’ While some questions are easier to answer and move forward, the “whys” often linger. Consequently, I often wonder if someday my explanations for my body won’t be enough for my partner, my children, or even enough for me to truly understand exactly why I am the way that I am.

Though I am a proud AMputee, I am a human being first. I will not always be strong. I won’t always be innocent. I won’t always defy the odds.  Like everyone else, I have emotions, dreams, and fears.  Like everyone else, I am human.

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***If you have any questions (no matter how simple or outrageous) you’d like me to answer in my future posts, please comment below and I’ll provide my honest perspective. :)

10 Things You Should Never Say to an AMputee

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10.“Do you know {insert the name of a random AMputee} ?”

Contrary to popular belief, AMputees don’t all know each other. We don’t have meetings at midnight to discuss secret AMputee stuff or rub our nubs together. Sorry to disappoint. Though we share common experiences, we don’t all frequent the same places or do all of the same things. We are all different people. While it might have seemed perfect for your two AMputee acquaintances to meet, fall madly in love, be soul mates, life long nubby buddies or whatever other fantasies you have, it doesn’t work like that! This is not the Life Time Network and you are not a match maker. Chill.

9. “Don’t worry, It’ll grow back.”

I know it can be awkward meeting an amputee for the first time. You’re caught off guard, and with your mind blank you want to say something to make things better. We understand. Just pretty please don’t say this. EVER. We’re not lizards. We don’t have the power to regenerate lost body parts. Our limbs aren’t growing back. If they did, there wouldn’t be AMputees. Duh.

8. “I know how it feels because ______.”

Empathy is nice, but in this situation it just doesn’t have the same effect. Broken arms and legs may put you out of commission for a couple of weeks or months, but you must consider the fact that being an amputee requires a complete and permanent change in lifestyle. When you use statements like these, you do so with the intention of forging a bridge of common understanding. However, this statement actually discredits our personal experiences. You can’t know unless you’ve actually been there. That being said, we admire your sensitivity to our experiences and your efforts to understand. Thank you :).

7. “Just let me do it for you.”

The last thing you want to do to an AMputee is make them feel powerless. Lending a helping hand is completely fine, but you should always leave it up to the AMputee. Always ask. If your help is refused, be supportive and patient. We realize that it’s hard to watch your loved one struggle with something, but please know that it’s even harder to be the person struggling. Every day we must think of new ways to complete even the most simple of tasks. It’s frustrating, discouraging, and sometimes unbearable, but we still manage to get things done. Patience is key for us and for you.

6. “I don’t want to hear your sob story.”

This one always stings a little. Personally, it’s hard for me to express my feelings about being an amputee, so in the rare instance that I do choose to open up it takes a lot of courage. Sharing your story is so risky! If someone chooses to open up to you it’s because they trust you; they see something in you that allows them to feel comfortable in the midst of their vulnerability. Statements like these compromise all of that and make it harder to open up to others in the future. Be considerate and listen. You never know what you’ll learn about us, and about yourself.

5. “Oh My Gosh! I feel so sorry for you.”

Your pity doesn’t make me feel any better. I don’t need you to feel sorry for me because most of the time I don’t even feel sorry for myself. Our life’s purpose isn’t to remind you how much your life sucks a little less because you’ve got all of your limbs. Everyone has their own hardships let’s not make this a competition.

4. “You’re different. You’re not like other amputees.”

While it’s great that you’ve found one person to challenge your preconceived ideas about people with physical disabilities, it doesn’t leave room for you to truly dismantle the entirety of these prejudices. AMputees are individuals who live drastically different lives. We won’t all be war heroes. We won’t all mope around. We won’t all be nice. However, I can guarantee that we are all human. Approach each new interaction with this in mind and you’ll never fail.

3. “I don’t know what I would do if I were you.

First off, no one asked you. Like NO ONE. Second, if you were in our shoes you’d have one of two options:

  • Make things work and live a meaningful life.
  • Throw a pity party until you get fed up and choose ‘Option 1′.

It’s that simple.

2. Using the words “handicapped” or “crippled”.

We are not broken, so don’t describe us as such. I personally don’t receive a government sponsored disability check, nor do I have handicapped parking privileges. As long as I’m not getting either, I prefer not to be categorized in such a way. If you want to call us anything, just call us by our names.

1. Whispering and/or staring.

*PLEASE NOTE: Just because we are AMputees does not mean we are deaf or blind. While some of us may very well be visually and/or hearing impaired, the rest of us see and hear you. Your pointing, long stares, awkward glances….all that. WE SEE YOU! In addition, We hear you. It’s not like you’re good whisperers anyway. When you think your subtly gesturing to your friends to look our way, know that we’ve probably already seen and heard your breathy “whispers”. Trust and believe that we want nothing more than for you to simply ask when you have questions instead of assuming and making a scene. Just Ask.

**The statements and circumstances listed above are based on a true story.

God Doesn’t Make One-Armed People!

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My name is Amber! I’m the founder of I AMputee and this is my story. :)

Fall semester of my freshman year of college I was a tutor at one of Wesleyan’s many after school programs.

During the winter, we sat down  to make paper snowflakes to decorate the windows of our center—an activity that I thought would be the perfect end to a fun-filled afternoon.  Oh, how I was wrong .
As I’m sitting at the table, there’s this one five year-old girl going on and on about something. I mean she was really letting someone have it….that someone just so happened to be me.
“Someone here doesn’t belong,” She started.
  In an effort to stop her in her tracks, I ignored her. That was a FAIL.
She continued, “Everybody knows One-Armed people can’t make snow flakes.” *Mind you, I was indeed making a snow flake, and an impressive one at that.*
Again, I ignored her.
Then the s*** hit the fan.
She looked at me and said, “Everybody knows, God doesn’t make One-Armed people!”
Initially, I wanted to rip up her snow flake, blow the confetti in her face, and tell her mama I did it. Now, in retrospect, I actually still want to make it rain pieces of her crooked little masterpiece, but I also want to ask the others around me why they didn’t intervene. Why didn’t the other 7 or 8 people sitting beside me join in with me as I told this little girl why her words just weren’t okay? Was it because deep down in their subconscious minds that somewhere they believed the same thing?
Now, I know that no one in their politically correct minds would own up to thinking something like that, but consider this: When someone encounters an amputee they usually ask
“What kind of accident were you involved in?”
Because an accident, karma, some force we can’t control had to have intervened with some divine creation. Being that I was actually born an amputee, should my answer then be
“Birth. Birth was the accident I was involved in, it was all so tragic.” ???
Throughout my mother’s entire pregnancy, everything was normal.  Ultrasounds, tests, other blah blah scientific stuff-it was all normal. So who’s to say I wasn’t supposed to be born this way?
American society says so all the time through the media.   I’ve never seen a mainstream fashion ad with an amputee. No amputees on mainstream commercials. No dolls or amputee toy soldiers for children (even with pregnant Barbie and Transformers).  The only time we usually make it in movies is for something zombie ridden or gorey.
Why is that?
Because,  the greater public believes that people aren’t supposed to look like me. They believe that amputees are the broken toys of society that should be hidden from view unless there happens to be some special occasion.  For instance, you’ll often see some amputee running a marathon, winning a wrestling match, driving with no hands, or defying the odds in some way. While these are all wonderful accomplishments, they don’t allow room for the expression of our humanity.
In starting I AMputee, I hope to create a safe, healthy environment for people who identify with such experiences. For once, I want to be part of a community that promotes positive, sexy, adorable, hilarious, eccentric, and other images of people who look like me.  I want to help connect amputees with people, so that together we can laugh, cry, or scream through the tough stuff we deal with every day.
I AM Human. I AM Inspired. I AMputee.