Born Disabled vs. Becoming Disabled: Learning from Each Other

by Alicia Reagan

I was paralyzed in March of 2009. I was married, had 5 children, was pregnant with my 6th, helped my husband in the ministry and led a very active life. Then, I got sick. Really sick. I was in a tremendous amount of pain. I went to bed hoping to sleep it off. When I woke up 24 hours later, I could not feel or move my body from ribs down and my arms were very weak and heavy. Diagnosis: Transverse Myelitis.

Since that time, I have made many friends who are paralyzed. I LOVE social media and the connections that you can make. There are so many wonderful places online to connect with others like me. I have taken advantage of that and tried to make as many connections as possible so that my circle is bigger than just myself. It is therapeutic to get beyond yourself.

I have friends who were born with their disabilities and I have friends who acquired them later in life. As I watch both of our reactions to life as we know it, I think we can teach each other some things about our disabilities.

I remember the main theme of my thoughts after I had become paralyzed was that I just wanted to be normal again. My life was not anywhere normal and I wanted normalcy back! My whole focus became working as hard as I could to regain any and everything that I was able to. I worked hard to learn to dress myself, bathroom myself, bathe myself, transfer myself, drive myself, take care of my kids and be a wife to my husband. I watched YouTube videos and asked a million questions to veteran wheelers. I grasped at anything I could to learn how to get the pieces back to my life.

Then, I met a friend who was born with spina bifida. I had a speaking engagement that her mom had organized and I was the speaker. They were anxious for us to meet and to have time to talk since we both used wheelchairs. We were about the same age. I was married with kids and she was single and lived with her parents.

Upon first glance, I saw that her feet never properly developed so on top of using a wheelchair, her legs could barely bend at the knee. Her legs had to be straight out most of the time. She was so incredibly comfortable in her skin. She was a beautiful girl and was confident. After being around her for awhile, I really didn't even notice her disability anymore. All I could see was her great personality and gorgeous smile.

She asked me if my husband had brought me to the meeting and dropped me off. I told her that I had driven. Her eyes widened as she said, "How do you drive?" I told her I had hand controls and she had never heard of them. We took a trip to my van and I showed her how I got in, loaded my chair and drove. She was overwhelmed as her world had just been enlarged.

We decided that night that we had much to teach each other. She needed confidence to become independent and break free from the security blanket of her parents and find her way in this world as a disabled woman. I needed her confidence and complete acceptance of her disability. I saw how her personal comfort melted away the disability right before my eyes. I wanted that and she wanted independence.

I believe that as a woman who became disabled, I helped my friend:

- To try. 
She was very used to her mom doing everything for her. It had been that way all her life and that is all she knew. Meeting me helped her see how independent I was. I was a constant cheerleader for her to try new things. She has since gotten her license and a car and drives! Having someone to compare herself to made her want to try.

- To explore.
I would get her to go with me on outings with just the two of us. We had to figure out how to help each other up a hill, carry our shopping bags ourselves, and load our wheelchairs in one vehicle. These excursions led to hilarious stories and she found such joy in them. It helped her get out of her comfort zone.

- To grow.
She is a different person than when I met her. She has changed from a very dependent girl to an independent woman. She has ventured to places on her own...without me! I know I helped her!

I believe that as a woman who was born disabled, my friend helped me:

- To be calm.
My friend was so accepting of her physical disabilities. She was much more at peace on a day she didn't feel well. She was at peace when she fought yet another UTI. She was at peace when her medical supply store messed up her orders. Those things just threw me for a loop! But she had dealt with those things all her life and she handled them so calmly. 

- To be okay.
My friend was very okay with herself. It made her so attractive. I was self conscious about my changing new body and she helped me to see that it did not matter.  Her body was all she had ever known so she was very comfortable with it. My new paralyzed body was very different and I did not like it. Her acceptance of her body spoke volumes to me. It was a very positive message! What my body looked like was not as important as who I was. 

- To grow.
I am not the same woman my friend met. I am comfortable in my new skin. I have calmed down about a lot of things that used to frustrate me! She has helped me!

I love every lesson I learn from those around me. So, to those of us who became, or to those of us who were born, may we all use our disabilities to help one another!

I am Alicia Reagan: a wife, a mom to six beautiful kids, and a paraplegic. I became paralyzed in 2009, and it has been a journey! I decided early on that I cannot control this journey, but I can choose to enjoy the ride. I blog at where I share whatever pops into my head. Thanks for riding along with me!

Share your own thoughts on 'Born Disabled vs. Becoming Disabled' on our twitter page,! Be sure to add #AliciaReagan with your tweet on our page and let us hear how you may have helped or been helped by a fellow friend on wheels.


  1. Great piece. I was born with a disability and often have had deep conversations with friends who became disabled later in life. Very interesting how the dialog of our experiences shapes how we see ourselves and one another

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