I’m accident prone, there’s no two ways about it. And it’s not just physical accidents that accompany me on my journey through life. It is also silly little accidents that happen along the way like accidentally getting into the wrong car in the shopping car park as my husband waited in the next row. I thought these were perfectly normal mishaps until I was in a group situation casually talking about such misdemeanours when the conversation stopped and all eyes were drawn to me. I quickly discovered that these little calamities were the source of much entertainment and humour.
There was a time when I could associate each major event in my life with a mini-cataclysm. I had become so notorious for such occurrences that my primary school class would often try to pre-empt my next move on the chessboard of misfortune. I bore a scar from most misadventures and while they were usually only noticeable to me I wore them with pride. These scars were like a photo taken to record a precious memory. Only these were permanently etched into my skin, not just in an album gathering dust.
Anything from falling off bunk beds, skidding across bitumen, running into door frames and crashing into an aquarium – full of just water, fortunately, not fish – I had it covered.
Occasionally these incidents took on more alluvion like proportions and there was no mistaking my misfortune. My olive complexion afforded me the unenviable ability to exchange my wounds for keloid scarring. While the red protuberances, moonlighting as scar tissue were a shock to the eye or a stray hand brushing past, they too were eventually welcomed into the fold of disfigurements on the dermal landscape.
Of course not all ‘imperfections’ are the result of gawky behaviour. They often impinge on people’s lives much more greatly than simply being an annoying blemish.
I met Mandy when we were working towards the publication of a book she was writing. Upon our first introduction via email, I was met with a sunny personality through the often impersonal cyber sphere. As it turned out, I was grateful I could meet her online. This was before her disability was revealed to me in the physical world and distracted me from her true self.
I couldn’t say that I knew Mandy well, however I felt so comfortable around her that on a whim I asked if she would be happy to talk to me about her disability. Fortunately she didn’t recoil as if I had invaded her private space. She was quite open to sharing her experiences. It must be noted that the labels ‘imperfect’ and ‘disabled’ don’t sit comfortably with me, especially when Mandy’s approach to life is not defined by her disability.
While spina bifida may have robbed her of the use of her legs, it hadn’t robbed her of an incredible spirit. What have you got left to lose when you’ve been given a night, a week, a month or a year to live and you continue to outlive the expectations? Now at 40, Mandy is possibly the sixth oldest female living with spina bifida in Western Australia. Being such a trailblazer is exciting as well as terrifying.
The death of a close friend when she was in her early 20s, also a person with spina bifida was devastating and knocked her mettle for a substantial period of time. Once she was able to cope with the loss, Mandy’s life continued to blossom.
Of course, there are frustrations and limitations at times. When I talk to Mandy about these, she treats them as any person may treat a minor annoyance, such as not being able to get a piece of technology to work. It’s irritating at the time, but there is no dwelling on it, you just move on.
I asked if she associated with many other spina bifida sufferers. While she does, she avoids big groups of people with similar disabilities, because then it becomes, “more about the disability than the person.” You only need to meet someone like this once to watch all your worries drift off into the sunset.
Mandy, it seemed had been blessed with the same extraordinary attitude to her spina bifida as her parents. Having been told that Mandy would struggle with numeracy and literacy, her parents omitted this little titbit from their daughter’s need-to-know information for sometime. It was only after completing Business and Psychology degrees that it was revealed.
For more than 12 years, Mandy not only used her psychology experience and qualifications, but her sincere compassion to work and volunteer for a suicide prevention not-for-profit organisation. She is an incredible example of what can be achieved when the odds are stacked against you. Our world is so much richer with her contribution to it.