A Punch in the Face

This week a story touched a raw nerve deep within my being, hauling up emotions I thought I had long dealt with and buried.  Well, obviously not, because I have been overcome by grief.

The story is about a lady who was left paralysed after things went wrong at the birth of her triplets.  Four years later she is fighting her ex-husband, along with her parents, to have access and visitation rights to her children.  What was meant to be the happiest day of her life, turned into a never-ending, lifelong nightmare.

Click here to read the story, and here to read the outcome.

After I was left paralysed from the neck down and consequently divorced, sole custody of our son was awarded to my ex-husband.  I was devastated. 

Although I was granted visitation and access to my son, the journey has not been simple or easy.  I’ll spare you all the gory details.

As with most divorces, nothing seems fair, things often get ugly, emotions run wild and unfortunately, material things, money and children become the weapons in the war between the two broken souls who once loved one another enough to make a commitment and declare publicly “… I … take you … until death us do part.”

I have to wonder why we still insist on getting married, making these vows to one another when we do not really intend to keep them or they are loaded with conditions.

I was angry.  I was bitter.  I was scared.  But, most of all, I was sad.  Just.  So.  Sad.

Who do I blame?  God?  Myself?  My ex-husband?  The psychologist?  The lawyers?  The judge?  The system?

Yes, a part of me will always be critical of choices and decisions at the time because I was traumatized, rejected and hurt, physically and emotionally, in the worst possible way imaginable.

But, if I am to be brutally honest, we are all a product of the same society – one that does not know sincere compassion, have real understanding of differences and sadly, lacks true empathy.

So, then, we are all to blame.   

We’re part of a culture that is not only ignorant but is ashamed of imperfections. We are constantly bombarded by images of perfection, extreme outer beauty or good looks through the media.  We are made to feel inferior and are pressured to have plastic surgery, implants, Botox, teeth whitened, laser treatments and every other so-called beautifying process.  We risk being shunned if we have skew teeth, a crooked nose or, heaven forbid, wrinkles.

So, as a result, facing any type of permanent disability – or even a serious temporary injury – is far too traumatic for most people to comprehend.

We are all human where our primal instinct is to “fight or flight” when faced with a terrifying situation.  When it comes to disability the flight instinct, for most of us, wins hands down.

Disabilities immediately evoke fears of abandonment, rejection, loneliness and frustration – and understandably so – because that is just human nature.

Many of us are obsessed with finding ways to become happier, more fulfilled and better people on the inside.  Is it, perhaps, because we are trying to compensate for not fitting the perfect mold that society expects of us?

Yet, when real life punches us in the face in a desperate attempt to teach us, we run.  We hot-tail it out of there as fast as we can.  We don’t seem brave enough to stay in order to learn the lessons, the skills and coping mechanisms we need to move on in life as empathetic beings.  It takes courage to learn.  Often, we don’t have the guts to stay, to learn the teachings of the universe and that’s why we will continue to make the same mistakes time and time again.

There was a time in my life when I also believed that a person with a disability was incapable of making a positive contribution to society, let alone, be a parent.  Until, it happened to me.  And for that, I am truly sorry.

Well, I couldn’t run, this time.  I had to stay and deal with my paralysis.  I had to put up with people staring at me, some with pity in their eyes and others with a smirk on their faces, whilst hiding my intense heartache.  But, I have learned valuable lessons which have forever changed me, cleansing my spirit, removing staining judgments, prejudices and intolerances.  And for that, I am grateful.

My resilient maternal instinct refused to give up, forcing me to fight, not only for survival and adaptation to almost incomprehensible change, but, for persevering and pursuing a relationship with my son.  And for that, I have no words.

I don’t blame his dad for making the decisions that he did at the time as, after all, he is also a captive of humanity’s present mindset.

Maybe, in my own small way, I can make a difference, even if it is, just changing one mindset at a time.

Disability can strike anyone at any time.  I long for a society that can embrace uniqueness or disability and just celebrate life in all its raw, natural states.

Does it scare you to be part of a world, that you know, could turn their backs on you should you become disabled in anyway?

About Tracy Todd

Although I need a wheelchair to get around, it is most certainly NOT what defines my essence as a woman. I am also a mother, teacher, wannabe writer and an inspirational speaker with a positive outlook on life.
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32 Responses to A Punch in the Face

  1. Pingback: Independent Spirit — Trapped. | Tracy Todd's Blog

  2. Bill Watson says:

    Trace – I have been an advocate since 1960 for those who have any type of impairment that prevents them to enjoy the full benefits of being fully mobile, sighted, having ability to make decisions or being able to use all 5 – er – 6 senses. My appreciation grows with each person I meet who is impaired and my education continues through them. Winning a small fight in the ’60’s (dark ages) for a wheel chair accessible ramp into an institution of higher learning including restrooms (which entailed fighting other issues) and then reading your blog I know I still have much to learn and I greatly value our friendship and you being my main teacher.

    In some ways awareness of the issues for the general public have come light years since those dark ages and then I witness fully capable people not only pulling into a parking place for impaired people but pulling into one of those spaces designated for wheelchair access vehicles which you talked about in another blog. It is discouraging that the same old awareness problem seems to be lost, if ever comprehended, by this or new generations. However, that said, it brings to mind the story of the Starfish. If you don’t know it, let me know via FB message and I will share it with you. Thank you for your encouragement. Hugs and kisses to you – Bill

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Thank you for your lovely comment, Bill. I think I know the story of the starfish that you are referring to. That has been my Main motivation for writing my blog and putting myself in private life out there. I want to create an awareness even if it means only changing one mindset, at a time.
      Regards Tracy

  3. Robin says:

    Too true what you say about how people relate to the disabled. I sat chatting to my friend Thorsten (who is paralysed from the chest down) yesterday and listened to his sincere heart to be the best husband possible, and to touch the lives of street kids that he passes on his way to work every day… And his despair at the fact that he feels useless at work because he is treated as just “the guy in the wheelchair”… And this is a person, just like you, with so much to offer who just happens to have been in an accident and is now unable to walk.

    I have travelled to several countries with him, and have wrestled his wheelchair into bathrooms and hotel lifts and cars that were too small. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him complain much, but I have seen him touch many lives (like the kids in Maputo, Mozambique, as they pushed him round and round a dusty soccer field, and the dry French people in the Alps that he had in stitches with his witty sense of humour).

    Thanks for your blog. Thanks for keeping it real. You are an inspiration to many!

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Thank you for your lovely comment, Robin. I really appreciate you taking the time.
      Your friend is incredibly lucky to have someone as special as you as a friend. I learned a long time ago that friendship is not about the physical acts we do for one another but, that it goes far deeper than that. You are one of the lucky ones who have discovered that. It is only with the support, love and care of friends like you that somebody paralyzed from the chest down is able to go out there, live a full meaningful life and make a difference to this world. Thank you for making a difference in the life of your friend, and mine by leaving such encouraging comments.

  4. Galen Pearl says:

    Tracy, I found your blog through Invisible Mikey (thanks to him for pointing the way). How lovely and eloquent and, yes, sad. So sad. You asked at the end of this post if we are scared to live in a world that can turn its back on us? Yes. I have two sons with permanent disabilities, and my fear is not so much for me, but for them.

    Like you, until this happened to me, I didn’t give much thought to people with disabilities. I was not overtly unkind, but I was unkind by lack of awareness and caring. But when it happens to you, or to your child, your world view is dramatically changed. I began to live in a world with a different vocabulary, different people, different hopes, different opportunities, different experience.

    I have lived with the rejection and abandonment of my sons (and in some ways me, too) through all my parenting years. Abandonment by other family members, by the “system,” by friends. Their condition (autism) will never change, so the anxiety and grief are chronic.

    What will happen when I’m gone? I have spent years getting them into a living situation that is stable so that when I’m gone, their world will not be totally lost. But there are no guarantees that their situation will continue to be stable and good throughout their lives. Who will watch over them?

    Your blog is moving–honest and raw, eloquent and sad, yet not hopeless. You are full of strength and wisdom. And courage. Like others, I admire you so much. You are indeed a hero. Thank you for sharing your story to educate and inspire others.

  5. Tracy, I’ve just read your story in modern athlete and I have to say it moved me to tears.

    Not necessarily because of your accident because I can relate to that completely. If you read ‘my story’ in my website http://www.dougalmacdonald.co.za you’ll understand why, but because I am where I am and you are where you are.

    Why was I not paralysed and you were, goodness knows I gave myself enough of a chance of doing that. Obviously there is no answer but the courage you need to get through every day just makes my heart sore just thinking about it.

    The trite comment ” There is always someone worse off than you ” holds true for me in this instance and I just cannot imagine, just as an able bodied person could not imagine being me, being you.

    You are a modern day hero, a warrior who fights demons every day and wins and I think that your boy is the luckiest little guy around because he is growing up on this messed up planet of ours with the greatest role model he could have. He is learning first hand about courage, tenacity, perserverance, and what it’s like to live with a super hero.

    You are MY hero and I am in awe of you.

    Sincerely
    Dougal

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Dougal, thank you for taking the time to find my blog and for making an effort to leave me such a lovely message. You made my day!
      I had a look at your website and read your story. I understand, and can appreciate, exactly where you are coming from.
      Over the years, I have met so many people who have had very close shaves with paralysis. There is a very fine line between recovering from trauma to your spine and permanent damage to your spinal cord, leaving you paralysed for life. It’s lovely to see your wonderful positive attitude of gratitude and how you are using it to help encourage others.
      Thanks again for your words of encouragement.

  6. Zeenat says:

    Hi Tracy,
    I read this post..and am completely blown away by grace with which you share your touching story.
    Disability can strike anyone at anytime..and I do feel like we each have a certain something amiss, which inturn makes us each unique.
    I cant stand the media bombardment of the “perfect” person….it makes me feel for all those(me included) who aren’t all that perfect on the outside. But I say this…I strive for a perfectly loving heart and nothing else…and if we as humane beings all just saw that instead of judging the book by its cover..we would all be literally living in heaven.
    May we all have the wisdom and the understanding to do so…
    Love your writing.
    So Much Love,
    Z~

  7. Team Oyeniyi says:

    Tracey, you write so beautifully I am sure, as Anton says, you will be changing many mindsets at a time.

    There is, indeed, much injustice in the world, much of it suffered by those who most deserve or have a need for justice.

  8. craig says:

    Dear Tracy,
    It hurts me to read this blog, I believe you are drawing comparisons between our issues dating back 12 years that were not relevant to our situation then.
    Love Craig

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Craig, I was not really drawing comparisons but rather relating to, and feeling, her pain as a mom. I found the story extremely upsetting, with my emotions running a little wild and perhaps, in retrospect, I shouldn’t have written a blog post until I was able to be more objective.
      But, the fact that a first world country still needs to ask the question “Does a quadriplegic have a right to see her children?” is quite distressing and indicative of society’s present (and disturbing) mindset.
      By sharing a part of my story, I was trying to make a point about society being ignorant, prejudiced and ashamed of people living with disabilities.
      Unfortunately, we are all products, or captives, of society’s outlook. I’ve had to endure many derogatory comments since my accident. A part of me doesn’t blame people because they don’t know any better and I don’t think anybody intentionally means to cause any harm but, it still hurts nonetheless. I sincerely hope that negative perceptions towards disabled people will change in future and they will be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve as that is everybody’s right. If that is not the message I have conveyed, then I was wrong and I apologize, sincerely.

      • Jazz Salinger says:

        Hi Tracy,

        I just wanted to let you know that I think you should write when you feel moved to write. Why censor how you feel?

        Some things you just can’t be objective about and nor should you be. If you happen to hurt someone’s feelings by writing the honest truth about how you feel and how these things have affected you; then that is their issue.

        Please keep writing with passion and honesty. 🙂

  9. John Davis says:

    Hello Tracy,
    This is strangely related to an incident last week. Chatting with the neighbor we saw two four wheeled scooters approaching each other and made light of who would give way. I turned to the neighbor and said ` there but for the grace of god go us`. When we can put ourselves in the shoes of the other person our thoughts and responses immediately change..

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Hi John
      It’s not always easy to put oneself in another’s shoes. But, it is something we should all continue to strive towards to grow in spirit and become more empathetic beings. I reckon that this world would surely be a different, and far better, place if that were possible. 🙂
      Thank you for your comment. Appreciate you taking the time. 🙂

  10. Jazz Salinger says:

    Hi Tracy,

    I think you are an amazing woman. I am in awe of your strength; your resilience and the grace with which you live everyday.

    Abbie Dorn’s story is an absolute shock to me. I struggle to understand how her husband could leave her and take her children away from her.

    This man loved her enough to marry her and have children with her but he didn’t love her enough to honour his vows. That’s not love.

    Now I read more of your story and I find out that your husband divorces you and takes your baby away; just when you need him the most.

    I feel mad as hell. I know that it’s not politically correct to feel the way I do but there is something wrong with this. I think if you say you love someone; you should honour that love; no matter what.

    Then I read Michael’s comment and I’m starting to get the sense that this kind of thing happens regularly? I feel so sad and more than a little bewildered. I just had no idea that this sort of thing was happening.

    Thank-you Tracy for writing this post and bringing this issue into the light. I can only imagine how hard it must have been for you. My heart breaks for you, Michael, Abbie Dorn and the countless others out there like you.

    Be strong Tracy and continue to write about your life. You are changing attitudes and lives; one reader at a time.

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Jazz, it is totally natural to feel the intense anger, sadness and bewilderment when hearing stories like Abbie’s mainly because it’s like a punch in your face when you realize it could so easily be you in those same shoes. And that’s scary.

      Thank you so much for your words of encouragement. It means the world to me knowing that I am making a small difference.

      • Jazz Salinger says:

        Hi Tracy,

        Yes; you’re right. It is scary because it could happen to any one of us. I can’t imagine losing my child because I was injured in an accident.

        We get so caught up in our own lives and we’re oblivious to these confronting issues. It’s not until we hear about people like you and Abbie that we realise that these things are happening.

        It never even occurred to me that if I became disabled in any way; I could lose custody of my child. This is just so wrong.

        Tracy, you are making a huge difference by bringing awareness to these painful issues. Keep up the great work.🙂

  11. Tracy it’s very special the way you tell your story as it makes me and I am sure a lot of others understand what you have to deal with every day. It too, makes me understand my husband son more after his accident. Thank you!🙂 Mandy

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Thank you, Mandy. You probably have more of an understanding of the challenges and issues I face because your life has also been touched by disability through your husband’s son. Your mindset is already different and that is a victory in itself. 🙂

  12. Sandra Lee says:

    Tracy,

    I am so moved by your writing in this post. I’m not sure we ever extricate the grief fully, but the sadness does have the power to break open our heart. As it clearly has done for you.

    These days, we forget people so quickly when their life is altered in one way or the other – through illness, disability, job loss, or other circumstances and they are removed from our immediate sphere. People move speedily along in their own life and, often, it can feel like you no longer exist.

    So yes, it does scare me to live in a world that turns their back on people who become disabled. But like you, I will never stop trying to make a small difference even if it’s just one mindset at a time.

    Thank you for your insight, wisdom, and huge heart of kindness.

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Yes, as you say, sadness has a way of shattering our hearts but, I’m realizing more and more everyday that that is exactly what it means to be human. Somehow, we need to feel to learn. Some take longer than others. But, hopefully we’ll all get there in our own unique way. Sadness brings a new perspective and perspective is a good teacher.

      Thank you so much for your comment, Sandra.

  13. souldipper says:

    I’m fairly new to your post. Until this one, Tracey, I was under the impression that your husband was with you. I’m so sorry you had to deal with the indescribable loss of daily life with your dearest loved ones.

    Perhaps I was given the impression through the incredible way in which your bitterness and negativity seem to be managed so healthily. Whatever the reason, your openness in expressing yourself is vital sustenance for those of us who can still jump up and make a tea. Or run to answer the telephone. We need to know what goes on – we aren’t always sure it’s appropriate to ask.

    It is fear that causes so many people to freeze into unresponsiveness. So many don’t know what to say or do. I’ve learned how self-centered that is and I work at not approaching people in wheel chairs like I have the world by the tail and they don’t! Who the hell knows who has the better world??!!

    Your soul is beautiful Tracy. When all is said and done…that’s all we’ve got! Keep flashing yours!! The world needs it and, therefore, you!

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Thank you for finding the time to read my posts and for making the effort to leave such an encouraging comment. You will never know how much it means to me. I really appreciate it.

      I’m definitely going to keep flashing my soul to the world.

      Thank you.

  14. Dear Tracy, thank you for continuing to energize my struggles by sharing your own.
    I think one at a time, beginning with oneself, is the only way lasting change is made. Few are born to be Mandelas or Dalai Lamas. Anyone can make their lives and the lives of those nearby more holy by offerings of compassion and service face-to-face.

    • I suppose I should also add that 30 minutes/month plus 15 hours face-to-face once a year may not appear to be much of a victory to those who haven’t been impeded in raising their own child – as both Tracy and I have been. But it’s a start, and every moment is precious.

      • Tracy Todd says:

        Thank you, Michael. Sometimes I think people become totally overwhelmed by the suffering they see around them and on the news, that they feel as if there is nothing they can do. But, if we all remember that if we just help one person, change one life it has a remarkable ripple effect that we will not even be aware of. Every little bit helps.

        The victory for me in that story was that the lady was recognized by the court as the children’s mother. And nothing can ever change that. Yes it is a start. Every moment is precious and I believe that through it many more positive changes will happen all their lives.

  15. Anton says:

    “Maybe, in my own small way, I can make a difference, even if it is, just changing one mindset at a time.”
    You are doing that, and I believe you are hugely successful at it. And you will change quite a few more in time to come.

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