I’ve been an amputee for almost five years now and every year I feel a little different when it comes to Limb Loss Awareness Month. Most of my journey, I’ve viewed my limb difference through the lens of how others reacted to it. I felt pride when others expressed shock that I was an amputee after meeting me a couple times and not noticing. I felt shame when I was in so much pain that I couldn’t put anything other than pajamas on. Or when I have to run an errand and people look at me as if it was my own fault that I lost a limb. This was my experience for years. I was so influenced by how others reacted to my own disability because I hadn’t processed it myself. It was easier to mirror others’ opinions of my difference than to form my own.
Somewhere along the way, once the prosthetic got a little more comfortable, and once I didn’t have to think “Left, right, left, right,” consciously as I was taking steps, I started to forget that I was an amputee. It was a beautiful thing because for a long time early on, it was the only thing that I thought about seemingly every moment of the day. But, it always seemed short-lived. Every time I forgot about my prosthetic, I’d have someone comment on my leg. This still happens today. The comments are rarely mean. People are curious; they ask questions. They want to know how it works, or they have a friend they are looking to support, or a kid just points it out because it is something they hadn’t seen before. Originally, I’d get angry because I had just forgotten. Those moments of forgetting were my break, and these comments brought me back to reality. It was a burden to have to educate others when I was still figuring out what my life would look like. And it reminded me that I was different when I desperately wanted a sense of normalcy.
Now, five years in, it’s much more natural. My prosthetic is a part of me. I only rarely forget to put my leg on when making a midnight bathroom break and fall flat on my face. Even my subconscious seems to have accepted it, though it somehow doesn’t grasp the prosthetic concept. Often, my leg is missing, but I’m simply walking on air on my left side.
I welcome questions now - because I know that early on, I would have appreciated someone else advocating for my experience without having to explain it myself. I actually have a lot of people now say that my prosthetic looks cool. Once I even had a kid ask when I was going to have the other side done, as if it were like a tattoo. I still laugh when I think about that because to that kid, I was some kind of transformer, not a person with a disability. I think we can all learn something from looking at disabilities as unique skill sets.
That isn’t to say I’m not ever self-conscious. When I arrive to lead a group of people underwater as a Divemaster, I get questioning stares of doubt and uncertainty when people are trusting me to keep them safe. I get the same looks when I show up to a group hike and people assume I’ll be the slow, weak link (To be fair on that one, sometimes I am. But, I am working on not feeling guilty about that).
I write all of this to show that there are a lot of stages of this journey. They’re not necessarily linear, they’re not all pretty, and they look different for every person going through it. And you never know what stage someone is in.
So my advice for Limb Loss Awareness Month is this: If you’re trying to support a friend going through a traumatic event, ask them to hang out (just like you would to anyone else). Ask them to go to a movie with you (I went every week with a group of friends while I was healing because it was a really easy accessible thing for me to do and participate in). Go over to their place and do some crafts or play video games. Ask them if they’d like to cook a meal together. And don’t treat them any differently than you did before because limb loss doesn’t change who they are - just the body they’re taking through life.