my boyfriend is lucky to have me

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I know, I know – the title of this post sounds ridiculously arrogant and narcissistic. But hear me out! Just the other day, I overheard someone (hi, Mom) gushing on the phone about how sweet it is that my boyfriend Daniel loves me with or without my arm. I knew she meant that he doesn’t care whether or not I wear my prosthetic, but her comment made me think about similar things I’ve heard all throughout my life. It reminded me especially of an email a church community leader once sent out in an attempt to inspire its recipients. The email featured a series of photos of a married couple and their children doing various everyday family activities. The wife and mother in the images happened to be missing both legs, and her husband’s marriage to her was being touted as an example of “true love.” It was supposed to be a “heartwarming” message, but it had the opposite effect on me.

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Equals

The idea that a disabled person is somehow less deserving and less likely to find a partner is one that our appearance-focused dating culture and media unfortunately perpetuate when they publish stories like the one I mentioned above. And when well-meaning people share these faux-inspirational love stories online, they are unwittingly contributing to a belief that demeans people society considers less-than-perfect and ultimately devalues the concept of love as a whole. A good relationship requires the two people involved to view each other as equals. So when we are encouraged to see an able-bodied person as a saint or a martyr for dating/marrying someone disabled, that relationship becomes severely unbalanced and puts the latter person in a place of disempowerment and dependence. A healthy relationship is a two-way street, and love needs to be present at both ends for it to work. If we praise one person for loving the other, we imply that the other person is less deserving of affection and that their love means less. That’s just not okay, nor is it accurate at all.

IMG_20140524_110609Unfortunately, this idea has so saturated society’s minds that I feel the effects myself all the time. I can’t explain how rude it is when someone tells me that they’re so glad I found someone or that it’s great that my boyfriend isn’t shallow. Ouch. That can be a huge blow to anyone’s self esteem. (Do these people even think it’s a compliment when they say something like this???) In any case, they’re wrong in their assumptions about my relationship. My boyfriend is not selfless or saintly for loving me. He is not with me because of any sense of pity or self-righteousness. Dating me is not a sacrifice, and I am not a charity case. Yes, I’m incredibly blessed that I found an amazing man I’ve grown to love deeply. But my boyfriend is equally lucky that he’s with me. We both have a lot to offer each other, and our relationship is based on love and trust and caring and attraction (both mental and physical.) It’s an insult to both parties in a relationship for anyone to assume otherwise.

So I leave you with this: the next time you read or hear about one of these “inspiring” stories of “true love,” be happy for the couple (because yes, all love is beautiful) and then roll your eyes and move on with your life.

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getting back in the dating game

d817c98d4cec328f029b8b4e6718c8c9Hello! It’s been a while, huh? I’ve now finished up my thesis and graduated college with a degree in English (which my dad likes to joke is about as useless as a payphone nowadays). And as I mentioned briefly in my last post, I broke up with my boyfriend of two years. It was my first major breakup and, although I’ll admit that it was tough adjusting to a life without someone who was so much a part of me, I’ve been okay. I’m a survivor (sorry, emotional stuff typically makes me break out the cheesy adages).

Anyway, I’ve learned that one of the worst feelings to deal with is the anxiety that accompanies a newfound singleness. Soon after the breakup, my mind was flooded constantly with troubling questions: Did I get what I deserve? Will I be alone forever? What if no one else wants me? I know that these are fairly normal questions young (and clearly melodramatic) women face. But I  had one more thought that wouldn’t cross most girls’ minds: would guys still be attracted to me when they saw my artificial left arm? I knew that guys could be attracted to me, of course, but I just assumed that took time for them to get to know me as a person and get over the shock of my arm. I never believed someone could be into me and my looks (complete with the robot hand) before getting to know me.

c7bb4876cbe032c86f34e6e10a71f678My theory was that a prosthetic limb serves as an automatic turnoff to any normal red-blooded male. However, said theory was proven incorrect a few weeks ago during a bus ride home from work. It was mid-April so I was wearing a light sweater, but you could easily see that the hand was fake and not very humanlike. The man in the seat behind me thought it was a good idea to swing over to the open seat next to me and strike up a conversation. He started by asking about my arm, so I thought he was just another curious busybody wondering what “happened” to me. But when I was finished explaining, he stuck around and kept asking me questions. By the time we reached his stop, he was asking for my number and trying to make plans for our next meeting.

I never did go out with him, but the experience served to ease my worries. Here I was, being approached on a bus by a random (and yes, cute) stranger trying to flirt with me despite knowing all about my limb difference. And while I could probably write the incidence off as a fluke or a one-time thing, I can tell you that that was not the only time it happened. I’ve come to realize that the world of guys and dating is not as scary as I used to think. Not all guys are shallow jerks looking for perfection in a girl. And a perceived flaw like a limb difference doesn’t immediately preclude a man’s attraction to a girl. I don’t know if it’s my smile or my walk or the way I wear my hair on certain days, but I’ve come to understand that something appealing or interesting about my person almost always outweighs the shock of my very different-looking arm when it comes to dating. And  that’s sort of a beautiful thing.

Peace,

Caitlin Michelle

 

And in case you were wondering, the answer is yes – I’m currently seeing someone new now.

 

 

(images found on Pinterest.com)
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on rejection, the worst part of dating

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A few days ago, a friend (whom I met through this blog and who also happens to have one arm) told me about a recent dating experience. Just like I used to do, she tends to hide her limb difference when around members of the opposite sex, so the guy she’d been seeing had no clue about her arm. I encouraged her to be open with him and confident in herself, but things didn’t go very well after the Big Reveal. Surprisingly, he reacted like a complete jerk; he was reluctant to see her arm and basically dropped all contact with her. Not cool. And it’s not the only rejection I heard about this past week.

On the “Women Tell All” special episode of The Bachelor, limb different contestant Sarah Herron spills all about the pain she felt after Sean Lowe told her she was not the one for him. “It’s the worst to be told ‘you’re great, but you’re not good enough for me,'” she says. “I always fall back on, ‘Oh well, it must be because I have one arm.'” It’s a heartbreaking moment as the audience sees Sarah fighting back tears. And it brought me back to the times when no boys wanted to dance with me at parties and my 6th grade crush told me my shorter arm was ugly. So for the sake of honesty here, I’ll confess this: I cried after watching the show. I know exactly how Sarah felt, and I cried for her and for my friend and for myself and for any girl living with a physical difference in a superficial world.

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But here’s the thing that may just shed a little light and hope on this sort of situation – we’ve all been there. Turn on the TV or pick up a book or magazine, and I doubt you’ll have too much trouble finding a scene where a beautiful and seemingly perfect girl with two arms faces rejection from the guy she wants. Rejection is not a phenomenon exclusive to women with limb differences. People get rejected for all sorts of reasons, whether or not they have a disability. I know there are a few moms who read my blog who have young children with limb differences, and I’ve been hearing a lot of worries about their kids’ future love life. All I can really say is that dating isn’t easy for anyone. You will have to comfort your daughter after her first breakup and console your son after his first crush doesn’t pay any attention to him. But the fact is that you’ll have to do that with any kid, limb difference or not.

And when it comes down to it, a limb difference isn’t an automatic deal-breaker for most people. Just because you’re missing a limb doesn’t mean that all guys are going to reject you. It bothers me so much when people tell me or anyone with a difference that there will be a man who won’t be “shallow” and will look “past the disability.” That almost makes it sound as though a limb difference is some horrible deformity that makes you totally undesirable, which is completely untrue. I’m sure there are plenty of guys interested in girls like my friend or like Sarah simply because they’re gorgeous. A missing arm is not something a man should have to “accept” or “look past.”

215637_10151415710297642_1891414064_nI know I’ve been very insecure about my arm throughout my life, but I feel comfortable knowing that my boyfriend loves all of me just as I am. He’s there for me and he’s happy with the way I look, even with messy hair and 1.5 arms. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this here before, but he’s the one who inspired me to start blogging about my limb difference. And it’s definitely made me realize that I’m not alone and that I’m worth loving.

There’s not really anything comforting or intelligent I can say about rejection other than this: it really sucks. But when you do find someone who really loves you and who you can connect with and be vulnerable with, you’ll realize that all the hurts and heartbreaks kind of just fade away. So in closing, I’ll leave you with the lesson Sarah Herron took home from The Bachelor experience:

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Peace,

Caitlin Michelle

 

 

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limb different girl takes on ‘the bachelor’ (and what this means for the limb different community)

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I know I’m a little late jumping on the bandwagon with this story, but how awesome is it that a girl with one arm/hand is on The Bachelor? I’ve never been a fan of the show before, but I’ll definitely be watching this season and rooting for Sarah Herron, a gorgeous 20-something hoping to find love with the handsome Sean Lowe. And you know what I think about her being on the show? This is a HUGE deal for the limb difference community.

Before I continue, let me just mention that I know The Bachelor is not exactly the most serious or positive or life-changing show on television. It’s pretty mindless entertainment where vapid young women basically fight for the attention of their “ideal” man (and the cameras). But think of it this way: how many people with limb differences do you see on TV? The ones featured on scripted shows (with the exception of Kurt Yaeger on Sons of Anarchy) are able-bodied actors using green screens to look like they had a limb amputated. Reality TV is only a little more accepting. We’ve seen amputees on The Amazing Race, Survivor, Dancing with the Stars, The Real Housewives of New York, and American Gladiators. But a DATING show? This is a first! People and characters with disabilities, especially missing limbs, are typically not depicted as glamorous (think Darth Vader or Lieutenant Dan from Forrest Gump). They are usually evil or gritty characters with a chip on their shoulders.

Now The Bachelor, which is a show that pretty much epitomizes society’s obsession with physical perfection and beauty, features a beautiful and accomplished woman with one arm competing alongside dozens of other mannequin-pretty girls. Now the mainstream media (and all its audiences) can see that we limb different folks are not the Captain Hooks they had previously thought us to be. We can be pretty like Sarah Herron on The Bachelor. We can be elegant and stylish like Aviva Drescher. And we can be light on our feet (or foot) like Heather Mills. We are not stereotypes; we are people. And I just hope that everyone who watches Sean Lowe make out with a million girls over the next few weeks realizes this.

I also hope that everyone who has or who knows someone with a limb difference sees that we can be totally normal. Beauty is not as standard and rigid as society wants us to believe, and even the media is waking up to this fact.

So I’m super excited for Sarah and I hope she makes it far on the show. But if not, it’s cool to know that she changed (at least Sean’s) perceptions of people with physical differences.

 

Peace,

Caitlin Michelle

 

 

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her side

You’ve heard his side, now read Alyssa’s story:

Hi all 🙂 I’m Alyssa, I’m 21 years old and I’m a student, a writer, and a children’s author (among other things). When Cait first suggested that Anthony and I guest post on her blog, I wasn’t exactly sure how I wanted to go about writing it. I think it would be appropriate to start by mentioning my own problems and fears, since I obviously know myself best. Rheumatoid Arthritis (also known as RA) is an autoimmune disease. It affects mainly the joints, making them stiff, swollen, and painful. It also causes fatigue and damage to the internal organs. It is not contagious like HIV. No one really knows why people have RA, but you can be genetically predisposed to it. I was diagnosed in November of 2011, but I’ve had the symptoms for many years. When I have a flare (which is the period when the disease is most active) I am unable to type, usually can’t get out of bed, and have the ability to sleep for 18+ hours. Activities that I used to take for granted (like brushing my hair) can be almost impossible for me during this time. But the point of this post isn’t to talk about my disease in detail. You can visit my blog for that. Despite my troubles, I try to be my old self as much as possible maintain a mostly positive attitude (though we all have our bad days). Sure, I had to give up some stuff (no more guitar playing for me!), but who doesn’t have to sacrifice?

Having RA made me really apprehensive about dating. My ex and I were already together when I was diagnosed, so I didn’t feel the pressure to try and be “normal.” But then we broke up, I realized that there are going to be men out there who can’t accept me for my “disease.” I’ve had guys tell me before that they were only interested in dating healthy women, and an overweight, sick woman such as myself would never cut it. I was so worried that I’d never find anyone  who would want to be with me. What guy wants to date a girl that could potentially be a burden?

I started talking to Anthony online in August, and I was worried that it was going to be the same deal with him. We’d talk, we’d both be interested, I’d feel comfortable enough to tell him about RA, and he’d never talk to me again. So when I told him about my RA, I was in for a surprise that a) he didn’t reject me and b) he told me he had CP and HIV! I will admit that I was both relieved and apprehensive then. He told me that CP affected his speech. Would I be able to understand him? Would I make a fool of myself if I couldn’t? Would I insult him if I asked him to repeat something? I didn’t really know much about the condition, and that worried me. Then there was the HIV part. I like to think that I’ve been well educated about the disease. But of course, I still had my concerns. My immune system is already compromised, and I don’t even want to try to imagine what having HIV on top of that would mean. I was worried that having to be careful about everything we did together (and I’m not just talking about sex here) would mean that we would be spending less time enjoying each other. This prompted hours of research. I will also admit that I was worried about what other people would say about us. I knew friends and family members would pull me aside and tell me that I was taking a huge, unnecessary risk by being with Anthony. They would be concerned about me having a normal (there’s that word again) and happy life. The part I really didn’t want to hear was “are you sure you’re just not settling?” No, I’m not. I found a guy who can accept me for who I am. My life is not normal as it is, so why let this stop me? And I am happy. Fortunately, my mom and sister love him, and my friends think we’re a cute couple. Of course, it took meeting him for their concerns to go away.

Anthony and I have been together about a month now. Instead of worrying about what our diseases prevent us from doing, we try to find a way to laugh about them. We joke about our compromised immune systems and the fact that we’ve been passing the same cold back and forth since we’ve gotten together. When I’m feeling too tired or sick to go out and do things, he’s perfectly content coming over to my house and spending the day in front of the TV watching old cartoons and eating Chinese food, and giving me the occasional foot or back massage. When we’re out in public, he’ll grab my hand and start rubbing my sore, stiff fingers to try and loosen them up.

So we can’t kiss like other couples. So we can’t play the guitar together. But I still try to take care of him to the best of my ability. I made dinner for him for the first time, and I’d say I did a good job. I need to accept that I won’t always be able to take care of him, and that I will need to be taken care of every once in awhile. I think Anthony already has that concept down. So as long as we’re both happy in the relationship, why should anything else matter?

– Alyssa Pierce

Follow Alyssa’s blog My Battle with RA and visit her (and her books!) at http://AlyssaPierce.com

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