Rediscovery After Injury and Disability

I'm Emma. After a third story fall two years ago, I was paralyzed from the chest down and completely lost function in my hands.

I lived alone in London and worked in a Museum. In my spare time I loved to draw and paint, cook and sew. When I realized that I couldn't walk anymore I was devastated, but when I realized that I'd lost the use of my hands I thought I was worthless.

I shattered my pelvis so for the first few months I couldn't sit up or turn and I had a tracheostomy so I couldn't speak, I was not a person anymore. My family helped me do everything, they encouraged me and even brought my dog to the ICU window so we could see each other. During this period of complete loss my boyfriend broke up with me.

Bit by bit I was allowed to raise my head, move my arms and start to talk again. My trache was removed, I was allowed to eat and most of the tubes were removed from my body. My dad brought all his camping gear to the hospital to cook me food I liked to encourage me to eat, such as carpark steak.

I was moved to Stoke Mandeville and began rehab, I couldn't sit up for more than ten minutes without passing out. Clothes, makeup and shoes were the last thing on my mind.

Things changed when I started to adapt. I had makeup splints made and worked hard to learn to dress myself again, as well as typing and writing. I have never been a very sporty person so I found the physiotherapy hard but I was able to rediscover my personality through art and fashion. I felt like an idiot the first time I wore red lipstick to the gym but so proud I'd applied it myself.

During my stay at Stoke Mandeville I met people who inspire me and I will love for the rest of my life. We shared a gallows humor during the darkest of times and were there to celebrate each other's small achievements. When a friend and fellow patient was able to open his packet of biscuits entirely without help, we coined the phrase "biscuit moments" to describe the daily victories many would take for granted but to us were monumental.

After leaving hospital I started posting on Instagram about my experiences and how I coped, I got so much support from other Wheelchair users and people living with other disabilities. Each person's story is so different but we have all found ways to cope and grow in life-changing circumstances.

When I began to model I did it with the intention of building my confidence and helping anyone else in a similar situation. I was so flattered when Zebedee Management wanted to take me on but also have realized is not all about how others see you but how you view and respect yourself.

I've gone back to work, got a new flat and a very new perspective of how to live, respect others and be comfortable in myself. I have had very uplifting experiences as a disabled person and also some crushing ones. I think my perspective of living with a disability is to just keep striving to make the best of each day, celebrate the small wins, and try not to sweat the small stuff. I hope for positive ongoing change with how society treats those with a disability.

I will never be a Paralympian and I'm comfortable with that, I have accepted who I am and how others see me.

Written by Emma Birch

Photo Credit: Emma Birch, @sittingdownstyle



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