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When I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up

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I think it is safe to say that it is embarrassing for anyone to fall down in public, even for  people that can quickly get back up and run away. For me however, it is a different story. As a university student I have a lot of walking around campus to do. As a university student with a physical disability, I have even more to do than just walk around campus. I need shoes that have grips, but not so much grip that my foot will catch and I will trip. They also need enough grip that I won’t slip backwards. This is hard to find in a shoe.

Even once I do find a good shoe, trips and slips are still inevitable with muscular dystrophy. Luckily, in my time at university so far I had only tripped once, and I was with my sister who knows how to help me back up — no big deal. But it was always a thought in the back of my mind that one day I will fall by myself, and will have to swallow my pride and ask for help back up.

The inevitable finally happened today. After I clumsily slipped on piece of ice hidden at the bottom of a puddle, I knew I was going to fall. After falling my first thought is always “I hope no one saw that,” but reality quickly reminds me I cannot get back up on my own, and fear sets in. I always go into a daze when I fall; it’s like tunnel vision and all I’m focused on is getting up. So I guess it was lucky that today I fell right in front of another student, who quickly lent a hand to help me up. But while a simple hand is enough for the majority of people, I had to explain to him that my legs don’t work well and I will likely need two people to help me back up. He kindly waited with me until another person came by and they both picked me up. Still in my daze, I said thank you probably a million times. I do not recall what they may have said to me; all I cared about was getting to my car and going home.

I have lots of experience falling in public, but as muscular dystrophy is a progressive disease, I have only recently not been able to get back up on my own. As a 20-year-old who wants to be as independent as possible, it is terrifying to know that for the rest of my life, if I fall I cannot get back up. This scenario is often ridiculed lightheartedly by people joking about the Life Alert “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” commercials. As a kid I thought those jokes were funny, until it became my life. Knowing my body cannot support me can feel horrifying. It is difficult to not immediately cry of embarrassment when things like this happen. It is also difficult to not go into that dark place of self-doubt for the future, feelings of failure and the panic of “when will it happen again?”

While I wish I didn’t have muscular dystrophy, I am grateful that it has taught me two very important things. One, there are great people in this world such as friends who won’t judge you, and strangers who will pick you up off the ground. And two, I can’t wait to finish my degree and move somewhere warm where ice on the ground doesn’t exist!

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Thinkstock photo by Astrid Gast.

Originally published: April 12, 2017
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