February 13, 1985 was a day that changed my life forever. I was a freshman attending Ft Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. On that day, I spent the day rock climbing with 2 friends, a sport I had taken up 9 months prior. Later in the afternoon, I had reached the summit; it was an exhilarating moment, as looked out across the valley. I felt at peace and was thankful for the experience I had. I was now ready to come down.
I leaned back as I began to repel down. As I looked over my shoulder to get my bearings, I heard a loud click and a swooshing sound, and I knew I was in a free fall. Suddenly I saw the sky, trees, ground, and the mountain racing past me at what seemed like 100 miles an hour. Seconds later, I hit the ground feet first and heard a loud crunch. I blacked out for a second and saw my body twisted like a Raggedy Ann doll turned in all the wrong places. The pain was excruciating. I had just survived a 125-foot free fall.
During the course of the next 26 years, I went through 40+ surgeries and have too many scars to count, many of which are emotional. I have many physical and emotional complications as a result of my accident, including hepatitis, kidney failure, severe pain continuously, battle PTSD, and other challenges. I take multiple prescription medications on a daily basis. My life is a challenge beyond description.
The irony is that if you met me today, you would not have a clue that anything was wrong with me. I did not lose any limbs and am not in a wheel chair. I look like every other average size female you see every day. The truth is that I’m permanently disabled, even though I don’t look like it. The fact that my disability is invisible only adds to the challenge. However, I’m not alone, not even close. Everyday we all pass by people who look, sound, and smell “normal.” They’re far from it, because they’ve “fallen off their own mountains” and are living with one or more invisible disabilities.
Believe it or not, there is a silver lining in my cloud. I have learned many valuable lessons as a result of my accident and the challenges I face every day. As I continue to write about the specifics of what I’ve learned, I believe that I can help others to learn how to live with their invisible disabilities.