Besides the physical, one of the most painful elements of being an amputee is when people stare at you. No one, not even able bodied people for that matter likes to be stared at. How many times have you caught yourself saying “what are you looking at” after being stared at? It’s that uneasy feeling like all eyes are on you, watching you, judging you, critiquing you. It makes you feel like there’s something wrong with you. Like you’re abnormal, less than, not enough or weird. In the amputee community, I know a lot of people who have developed insecurities after losing a limb. I used to be one of them. Men sometimes feel a loss of masculinity while women experience a loss of femininity. It’s like the loss of the limb(s) somehow robs you of your strength and power. Just like the story of Samson and Delilah. Over time, some people eventually gain the confidence to move on and proudly accept their condition, while others live with this psychological pain or weakness for the rest of their lives. Never feeling whole. It can negatively affect the quality of their lives as well as their loved ones. But how do you gain confidence to help repair the damage? For me, it was developing new skills. Focusing my energy on what I enjoyed doing or was good at in life and then becoming a master at it. Being better than most. I then took that feeling of accomplishment, having made significant improvements in certain areas of my life and moved it over to the places where I was weak. It wasn’t easy and it took a lot of work on my part but eventually I was able to go out in public and proudly show my prosthetic legs. Whenever someone stared at me and my legs (when I was feeling weak) I would remind myself of all of the things that I was good at in life and I instantly got the reassurance that I was more than enough. That I was ok. That I was a champion. I wasn’t weak. I was strong. I also told myself that God gave me this for a reason. To be an inspiration to other people who need to be inspired. It took a long time for me to figure out how to gain confidence. I mean years! I wish someone would have shared with me what I’m sharing with you. It would have saved me from a whole lot of heartache and pain. I remember being a teenager and receiving my first set of prosthesis. In 1978 prosthetic leg technology was nowhere close to where it is today. They were ugly, they were heavy and they didn’t stay attached to my residual limbs very well. I was limited from a physical dynamic because my feet didn’t offer any type of ankle movement or energy return that would allow me to ambulate effectively or play sports. Sports was something that I longed to do throughout high school but couldn’t. As a result I developed low self esteem and some depression. I successfully hid my depression from my loved ones so as not to be a burden on them. I remember tripping over a curb and falling and having one of my prosthetic legs come off in front of a group of girls and how they stared at me in horror like I was some kind of freak. That left a deep psychological scar that would take years to heal. From that point forward I did anything and everything I could to hide my amputee status from the general public. I never wore shorts. I sat in chairs in such a way as to not show the outlines of my prostheses through my long pants. Whenever I met someone new, if they didn’t somehow already know that I was an amputee, I never told them. Especially girls. Oh my teen years was such a painful time for me. I was so insecure about myself and how I looked to the public. Whenever someone stared at the way I walked I felt like dying.
Fast forward into the 1990’s and 2000’s and I was blessed to be exposed to new prosthetic leg technology. Better socket design, better suspension systems and most importantly, dynamic feet. I was fit with a pair of College Park Trustep feet with true ankle movement. Now I could walk more naturally. I gained so much confidence and that was something that I didn’t have in years prior. My self esteem shot through the roof. I had become a new person with new goals and aspirations for the future. As a result of my new found confidence, I got my pilot’s license and my commercial drivers license. I’m a public speaker, a certified snowboard instructor, a mentor and I inspire kids all over the country as an amputee. None of this would be possible had I not had access to advanced prosthetic leg technology. I realize that I got off the subject for a minute but I was on a roll.
So why do people stare at people who have a disability? I wanted to know the specific facts so I went out into the public in various locations all across the country and asked random strangers “why do you stare at people with disabilities?” I captured their answers on video and compiled them into a series that I will post each week here and on youtube. Hopefully their answers will give us some insight as to why amputees are so interesting to watch. Hopefully those of you who are amputees will gain the strength that you need to go out in public and show your “mettle” to the world. You are beautifully created by the Creator of the Universe!