I reached my teenage years and everything changed. I became an amputee long before then due to a condition I was born with known as pseudarthrosis of the tibia, which led to the amputation of my left foot by the age of four. I don’t remember nearly as much about my childhood as I believe I should due to quite a bit of anesthesia throughout that time, but I do remember and have heard I was always a happy and active kid (at least active when I could be). I knew I was different, but something happened internally as a teenager. I wanted to understand why me, I wanted two feet, I wanted to run as fast as the other kids and jump into pools without sinking to the bottom, I didn’t want to be singled out or stared at. I wanted to be carefree. I stopped showing my prosthesis, no more shorts, skirts, dresses, sandals, nothing. I wanted to appear as “normal” as possible and I couldn’t look normal exposing what looked like a tree stump at the time due to the length of my leg and the lack of cosmetic options which weren’t near what they are today. I was angry, it simply was unfair.
Fortunately, I relied heavily on my sense of humor and social skills growing up. I was always a part of the in-crowd and had a ton of friends, all of whom knew about my leg. My friends supported me and we could joke about it, which I’m sure put my parents at ease. I do wonder though if it blinded my parents a bit as to what could happen when I started dating, or if they simply had no idea how to warn me for fear of discouragement. Dating is when it really hit me hard. One guy told me he’d call me right back and never did, another yelled at me “how dare you not tell me and actually think I’d want to be with someone with only one leg!”, another just vanished into thin air until I heard he couldn’t handle all his brother’s jokes about me. After that, I went into full camouflage mode. I rarely ever told anyone, I enjoyed male company, but never as more than friends due to fear of rejection which I couldn’t take anymore of. I didn’t want to be labeled, for people to look at me with pity in their eyes, to be joked about, to be granted excuses or discriminated against.
What’s crazy is, from the outside I was this super strong and resilient girl. I was the honor student who was also the life of the party, I could easily make just about anyone laugh, people came to me for advice. I was the ultimate disguiser. I hated the cards I was dealt, there wasn’t a day I didn’t wish and daydream of what life would be like with two normal legs. How much more confident and skinny I’d be, how I’d have my first kiss long before 16, how I could be the athlete child my father always wanted, how I’d be the girl with long legs and not the girl with one leg.
I had friends throughout my college years and dated guys that never knew. I was so uncomfortable with my situation I would completely psych myself out when trying to tell people, I really made it a bigger deal than it ever was. Looking back, people were more on edge about my situation simply because they could sense my discomfort and anxiety, not because it was really a big deal. I could and still can walk, run, bike, rollerblade, etc. just like everyone else. I was more handicapped mentally than I ever was physically, and then a major breakthrough happened.
At the age of 28 I was continuously fracturing my leg in the area of my tibia affected by the pseudarthrosis. My surgeon from childhood at the University of Michigan had warned my parents at the time of my original symes amputation that it was the best idea at that time to save as much of the limb as possible and allow me to bear weight on the distal end; however, as I gained weight as I aged I would likely face a time in which more length would need to be removed to allow for more accommodating prosthetics. He was right and the time had come. Without much thought I agreed to the surgery, I was ready to eliminate the breaks, gain additional options for both a more sleek and cosmetic prosthesis as well as additional options for athletic prosthetics.
The surgery was a success and not only did I get so much support from family, friends and coworkers, but the blessing in disguise was it forced me to tell people, to be seen without a limb in public, to get used to people noticing and asking questions, and to get more involved in programs for amputees. Slowly but surely I began gaining more confidence and becoming more comfortable and even proud of my situation because I recognized my strength. I had accomplished quite a bit in my life at a young age, and damnit I did it with a bigger barrier than most could ever imagine. I now truly believe you are only dealt situations you are strong enough to handle, and while sometimes I wish I wasn’t so strong, I know I was born this way because I was built strong enough to handle it. I’m not all the way there yet, I still have yet to own a pair of shorts, but I do wear below the knee skirts and dresses with heels (they might only be 2 inches but they’re something I never thought I could wear)! I still subconsciously hide my leg and always cross my legs to cover it around strangers, but I continue to get more comfortable and I truly believe ampuTeez is my final step.
I no longer wish I was “normal”, because I know for a fact I wouldn’t be near the person I have become. And besides, normal is boring! As much as I hate to quote Kanye West, “everything I’m not makes me everything I am.”