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Rachelle Friedman aka ‘Paralyzed Bride’ Takes a Stand: You Can’t See From Where I Sit

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When I was a little girl I had always dreamed about being famous. I was a singer, dancer and actress who wanted nothing more than to be in the spotlight. Who knew I’d actually get my chance!  Well…sort of.  I was thrown into that spotlight unexpectedly and for reasons that I would have never imagined.

I didn’t become known for my innate ability to entertain crowds from the stage.  I got my debut for breaking my neck. As we are all well aware of, people will judge you.  Some people will like you and some people just won’t. But this judgement is magnified when you are introduced to the media.

Six months after my injury, the Today Show approached me for my first big interview. I’d be live in front of millions of people. I felt like sharing my story would help me heal further. I’d already been doing pretty darn well I think, but it gave me a stage to give this unfortunate accident a purpose.  I smiled, told the world my story and that was that. Or so I thought.  Over the next two years there would be stories about modifications to my home, my wedding, a short stay I had at Project Walk and most recently a popular discussion thread on reddit.com where I allowed anyone to ask me anything.

When you put yourself out there like I have, you’d be silly not to expect a few negative comments.  Don’t get me wrong.  I received overwhelmingly positive feedback.  People seemed inspired, supportive and so happy for my fiancé Chris and I.  But honestly, I think I was a little naive as to how ignorant some people could really be.

I laughed most of it off but there were a few things people said that really upset me.  People even commented on various articles suggesting that my friends and I must have been belligerently drunk and so I deserved it. Well no one deserves anything like this but lets go ahead and clear the air. We weren’t.

I don’t care what people say about how I look or even their opinion on my relationship. But the moment you judge my character is where we have a problem.

I didn’t seek out the media for financial gain.  If you know how the media works, they reach out to people for stories–not the other way around.  It’s not like I called up the Today Show requesting an interview.

But I always took advantage of new media opportunities for many reasons.  One of them being to show the world that people with disabilities weren’t all sad, depressed, unmotivated people sitting at home doing nothing. .  I didn’t share my financial woes related to insurance so that I could get sympathy. I was attempting to shed some light on a healthcare issue that is greater than me. The messages I attempted to portray didn’t always come off the way I intended.

The thing is, people don’t seem to realize a few things. Every now and then, a writer will get their facts messed up. But even if an article were written flawlessly, there are always going to be some unanswered questions. Unfortunately, some people like to fill in these blanks with their own facts and judgements.

One of the worst comments I ever read was that I was a “parasite.”Are you kidding me!?  You read this story of love, loyalty and overcoming adversity and that’s what you come up with?  This comment stemmed from an article which stated that my fiancé and I were putting our wedding on hold because I might not qualify for health benefits if we did tie the knot.

After some research, it turned out I didn’t quality for SSDI or Medicaid even as a single woman. I was just out of college with not enough work experience to qualify for SSDI and the deductible to receive medicaid would have been much higher than my insurance premium of $625 a month.  But people were writing comments all over the Internet that I was attempting to abuse the system by putting the wedding on hold. It’s like people assumed that being disqualified from benefits meant that we were perfectly financially capable of going on with our lives without it. Because, surely I must be getting rich engaged to a middle school teacher and having a disability.

What they don’t know is that insurance doesn’t cover a caregiver which forced my mother to leave her job and my Dad to help me.  What they don’t know is that medical equipment is outrageously expensive and that it can cost thousands of dollars just to go to the bathroom per year.

I was called “lazy” just six months after breaking my neck for not getting back to work. First of all, when you are that early into your injury, you still have so much to figure out in life. At that point I hadn’t even received a wheelchair that was fit for me. People would see me on tv doing an interview and assume that I should be good to go.  But just because I can do interviews and play sports with assistance as needed, does not mean that I can go off on my own for a job.

Physically getting to a job , pushing across a parking lot, taking my medication and going to the bathroom were all things that I was by no means prepared to do on my own. I’ve got most of those down by now but there are other factors that keep me from obtaining and being able to physically do a job.  I suffer from pain that’s so bad in the mornings that I wake up with a clenched face unable to move a muscle, sometimes crying. Then there’s the low blood pressure. There are many days, even with the medication, that I have a difficult time sitting up without passing out. Lets just say I’m not the most reliable employee.  You can’t look at somebody and know what they are capable of. Heck I don’t even assume what other c6 quadriplegics are capable of because every injury is different.

In a country where bullying seems like a hot topic that we have decided to take a stand against, It is sad to see that some adults had come after me with their words the way that they did. Lucky for me, I know they aren’t true. The main reason many of these comments made me so defensive is that I’m not the first person with a disability to be referred to as someone who is working the system, lazy or a parasite.  Does it happen? Well sure it does. There are plenty of “lazy” able-bodied people, too. But people who lump everyone requiring government assistance into a group of entitled moochers are not only wrong but ignorant.  I do believe in karma but let’s hope for their sake they won’t find out the hard way just how hard it can be.

More from this author: How to Rise Above the Challenges of Change 

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24 Comments


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About Rachelle Friedman

Rachelle Friedman is a c6 quadriplegic who was paralyzed at her bachelorette party in 2010 during innocent horseplay by the pool. Her story went international and has been featured on the Today Show, CNN, HLN, MSNBC, Vh1 and other various media outlets. Since then she has become a motivational speaker, blogger, and ambassador for the spinal cord injury community. Rachelle is currently writing a book due out in Spring of 2014. Visit www.rachellefriedman.com to read more about Rachelle's story and to connect with her on twitter on Facebook.


24 Responses

  1. avatar Carol Hollfelder says:

    May I ask why were you approached to be interviewed after your accident? And, with all due respect, what made you think that you, being so newly injured, were a good representative of the disabled community? All of the things that you note in this article that able bodied people don’t know about you, and many others with disabilities, are exactly the things you should have been talking about in your earlier interviews.

    I’m not condemning you with any of this, you didn’t know any better. Likely, you were so focused on showing a face of disability that contradicted negative stereotypes (ones that you yourself may have unknowingly harbored) that you didn’t want to share the ugly difficulties that are fact in the lives of so many. Trust me, I know it’s much easier to publicly talk about the loving partners in our lives or racing cars with wicked cool adaptations than it is to talk about learning to catheterize or how hard it is to function when you have chronic pain so bad you expect blood to come out of your ears, but if we really want to claim that we are sharing our stories for “a purpose” then we have to be fully honest. Anything less does more harm than staying silent.

    • avatar Rachelle (author) says:

      I cant respond as to why I was approached. There was a story done in the town I live in and it was picked up. With all the elements of it being 4 weeks before my wedding, my friend being the one who playfully pushed me, my husband staying. They needed a story? Honestly who knows. I never thought I was a good representation over the next person, but I was approached. I didn’t go to them. With the first interview, i had not been denied medicaid at that point but did mention that chris and i were having to put our wedding on hold. I was only 6 months out. In regards to not talking about it after that initial interview, Well the thing is I didn’t get to pick the interview questions. I mentioned it every single time in interviews that wasn’t live and it was cut. A recent article with the today show FINALLY mentioned it but left out so much out that it led to some pretty nasty comments by some ignorant people. I have a much bigger understanding of healthcare issues now. I’m writing a book about my overall story but it mentions in depth everything above in hopes of people really getting it. Because as I said. I’m not the only one with this problem. But I see no problem (with the knowledge I had then) doing what I could to break the stereotypes I had encountered in my short 6 months of being hurt. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I wish I had been denied coverage before my initial today show interview so I would have known, but again, they ask the questions, I answer. I did the best I could with what I knew.

      And as far as harboring negative stereotypes? I did not. I had volunteered with some awesome people with disabilities in college getting my recreation degree.

      • avatar Amy says:

        Rachelle I saw your interview. My father was rendered a parapilegic (sp?) at age 11 after he was beaten up by members of his boy scout troop. This was in 1952. As he got older scar tissue left him in a wheelchair for any distance more than a few feet. I think more so than putting a face on people with disabilities, you are teaching resilience, compassion and forgiveness. My father lead a very full life. He was not filled with bitterness. When I saw that Today show interview I prayed for you. You are an overcomer. I know it’s hard but please don’t feel like you have to answer for your choices. Every human being has free will. You choose to be a positive light in the world. Don’t waste your time and energy on the naysayers.

  2. avatar Megan Smith says:

    You are beautiful, smart and strong. Thank you for sharing your experiences with the public. I’m sure you have inspired many with the way you continue to live your life as fully as possible, and I’m sure you have enlightened many others regarding the health and financial hardships you endure. You radiate joy in all of your pictures. May God bless you and your husband always. ❤

  3. avatar Julie Combs says:

    I think your article was very well written. I also believe you are a very strong woman to be going through what you are and still have a smile on your face. Please do not let the judgement of others allow you to change your views. You know your capabilities they have yet to walk in your shoes, they have no right to judge you. I am also so proud of your husband for standing by you and marrying you despite your disability, that shows his true love for you, I hope you know that and realize what a good man you have there. I’m glad you have family support and I hope you are soon able to get medical support as well. I can’t believe you were not accepted for SSI or SSDI if ever there were a case that should be eligible you should be. I don’t know what your religous beliefs are but I pray that you believe in God as he will help you through this if you allow him. God bless you and your family!,

  4. avatar Cynthia C. says:

    I think you wrote from the heart about dealing with your disability and problems dealing with all of the costs, and people in your life who give of their time and energy to help you, out of their love. Let alone just the medical costs. I applaud you for so intelligently writing about your realities so succinctly.

    My own experience pales to the immensity of yours but was enough so that I fully understand what you are talking about. I am the mother of a now grown up young man who suffered from a facial deformity that required years of surgeries, speech therapy, intense amount of mouth reconstruction and dental work. I won’t get into all the details, but suffice to say, no one has any idea of what goes into each and everyone’s particular case. The struggles and fights I had to wage against insurance companies, the cost of the deductibles for every flipping specialist (because you can’t just have a normal doctor), therapists, tests, speech session, dental visit, pre-surgical, post surgical, costs for oversight of the oral facial teams (emphasis on teams – doctors and social workers you don’t normally see) yearly reviews and let alone any specialize equipment.

    I once fought all the way up to the state insurance board to get something covered medically when they argued that it should be considered dental (a 50% deductibles) vs medical (20% deductibles). It was a matter of my son choking on his food, and possibly choking to death, therefore I felt it was medical. After I won, when the specialist brought out the wire in question, I half expected to see it diamond incrusted or at least shiny platinum, but no, it was stainless steel and only 4 inches long at the cost of several thousands of dollars. The specialist told me half laughing, that cost was for all the hand adjusting that he was going to have to do. There may be some similarities among each disability, but that is about where the similarity ends, each person has different set of issues and that doesn’t seem to stop the oodles of antidotes you will hear from someone’s, friend/family member/ or long lost twice removed in exile relations that someone will share with you.

    And it goes without even saying the years of cruel jokes he was the subject of, from peers growing up.

    No one has the right to pass so much of their un-warranted opinions as freely as they do. Just because you are out in this world going about your day, dealing with all the limitations and struggles that you may be dealing with, does not give people the right to be so boorish in their comments.

    Your article is well written, well thought out and very well stated. It does not require pity, nor are you asking for it. You are adapting as best as you can, coping and overcoming all that you can. You are not an island, You have the love of your family and fiance.Please continue to speak out! Yours is a very intelligent voice! The public needs to hear what you have to say! More power to you!

    • Wow thank you so so much!! I am very sorry to hear what your son has gone through. Well and of course what you have gone through as well. I’m glad you fought for what you needed but sad you had to fight for it. People just have no idea!! And thank you for the compliments in regards to my writing. Blogging is actually very new to me but I’m very much enjoying it! Wishing you and your son the best. :)

  5. avatar cindylill says:

    Thank you for the excellent article. You are so correct about bullying. It amazes me how cruel and thoughtless people can be. Also, most people have no idea how difficult it is to navigate the systems that we have in place to assist individuals who have disabilities. And the outrageous cost of things ~ like replacing the simplest parts of a wheelchair for example. I look forward to reading more of your articles and your book!!

  6. avatar Dana Richards says:

    Rachelle,
    You are a beautiful person inside and out.Great story. I hope you achieve all you strive for in you’re life. God Bless you always!!!

    Dana Richards

  7. avatar Elizaeth says:

    Rachelle,
    It is so easy for others to cast stones of condemnation, it casts their own faults into the shadows. This Holier than thou persona is unfortunately the foundation of today’s society.
    You exemplify the world of the disabled quite adaquitly and speak from your heart the trials and tribulations as they occur. Naturally as a new paraplegic you could not know everything that encompasses the life of the disabled. How could you have known the insurance issues regarding the high costs of care for one with the magnitude of disabilities paraplegics endure? How could you have known the sacrifices your family would have to undergo for caring for you? You couldn’t and anyone that suggests or says you should is beyond ignorant! Yes, I to believe in karma and I know they will receive their just deserts (so to speak) if not in this lifetime then on judgment day!
    For the little time that you were plunged into the world of the disabled you are doing a magnificent job relaying the struggles you daily face. The human race by nature is a very hateful race. There are exceptions to this of course and your husband Chris is defiantly one of them. Most other men would not be able to love someone in your situation. These shallow minded people can only see no further than the tip of their noses. Chris is not one of them.
    Chris, your true and deep love for Rachelle is truly an inspiration. It is easy to see in your pictures that your love for her is deep and without limitations. Your parents raised a True Man and I know they are so proud of you, as I am!
    To the two of you;
    There will be many trials and hurdles you will have to jump over. Many more words of condemnation from those who know nothing of which they speak. However, the hurdles that are placed before you I know you, Chris will clear as you cradle your beautiful wife in your arms and jump higher than the hurdle itself! Sticks and Stones may break bones but words will never harm you! That is a saying I learned when I was growing up and it is really so true. Let them speak/write their words of hate, what goes around comes around! They will get theirs!
    All My Love and Prayers for a very long and blissfully happy life together. May God keep you always in his grace.
    Elizabeth

  8. avatar Ellie Stone says:

    Dear Rachelle,
    God bless you and always the best of luck to you and your husband. You are courageous, lovely, and have an admirable attitude. You wrote wonderful answers and explanations to those judgmental, negative critics. But, you do not and should not owe explanations to anyone. Wishing you a life filled with joy.

  9. avatar Monica says:

    Kudos Rachelle for being able to tell your story. I can honestly relate to the story. Although, not physically disabled. I was diagnosed with a mental illness last year. Bipolar disorder (ADHD, Anxiety) to be exact and was ultimately denied coverage! And still being denied coverage all because i make too much money. A whopping $1100/month. With student loans and rent and other bills to pay. I encourage you to keep talking and keep being a part of an open dialogue and discussing progress, and even hurt and also to educate people, to stop stigma and blatant disrespect. It is not your fault!!!! You’re doing the best you can with what you have. My dream is to become a mental health counselor and spread my message through education and awareness to minority communities and then work globally around the world. I have a $250,000 dream of getting my masters and phD! Man, is of going to be HARD WORK! But if I keep that determination and Spirit like you have and the ability to work my butt off I’m hoping to have my masters by 33 and work towards my additional degree after. Congrats on all your volunteer work and speaking engagements and having such a great support network!!!! I wish you all the best!!!!

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