You never expect to wake up one day and have your life change so drastically; becoming an amputee is an experience that not only alters what you look like physically but also your confidence, your abilities, your attitude and more. At the age of 14 I was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma cancer and within a few months I had my left leg amputated above the knee. From that day I became a new person. Everyone copes differently but here are 10 tips that helped me cope with my new journey of being an amputee.
Tip #1: Have a Strong Support System
I think the most important factor in coping with any illness, disability, or life changing altercation would be to ensure you have a strong support system. Your support system is built up of the people who you will turn to when you are feeling low, those you want to be around when you are feeling happy, and those who are there to help you get through all the ups and downs. It is important to recognize the toll your amputation may have on those closest to you and to understand how to work together and support each other through the whole journey. A strong support system will help you to feel a bit more at ease with becoming an amputee.
Tip #2: Express Yourself
When you first become an amputee, it is common to be so caught up in the therapy sessions and the prosthesis fittings, that you sometimes forget about self care. It is important when coping with your new amputation that you find something that you can use to express yourself and make you feel confident. Especially at a time in your life when your appearance has so drastically changed and negative feelings may be arousing, you want to ensure that you have something that is yours and only yours. For example, for some this may be photography, art, fashion, playing an instrument and so forth. Find something you enjoy doing and just do it, don't let anyone take it away from you and use it as a coping method for those days your feeling low. Express yourself through this activity, it also helps for people to look past the amputation and see you for more than just a person with a disability.
Tip #3: Experiment
When you first become an amputee everything about what a prosthetic is and how it works, is all new. It is important to know that you are in charge of your own body. If something does not feel or look right, you have the power to speak up and change it. This is your body and your prosthetic is a part of you, your life and how you feel. You need to be open and willing to experiment, in order to find and meet your own personal needs. When I got my prosthetic I struggled with self esteem as I did not like the way it looked and made me feel. I experimented with different socket colours in order to build my self esteem, but nothing ever worked, until I discovered a company called UNYQ. UNYQ makes prosthetic covers for amputees, these covers are designed specifically for your needs, interests, and likes. I now feel more confident in the way I look, feel better about expressing who I am through my cover, and enjoy wearing creative clothing that expresses my own personal style. The best way to cope with becoming an amputee is to experiment so that you begin to feel comfortable and confident in your own skin.
Tip #4: Add some Humour
In many occasions, an amputation will be new to many people. Lots of time you'll have a kid ask their parent where your arm or leg went, and they'll so slightly whisper how it magically went to heaven. Sometimes you'll get the people that just stare and never speak, or the ones who call you unique names like robot. The key to coping with this, is to laugh about it. You need to remember that to a lot of people someone with a prosthetic is not something they see on a regular basis. You have to have fun with it! Kids will get a kick out of your shark attack stories, and it will eliminate the awkwardness of the interactions. If people see that you are humorous with your situation they will be less likely to "feel sorry for you" and more likely to be open to ask you questions and allow you to share your story.
Tip #5: Be Adventurous
Be adventurous. It is a term that might scare a lot of people, but it is an important factor to coping with becoming an amputee. Don’t be afraid to do something just because you feel like you can’t or because someone tells you, you can’t. You have a disability, you are an amputee, but that does not limit your abilities to do anything you set your mind to. Yes there will be challenges, yes maybe not all amputees will be able to do all the same things, but you must remember that it is important to find the things you can do rather than dwell on the things you can’t. Some individuals will learn to hike, while others will learn to ski. It is just important to be adventurous with the endless options of things amputees can achieve regardless of abilities. You may have to learn to do it differently but that will be the fun in it.
Tip #6: Be Yourself
Becoming an amputee may alter your life, but it doesn’t have to change who you are. It is important to stay true to who you are because that will help to remind yourself that your physical appearance may have changed but your personality remains the same. You don’t need to alter who you are in order to meet society standards. It is important to embrace all your skills, talents, interests and more. DON’T ever let a disability, a person, or yourself stop you from being who you are, achieving what you want, and believing in yourself on a regular basis.
Tip #7: Be Open
If there is anything I have learned that has benefited me throughout my whole amputee life, is to be open. Most of the time people are just curious. Be open to answering questions and sharing your story, people will appreciate that and will be more accepting of you when they see you again in the mall or the grocery store. You may also find that you feel better once you start to open up about your journey. It is important to set your own boundaries for what you want to share and what you don't. Never let anyone pressure you into opening up about things you don't feel comfortable sharing.
Tip #8: Embrace Your Struggles
Being an amputee is not easy, especially if it is new to you. You have to adjust new ways to meet even basic tasks such as walking, or climbing stairs. You don’t realize how hard it is to develop new ways to do things until your life relies on it. It is important to understand that not everyday is going to be easy, there will be times where you will struggle, break down and even cry hysterically. Some people will struggle physically, others emotionally and some people both. I know when I first became an amputee I battled depression for many years before I found ways to cope with it. I also had many days where I struggled so much I didn’t want to even leave my bed. I still struggle daily to be an amputee, and it is important to know that you are not alone, and it is okay to embrace your struggles because they make you that much stronger. Once you learn to embrace your life, even with all it’s ups and downs, you will begin to find better ways to cope with the struggles that come with being an amputee, and learn to find your own unique way of doing things.
Tip #9: Set Goals
I think setting goals is super important when coping with becoming an amputee. With all those ups and downs it is important to set your self some goals in order to help you feel energized and to keep your spirits up. Everyone will have different goals and that is okay, and the level of goals you have may be different depending on where you are on your amputee journey. For myself, when I first became an amputee, I made it my own personal goal to learn to walk again without supports before I entered into my first year of high school; with hard work and dedication I obtained this goal in just a short 4 month period. Now as I am 6 years into my amputee journey my new goals would be to bring awareness to the amputee lifestyle by sharing my experience and to continue to be a positive role model and support system for those beginning their amputee journey. Your goals don’t need to be extreme, they just need to be yours.
Tip #10: Educate
Finally, my last tip for coping with becoming an amputee is to educate. Educate your family, your friends, your work, and so forth. Most people don’t know what you can and can not do, and with out being educated they may assume you are incapable of more than you are. Sometimes your family or friends may walk to fast, or not invite you somewhere because they don’t think you can do it. You know your limits but without being educated they may not know what you are capable of doing. It is important to speak up. Lots of time it may feel like they are leaving you out or not being considerate but majority of the time it is because they just don’t know. The more you educate people about your abilities the less they are to assume. Educate on a regular basis, whether is is at your workplace or even just hanging with your friends on the weekend. People are open to learn and accomodate, they just need to know how.