This is the last of a 4-part series about my experience in living a full life with PPS.
In September of 1952, when I was just 7 years old and in the second grade, polio struck me. From its onset, polio was in my face. At first I couldn't move my legs or swallow anything. While the mobility in my legs came back and I regained most of my ability to swallow, I was never a "passer" like many polio survivors were. I soon developed a very severe scoliosis; and by fourth grade I was wearing a bulky, heavy body brace to help support my back. Having respiratory problems, I no longer could run, be in marble tournaments, or play softball during recess. I not only believed that I looked different from my friends, but I also felt very different.
Later I had a spinal fusion, which helped to straighten my curvature and got me out of my body brace. I was always blessed with a lot of good friends, who seemed to accept and love me just the way I was. I worked hard and was very successful in my career. But in spite of all of these blessings, I continued to see myself as an outsider who was not good enough. The burden of my distorted body image was heavy, and it became a major obstacle in my life, preventing me from realizing my full potential as a human being.
Meanwhile, throughout the years I was always exploring and trying out different self-help programs. This makes sense, doesn't it, considering the fact that I loathed how I looked? On this journey, I finally found my way to examining my polio history ... something that I had denied and completely avoided until 2 years ago. With my husband's help and encouragement, I logged onto the Internet and typed the key words "post-polio." Presto! Up came over 3 million listings! I was completely flabbergasted! One minute I had felt completely alone in my polio-affected life, and the next I had access to millions of articles on the subject as well as thousands of other survivors who were eager to share their stories with me and to hear mine! What a moment that was for me!
Soon I was chatting with and e-mailing polio survivors from around the world! Through one of them I found out about the Greater Boston Post-Polio Association. I could hardly wait to call so that I could begin receiving the TRIUMPH and get the schedule of meetings. I was very nervous before walking into my first GBPPA meeting, but soon I felt as if I had "come home." Everyone warmly welcomed me, and I felt a great sense of belonging. I now look forward to each meeting and have found them to be a great source of information, camaraderie, and healing.
By reaching out to other polio survivors, I've been able to begin to heal the wounds of my soul that polio caused. I no longer feel alone or like a disfigured outcast in a world of beautiful people. I am who I am today. Surviving polio just happens to be one part of my history. I am working at accepting and loving myself just as I am.
Reaching out to other polio survivors has helped me to understand myself and to feel complete and whole; it has helped to fill that gnawing emptiness inside. I no longer feel trapped by the limitations of my own self-perceptions. Instead I feel free to be me for the first time in my life. In spite of being disabled with PPS, I realize that I still have a lot to give to the Universe. Reaching out to others helps to make my life more meaningful today.