The Security of Women in India

Author: Gauri Bhatia, Real Life Stories

This article has been excerpted from the author’s graduate thesis titled, “Human Security and the Developing World: the Case of India’s Women.” If you wish to know more, please contact the author via

The status of women in India has undergone significant changes in the six decades since India gained independence. Factors such as sexual violence, traditional gender roles, the class divide and the caste system, economic development, rapid modernization and globalization have had immeasurable effects on women’s security in India.

According to the book Empower Women: An Awakening, “the following crimes were committed against women in 2007: one woman was sexually harassed every 48 minutes; one woman or minor girl was abducted every 26 minutes; one woman was raped every 25 minutes; and one woman was molested every 14 minutes.” The author goes on to indicate that “these numbers are based on reported crimes” and “the vast majority of crimes against women in our country go unreported.” Most cities in India are fairly cosmopolitan, where many foreigners live and work. However, women frequently encounter the problems referenced in the above stats, and are also leered at, catcalled and even propositioned by men of all ages.

Many women have chosen to stop venturing outside alone until the situation improves. In addition, the Indian print and television media encourages women not to leave their homes after dusk unaccompanied, as the danger is too great.

I traveled to India in the Winter of 2014 to study these issues and develop a thesis for my Master’s program. I found, firsthand, that the threat of sexual violence hangs over women’s daily lives in India and tempers all of the decisions they make, both professionally and personally. Traditional gender roles, enforced by familial and tribal ties, make it difficult for Indian women to assert themselves in all aspects of their lives.

The class divide and the caste system are most cogent for the women in India, as they experience its effects more often than their male counterparts. Economic development, while positive for the country as a whole, has made it both easier and more difficult for women to assert themselves professionally and has deepened the divide between upper-class, well-educated women and their disadvantaged counterparts. Modernization has empowered women in a way that clashes with their traditional gender roles.

Globalization has allowed Indian women to see how women in other countries (especially Western countries, like the United States and United Kingdom) live, and through this glimpse, has caused them to question why they do not experience the same freedoms they see on television and in movies. The increased exposure to Western television has led young Indian men and women to act in ways that are contradictory to the traditional roles to which they are accustomed.

This divide between Eastern ideas and Westernization has led to a crisis of identity in the young Indian population. The women wish to exercise the freedom they see on Western television and the men do not know how to reconcile the docile, feminine girl (or wife) they had imagined with the independent woman they are faced with on a daily basis.

According to a Reuters global poll, India is ranked the “fourth most dangerous country” in the world for women. A TrustWorld poll reveals that India is the worst country for women among the G20 countries. In addition, the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Global Gender Gap Report ranked India 101st out of 134 countries in terms of gender parity.

If there is not major institutional and social change pertaining to women’s rights and security in India in the next five years, India’s rise to power will be marred by human rights violations and the stigma of appearing to be an intolerant country.

The articles referenced here detail the crisis that Indian women face. I have included some of my recommendations on how to move past these issues and into the future.


In order to alleviate the crisis of human security faced by women in India, the government of India must renew its focus on women’s education, health and empowerment. In addition, it must focus some of its lawmaking efforts in prevention, rather than punishment, of the crimes by integrating the role of men in the attacks into the consciousness and social dialogue of the country.

In general, well-educated, healthy and empowered women tend to face fewer threats to their daily security than their illiterate, impoverished and disadvantaged counterparts. Women in these upper echelons of society are granted political positions and freedoms that were historically held only by men, while impoverished women’s lives are regularly under attack by (frequently) uneducated men with traditional mindsets.

This statement is not to say that women in all sectors of society do not suffer from harassment and sexual violence. Rape (Especially marital rape, which is not illegal in India – Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code considers the forced sex in marriages as a crime only when the wife is below 15.), spousal abuse and other indicators of violence occur in all classes and castes, but women in lower classes are subjected to harassment, attacks and sexual violence outside of the home and on a more regular basis than their advantaged counterparts.

In addition, police corruption in India makes it more difficult for lower class and uneducated women to receive retribution after they have been attacked. Upper-class victims tend to see justice for the crimes committed against them, with the perpetrators arrested and convicted, while lower-class (and frequently uneducated) victims are subjected to police brutality and social stigma after they have been attacked and frequently do not see their attackers punished.

To remedy the crisis of human security, there needs to be increased education at the elementary, middle and high school levels concerning women’s roles in society and their importance to daily life. There also must be a renewed focus on women’s (and men’s) health issues in India.

Currently, health classes are not offered in most schools across India, due to prudish values and outdated lesson plans. The educational system in India has not changed much with modernity, and sex and sexual health are not openly discussed within Indian society. As a result, aside from the obvious prevalence of unplanned pregnancies and problems during childbirth, there are many general health implications.

Because young men and women are not taught how to avoid disease through good hygiene, there is a societal stigma attached to curable diseases. An example of this phenomenon is the stigma attached to the varicella zoster virus (VZV), or chicken pox. VZV in India is widely believed to emanate from the goddess of destruction, or “Mataa,” taking residence in one’s body for 10-15 days. As a result, an illness such as chicken pox, which can be alleviated (although not cured) by modern medicine, is seen as a sign that one has done something to anger the goddess and should suffer in silence (without medication) for the duration of the illness.

Although health education in schools is the best method to ensure that these values are passed onto future generations, several innovative methods have been utilized to ensure that the presently affected population learns the importance of good health. One interesting example of this type of education was the “Indian Condom Ad” that imparted the values of condoms to a small village in India through a flash mob.

Another example of innovative health education involves polio in India. On February 11, 2014, India was certified “polio-free” by the World Health Organization (WHO) after successfully completing three years without an “endemic” case of polio. Just five years prior to the announcement, India accounted for nearly half of the global polio cases and was considered one of the most difficult places to eradicate the disease, mainly due to sanitation and accessibility issues.

When health workers primarily from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) determined that the children of migrants and those who were growing up in inaccessible areas were not getting access to the polio immunizations, they deployed vaccination efforts to reach the children. The government of India, in conjunction with UNICEF, the WHO and various philanthropic organizations, launched a “massive effort involving a surveillance network and almost 2.3 million vaccine administrators, who identified communities falling through the cracks.” They utilized “social mobilizers,” religious leaders and parents to counter rumors and misunderstandings about the immunizations (polio and others) and included Bollywood celebrities and cricket players in their campaigns to reach a wide audience.

More innovative campaigns that reach the entirety of India need to be utilized by the Government of India to ensure that all of Indian society understands the importance of good health.

There also must be an increased focus on women’s empowerment in order to combat the current crisis of human security faced by women in India. A large portion of the internal conflict Indian women face concerning traditional values and modernity is due to the fact that women were generally expected to do what the men in their lives (whether fathers, brothers or husbands) asked of them. They were rarely expected to make decisions for themselves.

This trend created a dual problem: women living in urban environments were suddenly given the opportunity to think and act as they desired and had the tendency to exercise that freedom in potentially dangerous ways-and men living in these same urban environments still held rural values and expected the women they interacted with to indulge their every whim and command accordingly.

Women staying out late, drinking and acting raucously, clashed in unfortunate and often violent ways with men who were unaccustomed to seeing women behave in this manner. By empowering women to make their own intelligent decisions from a young age, and by showing men that women do indeed have the right to make their own decisions, these violent attacks can be prevented and can ameliorate the current security crisis.

Lastly, the government of India must place some of its focus on men’s roles in the current security crisis. The government has mostly enacted laws trying to protect women and has circulated press releases advising women to avoid dangerous situations, but has not done much to prevent perpetrators from continuing their behaviors.

The actions of the men involved in such attacks on women are frequently dismissed as “boyish” and part of the process of growing up. In fact, according to Indian Express’s piece titled “Boys will be Boys, they make mistakes, will you hang them for rape?” Mulayam Singh Yadav, the chief of Uttar Pradesh’s ruling Samajwadi party, claimed that men who have committed rape should not be hung. He instead blamed the problem on women who level “false accusations” in that “First, girls develop friendships with boys. Then when differences occur, they level rape charges. Boys commit mistakes. Will they be hanged for rape?” Attitudes such as this one dismiss men’s roles in the current crisis and will stunt India’s growth by ensuring that the lack of human security in India continues unabated.

The current security situation in India is untenable and if the Indian government and social institutions do not enact a change, women in India will live in a constant state of insecurity for years to come.

Read more about gender discrimination in India from the Foundation for Sustainable Development.

The Dementor and The Boggart: How Harry Potter Helped Me Cope With My Depression and Anxiety

Author: Brett Pucino, Real Life Stories

There is a subsection of millennials, roughly those born between 1988 and 1992, who came of age with The Boy Who Lived. I was born in 1990, and I was eight years old when I first read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I eventually consumed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows the summer of my 17th birthday. J.K. Rowling’s magical world made me fall in love with reading at such a young age. Little did I know that when I was first introduced to Dementors and Boggarts as an adolescent, there were Dementors and Boggarts in my own life that I’d have to face in young adulthood.

The Dementor and The Boggart as Symbols for Depression and Anxiety
JKR has been open about her battles with depression in her life, and has even recently reached out to a fan on Twitter who is facing depression.

I used to think these were just creepy creatures growing up, but when I re-read the series for the umpteenth time as a new college graduate going through a bout of post-college depression, I realized that a Dementor is a harrowingly accurate representation of depression.

I’ve felt the metaphorical lights go dark in my head as the depression eradicated any positive memories. I’ve felt depression’s cold, rattling breath as it called up my worst thoughts from my mind’s annals. I’ve felt depression’s chilling fingers brush my skin as it sank to suck the last drips of hope out of my body. I can tell you first hand that being in the constant presence of Dementors is exactly what depression feels like.

Just as the Dementor represents depression, the Boggart represents our deepest fears. To me, the Boggart is an accurate representation of my struggle with anxiety. My bouts with depression have been situational. I’ve been lucky in that regard. It’s the anxiety that’s more prevalent.

In high school, my social anxiety crippled my social life. I was the quintessential quiet kid, but I had the loudest mind. I was terrified to verbalize my thoughts into words. Things were different, though, when I put pen to paper. At the time, I had little confidence in my writing ability, but my English teachers would always gush over my writing assignments. In my junior year I received the only 100 on a writing assignment that my teacher gave out that year. The assignment? Write an alternate ending to The Catcher and the Rye in the voice of Holden Caulfield. Looking back, the ease at which I was able to channel Holden’s angst was a warning sign.

The Patronus as a Symbol for How to Fight Depression
In the Harry Potter series, the only way to fend off a Dementor is by casting a Patronus. The Patronus is one of the most fascinating spells in the Potterverse. It is similar to the Native American concept of the spirit animal in that each person’s Patronus takes on an animal form based on the characteristics of the caster.

In order to cast the spell, one must channel his or her happiest memories when reciting the incantation (expecto patronum). If one isn’t 100% absorbed in these happy and positive thoughts, then the spell won’t work. I think this is the perfect analogy for fighting depression in the real world.

The Riddikulus Incantation as a Symbol for How to Fight Anxiety
The Boggart is another fascinating creature from the Potterverse. No one knows what a Boggart looks like in its true form, since it immediately takes on the shape of the deepest fears of the nearest person. In Prisoner of Azkaban, Professor Lupin teaches us that the way to get rid of the Boggart is to picture your deepest fear in a disarming, and often humorous, situation while reciting the incantation Riddikulus. 

I think that this symbol is a perfect representation of my anxiety in the real world. I worry obsessively about the future and also play the “what if?” game. So, if I were to come across a Boggart, it would be a version of myself that I call the “inner critic.” The “inner critic” is extremely critical of any aspirations I have for my future. He points out all of the things that could go wrong and frames them as if they are inevitable outcomes.

Thanks to JKR, I came up with a creative visualization exercise to help me deal with this anxiety successfully. I picture facing this Boggart version of myself and actual me shouting Riddikulus as I visualize Boggart-me losing his voice. Without his voice, his doubts can’t affect me.

I used a similar exercise to deal with my bouts with depression. I visualize myself facing a Dementor and in need of a Patronus. I absorb myself in happy memories and positive thoughts, and then my Patronus (a lion) appears to protect me.

You may feel silly doing these exercises at first, but they helped me and I think they can help you too. Plus, to paraphrase Albus Dumbledore, just because it’s happening in your head, that does not mean it isn’t real.

Seek help for depression and anxiety at

Smashing Stereotypes: Why Millennials Still Live at Home

Author: Brett Pucino, Real Life Stories

Millennial stereotypes. By this point, you’ve probably heard them all. Entitled. Oversharers. Lazy. Narcissistic. My favorite, though, is that all millennials who still live at home in their twenties are lazy freeloaders with no life aspirations. Now that’s a stereotype that needs to be smashed.

Many millennials still live at home, in part because it is a cultural tradition. But it’s not my place to tell their story. I asked them each the same three questions about living at home.

Let’s start with why Michelle, our Brand Manager, lives at home.

Why do you still live at home?
Why do I still live at home? I’m Greek. Have you seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding? If your answer is “no” here, I highly recommend you stop reading this and go watch. Greeks live at home until they get married. We’re a very cultural people and family is everything. Almost all of my friends who are Greek and unmarried still live at home (literally I can only think of one person I know who goes against this).

How do you feel about the negative connotations of living at home as a twentysomething?
I never really dealt with a negative connotation of living at home as a twentysomething. In fact, I once said that I wanted to move out at 26 married or not and I got laughed at and told it was a dumb decision. And you know what? It is a dumb decision.

What are some positives of living at home?
I’m saving so much money and I’m living with the two people in the world who love me the most — my mother and my brother. Additionally, I lost my father when I was 18, and my brother is confined to a wheelchair as he suffers from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Living at home allows me to help out as much as I can with my brother, allows for an extra set of hands in the house and allows for my mother to take little breaks in caretaking here and there.

Even if my life were to be under different circumstances, I am extremely close to my family, and my mother is honestly my best friend. I’d rather spend my Sunday with her shopping, or a Tuesday night on the couch watching the Mets with my brother, than a lot of things. So there’s my perk of living at home — being around to help out, being able to spend as much time with my brother as I can—and of course saving money most definitely helps as well!


Next, we’ll hear from Mary Grace, our Editor-in-Chief. 

Why do you still live at home?
The easy answer is that I still live at home because I want to save the rent money, which is mostly the truth. The next answer is that I love where I live. Save for about five years, I’ve always lived here and I am involved in the local community. I could not imagine living in another state or town — especially one that is not 30 minutes from New York City! I truly get the best of both worlds living in a suburb. Lastly, I’m lucky enough to have a great relationship with my parents. I’m their only child — most of the time our relationship resembles a relationship among friends. We have our issues, but once we’ve all calmed down we are able to have an adult dialogue that remains respectful throughout. I do plan to move out once I have saved up enough funds to do so, but I’ll definitely relocate to a place in the area. And I know I’ll miss my parents.

How do you feel about the negative connotations of living at home as a twentysomething?
I understand where they come from, but I want to fight to change them. Not every millennial who lives at home is lazy and doesn’t pay bills. I am always working — whether it’s at my desk job or my freelance gigs. I have never missed a car or a credit card payment. I try to keep my belongings in my space. And I still ask my parents if my friends can come over — out of respect.

What are some positives of living at home?
The easy, funny answer is that there is always food around! For someone like me who is always hungry, this benefit is first in my mind. But my more meaningful positive of living at home is that someone who understands you is always at the ready if you’re not feeling like yourself.


Coming up next is our world traveler Gauri with her reasons for still living at home. 

Why do you still live at home?
Let me set the stage: I am the only child of parents who are at the older end of the Baby Boomer generation. There was never a doubt that I would move back after college, that job in Italy, Graduate School, etc.

My parents were born and brought up in India and moved to the States in the early ’80s (my mother at 21 and my father in his early 30s — my parents met in New York). As a result, they still hold onto a lot of “Eastern” ideals and philosophies. The primary one being: children live at home until they are married (and sometimes even after).

In addition, I work for a software company in Melville, Long Island and my parents live in Huntington, Long Island. That is a 15 minute commute. No way I could give that up!

Hence, it makes a lot of sense for me to live at home, help my family and be helped out by my parents. I travel to client sites a lot for work, so it’s good to have a home base that I don’t have to pay for! Plus, my parents try to spend the brutal New York winters in sunny Delhi, so someone has to care for the house while they are gone! Built in house sitter over here.

How do you feel about the negative connotations of living at home as a twentysomething?
Generally, I try not to let the negativity bother me—but I have my moments. Some of my close family frequently asks me why I don’t just “buy a house nearby.” Their misconceptions and negativity center around the idea that as a budding twentysomething, my parents do not allow me any independence. That is simply not true!

Instead, they encourage my independence. They are always urging me to go out, make new friends, go out on terrible dates (seriously, I wish they would stop me from doing that!) and make frequent sojourns into the chaos of Manhattan. My parents fully support all of my social endeavors and encourage my academic and professional endeavors. They always make sure that I can focus on my plans and goals and not have to worry about pesky things. So, in the end, the positives so far outweigh the negatives. Plus, when people mock me for living at home, I simply ask, “Does your mom pack your lunch? Mine does. Do you really think I will give that up?” with a wry and knowing smile.

What are some positives of living at home?
I think I have already brought some of the positives to light, but:

  • Free laundry
  • A car whenever I need one
  • A ride to the train station whenever I need that instead
  • Free food
  • The house to myself all winter
  • The opportunity to slowly take on “adult” responsibilities without fear of messing up
  • I do really enjoy every minute spent with my parents. We are always laughing at and with each other, and it is never forced. I would not change a thing!

To wrap up this collaborative effort, I answered the same questions. 

Why do you still live at home?
To address the first question, there are a few reasons why I still live at home. The first is simple economics. Neither of my parents went to college. They had no savings for my college education because they were too busy making sure I had an amazing childhood with any extra money they had. I sacrificed my ability to take on a mortgage in my 20s in order to pay for my Bachelor’s degree.

The second reason is that if college taught me anything, it’s that good roommates are hard to come by. I love my parents and we have an absolutely amazing relationship. At the risk of parroting everyone else, my parents are among my best friends and my most trusted advisors.

How do you feel about the negative connotations of living at home as a twentysomething?
When it comes to the negative connotations surrounding living at home, I have to admit that I get slightly offended. Living at home into your 20s is commonplace in many cultures.

Being a fourth generation Italian-American, my culture is no different. My mom didn’t move out until she was 30 and was moving in with my dad. Family is very important, and the thought of moving far away from my family freaks me out.

Have you ever seen The Godfather? If you haven’t, the Corleone family lives together at the Corleone compound. When my mom was growing up, her family had its version of the Corleone compound on my block. My grandfather and his brother built my grandmother’s house, both houses next door and the house across the street. Unfortunately, strangers now live in all those houses but one — my grandmother’s house. The house my parents and I live in today.

What are some positives of living at home?
This house is all I really have left of my grandfather. Unfortunately, he passed when I was three. I never got to know him, but I can feel him in the bricks of this house. He put down these bricks with his hands. His sweat dripped into the cement.

This house is a monument to both my grandfather’s and grandmother’s achievement of realizing the American Dream as children of immigrants. I may move out someday soon, but this house will always be my home.


Do you still live at home? We’d love to hear your story in the comment box below!

True Life: I Was a Church Camp Counselor

Author: Michelle Ioannou, Real Life Stories

Yes,  you read the title correctly. I was a church camp counselor, and it changed my life.

I worked at Camp Saint Paul, a Greek Orthodox sleepaway summer camp from 2009 – 2014, only taking a hiatus in 2012 when I worked at another Greek Orthodox camp, Ionian Village in Greece. Yes, please feel free to take a second to judge the Greekness and how greatly I feed into my stereotype.

Now back to how church camp changed my life.

I was always somewhat religious—I was in Sunday School for my elementary and middle school years (though frequenting less and less as the years went on). I was part of the youth group at my church as a teenager and even sat on the executive committee my junior and senior years of high school. And you could always find me in church during Holy Week. But that being said, I was nowhere near as religious as I should have been; I had become disconnected from the church. And that’s where working at church camp came into play. Well, eventually came into play. It didn’t just happen off the bat.

Did I become a church camp counselor so I could become closer with my faith? Honestly, no. I did it because my friends were doing it. I did it because I loved children. And I did it because I wanted to get away for the summer. To put it in simpler terms, I became a church camp counselor for no reason at all that had to do with my faith.

Boy, was I silly.

Going to chapel services twice a day, sitting through rotations that included Orthodox Life and Liturgical Hour and of course attending liturgy on Sundays with my campers are just some of the ways I became closer with my faith. Do you know what really got to me, though? It was seeing both my campers and my co-counselors become closer in their faith. There’s just something so powerful about being around people who share the same religion as you—and who aren’t afraid to show it.

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Hi from Camp Saint Paul in 2014!

Becoming closer to my faith is just one of the ways that church camp changed my life. Working at a Greek Orthodox summer camp made me a better person. It showed me that there’s more to the world than just materialistic items. Do you know how refreshing it is to disconnect from social media for an entire month or two? Do you know how wonderful it is to sit up at night just talking under the stars with someone? Do you know how heartwarming it is to see that one struggling camper finally smile and enjoy the moment? None of these things involve the digital world, but all of these things change your life.

As if all of this wasn’t enough already, church camp also gave me some of the best friends I have. There’s just something wonderfully fulfilling about having friends who understand you—not only do they understand your beliefs, your morals and your values, but they have them as well. I know that these friendships I’ve made will last me the rest of my life; many of them have already survived the college years and the first couple of years of real life.

Yes, I was a church camp counselor. And yes, go ahead and judge me if you want. You can laugh, it’s fine. I’ve heard it all before. But does it matter? No. Because Camp Saint Paul changed my life. I watched it change the lives of my peers, and I especially watched it change the lives of campers. What more could you ask for?

My love for Camp Saint Paul and the positive impact it’s had on my life is so strong that it’s hard to put into words. I look back at those summers and they remain some of the best memories of my life. I am forever grateful for the time I spent in that beautiful place, and will always be proud to have been a church camp counselor.

What I Learned When I Lost My Mobility

Author: Mary Grace Donaldson, Real Life Stories

It happened out of nowhere, really.

I thought I could get up — I’ve tripped over a curb before. I have a tendency not to look at where I’m going, especially when I’m distracted. I was excited. I was nostalgic, visiting your college town for the first time in months can lead to a metaphorical movie reel in your head of fond memories. I saw a store across the street that wasn’t in business back when I lived in Newport, Rhode Island.

But I couldn’t get up, and I let out a yell.

Oh, I tried. I placed my hands on the ground and tried to push myself up, and at the time, I was over 250lbs, so no easy feat there. I tried to get on my knees and tried to crawl my way up to standing. I felt no pain. I felt no discomfort. I just couldn’t get up.

A few good Samaritans heard me yell and watched, as I grew increasingly frustrated, trying to get up. They came to my aid and tried to help me up, but once again, I couldn’t find my footing. I had no idea what I was dealing with, it all happened so fast. Before I knew it, the good Samaritans were calling 911. I tried to stop them. I’d just tripped. Everything would be fine. Except… I couldn’t get up. And my left ankle was now double in size.

An x-ray taken in the emergency room revealed that I’d broken my left tibia and fibula. And it was no small break, either — I’d need major surgery to fix it. The hospital where I was taken didn’t have the resources to treat me, so I was transported to a bigger hospital about 40 minutes away.

I don’t remember at which point I called my parents, but they were in the car within an hour and made it to Providence from New York in three. My friends picked up my car and waited with me as I lay on a gurney in a holding area. After a procedure meant to stabilize my leg, a series of pain-reduction medication and a CAT scan, I was finally in a room by 2 a.m. And even then, it still didn’t feel real.

I’d never been hospitalized before. Aside from my obvious weight problem, I’d always been healthy. Yet there I was, in the hospital, and I wasn’t even sick. But I was broken, both literally and figuratively. And although Rhode Island was once my home, it wasn’t anymore, and I wanted to go home.

And I went home — almost. After five days passed and the doctors still couldn’t operate with my ankle still double in size, my parents found one of the best orthopedic surgeons on Long Island and I was loaded onto yet another ambulance. This time, the long ride would end in my admission to the very hospital I was born in. My stay lasted around two weeks and was made up of two operations, lots of medication and bad food. I left the hospital with two metal plates and 16 screws in my left leg. They said that one day I’d be back to normal, but for now, I was off my feet for the foreseeable future.

For the next two and a half months I couldn’t dress myself. I couldn’t go to the bathroom without a spotter. I couldn’t even get up to retrieve the remote as I sat there, memorizing the daytime TV schedule. This type of life wasn’t like my usual character — I’d just been offered a new job, I was supposed to appear in an annual summer production and I was spearheading publicity efforts for community groups. And all of it was on hold.

But my first lesson I learned through this ordeal came with the realization that on hold didn’t mean forever. My new boss called and let me know she’d hold the job until I was more mobile. I ended up participating in the musical — in my wheelchair! And I worked on publicity campaigns and other projects from my La-Z-Boy chair.

The second lesson? I couldn’t do any of it without help, and by nature, I am awful at asking for it. My mom washed me, picked out my clothes, spotted me to make sure I didn’t trip when I needed to use the bathroom at three a.m., pushed my wheelchair, delivered my meal trays and drove me anywhere I had to go. My dad taught me how to go up and down stairs without using my legs, loaded and unloaded my wheelchair in and out of the car and ran out to get my favorite cookies right before the supermarket closed. My friends and family, driving from as far as Connecticut and Rhode Island and as near as the next town over, visited me both in the hospital and at home and offered moral support. They came bearing gifts of adult coloring books and my favorite Starbucks drink. They drove me around to make sure that I missed as few social happenings as possible and became pretty expert at pushing my wheelchair.

I have always been the helper, the person my friends could call in the middle of the night when everything went wrong — but now I was the one who needed it — and I realized how many people in my life truly cared about me.

11888050_1687081054859429_8859253482299536981_nI drove again before I was given the okay to walk, my right foot had nothing wrong with it and I don’t drive a car with a manual transmission. I started my new job, still in the wheelchair — and my new co-workers didn’t know me for a half a second yet they were already helping me in and out of my car. Walking came about three weeks later and while I was excited, I could tell it wasn’t going to be an easy feat. I needed my walker and a boot brace to walk. I needed intense physical therapy. And I was scared.

So, it was lesson time again; I had to learn to overcome my fear of walking. I was so excited to make this step toward independence — but my internal monologue wouldn’t shut up. What if I fell again? What if there wasn’t an elevator where I would be going? What if my friends and family grew tired of helping me? What if I would experience pain every day? What if I ended up using mobility aides for the rest of my life?

With each accomplishment I learned to celebrate. I used the stairs at home first. I graduated from a walker to a cane at my grandmother’s birthday celebration and ditched it a few short weeks later. I diligently attended my bi-weekly physical therapy sessions and relished every “Good job, Mary Grace.” I sang in a concert with my friends taking turns holding my hand as I stepped on and off the stage. I still remember the last day I wore the boot—and made a conscious decision not to need it anymore.

Throughout the entire ordeal I was more tuned in to just how many people struggle with mobility. I watched others limp across a parking lot or get pushed in a wheelchair by a very devoted family member. I promised myself that I’d never turn a blind eye to anyone who needed help walking—or couldn’t walk at all—again. For me it was temporary. For some it’s forever.

Which brings me to the most important thing that I’ve learned over the past year since I fell.

Your life can change in seconds. One wrong step and I’d lost more than the ability to walk—I’d lost my big plans for the time being, my dignity, my independence, all things I’d taken for granted for so long. As I gained each back, I learned to revel in each activity that I went “back” to — and took on some new ones. I was ready to live again. I went after several new opportunities and even lost some weight. I graduated from physical therapy. I rarely limp anymore and I stop myself from freaking out when there isn’t an elevator in sight. I remembered to thank the people I love for all they did to take care of and support me. I worked hard to walk again, but I worked harder to change the way I looked at the world.