TikTok is mostly about silly challenges and dancing, but some people, especially those with disabilities, are using it to give a glimpse into their lives and educate others.
A 22-year-old New Jersey woman has garnered about 1 million TikTok followers by posting truthful accounts of life as a paraplegic.
Jessica Tawill decided that she wanted to inform people about her struggles as well as successes, and her content is resonating with a lot of folks.
“Not many people know too much about paraplegics and their capabilities, so I wanted to be that light to inform, educate, and even entertain people,” Jessica told BuzzFeed. “I want people to know what it’s like to be paralyzed…so that they can be a little bit more appreciative of what they have and remain humble.”
Jessica became paralyzed in a car accident in November of 2014.
She had gone to a friend’s house, but got uncomfortable when she discovered that there were strangers there and also drugs and alcohol.
“When I eventually asked them to take me home, they took me to an abandoned road instead. When we got to this road, the driver stopped the car and put his foot on the gas and brake at the same time, doing a burnout with his wheels. He lost control of the car and crashed into a tree,” she said.
“It was at this moment that I got whiplash, split my head open to the point where my skull was exposed, and sustained a spinal cord injury — leaving me paralyzed the moment we crashed,” she said. “Paramedics said that I lost the equivalence of a ‘Coca-Cola bottle of blood’ out of my head, and didn’t think I’d make it if they drove me to the hospital. So they drove me to a nearby soccer field where a helicopter airlifted me to the ICU. From there on, I went through seven months of rehab and remained permanently paralyzed and wheelchair bound.”
After the accident, Jessica had to adjust to a new life.
“I cannot feel or move my legs (if I hurt myself, I’d have no idea), I cannot drive a car in a conventional fashion, I cannot feel sexual intercourse, making friends is extremely difficult (as many people see the chair before they see me, which makes me unapproachable).” She also needs to use a catheter and enemas.
“I was robbed of my ability to use the bathroom,” she said.
Jessica also explained that she goes through episodes of autonomic dysreflexia, “which is where my body attacks me because it is in complete confusion. For example, if I do not use the bathroom on time, my blood pressure will skyrocket, I will start sweating profusely, have shortness of breath, and turn extremely red. In short, if I go long hours without using the bathroom, I could potentially die.”
There aren’t just physical side effects. Jessica explains that her accident has caused her to trust others less.
“On the positive side, I have become a lot more spiritual and grateful to have been given another chance at life,” she said. “My accident has emphasized the fact that we are not promised tomorrow, and that we should always be grateful for the simplest things in life.”
Jessica’s goal with her TikTok videos is to help young people make better decisions.
“I want them to think of my story and make better decisions, as they could easily be put in the same position as I am.”
But she also wants to educate. “I also want to show people how I live my life in the present day — what is life like as a wheelchair user?—and devote my channel to being a blog where people can get to know me on a lot more of a personal level,” she said.
“A lot of people are discriminatory toward paraplegics/wheelchair users, and something like this would give them a small taste of what it’s like.”
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