Hollie-Anne Brooks: A Letter To My Newly Disabled Self

Dear my newly disabled self,

June 2018 was pretty incredible. You were six months into the best romantic relationship of your life and felt amazing. One evening, you sat on your patio overlooking Hampstead Heath and counted all your blessings: beautiful home, great career and finally the man of your dreams.

But what you didn’t bank on (what no one banks on) is that your world would soon be turned upside down – and not in a sexy way.

Three months later and you’re not only living with Richard but you’re also living with disability after two bouts of meningitis in three months, one causing sepsis, left you near death. Right now, as Richard starts to go back to work and you adjust to your new identity, you don’t feel your body is yours.

Simple things like going to the toilet are a minefield; transferring to the creaky borrowed wheelchair, physically grabbing hold of your legs to help them move feels like dragging a heaving bookcase across a room. You poke, prod and pinch and yet that left leg feels nothing. You feel empty. You feel on the verge of falling and simultaneously desperate to hang on.

You’ll spend afternoons crying, looking at the legs that refuse to walk, but you’ll soon find that resilience is the sexiest tool.

When you left hospital, there was so little information on being newly disabled in general let alone how to navigate sex. Take it upon yourself to learn.

Learn by masturbating and being delighted that you can still feel sexual desire. Initially, you’ll feel shame for thinking about desire over recovery but the two are so entwined. Spend those hazy summer and early autumn afternoons getting to know you.

You’re still the same person, inside and out. Every day feels like a dull wash of dirty water over the life once lived, but looking at  photos of Richard and his naked thighs will ignite a feeling so sharp it pierces your soul.

Desire will be one of the first things that turns the dirty water crystal clear. It’ll force itself through every emotion and physical pain. It will become so loud that you want to tell the world you finally feel something real.

Your mental health will thank you so much for enjoying your own touch once more, trust me.

Having your senses heightened through sexual pleasure will be one of the only things that makes you feel control over your own body again. You’ll realise that feeling your body flexing when experiencing an orgasm makes you realise that you may well be able to move more freely one day. It’s an amazing feeling.

Learn by talking to Richard. Remember the past six months full of travel, dancing and conversations over fresh coffee on weekend mornings? You haven’t lost that ability to communicate. Don’t be afraid that he’s going anywhere. He’s not.

Talk about how you’re concerned about how sex will feel for you now, that you’re worried it won’t feel the same for either of you. Talk during sex – not just filth whispered in one another’s ears – talk about how it feels, how you want it to feel, how loved it makes you feel.

That said, don’t expect yourself to feel sexy all the time. You’ve just been through a life changing experience, one which is going to impact most parts of your life for years to come. Give yourself some slack. Don’t beat yourself up when your libido is so low it brings tears to your eyes.

Don’t let society convince you that everyone is constantly having sex. Having a low libido in your late 20s is so much more common than you think. Your body can’t perform on demand, no matter how much you want it to. You’re constantly learning.

Don’t be afraid to snap back at the people who fetishise you. You’ll meet men who ask if they can sleep with you because “they’ve always wanted to have sex with a woman in a wheelchair” or they “wonder what it’s like”.

Call those idiots out in public. Yes, everything does still work and you absolutely can – and do! – look sexy in your favourite dresses and high heels, but you are never to be “grateful for the attention because you’re disabled” like you’ll experience too many ignorant people telling you.

Finally, learn by seeking out other stories and then telling yours. There is an amazing community of people out there going through the same things you are and you’ll end up with an array of friends all cheering one another on. Your voice, whether screaming in orgasm or discussing sex and disability, is powerful.

Disabled people like you deserve a happy and healthy sex life just like everyone else.

You are sexy. You are in control. You are equal.

With courage,
Hollie-Anne, two years on and happier than ever in every aspect of your life.

ellaOne® 30mg film-coated tablet contains ulipristal acetate and is indicated for emergency contraception within 120 hours (5 days) of unprotected sex or contraceptive failure. Always read the label.