‘What’s wrong with you? Why are you walking like that?’ I didn’t want to be in a wheelchair. I stood out too much.’: Woman shares journey as wheelchair model, ‘This beautiful body is mine’

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“I opened my eyes in a small village in a big city. I was born a healthy person. I started talking and walking before I was a year old. I joke I did my early jubilee about walking, and I still do. After the age of 3, my father and mother took me to hospitals when my extraordinary health began to deteriorate slowly. Actually, they were guessing what happened to me. My illness, called CMT, was genetic and it was understood it was a souvenir from my great-great-grandfather.

Courtesy of Oya Ak

I was an unruly kid with long blonde hair, with a cunning answer to every question, climbing the highest and dangerous places. I had a little difficulty in walking, I had difficulty maintaining my balance, and my hands lost strength from time to time. But all this has never prevented me from being the best bike rider on the street, the fastest swinging guy, the best marbles.

I spent my childhood together with children and animals on our farm and neighboring farms. Children never see a disabled person differently. They have no prejudices. They won’t bother you with confidential questions like adults. When they meet for the first time, they honestly ask what’s wrong with you, why you’re walking like that. When you reply, the subject is closed. My childhood was very happy with my friends. I could do just about anything they did. I was even the point guard in the games. Maybe I wanted to stand out because of my disability, but I was standing out too much.

Courtesy of Oya Ak

Now, in my high school years, when I was a teenager, I stepped into the adult world, and moreover, my illness had progressed one more stage. I had completely lost my walking ability and started using a wheelchair. I was trying to close the physical gap between me and my friends with other successes with great effort. I was the most successful in my lessons. But now a social dimension entered my life with adolescence. Here, it was not possible for me to achieve success. I had disappointments, despair, emotional turmoil.

Courtesy of Oya Ak

My university life was full of success, as it has always been. I was among the honorary students of the Faculty of Communication, Department of Public Relations. I even took the job one step further and at a second university, I graduated from the Faculty of Business Administration and Organization with a degree.

Courtesy of Oya Ak

I was not a social person outside of my education life. I could spend days, months, and years with my books. I was in love with reading. Instead of the professions I studied, I decided to be with books. Moreover, to be with old books that have lived through. So I found the job I wanted to do. I should have been a second-hand bookstore. This was a job that would make me happy. I could freely do this alone. I opened a second-hand bookstore. It became my shelter. It became a place where I rested, had fun, and was sad. Thanks to the books, I visited unlimited places in a limited place.

Courtesy of Oya Ak

Then I started writing. I had no difficulty writing. I could write pages and pages full. I was relieved as I wrote. I was playing with words, walking, and running. I was laughing with my words and crying with words. Shortly after, I decided to write a novel that tells about our roots. This was a historical novel about the Azerbaijani deportation called, ‘The Other Side of the Mountain.’

Courtesy of Oya Ak

Then I wrote columns in local newspapers. I prepared book promotion corners for some magazines. I have edited a couple of books. Writing has been the happiest thing in life. I wrote fantastic novels, followed by detective novel series. I was always writing for myself first. Writing was an act that made me happy anyway. I have never written for anyone else. I was fulfilling every feeling and thought I could not put into action with my novel heroes. My heroes were born in my place, died in my place, married in my place, fell in love with my place.

Courtesy of Oya Ak

There has always been an inexhaustible energy somewhere in me. It was like I was in a small size dress that didn’t belong to me. Writing made me feel very comfortable. I was getting out of this narrow mold and getting involved in life with the character I created. I started painting in places where writing was not enough. Oil paintings. I was mixing colors in places where I was not against life. When that was not enough, I was picking up balls of yarn. I was weaving threads where I could not weave my destiny with the excitement of creating something new. Then I was starting puzzles with thousands of pieces. I was completing the pieces I could not get in my life with puzzles.

Courtesy of Oya Ak

For many years, I didn’t want to be in a wheelchair and appear there because the wheelchair always stole my role. People focused primarily on wheelchairs. It was taking time for them to realize what was inside, and especially a longer time to want to know what’s inside. However, when I was welcoming my customers at the desk, my health was only an insignificant detail, because they knew me first. Then the wheelchair was no more than an accessory.

Courtesy of Oya Ak

I’ve forgotten all this ranking in recent years. It doesn’t matter anymore, me first or the wheelchair first. In fact, nowadays the wheelchair comes before me, because I know it is a part of both my body and character. He is the reason for my sensitive, emotional, non-judgmental, affectionate, and accepting qualities that make me who I am. I think if I were a healthy person, I would be more superficial and ordinary. If life hadn’t pushed me that much, I wouldn’t have breaking points. I wouldn’t go inside myself and get to know myself and live with myself so well.

Courtesy of Oya Ak

After a long time, I ended my business life. I settled in a seaside town. What am I doing now? I am again with my books. The best part is I don’t sell them to anyone anymore. All of them are precious. I read a lot and still write a lot. I am now more complete with both my wheelchair and my body. Moreover, it makes me very proud my body is so interesting despite the difficult conditions. Now I want to show my body more. I want to say, ‘Look, this beautiful body is mine.’ That’s why I decided to be a model.

Courtesy of Oya Ak

When I saw there is no example of a wheelchair model in my country, I definitely wanted to do this. People may not be ready for this, but I think I can prepare them for this. I am proud of my body. Because I’m not an ordinary model. I am also a role model. An initial model.

Courtesy of Oya Ak

I can reach many places and people with social media. I communicate with similar models around the world. In this way, I learn about their paths and difficulties. I do not question and judge life as much as before. I used to think I could not interfere with life. However, life was mixed with me. Now I know I have added a lot to life. Pieces from me also went to life. I know life is everywhere. Most of all, in me.

Courtesy of Oya Ak

As a wheelchair model, I bring my life and experiences to social media to show this life within me. I complete a paving stone for those walking the same road, and they mend my broken stones.”

Courtesy of Oya Ak

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Oya Ak from Turkey. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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