I’ve Spent 4 Years In A Wheelchair And I Love Fashion

I’m Emma or @sittingdownstyle. After a serious fall four years ago, I became paralyzed from the chest down and completely lost function in my hands.

I lived alone in London and worked in a Museum. I loved to draw and paint, cook, sew, and run in the park with my dog in my spare time. When I realized that I couldn’t walk anymore, I was devastated, but when I realized that I’d lost the use of my hands, I thought I was worthless.

I shattered my pelvis and broke my neck and most of my ribs, so I couldn’t sit up or turn for the first few months, and I had a tracheostomy so that I couldn’t speak, I didn’t feel like a person anymore. My family helped me do everything. They encouraged me and even brought my dog to the ICU window so we could see each other. My dog and I both cried. During this period of complete loss, my boyfriend broke up with me.

Bit by bit, I was allowed to raise my head, move my arms and start to talk again. My trache was removed, I was allowed to eat, and most of the tubes were removed from my body. I remember the countdown to being able to eat after months of PEG feeding through my tummy. When the day arrived, the nurse brought me toffee yogurt, my most hated food. Due to my lengthy tirade, the nurse could document that there was nothing wrong with my voice and made me a laminated warning sign reading ‘Do not give this patient toffee yogurt!’ which I kept at the top of my bed until I was discharged.

My dad brought all his camping gear to the hospital to cook me food I liked to encourage me to eat, such as carpark steak. I didn’t know how to explain this to the staff when he left behind some dirty pans.

I was moved to Stoke Mandeville and began rehab. I couldn’t sit up for more than ten minutes without passing out. Clothes, makeup, and shoes were the last thing on my mind.

Things changed when I started to adapt. I had makeup splints made and worked hard to learn to dress again and to type and write. I have never been a very sporty person, so I found physiotherapy hard, but I could rediscover my personality through art and fashion. I felt like an idiot the first time I wore red lipstick to the gym but so proud I’d applied it myself.

During my stay at Stoke Mandeville, I met people who inspire me and whom I will love for the rest of my life. We shared gallows humor during the darkest times and were there to celebrate each other’s small achievements. When a friend and a fellow patient was able to open his packet of biscuits entirely without help, we coined the phrase “biscuit moments” to describe the daily victories many would take for granted but to us were monumental.

I had no idea what my style was anymore, so I decided to call myself ‘Sitting Down Style’ when I began to post on Instagram about fashion. Now I have almost 32K followers.

I ordered some posh new dresses to the hospital for me to try on, to see what made me feel comfy. One day when my closest friend was having a bad day, I smuggled a dress into the Men’s ward and convinced a guy to put it on to cheer my friend up. Needless to say, we were caught as neither of us had hand function and when the dress got stuck, we needed some help from staff. I’ve never worn that dress again, but I’ve still got it— he looked so much better in it than I did!

I started posting on Instagram about my experiences and how I coped. I got so much support from other Wheelchair users and people living with other disabilities. Each person’s story is different, but we have all found ways to cope and grow in life-changing circumstances. I was astounded when I began to get messages from all over the world saying I’d inspired them, they hadn’t put a dress on for ten years, and I’d encouraged them to do so. The gratifying aspect of social media for me has been the honest and reciprocal support from other people at different stages of their journey with a Spinal cord injury.

When I began to model, I did it to build my confidence and help anyone else in a similar situation. I was so flattered when I started to gain followers and realized it is not all about how others see you but how you view and respect yourself. Fashion has opened a door for me that I thought was shut for good in A&E. I’m pleased I was wrong.

I feel so proud to have worked with some great charities such as ‘The Backup Trust’ at their ‘Front Row’ fashion events. I’ve also worked with some incredible brands that share my passion for ethical and sustainable clothes – not to mention companies that are forward-thinking about inclusion and diversity. I try to buy pre-used when I can and donate anything I can to charity. Two charities close to my heart are ‘Little Lives’ supporting Children in London who are disabled or underprivileged and ‘Smart Works,’ which helps women get back into employment with interview clothing and training.

I’ve gone back to work, got a new flat, and a very new perspective of how to live, respect others and be comfortable in myself. I have had very uplifting experiences as a disabled person and also some crushing ones. I think my perspective of living with a disability is to keep striving to make the best of each day, celebrate the small wins, and try not to sweat the small stuff. I hope this was the message that I conveyed when I spoke about fashion and disability on the great podcast ‘This is Spinal Crap.’

I’ve been able to turn an interest in sustainable and ethical fashion into a positive blog encouraging varied representation and supporting inspirational people and amazing brands. In the last three years, I’ve learned a lot, always wear silk pajamas to make moving in bed easier. Buy good quality – dressing and transfers wear clothes very quickly. Finally, I have accepted who I am and how others see me. Fashion is fun. I enjoy every photoshoot, catwalk, and a normal day just so long as I get to dress like me!

More info: Instagram

Post-op in hospital

Hospital smiles

Sneaking dogs into hospitals

Working from home

Festival fashion


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