Ashley and Nikki are twin sisters from Chicago, Illinois. Both with spinal cord injuries sustained in a car accident in 2019. We had an opportunity to learn more about their incredible story and how they use cannabis to manage their daily lives. Nikki is a T6 paraplegic and Ashley a C4 quadriplegic. You can visit their Instagram’s for more information about their journey!
Ashley - @ashleyllorens16
Nikki - @nicolecollette3
Joint account - @ashleynikkistory
Tell us about your Instagram accounts and, Nikki about your YouTube account.
A: Our joint page started to keep people up with our recovery and we continue it to educate people on spinal cord injuries and just our lives. My personal account I’ve always had and now that I’m disabled, I use it to advocate for the disability community, break the stigma around weed, and just show a little quad girl living her life.
N: I started my Instagram before my accident. However it wasn’t until after my injury where I thought it would be a cool idea to share our story on a platform that could be around forever or at least how long we wanted so we started our Instagram page @ashleynikkistory. Then on the other hand I still share a lot of my personal story on my personal Instagram because Ashley and I’s journey, although very parallel, are also very different. So both pages serve their purposes in sharing this journey. As for my YouTube channel I’ve been taking a little break due to technical issues and not having the equipment to get out as much content as I want. My phone couldn’t hold anymore. However my YouTube serves a similar purpose. I want to show a Chicago disabled girl living her life because I think we need more of our stories told to normalize disabled individuals in society. So subscribe to my YouTube channel and binge some videos and be ready for some videos to come hopefully next year.
I learned from you two that September is Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month- Are there other causes or organizations you'd like to mention?
A: There’s so many causes that I don’t even know about all of them. August was Disability Pride month which is pretty cool. The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation is a great resource for spinal cord injury education and advocacy. And then honestly if you use social media, find disabled creators and others that are sharing their disabled experience because we know the experience best and just hearing from us directly is the best way to learn about other causes and organizations as well.
N: I think it’s important to mention that we should be amplifying disabled voices every month, not just the months dedicated to them because disability is more normal than people think and the more we share that, the more we normalize it.
What was your first introduction to cannabis as a medicine?
A: I started using cannabis medically after getting injured. Before my injury, I had tried it a few times but never really felt the effects. I started medicating with edibles and was noticing an effect on my quality of life. One day I decided to try flower and have been medicating with it ever since.
N: I first experienced cannabis before my injury however it wasn’t until after where I began to use it medically. Long story short in the hospital and some of the rehab I was on strong pain meds. I honestly felt like I couldn’t function without them. My pain was and still is very uncomfortable and painful. One day I decided I didn’t want to be on all these pills anymore. I told my doctor I wanted to get off all the meds cold turkey, he wasn’t too for it but I was pretty stern on where I stood and didn’t take pain medicine since then. It wasn’t until I got home from the hospital when I wondered if marijuana would be beneficial for pain. I started smoking usually before bed to help me sleep and then I saw how much it helped with my pain so I started to incorporate it into my routine as medicine and it’s been beneficial since!
How does cannabis help you?
A: Cannabis helps me live a more comfortable life as a disabled woman. It helps with my appetite and anxiety the most. Ever since becoming injured, I never have an appetite and my anxiety is much worse, but with cannabis I find that it will get me hungry and also help me to manage my anxiety especially when being around people or going to events. It also helps with my pain especially my nerve pain which can feel so uncomfortable and my neck and shoulder pain (basically all the chronic pain I feel) - a nice sesh definitely helps with that. I also will occasionally use it to help me sleep if I feel anxious before bed. Cannabis helps me a lot obviously and I love it.
N: Cannabis helps me a lot. Like I mentioned it helps me with sleeping because I do struggle a lot to sleep now and it’s not fun at all so cannabis helps tremendously! I also find that cannabis helps me with my anxiety which is really bad after my accident. It also helps me get an appetite but usually edibles are more effective for me personally to give me an appetite. Then the biggest game changer with cannabis is it helps me function with pain. My pain is really bad every single day all over my body and cannabis doesn’t get rid of it but it makes the pain more manageable to just be able to get stuff done or else I’d be miserable and hurting!
What is your favorite way to consume cannabis?
A: My favorite way to medicate is with a nice bong rip for sure. I love using my invincible pieces with my bongs too!
N: My favorite way to consume cannabis recently is honestly dabbing! I’ve found dabbing for me personally requires less and is more effective. Then on the other hand I love a king palm or joint to medicate with as well.
What does disability pride mean to you?
A: Disability Pride to me means loving all of your disability experiences and honoring those experiences and feelings they bring. It’s living your best disabled life however that looks and it’s knowing you’re worthy of a beautiful life!
N: Disability pride to me is loving yourself fully inside and out, and with that comes your disability. Having disability pride is recognizing and accepting your disability and being proud of it!
Define ableism and internalized ableism.
A: Ableism is all the messed up things we’re taught about disability and internalized ableism is the ableism we deal with when looking within. Ableism is the lack of accessibility and inclusivity. Ableism is ignoring or belittling disabled people and disability rights. If you can, educate yourself on ableism and how it affects disabled people and society in general.
N: Ableism is the discrimination in favor of able-bodied individuals. Then internalized ableism is ableism within the disabled person. A short explanation is a lot of people become disabled later on in life and as a society we are so accustomed to these thoughts and discrimination against disabled people that when we become disabled ourselves we internalize that and struggle with relearning our ableist thoughts.
Does internalized ableism affect your disability pride?
A: It doesn’t affect my pride necessarily. I’ve reached a place where I love who I am now and I wouldn’t change this me and that means taking pride in my disability because it’s a huge part of me. I think where my internalized ableism is affected the most is in knowing I won’t receive or get the same opportunities because of my disability and that can bring me down when I’m thinking about it.
N: internalized ableism does not affect my disability pride. Don’t get me wrong I have my days where I am so over this life however I think I’ve done a good job at realizing I’m worth it with or without the chair.
Has your disability made you view everyday situations differently?
A: My disability has made me appreciate the little things more and has made me appreciate all that my body does for me. As for everyday situations, I’ve learned to not spend too much time worrying about things I cannot control and to also make sure I’m doing at least one thing for me daily that makes me happy because this could all be gone tomorrow and I learned that the hard way so just appreciate life forreal.
N: My disability has made me view everyday situations differently in that in short, cheesy terms I’m so thankful to just be here. I know that sounds cheesy. You know my sister and I have gone through a lot after this injury. We lack support and don’t have the best home environment so it’s been a struggle and I think with the mindset of just being happy to be here has really gotten me through my darkest days. So I guess my disability has made me view everyday situations less stressful and more just it is what it is!
How has your mindset contributed to the growth of an awesome community?
A: I would say that my mindset has contributed to the growth of an awesome community because I’m much more comfortable in who I am now and because of that I’ve been able to connect with some amazing people in the disability community and be a part of making disability more normalized and less ‘ableized’ in society.
N: My mindset has contributed to the growth of an awesome community by being open to it! When I first got injured for a couple months I was like I don’t want to meet no one in a wheelchair like me. I quickly realized how helpful it would be to have people in the community to confide in and learn from. This community has helped grow my mindset honestly. It just took me being open to being involved in the community to start growing. My sister and I have become a part of such a beautiful, welcoming community. I started my YouTube channel after being told our story was interesting and should be told. We became a part of a live YouTube show once a month that contributes to the community. We both have been able to become ambassadors for brands we really enjoy like Invincibowl. Changing my mindset really opened doors and hopefully my sister and I can get to do more within the community and out of it as well.