I need a wheelchair. I can’t say I’m particularly proud of that statement, but it’s the truth. It’s not a long held dream of mine. My body is now too fragile and damaged and I can’t keep landing in ungraceful heaps on the floor. Obviously I’m hopeful I want have to spend the rest of my life in the seated position but, for now, it’s my reality. I spent a long time looking at wheelchairs. Most are huge and when I saw them, they made my solar plexus flip and I thought I’d vomit on the spot. Many are not subtle, if there’s even such a thing. After all, a wheelchair is a wheelchair isn’t it? Well, no, not for me anyway.
Whilst I can’t imagine anyone gets excited about needing a wheelchair, it was important to me that it didn’t feel like a backward step. I guess, I wanted a kind of Mini of the wheelchair world: souped-up, fun, lots of poke and compact. I didn’t want huge, clumsy and downright ugly.
Anyway, why do wheelchairs have to be ugly, clunky and boring? Surely in the 21st-century someone can find a way to make wheelchairs more user friendly? Surely someone can design one that has a chance of making it across a field without it looking like a tank? It’s as though wheelchair users don’t really matter, so give us anything and we’ll be grateful.
I frequently tell myself that I’m not one for making statements or being noticed. I prefer subtle. However, most of my friends and family will dispute this as I’ve never been one to blend in with the flock – wool makes me itch. However, give me cashmere and I’m a happy bunny, but cashmere is expensive! Yet, when it comes to my health and disability, I don’t want to feel disempowered by the wheelchair I use, I don’t want my solar plexus to do somersaults every time I’m about to sit in it.
I am a very reluctant wheelchair user as I’m sure most people are. I’m thankful I can still use my legs, although admittedly not well. I’ve fought it for years but the price has been increasing injury through falls, increased fatigue and my buckling body. I reached a ‘no choice’ point with my body and a wheelchair became a must. However, I’m stubborn, fiercely independent and I wanted this transition to be positive for me not negative.
There are a few around me who have not been positive about this as they feel I’m giving up. When I point out that many perfectly able bodied people think nothing of driving 100 yards to buy milk and most people fight to park as close to their destinations as possible, they see things a little differently. I don’t intend to spend the rest of my life sitting down if I can help it, but I want to enjoy my life, so a wheelchair is a tool to help me do that. A wheelchair for me is not giving up, it’s saying ‘hello life, I’m back and I’m not giving up’. Stubborn, me.
So, I needed a wheelchair. The NHS created so many hoops and caveats I hit a brick wall. I so wanted this to be a positive and empowering experience but I didn’t have thousands of pounds sitting around to buy one myself.
I’m a nauseatingly chipper and stoical soul. I smile and try to hide my pain and fragility. It seems I’m not kidding anyone and I’m surrounded by friends who can see right through my bluster. I was thinking of ‘crowd funding’ to raise the money but I doubted it would work, feeling an anticipation of the disappointment I would likely feel at the realisation that no one actually gave a shit as I allowed my insecurities to get the better of me. This is, of course, a reflection of how I feel about myself which is, as it turns out, a million miles away from reality. However, I hovered in uncertainty for months until, in the end, the money came from my angelic and incredibly (not to mention, exceedingly generous) friends. I didn’t ask; it was offered. Therein was my challenge.
The offer of financial help cracked the shell of my hardened stoical interior. It would have been much easier for me to say no to the offer of help as I could then stay hidden with my emotions in check but I knew I couldn’t do this anymore and I didn’t want to. I’ve spent a long time pondering this situation as to why I find it so hard to show my vulnerability and to allow others to help. Their generosity went way beyond money; it was love and I had to contemplate the notion that ‘I’m worth it’. I’ve never really felt myself worthy in life, I’ve put myself at the bottom and tried gallantly to bear the strain on my own. My friend’s generosity made me face this head on. I cried, I resisted. I tried to ignore it but I couldn’t. It was a choice: gracefully accepting their help or struggling on. Of course it made me realise I’m loved and loveable, and, perhaps I do matter after all.
I tentatively accepted the help, the tears flowed and my hardened shell broke and I popped out into the sunlight. Admittedly I was quite dazed and confused at first and it felt strange to be so openly visible and vulnerable but it felt exquisite and delicious at the same time. My quest for a wheelchair ended up being so much more as it finally brought me back to me.
I’m proud to say I love my wheelchair. I feel liberated and I feel a growing sense of independence and freedom. When I first saw my bespoke, made-for-me, chair, I absolutely loved it. It couldn’t be closer to my dream of my ‘souped-up, compact, Mini-esque’ hope. I’ve named her Little Bea. Beatrix reportedly means bringer of happiness which seems absolutely perfect…