Last week I met with a physical therapist and a wheelchair technician to start the process of upgrading/replacing my power wheelchair. Improving and/or purchasing power wheelchairs is a long, involved process, and this session was only the first of several meetings I will have to have to get everything ready, but it is a start at least. Since I will end up spending roughly 10 hours a day for the next five years in this wheelchair, it is important and worthwhile to take the time to make sure that every little detail is correct. While I am not a big fan of change, especially with something as crucial to my life as my wheelchair, after having this initial meeting and getting the process of purchasing a new chair started, I found myself filled with a sense of joyful anticipation. Even though I know that it will be at least four months before I see my new wheelchair, the thought of regaining my ability to drive my chair on my own and getting my mobility back is something that I am really looking forward to. This feeling of excitement that came over me caused me to think about how much my freedom to move about means to me, as well as how it brings happiness to my life.
When I was about 5 years old, I got my first power wheelchair, and with it my first taste of the freedom of mobility. For the first time I could move about on my own, whenever and wherever I wanted. I was no longer reliant on others to get where I wanted to go. Having this independence allowed me to explore the world around me and experience life much like any able-bodied person would. I was fortunate enough to have this freedom throughout my life growing up, and this mobility helped me find success and brought a lot of happiness to my life. A couple of years ago though, when my shoulder started to breakdown and my chronic pain increased, I started having some difficulty operating my wheelchair. As my body slowly deteriorated over the next several months, my ability to drive my chair on my own got worse and worse. For a while I was able to drive my wheelchair with assistance from my nurses, but it eventually got to the point a year ago where I could not operate it at all. Going through this process of losing my ability to move around on my own, after having this freedom my entire life, has been an extremely difficult thing for me to deal with.
Losing my ability to drive my wheelchair was far more difficult to cope with than not being able to walk. This may surprise you, but I have never really missed not having the ability to walk. Of course I wish that I had a healthy body and could walk, jump, and do cartwheels like most people, but since I never knew what it is like to walk, I do not know what I am missing. I used to think that I was lucky in this respect, as I thought it was much harder to have something and then have it taken away from you, than to never have it at all. This is why losing my ability to drive my wheelchair has been so difficult for me to cope with, but I feel fine about never having the ability to walk. I spent my entire life only knowing what it is like to be able to move about freely and without assistance, and in an instant this mobility was taken away from me. As someone who has worked extremely hard to build an independent life, losing something as critical to my autonomy as my mobility is like amputating one of my limbs. Due to numerous experiences like this, where my disability took away an important part of my world, I decided long ago that never having the ability to walk was actually a good thing (as opposed to walking for a while and then losing that ability). While it may have made the obstacles and adversity resulting from my disability easier to deal with though, I now see that it also took away all of the amazing things that I would have been able to experience from having a fully functioning body, as well as the happiness it would have brought to my life.
Thinking about getting my mobility back, and the emotions that I felt, has made me rethink how I feel about never having the ability to walk. Even though I have never really missed not being able to walk, being confined to a wheelchair has been difficult to deal with at times. Throughout my life, there have been times when I was unable to do something due to my disability and felt like I was missing out on a great experience. Since these types of situations only occur occasionally and vary so much though, you never realize that they all stem from the same cause. It is difficult to see how this one thing has taken away all of these experiences from your life. Just because it is difficult however, does not mean it is impossible. This process of getting my mobility back has illustrated that, if you take the time to look at your life and think about how different it would be if you could not do something, like walk, see, or speak for example, you can more fully appreciate it. This self-reflection also allows you to see the common cause that has kept you from experiencing certain things over the years, which can then help you to change this part of your life and gain the ability to enjoy these moments you missed out on. This will eliminate the negative moments and feelings from your past and add positive experiences to your future, which will bring a whole, new level of happiness to your life.
As the famous quote from Alfred Lord Tennyson goes, “Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” This idea does not only pertain to love however, as it can also be applied to nearly every aspect of your life. Although I had a much harder time coping with losing my ability to drive my wheelchair than never being able to walk, I would not trade the numerous years I lived being able to operate my chair for anything, even not having to go through the painful process of losing this ability. Having gone through losing this ability once and knowing how painful it is, I am still working to regain my mobility, knowing that in the future it will again be taken away from me. I am willing to put myself through this, because giving it up would mean also trading all of the incredible experiences I will have because of my mobility. The next time you feel a sense of loss and start wishing you had never even begun to enjoy something, think about all of the wonderful experiences you had as a result of it. Ask yourself if you would give up all of that happiness and wisdom to not have to go through the loss you are currently feeling. This will help you put things in perspective and focus on the positive side of things. By doing this and looking at your world through the right lens, you will bring a lot of happiness and fulfilling experiences to your life.
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