Wheelie Happy

I’m going to start with an apology for that dodgy pun, but I think it’s appropriate for a post about the many moments of pure joy I’ve experienced over the last few days, all thanks to my wonderful wheels.

Warmer weather and lighter evenings are usually associated with positive, hopeful feelings, but in recent years I’ve tended to feel frustrated and low at this time of year. About three years ago my already unusual way of walking deteriorated to a point where I couldn’t get about independently or safely. The anniversary of this period, perfect for lazy sunny strolls, often puts me in reflective, sombre mood.

But not this year!

I haven’t been affected at all by the usual early summer blues so far. And I think there’s one big reason for this – my Trekinetic. Leftwing Idiot’s nicknamed it the ‘danger chair’ because I often end up in slightly hairy situations when I use it – one of which led to me fracturing my elbow earlier in the year. But overall it’s made a massive difference.

A few days ago I was suddenly struck by the ease and joy of my movement. I wasn’t doing anything dramatic, just speeding along next to Will, my support worker, on the way back from lunch. I glided smoothly round to cross a road and this simple sequence of movements and moments filled me with an intense elation.

I’m obsessed with wheelchairs, and my friends often tease me about how much I go on about them, but it seems that I’ve passed this enthusiasm on to some extent. For instance, Will struck up a conversation with a man in a café a couple of weeks ago to explain why he’d been staring at his wheelchair. Fat Sister got a funny look at a wedding recently when she exclaimed with glee ‘Are those power wheels?’ and on the way home in a cab the other night, when Leftwing Idiot and I spotted a wheelchair user, he immediately asked me ‘What sort of chair is that?’ And we found ourselves scrutinising its frame.

I don’t care about any of the teasing because my obsession has a powerful root: moving freely, easily and independently is something that makes me really happy.

Today, this obsession culminated in the arrival of another new chair. It’s one I’ve been saving up for for a while, and with the help of my family I’ve at last been able to get it. It’s light, stylish and robust, and it’ll be my everyday chair from now on, with the Trekinetic being my work chair. Over the last couple of years I’ve spent hours poring over wheelchairs on the Internet and I’m confident I now have the perfect set-up.

My wheelchairs mean I’m no longer engaged in a constant battle with gravity. Moving about used to be hard and painful, but now that’s rarely the case. Most importantly, and despite the odd detour into a holly bush, I can now count on a degree of predictability when I move.

What surprised me (it seems so obvious now) is the big the difference pushing myself around has made to my wellbeing and how good I feel. I wasn’t unhappy using my other wheelchairs, and I definitely didn’t dwell on what I couldn’t do. But having chairs that I can propel myself has sent my cheerfulness levels soaring.

Like many things related to disability, it’s easy when thinking about wheelchairs to focus on simply meeting basic needs. But in my experience, doing so misses a trick: not only has my new chair improved my emotional wellbeing, it’s also helping me get more exercise and feel physically fitter too.

Access to wheelchairs can be difficult, and it varies greatly according to where you live. I’m very lucky to have my chairs, and that’s been made possible only because I have a job, and because of the help I’ve had from Access to Work, from the DLA and from my family. Without all this support I’d be a lot less independent, healthy and happy.

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