I always thought of blogs as being narcissistic, business related, or as my sister's, a way of keeping in touch or memorializing.

But, by necessity, I am learning a lot about myself. I find I need to get my thoughts out, and it helps me to know that someone else will read them. So I have created this little space for myself, to express the things I have trouble saying (be it emotional or physical trouble), to share what I'm going through, and what I'm learning through it.

I absolutely welcome comments. It's nice to know how people relate to what I'm saying.
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Saturday, 21 April 2012

My Week in a Wheelchair

I am lucky. I can walk. Most of the time, and short distances, but in my daily living, I can take care of my own transportation. Sure, sometimes I need my cane, and other times I can make it just as far as the driveway, but I can use my legs just fine. I have been in a wheelchair a few times the last couple of years, usually when I want to go somewhere with my family that would require walking longer distances - like a museum, or to Harbourfront. I'm in it for an hour or two every few months. Nothing more. Like I said, I'm lucky.

But in San Francisco, I was in a wheelchair most of the time that I was not in the hotel. We stayed in Fisherman's Wharf, which is the very touristy part of the city, and very walkable. And so I got pushed around as we did our sightseeing, and when I joined my family for dinners out. It was a most interesting change of perspective in many ways.

Using a cane and being limited in so many ways, I am more aware than I used to be about accessibility and people's compassion (or lack thereof) and helpfulness. But it does not compare to seeing the world from a sitting position, and ceding control of my movement, speed, direction, and therefore experience, to whomever is doing the pushing. For the most part.
I noticed it more than anything when we were window shopping and browsing. Think about how you do this for a second. You're walking along, by yourself, or with someone else. You see something that catches your eye, you slow down, or turn around - sometimes you even walk backwards a step or two. You stop for a second to touch something, or take a deeper breath. You move yourself closer to the window, or schooch over to let someone pass. You wander, led by your senses. If you are with someone, chances are you are conversing, pointing things out casually, and chatting away.

But when you are in a wheelchair, the experience becomes very different. It stops being your attention that guides you, and it becomes the attention of the person who is actually moving you. So that walk becomes an entirely different experience. One which I decided to enjoy, and surrender (yes, Cuq!) myself to.

In my case, I had four chauffeurs, each with a different way of seeing things. One, the 9 year old, just liked to go fast and faster, and especially push me down the ramps. My father likes to get where he's going, so effiency rules, and my mother and aunt take much more lackadaisical approach, so I would randomly find myself stopped, or slowed down and sped up. But because it was not me doing it, it took me a little while to get used to it. They were all very conscientious drivers, though; when there was something I wanted to see better, or take a photo of, or whatever, they always helped me do so. But I decided to take it as part of the experience, and let them guide me most of the way, speaking up only when I really felt the need. And what a neat experience it was.

Keeping up a conversation though, is very very difficult, with the difference in height, and having my back turned. There are few places you can ride a wheelchair and have someone walk next to you. Most of the time, the rest of the group had to walk ahead or behind. So no talking while sightseeing - hm. Bothered me at first. Quite a lot. But as I got used to it, I started to appreciate it in terms of it just being a different way of experiencing a new place. Quietly.

It's interesting to watch other people - you can tell so fast, when you are riding along, who is attuned to their environment, and who is in their own little world. It's amazing how many people nearly walked into me, and how many had to be made aware that they were blocking the ramp by their companions.

I also felt a certain helplessness. The hotel gave us rooms close to the elevator the first time round, and I had no problem walking myself down to the lobby, to sit outside and read for long periods of time. But when we returned, they gave us rooms so far from the elevator, that I had to literally take several rests before I got there and then crashed fully for goodness knows how long. I asked, of course, if these were the only rooms available, and my parents discussed and arranged, but they asked if there was no way to handle it. And I - I felt so trapped. Knowing that I would be alone for hours at a time, with no way out. Sure, I could probably call the bellboy and have them push me out to the elevator, but oh my goodness, how incredibly hard would that be for me - I can barely ask my friends and family for help. I would be so embarrassed to do that. And then I'd feel embarrassed that I was embarrassed about it in the first place.

The rooms were the same as the ones closer to the elevator - if anything they were a little bigger, but I actually felt claustrophobic. Even if I didn't leave the room, knowing I could made a huge difference. This was the only time the whole trip that I felt really badly about myself and my abilities. My family, of course, after a little debate, recognized my feelings of futility, and not wanting me to feel that way, arranged for us to be moved. And then I breathed.

More than anything, being in a wheelchair, it's a different perspective, from a few feet farther down. You literally see the world from a different angle. And it puts a crink in your neck, because everything is set up at or around eye-level - store displays, artwork, menus, schedules, plaques... even street signs, which are above eye level, are set so you can see them easily from a standing position. But it's still always good to see things in a new way - just like in Dead Poet's Society, when they take turns standing up on the desk. Perspective is everything, and if I can manage to have a flexible perspective, I am a happier being - and oddly enough, being in a wheelchair for the week really helped me key into that.

I wonder what people think, if they wonder about me when I am so much more visibly less physically able. I know I look way younger than my 37 years, and I know I look healthy. The attendant on the airplane thought the wheelchair was for my Dad. More logical, I guess, but still rather presumptive - I'm happy for her, though, that she hasn't had to learn that young healthy-looking people need them too sometimes. Guess she doesn't watch Glee.

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