I love my wheelchair. There. I said it. I love my wheelchair. I’m not paralyzed. I can walk. But I love my wheelchair, just like I love my cane. Both help me get around. One helps me walk, and the other allows me to get to more places.
People, however, don’t love my wheelchair. It’s an all black contraption that can easily run over their toes. It takes up space in their rooms, their classrooms, and their businesses. If I can get into a business with my wheelchair, I tend to knock over many things. Granted, I am a huge klutz even without my wheelchair. But I knock things over because the spaces are too narrow, because merchandise is too precariously placed. And I can’t always pick them back up as I can’t reach the top shelves.
People don’t like my wheelchair because they see me move my legs, because they see me stand to transfer to another seat, and because they remember that the other day I walked with a cane. And to them, that’s not right.
I do a lot of switching from cane to wheelchair. Theoretically, it’s because there needs to be a balance between not doing anything and doing too much with CRPS. But let us be honest here. I don’t switch from cane to chair because I know that I need to take a break, and I don’t switch from chair to cane because I know I need to ‘use it or lose it’.
I use canes when I’m tired of getting stuck in doorways, because the doors don’t open all the way. I use canes when I’m tired of worrying about how much space I’m using. I use canes when I’m tired of people giving me strange looks when they see my legs move. Mostly, I use canes because I’m tired of people constantly looking down on me (physically and metaphorically). I use canes when I’m worried about how OTHER people see ME.
But I use wheelchairs when I’ve completely exhausted myself from overusing my cane to make other people more comfortable around me. I use it when I know that the ramps are indeed too far to reach with a cane without taking a break. I use it when I need to carry something heavier than five pounds. But I most often use it because I’ve exhausted myself. Some days I remember that if I use the wheelchair preemptively, I can do nifty things like go to school and then shopping and then sometimes even something else! Imagine that!
I once phrased one of my revelations of why I feel bad using a wheelchair is because “I feel almost able-bodied with it”. One would think, that with this revelation, that I would feel okay with using it, but how can I feel okay when people continue to police my use of it?
How can I feel okay, when every time I use a cane, someone says, “Oh, I see you’re getting better. That’s great!”
No. Me using my cane is not me getting better. (I think I need a sticker on my forehead that says “Hi, I’m For-Life-Gimp, No There’s No Cure.”) My using a cane is actually an indicator of me doing something that is not particularly good for me. It’s me pushing myself for no other reason than to make people more comfortable around me. It’s for everyone else but me. And it is painful and annoying and slow and it makes me cranky. I’ve also screwed up my one good leg from all the over-compensation. All for everyone else.
I add extra pain to make people comfortable around me and I don’t even know these people. They are the ones staring at me. They are the ones asking me the personal questions. I don’t even know their names.
I love being able to get around. I love being able to make it to class on time. I love being able to shop for more than ten or fifteen minutes. What makes these all possible? My wheelchair. And I love it. I love this bulky black contraption that takes up more space for what it helps me do.
I like it so much that I want one of those cool sports wheelchairs, because I think I’d like to see how that would work out. I like it so much, I’m tempted to get an off-road wheelchair. I like it so much that I plan on finding and buying one that is better suited for me in general.
And if you’re so able-bodied and jealous that I get to use wheels to get around and you don’t, then go out and buy yourself your own. Really! I don’t care. The one I currently own was about a hundred dollars off of ebay, and you don’t even need a prescription. There’s no wheelchair police coming to hunt you down and check that you’re definitely disabled before you get the chair. And you know why? Because it’s a chair. It’s a chair with wheels.
And I love mine.