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When I Started Using a Wheelchair Because of Multiple Sclerosis

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I have developed a love/hate relationship with my wheelchair. I have named her Libby because of the feeling of liberation she gives me. I know, rather unimaginative. But it is better than the name I gave my walker, which is Texas Ranger. All together now 1…2…3… groan!

Since the day after my multiple sclerosis diagnosis, I absolutely swore to myself and everyone else that I would never need a wheelchair. I used the need for a wheelchair as a benchmark for disability. I always thought the day I sat down in a wheelchair was the day my life ended — figuratively, not literally. I was determined that my disease would never progress to the point of needing a wheelchair. As if I had any control over it whatsoever.

So as you can imagine, when I finally started using my wheelchair, I was a mix of pissed off and depressed. Truth be told, I probably should have started using my wheelchair about five years before I actually did. I let my own vanity and stubborn pride overrule my need for safety. I didn’t want people looking at me with pity in their eyes. One day I was walking along the sidewalk of an outdoor strip mall and caught my reflection in a big window. I realized just how awkward I looked while trying to walk with the assistance of my walker. I call it my “Frankenstein” walk. It was then that I realized I probably got more stares from people watching me struggle to walk than I ever would using my wheelchair.

I had an “aha” moment one day while talking to my sister. She asked me what turned out to be a profound, somewhat life-changing question. She asked me why I would rather use up my already limited reserve of energy trying to walk from point A to point B. Wouldn’t I rather conserve my energy so I could enjoy what I was trying to get to point B for in the first place?

At that point, I already owned a wheelchair that had been folded up in the garage, collecting dust for years. It was given to me as I am certain I would never had actually purchased one myself. I held onto it “just in case.” We dug out my wheelchair and I begrudgingly agreed to sit in it and allow my sister to push me in it. She was absolutely right! I did enjoy myself once we got to point B more than I ever had by forcing myself to walk there.

I have since become fairly proficient with operating and navigating around with Libby. Libby is a manual wheelchair that allows me to maintain a bit of independence and dignity by pushing or “wheeling” myself around. I don’t have enough strength in my arms to push myself long distances. As you can imagine, using a manual wheelchair is one heck of an upper-body workout. I still hate that I do require assistance from someone to push me for longer distances or on uneven ground. But I am working on becoming OK with that.

I also need to work on not constantly apologizing for taking up space. When I am out in public, I almost always have to ask someone to step aside for a moment so I can get through because I do take up a lot more space in my wheelchair. I have come to realize that people really are compassionate and empathetic. I have yet to encounter anyone rolling their eyes at me or huffing when I ask them to make room for me to get through. I know there are some people in this world without an ounce of compassion or concern for anyone other than themselves, but I will cross that bridge if or when I get there.

So that is what I mean about the love/hate relationship I have with Libby. I love the freedom she gives me by allowing me to get from point A to point B without completely depleting my energy reserves. But I also hate that I have to depend on her at all, and that so many public places are not accessible to me. But that is getting better and better as time passes and those of us using mobility aids become more visible in society.

Getty image by Apeyron.

Originally published: April 26, 2020
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