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Why I Choose to Travel By Myself With My Wheelchair

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It shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is.
Our polished rolling thrones.

The expectation that using a wheelchair sometimes doesn’t mean you are “faking it.”

That looking healthy collides with the belief you can’t be sick.

That being young and having hair down to the middle of your back means you are milking the system.

That invisible diseases and disabilities exist.

On certain days when I have had too much energy sucked out of me educating people on what is not their business–my reality, my disease, why I look like this, act like that…sometimes I just want to scream, “Just rest your eyes on mine! You can check me over. Stop being so skittish.”

And then I think, I’m doing the same, you know. Not assessing you physically, but trying to figure out what you think of me. Are you tolerant of disabilities and people who walk differently — people whose very appearance denies what you know to be true? Do you think that because you look “normal” (no such thing), you shouldn’t be in a chair? Does your face reflect that you smile a lot?

Am I safe in talking to you, and how much vitality will I have to expend in convincing you I am not “lazy?”

And will I be sad about what I find out? That we have so much farther to go?

Can you answer honestly: Do I hide away from the world because it requires less of what precious little pep I possess?

I want to invite you to think outside the confines of your fears.

To rid yourself of the belief that you have an obligation to parrot off an uncomfortable explanation of your most intimate matters.

I had to do that when I learned how to travel by myself and I have no intention of looking back. I am perfectly capable of handling my business and comprehending what is needed of me. I may require help, but I’m still intelligent.

I’m pretty sure you feel the same about yourself, even if fear has a hold on you right now.

But it doesn’t have to, love.

Traveling by myself via wheelchair through the airport and getting over myself and my tendency to feel like a burden to airline and airport staff is what prompted me to write this.

I didn’t fly until three years after my diagnosis of transverse myelitis. And for a time, I didn’t want to. Because I didn’t know what I needed. I thought I would be needlessly exhausted and I was clueless as to how to safeguard my hypersensitive health.

But there are services provided to help you if you are in a wheelchair, and even if you don’t use one daily, sometimes walking long distances is extremely taxing. That’s my situation. My disease results in temporary paralysis where my legs just shut down if my nerves misfire too many times. So, I have a chair for those occasions when I must shop, and when I want to be a part of a family outing. I was getting used to occasional chair use and growing more comfortable, and then I discovered you can even fly alone! Yep, you can go all by yourself and shop as a helper pushes you and takes you to stores to make sure you have snacks and even a phone charger.

The author in her wheelchair at the airport

Shouldn’t we be allowed to enjoy the pleasures we are afforded because of our circumstances?

Like having a person take you shopping? Relishing in the feel of resting while still engaging with people? Traveling independently? Yes, we are allowed to revel in these pleasures.

And…they are good for us. It’s so healthy for us to seek and experience joy in our lives, and to seek reasons for gratitude.

Why do we need this validation over the what, who and why of our circumstances?

Before I became sick, there was a distance I put between myself and people facing illness and disability. I believe I have been called to help change the perception of what people think when they judge someone from a deductive state.

They were whole and now they are not.

Something is missing. It is less than.

But we are different, not flawed or incomplete.

It shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is. We have to do the work to improve our lives and ensure we receive the advocacy we need in the way we need it. As people on the “inside,” it is our job to advance these issues, and sometimes that part of the job sucks.

So, I will carve out the moments I need to heal, to minimize exertion, to protect against flaring my hair-trigger inflammations. And then I will decide when I feel stronger, not to waste my pain.

If we use our pain as a catalyst to help others de-stigmatize our realities, then we are putting it to use. We are giving it a purpose.

I would rather be a warrior and apply the secret information of why life is valuable to advance this world and a society prone to label us for their comfort and protection.

It shouldn’t be a big deal to live as we do, invisible and out loud, but it will be until the work has been done to ensure it will never be an issue again.

So, if you want to travel by yourself to Prague, if you want to check out the fall offerings at the farmer’s markets, if you want to hit the fair, the park trails, wherever you want to go, go.

You are not a burden. You are a person refusing to be limited by anything in your life.

Besides, I believe we don’t have limitations. We just need adaptations.

You owe nothing to anyone but yourself. You don’t need to defend your emotions or decisions.

Choose your reality and the adventures that light up your life.

Originally published: October 23, 2018
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