What?! I am going to have to use a wheelchair for the rest of my life?
Devastation swamped me the moment I was told I would never be able to walk again and that I would be confined to wheelchair for the rest of my life. This cant be true I thought , this isn’t happening to me. Up until this moment I had believed that I was going to recover and get back up walking. I spent three months on a general hospital ward waiting for a space on a spinal rehabilitation unit, and this whole time I had in my mind that when I got to the rehab it would be to learn how to walk again, but I was so wrong. After I was told this news I felt so vulnerable, I didn’t know what to think or do, and there was nothing I could do to change what had happened and I felt so stuck, I felt like everything in my life had come crashing down and everything I knew before had now been wiped. My life was never going to be the same again. I literally thought my life had ended. Learning how to adapt to life in a wheelchair was hard , I had to re learn how to do simple things like having a shower or getting from wheelchair to bed or getting from wheelchair onto toilet, all these simple tasks took a lot of effort and time. Every time I Had a shower I found it so difficult and would get frustrated, the room that the shower was in had a window and everytime I went for a shower I really just wanted to jump out of the window to my death because in my head , If I couldn’t walk then whats the point in living. Looking back on these thoughts five and a half years on does sadden me because at the time those feelings of hopelessness were so real and I was so depressed beyond words that death seemed the only choice. But it also shows me how far mentally I have come since the early days.
It has not been quick or easy to realise this, but being in a wheelchair really is not the end of the world! Its a different way of living but it’s still living.
The first year after my accident was so hard I honestly cant even put into words, but gradually over the following years with a lot of help from some amazing friends and family I am back to living a fulfilling life, the wheelchair honestly doesn’t bother me at all, and I never ever thought I would say that after my accident. Although I have re learnt to walk using crutches and wearing leg supports , the majority of the time I am in the chair , as I cant walk very far distances and every time I try and work on my walking to try and walk thurther , I get bad sores on my feet from the leg supports so am then confined to chair again. So yes this does confuse a lot of people as One minute I will be in my chair then the next Im up walking! Without the leg supports I can’t walk safely as I cant move my feet, and it sounds odd , I can move my legs, but I cant actually feel my legs fully, my feet I can’t feel atall. Im not quite sure myself how this works , I tend to watch my feet when I am walking to know where they are!
When adaptions had to be made to the house I refused to have a stair lift fixed in. I refused mainly because I was in denial anything was wrong with me and having a stairlift highlighted that there was. Also I had in my mind that one day I would walk up these stairs again despite what the doctors say about me never being able to walk again. So to begin with I would go up and down the stairs on my bum , coming back down was a lot quicker and more fun than going up! At first I didn’t want to leave the house in my chair as I thought everyone would stare at me , despite this I enrolled back into college and started back 5 months after leaving rehab, this was really hard as I was so scared but Im proud of myself for doing this as it was a incredibly hard ,daunting thing to do all on my own.
I made an amazing friend though,everyone thought she was my carer as we were always together and she would wheel me round everywhere! I don’t think I could of coped at college if it wasn’t for her.
Words cannot ever express how gratefull I am for all my family and friends , they were and still are amazing.
When I came out of hospital , my friends built ramps so I could get into their houses, one of the ramps was so steep I always felt so scared going down it! One of my best friends would stop by my house every night after work and just sit with me while I cried , this went on for months.
My friends and family encouraged me and supported me through every step of my recovery and I can’t ever thank them enough, they brought me back to my old self. After my accident I didnt care what I looked like, one friend made me brush my hair one day as it was such a state , I just didnt care. I remember looking in a shop window one day at a mannequin with nice clothes on it , and I thought – whats the point in me wearing nice things , no one would ever notice if Im in a wheelchair. I put on over two stone in weight, mainly from comfort eating and the fact I wasn’t as active anymore. I decided to join weight watchers and eventually with a really strict diet and a lot of gym work and swimming I lost all the weight.
I couldn’t face looking at photos of me before my accident it was too weird !
I used to hate being in my wheelchair in photos and I hated looking at photos of me in the wheelchair as I just didn’t want to associate myself with the chair and looking at a photo of myself made it all real again. It doesn’t bother me at all now! but I guess I was very self conscious as it was all new to me.
One of the things thats helped me accept being in a wheelchair is how other people have treated me. My friends and most new people I have met over the years , treat me exactly the same , no one feels sorry for me and they all see past the chair, obviously there has been a few exceptions .Everyone has included me in everything they have planned, even if it means carrying me up flights of stairs in my chair or pushing me through a muddy field at a festival!
And my friends get the benefit of me keeping hold of their coats on the back of my chair or having a leaning post for them to hold onto when they are wearing heels. Also getting to skip queues at festivals for the bar and toilet is always handy. Even at the airport before flying to Valencia for a friends hen do.
Me and my group of friends got to get on the plane first, the other passengers faces were not happy atall , the death stares we got , I tried not to laugh as we had to wheel past the whole queue of people staring at us and it was really awkward. Again when me and two friends went on a boat to see the seals they let me get on first so we skipped this massive queue of people.
I tried not to catch eye contact with anyone as they were all staring as we went past everyone to the front.
Kids love the wheelchair, when I go out to a social event they always surround me and watch me for a bit then ask if they can have a go, so I get out and let them have their fun. They get in it and push each other round for ages , they love it ! But actually adults are the funniest when it comes to the chair. You’d think grown adults would get over the excitement of a wheelchair, but they dont at all! Many of my friends and strangers have ended up falling out backwards from trying to do wheelies, its always so funny though. One friend I made at uni Always made me laugh as she would love getting in the chair but she would just sit there in it and move really slow round the kitchen in it and if she went slightly too fast she would get so scared.
I have been chucked out of my chair a few times from people pushing me , one time on a night out one friend was pushing me and was like ” Right Rach lets go for a dance ” and she ran me onto the dance floor and did a sharp turn and I came flying out, I was holding our drinks and when I landed on the floor I had managed to save both drinks without spilling any, So I was laying there with the drinks held in the air , it was so funny. That same night on the dance floor I decided I wanted to stand up and try have a little dance while holding onto two friends for support, and some random person came up behind me and nicked the wheelchair and ran off with it ! It was actually outrageous that someone would do this , but we laughed it off , the cheek of it though !
Seven months after leaving rehab I was back driving,
I had to re learn how to drive in a new way , because I cant move my feet I obviously cant use the pedals , so I have an automatic car and I have hand controls fitted into it. So I basically have a lever that I pull towards me to accelerate and I push on it to break, Its so easy ! I had one driving lesson to learn how to drive using these controls. I also have a blue badge which is very handy ! Although nearly everytime I park in a disabled bay I get death stares and people make comments. They must assume because I am young that I am not disabled and dont need a blue badge and I am ambusing the system. Their faces soon change when I get out of my car and get the wheelchair out though !
Being in a wheelchair is a massive challenge and It is not easy physically and mentally.If anyone was to read this blog who is newly spinally injured and struggling I’d just like to say , to keep going , even though it seems like you may never be happy again and you feel like giving up, gradually you will feel better. I know how each day is a massive struggle and it feels hopeless and you do feel like giving up but I honestly never thought I would change my view on being in a chair. Some people adapt to being in a wheelchair a lot quicker than others and others can take a long time. For me it took quite a few years.
As my best friend always said to me after my accident “Time is a healer”
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